Friday 28 February 2020

Wine glass junk science

As regular readers know, Theresa Marteau has got a thing about the size of plates and glasses, and she is lucky enough to work in such Mickey Mouse field of academia ('public health') that people will give her money to feed her obsession. She and her teams have conducted four experiments in the last few years looking at whether the size of wine glasses has an impact on how much wine people consume.

All her studies were conducted in Cambridge, but that is the only consistency. The results have been all over the place.

One study found that drinkers consumed 13 per cent more wine from a 350 ml glass than from a 290 ml glass, but drinking from a 450 ml glass made no difference - except in bars, where people drank more from a 450 ml glass but not from a 350 ml glass. None of these findings were replicated when the experiment was conducted again.

Another study found that drinking from a large glass was associated with greater consumption, but drinking from a smaller glass was not associated with less consumption. But only in bars, not in restaurants.

Another study found that people in bars drank more from a 510 ml glass than from a 370 ml glass, but there was no difference between consumption from a 510 ml glass and a 300 ml glass, nor was there any difference between consumption from a 300 ml glass and a 370 ml glass.

And yet another study found that glass size made no difference to consumption at all, except that wine from larger glasses 'was consumed more slowly and with shorter sip duration, counter to the hypothesised direction of effect'.

What do you when your junk science produces a load of weak, contradictory and mostly statistically insignificant results? In 'public health', you stick them all together in a meta-analysis and hope for the best.

Or in this instance, a 'mega-analysis' - for that is how they describe their study published in Addiction today. Marteau and friends have bunged together the raw data from three of their four studies, leaving out the one which ran 'counter to the hypothesised direction of effect', and treated it as if it were one big study.

After a bit of tinkering, their mega-analysis produced these findings:

Out of seven tests, only one supports the hypothesis that glass size makes a statistically significant difference to how much wine people consume. And, overall...

There were no statistically significant differences in wine sales by glass size when combining data from bars and restaurants.

The authors are undeterred by the lack of a plausible explanation for their findings. Why would glass size make a difference in restaurants but not in bars? Why would a fairly large glass increase consumption but a genuinely large glass not? Why would one experiment produce a positive result when another identical experiment does not?

They throw around a couple of possible explanations for the inconsistency of results between bars and restaurants, including the old chestnut that statistical significance could not be reached because the studies were 'underpowered'. They then admit that...

An alternative explanation for no significant effect of wine glass size on wine sales being observed in bars is that it reflects a true null effect: wine glass size has no impact on wine sales in bars.  

Indeed. But they do not let that thought detain them for too long. Rather than putting their one statistically significant finding down as a fluke, they focus exclusively on it and make the dubious assertion that...

The effect observed in restaurants for 370- over 300- ml glasses—if sustained—has the potential to make a meaningful contribution to reducing alcohol consumption in licensed premises.

A press release was then sent out with the positive association emphasised and the following quote...

“If we are serious about tackling the negative effects of drinking alcohol, then we will need to understand the factors that influence how much we consume,” added senior author Professor Dame Theresa Marteau. “Given our findings, regulating wine glass size is one option that might be considered for inclusion in local licensing regulations for reducing drinking outside the home.”

Don't you just love evidence-based policy?

I gave a quote to the Telegraph about this flim-flam...

Christopher Snowdon, the head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs added: “The idea that wine consumed in restaurants has any significant impact on the number of alcohol-related deaths is just daft. Most people only visit restaurants occasionally and most alcohol is consumed in the home. The people who are most likely to suffer from alcohol-related diseases do not have the money to drink wine in restaurants in any case. It is a sign of how out of touch public health campaigners have become that they think the size of wine glasses is a pressing issue that requires government action.”

Trump promises to veto flavours ban

Banning flavours in vape cartridges was never going to satisfy America's anti-nicotine fanatics and so HR 2339 was drawn up to ban flavours in e-cigarette fluids altogether. That includes mentyhol and it includes all tobacco products too.

As Guy Bentley says, if this law is introduced it would be the most far-reaching prohibition since the Volstead Act 100 years ago.

Fortunately, however, the Donald has stepped up to the plate to put an end to it. Yesterday, he put out a Statement of Administration Policy saying...

The Administration cannot support H.R. 2339’s counterproductive efforts to restrict access to products that may provide a less harmful alternative to millions of adults who smoke combustible cigarettes.

The bill takes the wrong approach to tobacco regulation. Rather than continuing to focus on the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Congress should implement President Trump’s Budget proposal to create a new, more directly accountable agency within the Department of Health and Human Services to focus on tobacco regulation. This new agency would be led by a Senate-confirmed Director and would have greater capacity to respond to the growing complexity of tobacco products and respond effectively to tobacco-related public health concerns.

