Thursday 21 May 2020

Nanny state pressure groups on the make

Last month I wrote about the plight of 'public health' groups being overshadowed by a genuine public health problem...

If you’ve spent your career believing that drinking, smoking and obesity are the real epidemics, a potentially fatal virus forcing billions of people into hiding could make you question your priorities. But if the nanny state lobby was disoriented at first, it has quickly learnt to adapt.

And so it has. With the Prime Minister reputed to be in the mood to fight the war on obesity with renewed vigour, the anti-smoking and anti-drinking lobbies sniff an opportunity.

Let's start with the temperance lobby. Its de facto leader in Britain, Ian Gilmore, has written a short editorial for the BMJ in which he promotes his 'Commission on Alcohol Harm', a rigged consultation that will no doubt be confused with a Royal Commission or a Select Committee when it publishes its predictable conclusions later this year.

To get the media interested, he starts the editorial with an outlandish claim... 
As the UK and most other countries went into lockdown, the need to save lives from covid-19 rightly took priority over longer term health concerns. Many people reacted to the closure of pubs and restaurants by stocking up to drink at home in isolation, and alcohol, along with household items and storecupboard food, disappeared from supermarket shelves. In the week to 21 March, alcohol sales were up 67%. In comparison, overall supermarket sales increased by only 43%. Now, as signs emerge of some control over new cases of covid-19, it is increasingly clear that if we don’t prepare for emerging from the pandemic, we will see the toll of increased alcohol harm for a generation.

You what? One week of stockpiling to compensate for a period of self-isolation when the pubs are shut does not remotely imply that there will be a 'toll of increased alcohol harm for a generation'. This is gibberish, for which he provides no evidence in the rest of the editorial.

Nevertheless, the BBC and Sky both fell for it. Here's the Beeb...

Tackling harmful drinking during the lockdown will be "an integral part of the nation's recovery", an editorial in the BMJ says.
With supermarket sales of alcohol having risen, it warns cases of alcoholic liver disease could increase too.

But have alcohol sales risen overall? It doesn't look like it. And, as I argued last week, temperance doctrine dictates that a dramatic decline in alcohol advertising and availability should lead to a substantial improvement in alcohol-related health outcomes. Surely temperance doctrine couldn't be wrong?!

And the writers fear drinking could be fuelling a rise in calls to domestic violence charities.

It's the lockdown, rather than the drinking, that is the problem there.

Sales of alcohol in supermarkets and corner shops jumped by 22% in March.

Because people were stockpiling! They were also stockpiling toilet paper, but they weren't using more of it.

Sales of alcohol in off-licences rose by 31% in the same month - but this accounts for just 1% of alcohol sales.

I don't know what this is supposed to mean. Suggestions in the comments please.

And with the lockdown starting on 23 March, figures for the whole of April are likely to be much higher.

Er, why? The stockpiling had eased off by April, had it not?

"It is increasingly clear that if we don't prepare for emerging from the pandemic, we will see the toll of increased alcohol harm for a generation," the editorial says.

This is a stupid opinion which goes unchallenged by the BBC.

Nanny state lobbyists are in the fortunate position of having their every word turned into a news story by the credulous media. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) get the same privileged treatment, especially from the Guardian.

Earlier this month, ASH made some wild extrapolations from a survey to claim that...

More than 300,000 UK smokers may have quit owing to Covid-19 fears

Today, they are singing a rather different tune. Based on another survey they commissioned, they have fashioned a new narrative...

Millions in UK smoking more amid coronavirus crisis, study suggests

Whilst these two claims are not mutually incompatible, the change of emphasis can be explained by ASH's desire to squeeze more money out of the taxpayer. The article contains some of the most blatant grifting I have ever seen from them.

News of the survey came as the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) accused the government of taking an unreasonably long time to make a decision over the release of £350,000 in funding it was asked to apply for by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for a “quit smoking for coronavirus” campaign, while a unique “window of opportunity” to encourage smokers amidst the pandemic closes.

A unique window of opportunity to shore up their finances, more like. Does the Department of Health normally approach private organisations and actively encourage them to apply for funding? Or does it only do it with their close chums?

“Quit for Covid is being run on a shoestring, and without adequate funding can only have a limited impact,” said Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Ash – which receives a £140,000 annual government grant along with funding from large charities.

“The Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England are supportive and even asked us to apply for funding from the government’s charity scheme when it opened in April. We were told there would be a decision within a week, so the project could start in May and run till October.

“Since then there has been radio silence and we understand the decision now rests with No 10. There is a window of opportunity to provide the support and encouragement smokers need to Quit for Covid, but it is closing fast.”

Oh dear, what a shame.

Taking Liberties has more details on Quit for Covid. It looks like just the kind of ineffective lame duck that the Department of Health would lavish money on.

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