If presented to the President in its current form, the President’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

Excellent news.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Philip Morris are right and the EU is wrong

Philip Morris has been getting grief from the pompously named 'Bureau of Investigative Journalism' and Channel 4's Dispatches. I haven't watched the Dispatches episode yet, but judging from the press coverage it's very thin gruel.

TV producers seem to think that they can get a scandalous exposé out of any old leaked e-mail. In this instance, the story is that...

Philip Morris International (PMI), one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies, drew up plans for a £1bn tobacco transition fund in the UK to be spent by local authorities and Public Health England on persuading smokers to give up cigarettes in favour of alternatives such as its “heat not burn” smokeless tobacco product, IQOS, leaked documents reveal.

The documents, obtained by the Guardian and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, show PMI had discussions with a leading anti-tobacco MP about presenting a smoke-free bill proposing the fund to the House of Commons. If passed, the bill would have ended an advertising and marketing ban on IQOS and e-cigarettes.

The MP in question is Kevin Barron and you don't get many politicians who are more rabidly anti-smoking than him.

Barron said he believed e-cigarettes and other nicotine-delivery devices that were less harmful than cigarettes had an important part to play and he had no qualms in meeting companies that wanted to go in that direction.

He is right, of course.

The documents show that the bill, if passed, would have rewritten the rules on e-cigarettes after the UK’s exit from the EU. A European directive dictates the size and strength of nicotine liquids in e-cigarettes, which has, for instance, resulted in Juul devices popular with young people containing only 20mg of nicotine instead of 59mg in the USA, so that they are less addictive. That restriction would go, as would limits on packaging and advertising.

This is exactly what the government should do as in independent nation outside the EU. Article 20 of the Tobacco Products Directive does nothing for health. On the contrary, it makes vaping less appealing and less effective as an alternative to combustible tobacco.

The tobacco advertising ban was passed before reduced-risk products like IQOS were on the market. The law should be changed so that smokers can be informed of their existence, and tobacco companies should be allowed to put inserts into cigarette packs to tell consumers about tobacco harm reduction.

And if Philip Morris wants to save taxpayers some money by giving the government £1 billion to spend on 'transition' so much the better.

This is just common sense and it is telling that ASH, who are leading the performative outrage about it, make no attempt to criticise the proposed reforms or defend the EU's policies.

Arnott said: “Ash has worked with Kevin Barron for decades. He led the campaign in parliament to ban tobacco advertising and it’s thanks to his work that pubs are now smoke-free. If, as it looks like, PMI persuaded Kevin Barron of the need for government to partner with the industry, their ‘normalisation’ strategy is clearly working."

What pathetic tribalism. The stuff of the school yard.

PMI have put their response to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism online and it's worth a read. It seems the 'bureau' got nearly everything wrong.

Small Men on the Wrong Side of History: a review

I have written a review of Ed West's excellent book Small Men on the Wrong Side of History for The Critic.

This is a serious book masquerading as a lighthearted polemic. On one level, it is a self-deprecating and often hilarious memoir of a born conservative watching the world go wrong. Sprinkled with gallows humour, like a political version of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch or a humorous version of John O’Farrell’s Things Can Only Get Better, it is also crammed with history, political philosophy and social science. At its heart is the story of a life lived through gritted teeth as left-liberalism became the default setting of universities, schools, churches, the BBC, Big Tech, quangos, the third sector, theatre, comedy, medicine and most blue chip companies.

Check it out.

Monday 24 February 2020

How to handle 'good news' in 'public health'

Here's a little curiosity, a short comment piece by some of the alcohol researchers at Sheffield called The Problem with Good News.

They take a rather unusual and self-interested view of the UK's decline in alcohol consumption, seeing it as a problem for 'public health policy actors', such as activist-academics. Why is it a problem? Because it's more difficult to persuade politicians to make draconian laws when the problem is manifestly not getting worse.

Following steady increases across previous decades, per capita adult alcohol consumption declined in the UK by 18% between 2004 and 2016. Several other high-income countries saw similar trends, signalling a potential reduction in the burden of harm from one of the key determinants of global ill health.

However, for much of the same time-period, public health actors in the countries affected argued that their governments’ alcohol policies were orientated toward commercial interests, were not in line with the best available evidence, and required strengthening to reduce alcohol-related harm.

This apparent mismatch between improving consumption trends and criticism of government action raises questions about whether public health actors’ calls for stronger intervention were misplaced and, more generally, how these actors should respond when the prevalence of addictive behaviours declines. 

It is not clear that 'addictive behaviours' have declined just because overall consumption has declined and there is no reason to view the decline in alcohol consumption as 'good news' (as the article's title suggests) given that alcohol-related harms have not declined.

Moreover, the decline in alcohol consumption in the UK did not coincide with a decline in alcohol-attributable harm. Instead, alcohol-attributable hospitalisations and deaths increased. This is striking, given that many argue that population-level consumption and harm trends typically move in the same direction over time.

'Striking' is one way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that it undermines the cornerstone of their entire ideology and the political demands that flow from it.

So, what to do? The answer, surely, is to stop fretting about per capita consumption and focus on the minority of people who have a drinking problem.

By the end of the article, the authors appear to be stumbling towards that conclusion.

Remedial policies are not diminished in the their importance by this revised focus of attention, but should target instead the demographic groups that continue to exhibit the most risky behaviours or which experience sustained high levels of harm.

Blimey, a bit of common sense. Will it last?

Saturday 22 February 2020

Bad arguments for keeping the BBC licence fee

Last weekend, I put up a tweet suggesting that supporters of the BBC make mutually exclusive claims when they say that the organisation produces world class, universally adored programmes for a bargain price but that it would be financially ruinous if the licence fee were replaced by a subscription (in which those who pay can watch and those who don't are locked out).

A business that is confident of its product does not require legal compulsion. If nearly everybody wishes to consume the BBC's product, they would pay their £154.50 a year voluntarily. If, on the other hand, a large proportion of the public would happily go without the delights of Eastenders and Panorama, perhaps the BBC isn't as widely admired as we thought. If the latter is true, it would be immoral to force those who don't want to watch the BBC to subsidise those who do.

The initial tweet has been viewed over half a million times and drew over a thousand replies. Most of them were along the lines of 'defund the BBC', but others put up a defence. Although I have yet to hear a compelling argument against a subscription model, I have become familiar with the most common justifications for keeping the licence fee. They fall under the following categories:

1. A subscription to the BBC would be as absurd as a subscription to the royal family or the army.

The royal family provides a non-excludable service. Whatever it is that people get out of having a royal family (entertainment, mostly) can be enjoyed regardless of whether you pay taxes or not.

The same is true of the military. It is a public good in the true sense of the term. It is non-rivalrous (the military protection it gives me does not reduce the military protection it gives you) and it is non-excludable (you get the benefits of having an army whether you pay tax or not).

The BBC's output is non-rivalrous (your consumption of Mrs Brown's Boys does not affect my consumption of Mrs Brown's Boys) and it used to be non-excludable (anyone with a TV aerial could tune in and become a free rider). The best reason for having a licence fee used to be that the BBC was a public good. That is not longer true, at least for television. Its website and radio stations are different and will require a different approach, but the technology exists to lock out those who don't subscribe to BBC TV. Free riders can be excluded. It is not like the royal family.

2. A subscription to the BBC would be as absurd as a subscription to NHS/pensions/education.

On its face, this is the same argument as above, but the issues are quite different. Take the NHS, for example. Healthcare is not a public good because it is both rivalrous and excludable. Providers can withhold healthcare from those who do not pay.

We do not have universal coverage of healthcare, paid through taxation, because of free riders, but because we want everybody to have access to it, including those who would otherwise not be able to afford it.

Even those who prefer the more privatised versions of universal healthcare seen in Europe are happy for the healthcare of the poor to be subsidised by taxpayers. The same is true of education and pensions. It is a question of equity and redistribution.

The BBC licence fee is almost the opposite of this. It does not ensure that the poor have access to world class television at the expense of the rich. On the contrary, it forces the poor to pay the same as the rich to watch any television.

There is nothing wrong with a television network charging every household the same amount - unlike healthcare, pensions and education, it is not an essential service - but forcing them to pay it regardless of whether they watch it or not is ethically dubious.

3. The quality of programming will decline under a subscription model.

For the BBC to thrive under a subscription system, it will have to appeal to everybody, just as it is supposed to appeal to everybody now. Personally, I would be inclined to buy a subscription, but the prospect would be significantly less appealing if it decided to get rid of the excellent BBC4. For other people, CBeebies or BBC Parliament could be the deal-breaker.

There is no reason to assume that the BBC will have to 'dumb down'. There is plenty of serious, high brow programming on commercial and/or subscription channels such as Channel 4, ITV, Sky Arts, Netflix and Amazon. Why? Because lots of people want it - and if they want it, they will pay for it.

4. The licence fee gives the UK 'soft power'.

The BBC is admired abroad, partly thanks its news service. There is no doubt that the BBC's World Service has been an inspiration to people around the globe, but this is paid for by the Foreign Office, not the licence payer.

With the licence fee abolished, the BBC may choose to broadcast BBC News/BBC World free-to-air, as Sky News does. It only costs one per cent of the BBC's budget and it would be a good advertisement for the corporation abroad (where it should be looking to attract many subscribers). Given that all other major global news stations are free-to-air, it would be odd if they chose to put their news channel behind a paywall.

Beyond its news coverage, it is doubtful that the BBC gives the UK any more 'soft power' than Harry Potter, Harry Styles or Harry Kane, none of whom demand payment on pain of imprisonment.

5. Those who want a subscription system are in thrall to 'free market ideology/dogma'.

When your opponent accuses you of being 'ideological' it is usually a sign of defeat. What, exactly, is the 'ideology' behind replacing the licence fee with a subscription? It is not about selling off the BBC to the highest bidder; the BBC should be owned by its subscribers. It is not about making a profit. The principle is simply that those who don't want to watch a set of television channels shouldn't have to pay for them.

It is a principle that we accept for most other services and all other television networks. If that is free market ideology, we are all free market ideologues.

6. Getting rid of the licence fee would be unpopular.

Unpopular policies can be the right policies but, as it happens, abolishing the licence fee is both right and popular. A survey conducted in December 2019 found that 70 per cent of Britons want the licence fee abolished. Those who voted Remain or Lib Dem are somewhat less likely to support reform, but there is a clear majority among all groups, and there is little difference between Conservative and Labour supporters.

In its place, 51 per cent favour an ITV model in which the BBC is funded by advertising. My preferred option of a subscription model is supported by 31 per cent, although a further 25 per cent were undecided. Personally, I am doubtful that there is enough advertising spend available to sustain the BBC, particularly since TV advertising is a fading force, but it is a conversation worth having. Either way, the status quo does not have sufficient public support to be sustainable.

It seems to me that there are three groups of people who are resistant to reform. First, there are the small-c conservatives who are reasonably happy with the way the BBC has performed over the years and are fearful that changing it could break it. It is true that change can carry risk, but change is sometimes forced upon you. We cannot pretend that we still live in a country in which three or four channels are beamed into our homes via an aerial.

Second, there are left-wingers who oppose any form of marketisation, even if the alternative is legal compulsion. It is difficult to rebut this since it is more an impulsive reaction than an argument.

Finally, there are those who use flowery talk about 'public service broadcasting' to justify having their preferences subsidised by others. They like the BBC and so you should pay for it. This is no more than selfish rent-seeking and should be recognised as such.

Rather than face the future with fear, the BBC should embrace the opportunities. Critics say that the huge debts amassed by Amazon Prime and Netflix show that a subscription service is not viable for the BBC. But these companies are building up an archive, scaling up their audience and running at a temporary loss. The BBC has perhaps the largest and most valuable television archive in the world and has a ready-made audience that is already paying for it, albeit involuntarily.

Replacing the licence fee with a subscription will inevitably mean that some people who are forced to pay for the BBC now will cease to do so. It is only right that they should be free to opt out, but if the BBC is confident in its service, there should not be too many of them. But it will also mean that those who evade the licence fee at the moment (and there are many) will be cut off from the service. Some of these people, surely, will pay up. And, if the BBC gets its act together, it has a potential audience of billions from around the rest of the world.

The licence fee is guaranteed until 2027, giving the BBC has seven years to adapt to the present and embrace the future. It should enter its second century with optimism.

[Previously posted at CapX]

Friday 21 February 2020

A poor advertisement for government intervention

The Health Foundation has a blog post up by Adam Briggs, a 'public health doctor' who campaigned for the sugar levy and did the modelling which claimed the sugar levy would work (he was then, inevitably, hired to evaluate the sugar levy). Briggs says that market failures can potentially justify government intervention in smoking, drinking, diet and so on.

Indeed they can - this is the main theme of Killjoys - but he doesn't look at what the net externalities are or what the optimal level of consumption is. It is not even clear that he understands what an externality is (at one point he talks about 'negative externalities borne by the individual').

The only reason I mention it is that he uses the graph below to illustrate his point that...

As the government began to take action, smoking rates have fallen since the 1970s, declining from 46% in 1974, to 17% in 2018.

Government action has surely had some effect on the smoking rate over the last fifty years, but this graph does a terrible job of proving it. In the period between 1974 and 1993 there was almost nothing in the way of legislation: the 1975 advertising code for alcohol and tobacco was trivial, as were the new health warnings. And surely no one believes that banning smoking on the London Underground had an impact on the national smoking rate.

And yet smoking prevalence fell throughout this twenty year period, largely thanks to public information campaigns. Education is an intervention of a sort, but it's much softer than what Briggs is proposing.

The tobacco duty escalator began in 1993 and was increased in 1998. Despite prices shooting up, the smoking rate flattened out between 1993 and 2001 when the scale of tobacco smuggling led the escalator to be scrapped.

From 2001, tobacco duty only rose in line with inflation, which is to say it didn't rise. Did the smoking rate shoot up as a result? On the contrary, it finally started falling again and it continued to fall until the next big anti-smoking idea - the smoking ban - was introduced.

The smoking ban heralded another era when smoking rates barely budged. Despite graphic warnings being introduced in 2008 and the tobacco escalator being reintroduced in 2010 (wrongly marked as 2012 in the graph), smoking prevalence showed no sign of dropping until 2013 when e-cigarettes went mainstream. The graph doesn't mention e-cigarettes.

So this graph doesn't really tell the story it thinks it does, does it?

Thursday 20 February 2020

The Lancet admits that sin taxes are regressive

The Lancet has teamed up with the WHO and UNICEF to publish a long and boring article about the threats to children's health. It identifies three major global hazards for the government to tackle.

From the press release:

The report, A Future for the World’s Children?, finds that the health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices that push heavily processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children.

Somehow I don't see food advertising in the same class of danger as ecological degradation and global warming. Don't they realise how ridiculous this makes them look?

Did they have to put in something about 'unhealthy commodities' to justify the article appearing in a medical journal, or is advertising what the authors are really interested in? I suspect the latter. Either way, you'd have to be at several removes from reality to consider marketing practices to be one of the top threats to the world's children.

The Lancet has been riddled with juvenile anti-capitalism under the editorship of that perennial student Richard Horton, and this article is another example...

Unregulated commercial activity poses many well documented threats to children, not least environmental ones. However, commercial marketing of products that are harmful to children represents one of the most underappreciated risks to their health and wellbeing.

Does it really, though?

Children are enormously exposed to harmful commercial marketing

Children around the world are exposed to severe threats from the commercial sector, by advertising and market­ing that exploits their vulnerability, by governments not regulating products that harm their growth and development, and by use of their data and images without their knowledge and permission.

According to Kickbusch and colleagues approaches to health promotion have “totally underestimated globalised corporate power com­bined with its global marketing onslaught and its trans­ national influence on political decision making,” a discussion that has yet to be explicitly extended to children. Countries and civil society organisations have not been able to check the power of commercial entities, especially multinational corporations, which exacerbate social and health inequities.

It goes on and on...

Children are the frequent targets of commercial entities promoting addictive substances and unhealthy commodities, including fast foods and sugar­ sweetened beverages, but also alcohol and tobacco, all major causes of non­communicable diseases.

Fast food and sugary drinks are not addictive, and alcohol and tobacco marketing doesn't target children, but whatever.

In the UK, as in most countries, gambling adverts on TV sport events, which are accessible to children, are unregulated.

Er, no. They are very regulated.

The upshot is that they want some kind of global ban on advertisements for alcohol, e-cigarettes, gambling, 'unhealthy foods', sugary beverages and, of course, tobacco. Think of the children, etc.

And who needs evidence when you have the precautionary principle?

Such a protocol could build upon the precautionary principle, introduced in environmental science in the 1990s in recognition of vulnerable groups, especially children. The principle holds that when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken to mitigate this action, even if cause­ and­ effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. The precautionary principle has been widely used by environmental scien­tists and regulatory authorities, but it has been insufficiently applied to protect children from com­mercial marketing—commercial entities can market products to children with little evidence that they do not pose a threat to their wellbeing.

Banning things that have been around for generations is not what the precautionary principle is about, and it is a crank idea anyway, but it is a gift to anti-science zealots for obvious reasons.

None of this is very interesting or surprising. I mention it only because the article contains this graph showing the effects on various forms of taxation:

Note that sin taxes on alcohol, sugar, tobacco and 'unhealthy foods' are shown as regressive. And so they are, of course, but that is not what the Lancet was claiming when it teamed up with Mike Bloomberg in 2018 and it is not what the 'Institute of Alcohol Studies' was claiming earlier this week. Still, I'm glad they stumbled on the truth eventually.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Is the nanny state here to stay?

This week, I was on the Bad Boy of Science vidcast (or whatever you call these things) talking about the nanny state (of course), the BBC and VAR. Check it out....

Junk study on vaping and heart attacks retracted

Stanton Glantz has finally had his study on vaping/heart attacks retracted. It is hard to imagine that this his first retraction but given the gutter standards of the field he works in, it may be.

Brad Rodu and others have been calling for the Journal of the American Heart Association to retract this piece of junk for months. The study claimed that vaping increased the risk of heart attack among a group of ex-smokers. Ex-smokers are more likely to have a heart attack than nonsmokers and those who switch to e-cigarettes may be more prone than others for various reasons (eg. they may have been heavier smokers than those who quit cold turkey). Any association could easily be due to residual confounding.

That is an issue with any study of this sort, such as the same authors' study which claimed totally implausible associations between vaping and respirator heart disease.

But there was a much bigger and simpler problem with Glantz and Bhatta's study on heart attacks: many of the heart attacks occurred before the individuals started vaping. In some instances, e-cigarettes were not even on the market at the time.

It is an open and shut case. When this issue was raised, the journal asked the authors to 'conduct the analysis based on when specific respondents started using e‐cigarettes'. They didn't and so...

The editors hereby retract the article from publication in Journal of the American Heart Association

Glantz's response on his blog is hilariously predictable...

Journal of American Heart Association caves to pressure from e-cig interests

Alas, he doesn't say which people represent 'e-cig interests' nor why it would make any difference if they did. He has bluffed his way through a long career by shouting down critics with the magic words 'Big Tobacco' and 'Big Vape'. He's not going to stop now.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Coronavirus is a boon, says 'public health' expert

Australia is a nanny state basket case. We've known that for a while, but there could be no better illustration of how the 'public health' movement has been debased and corrupted by puritanical fanatics than this tweet from an Aussie 'public health' 'expert'...

Mr Swanson is a dietitian who wormed his way into the 'public health' racket by being an rabid anti-smoking campaigner in the 1980s. That got him into a career at various health agencies, including the National Heart Foundation and the Health Education Council. He currently rejoices in the title of CEO of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health where he campaigns against e-cigarettes.

He now sees a viral pandemic as a public health boon because it could hold back vaping, thereby encouraging smoking. It is difficult to imagine a more warped and less health-oriented view, but this is what the 'public health' racket has been reduced to. 

Elsewhere in Australia, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and Australian Medical Association have written to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, asking it to reject IQOS's application. They falsely claim that there is 'no evidence' that the heat-not-burn product is safer than combustible cigarettes.

"Claims that heat not burn products pose a lower risk to health due to their milder exposure to toxicants have recently been refuted," college president Harry Nespolon said in a letter to the regulator, seen by the Herald and The Age.

This is a lie - the UK's Committee on Toxicity found that IQOS reduces 'harmful and potentially harmful' compounds by 50-90% - but lying is what these people do and there is no chance of the docile Australian media calling them out on it.

With the greatest respect to my Australian friends, it is the lost continent. A clown country.

Monday 17 February 2020

Off-Air with Mike Graham

I did a half hour interview with TalkRadio's Mike Graham today. We discussed the BBC, cancel culture and various other topics.

And here it is...

Friday 14 February 2020

The miserable failure of Thailand's anti-alcohol laws

Thailand is one of the 'public health' industry's posterboys: an early adopter of graphic warnings and heavy temperance legislation, as well as being a fierce opponent of vaping.

In 2008, the country passed a slew of 'evidence-based' anti-alcohol measures to tackle a perceived epidemic of underage drinking. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (2008) raised the drinking age from 18 to 20, banned the sale of alcohol in places frequented by youth and banned all alcohol advertising.

It was a dream come true for the neo-temperance lobby and included some of the WHO's 'best buys'.

As recommended by the WHO, cost-effective policy measures to reduce harmful use of alcohol and alcohol-related harm, especially among vulnerable populations such as children and adolescents, include restricting the physical availability of alcohol, regulating alcohol marketing and pricing policy, particularly when implemented alongside other strategies. Thailand is one of the countries which has been actively tackling alcohol consumption and related harm in the past decades following WHO recommendations.

This quote comes from a new study that looked at youth drinking rates before and after the legislation took effect. So how did things turn out?

Compared to 2007, students across all school levels in 2016 were 1.17 to 2.74 times as likely to have drunk alcohol in their lifetime, with the greatest increases among students of lower school levels.

Another big 'public health' win! What a Midas touch this field of 'science' has.

The rise in drinking was particularly pronounced among girls, twice as many of whom consume alcohol now than they did before the law was introduced. 

The authors of the study conclude that...

.. despite tremendous efforts in the prevention of underage drinking, including this Act, the implementation of the National Alcohol Policy Strategy along with several social movements, the prevalence of alcohol consumption among Thai youth has not decreased. In fact, it was found that the drinking prevalence has substantially increased, especially among female students and younger students, when compared to the year before the Act.

I believe this is known as an epic fail.

Overall, we could say that the Act seems to fail in preventing underage and youth drinking in Thailand, a result paralleling other studies, which found mixed effects of alcohol policies (35,36).

Don't expect this to lead to a moment's reflection in the 'public health' racket. As I have said many times, it is not a results-driven business.

No wonder they prefer computer models.

Thursday 13 February 2020

Government-approved chocolate fails to sell

We barely knew thee

This is becoming a familiar story.

In December 2016, the confectionery company NestlĂ© announced... 

NestlĂ©’s groundbreaking material science makes less sugar taste just as good

Imagine if your favourite chocolate bar tasted just as good, but with much less sugar. This could soon be a reality, thanks to a major breakthrough by Nestlé scientists.

Using only natural ingredients, researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently. So even when much less is used in chocolate, your tongue perceives an almost identical sweetness to before.

The discovery will enable NestlĂ© to significantly decrease the total sugar in its confectionery products, while maintaining a natural taste.

“This truly groundbreaking research is inspired by nature and has the potential to reduce total sugar by up to 40% in our confectionery,” said Stefan Catsicas, NestlĂ© Chief Technology Officer.

“Our scientists have discovered a completely new way to use a traditional, natural ingredient.”

.. The research will accelerate NestlĂ©’s efforts to meet its continued public commitment to reducing sugar in its products.

In March 2018, the Guardian reported...

Nestlé says it has harnessed science to reduce the sugar in chocolate

Company claims that Milkybar Wowsomes contain 30% less sugar than regular Milkybars

NestlĂ© is claiming a world first by “restructuring” the sugar it uses in its confectionery to produce a white chocolate bar with 30% less sugar than its usual Milkybar brand.

NestlĂ© is the world’s leading producer of packaged foods, but the new “structured sugar” is being produced in its factory in Dalston in Cumbria, a result of UK government pressure on food companies to cut the sugar to help curb childhood obesity.

Chocolate and confectionery companies are thought to have an uphill task, because sugar is intrinsic to their products.

This was all done to help the company meet Public Health England's target of cutting sugar across the board by 20 per cent. As often happens with food reformulated with less sugar, the new product - Milkybar Wowsomes - was barely less calorific than the original, with 529 calories per 100g as opposed to 543 calories per 100g in a standard Milkybar. Nevertheless, PHE's Alison Tedstone praised the company's 'leadership'...

PHE’s chief nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone, was enthusiastic about the new reduced sugar chocolate bar. “This latest announcement shows innovation has a role to play in making everyday foods healthier and NestlĂ©’s leadership in this area should be applauded,” she said.
“We hope this announcement will encourage other companies to explore the use of technology to make significant reductions and produce healthier products to meet the government’s 20% target by 2020.”

Alas, and not for the first time, the public didn't share PHE's enthusiasm for food designed to suit targets rather than tastes, and today came some more news...

Nestle axes low sugar chocolate due to weak sales

Nestle has axed its range of chocolate that used a new low-sugar technique, less than two years after it was launched.

The Swiss food giant said demand for its Milkybar Wowsomes had been "underwhelming".

.. The announcement highlights a major issue facing the world's big processed food producers. While governments and many consumers have called for lower-sugar products, most people have yet to warm to less sweet alternatives.

To put it mildly. And it is overwhelmingly governments, not consumers, who are calling for such products.

At the time of the launch Stefano Agostini, Nestle's chief executive for UK and Ireland, said: "A new product like Milkybar Wowsomes introduces greater choice and allows parents to treat their children with chocolate that tastes great but has less sugar.

"We are demonstrating how we can, and will, contribute to a healthier future and that we take our public health responsibilities very seriously," he added.

The company makes sweets and chocolate. It doesn't have any 'public health responsibilities'. If you want to lose weight, don't eat chocolate. That is the start and end of the conversation.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

BBC re-edits minimum pricing story

In early December, the BBC outdid itself by reporting statistics that showed a rise in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland under the headline 'Alcohol death rates dropping in Scotland' and linking this supposed decline to minimum pricing.

This was garbage on stilts. The number of recorded deaths rose in 2018 and has risen in nearly every year since 2012. 

I complained to the BBC about this and was fobbed off with a condescending e-mail implying that I was unusual in wanting to focus on the latest year of data - or even the last few years - rather than comparing the figures with 2008 and framing the news in the present tense, as the Beeb had done.

I complained again - as you have to if you want to get anywhere - and received a more satisfactory response on Friday. The headline has been changed to 'Scotland's alcohol death rate highest in UK', which is not very newsworthy but has the merit of being true.

See this thread for the details.

It's a minor victory since almost no one will read a two month old news story, but it would be nice to think that the BBC might think twice before pursuing its campaign for minimum pricing so overtly in the future. We can dream, can't we?

Monday 10 February 2020

A rare honest film about vaping

And the truth shall set you free

I was abroad at the end of last week and missed ITV Tonight running a hatchet job on e-cigarettes featuring Stanton Glantz. I believe Channel 4's Dispatches is in the process of making a similar documentary.

There is only one angle the media are interested in when covering tobacco and e-cigarette stories and it involves 'Big Tobacco', conspiracy theories and fear-mongering. A rare exception is the film below from the Economist, a magazine that has generally covered the vaping issue responsibly and honestly. It gives the facts about the so-called EVALI outbreak and the supposed 'epidemic' of underage e-cigarette use. It even discusses snus and the new, baseless panic about nicotine damaging the brain.

If you were unfortunate enough to watch the ITV programme, this may help rinse the taste out of your mouth.

Thursday 6 February 2020

Hawaii to raise the smoking age to 100 - or is it?

When, last February, I commented on reports that Hawaii was considering raising the smoking age to 100 (yes, you read that right), I said it was the stuff of satire and was doubtful that it would happen.

But it has. And they included vape products for good measure...

HB 2540: This bill would progressively ban the sale of cigarettes and e-cigarettes by periodically raising the minimum age of purchase. The bill proposes raising the minimum age to purchase these products to 30 years of age by 2021, 40 years of age by 2022, 50 years of age by 2023, until finally 100 years of age by 2025. The bill passed out of the House Health Committee on Tuesday.

Last month was the centenary of the start of alcohol prohibition. It looks like Americans are ready to do it all over again.


Thanks to Jukka on Twitter for bringing this to my attention. It seems that the bill was amended to remove the gradual age progression. It’s not entirely clear what was voted through in the end, but it looks like Hawaii has stopped short of full prohibitionist insanity for the time being.

As you were.

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Alcohol is new tobacco for the WHO

It is now seventeen years since the World Health Organisation adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control dedicating to denormalising and ultimately eradicating tobacco use around the world. It was the WHO's first treaty and, despite the earnest claims of those who insisted that there was no slippery slope, it was never going to be the last.

The WHO is currently sharpening its knives for a global war on alcohol, as this recent document makes clear...

Alcohol remains the only psychoactive and dependence-producing substance with a significant impact on global population health that is not controlled at the international level by legally-binding regulatory instruments.

The others are covered by the tremendously successful policy of prohibition or, in the case of tobacco, neo-prohibition. Both make pariahs of consumers while fuelling organised crime. 

This absence limits the ability of national and subnational governments to regulate the distribution, sales and marketing of alcohol within the context of international, regional and bilateral trade negotiations, as well as to protect the development of alcohol policies from interference by commercial interests. 

It really doesn't do any of these things. As the WHO notes elsewhere, eleven countries have banned the sale and production of alcohol completely. A few others have banned alcohol advertising completely. Trade deals have got nothing to do with it.

But you can probably tell where this is heading...

That state of affairs prompts calls for a global normative law on alcohol at the intergovernmental level, modelled on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and discussions about the feasibility and necessity of such a legally binding international instrument.

Expect to hear much more of this as the decade wears on. The anonymous liars of the WHO will not waste this opportunity to grab more power. Drinkers be warned: it's your turn to be denormalised.

Tuesday 4 February 2020

To ban or not to ban?

Tim Worstall has written a nice little essay about paternalism for the IEA. In To Ban or Not To Ban?, he looks at everything from chlorinated chicken and climate change to gambling and the green belt.

When is the government justified in restricting freedom? It is not enough that some people might prefer the new arrangements. Tim rightly notes that costs to third parties could justify state coercion and taxation, but he finds the evidence of such costs is often lacking in practice. Much of the time, demands to clamp down on other people's behaviour are motivated by paternalism or self-interest.

Regular readers may be familiar with these arguments, and many will be familiar with Tim from his popular blog. This report takes a fresh look at the subject from first principles. Hopefully it will appeal to people who do not normally read about economics. You can download it for free here.

Monday 3 February 2020

Ten times Remainers went insane

I've written about the ten maddest Remainer moments for Spiked. It's pretty funny if I do say so myself; it's hard to go wrong with such strong source material.

Do have a read.