Saturday, 2 July 2022

15 lousy years

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of England's smoking ban. I tweeted about it in the morning, noting that it marked the point at which everything started to go terribly wrong, and was pleased to see a good deal of agreement in the replies (alongside the usual people who don't like washing and think the world should revolve around them), so when Spiked asked me to expand on it, I wrote this...

We have all paid a price for this malevolent legislation, but the cost that will linger the longest is the precedent it set. The passive-smoking issue was always window-dressing. Everyone knew the real reason for the ban was that a significant number of non-smokers didn’t like the smell of tobacco smoke and the government wanted to make smokers’ lives difficult. In the final analysis, smoking in pubs was banned because people in power didn’t like it.


Friday, 1 July 2022

Meet the British Medical Association

Aseem Malhotra, Croydon's part-time cardiologist, was given an award this week by the Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA). Malhotra, whose Twitter feed has been teeming with anti-vax dogwhistles for months, was - incredibly - honoured as a champion of preventive health.

Despite being handed the gong by the Chair of the BMA in front of the BMA logo, it turned to have nothing to do with the BMA, as the BMA was eager to point out.

Dr Nagpaul also released a statement distancing him from Malhotra.
The event seems to have been at a curry house in Hove.

I'm not sure why this group decided to honour Malhotra or how Dr Nagpaul got caught up in it, but it's not a good look for the BMA's chairman to be seen with this grifting narcissist

In any case, it was virtually his last act in the job. The BMA has since made changes at the top that do not bode well for Britain.

This week it appointed Dr Phil Banfield as the Chair of the BMA. Dr Banfield first came to my attention in 2016 when he compared e-cigarettes to Thalidomide. As Chair of the BMA's Welsh Council, he was furious when the plan to ban vaping indoors fell apart.

Banfield's views on e-cigarettes are shared by the anti-vaping dinosaur and obese windbag Martin McKee who recently became President of the BMA's President. Irreconcilably opposed to tobacco harm reduction, Brexit and 'neoliberalism', McKee is wheeled out by the media whenever they need someone to go against the UK consensus on vaping. His far-left political views make it more likely that we will see medics going on strike this year.

The BMA is instinctively authoritarian, but it largely dropped its resistance to vaping in 2017. With these two clowns in charge, there is a real danger of the organisation going backwards.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

Do three year olds recognise the McDonalds logo before they know their own name?

I was at a sugar industry conference yesterday on a panel with somebody from Jamie Oliver's pressure group Biteback 2030. I'm afraid that some of the things he said made me laugh out loud, none more so than his claim that more three year olds recognise the McDonalds logo than know their own name.

This was a new one to me, but a quick internet search showed that a very similar claim has been around for a while. In 2005, the Guardian said:
Half of all children aged four don't know their own name - but two thirds of three-year-olds can recognise the McDonald's golden arches.

The article further reckoned that...

The value of indirect marketing - ads that are not made expressly for kids but are seen by them anyway - runs into the hundreds of millions. The result is that today's average British child is familiar with up to 400 brand names by the time they reach the age of 10. Researchers report that our children are more likely to recognise Ronald McDonald and the Nike swoosh than Jesus. One study found that 69% of all three-year-olds could identify the McDonald's golden arches - while half of all four-year-olds did not know their own name.

This factoid also seems to have appeared in the 2002 book Fast Food Nation. I don't have a copy of it, but the press release makes the (more modest) claim that: 
Children often recognize the McDonald's logo before they recognize their own name.

The same claim was made in an undated BBC radio show.
I can believe that more three or four year olds might recognise popular logos before they can write or read their own name for the simple reason that children of this age cannot usually read or write. But know their own name?! It seems rather implausible so I set about looking for the evidence.
I struggled, to be honest. This study, based on interviewing 38 Australian children aged between 3 and 5 found 62% of them recognised popular fast food logos. But that was published in 2010 so it can't be what the Guardian was talking about.

The nearest thing I can find published before 2002 is this study in JAMA from 1991 which found that 81.7% of US children aged 3 to 5 recognised the McDonalds logo, making it the most recognisable logo to kids of this age after the Disney Channel. 

This probably isn't the study mentioned in the Guardian, but it's fair to say that a majority of 3-5 year olds (but not necessarily 3 year olds) can recognise the golden arches.

So when do children start to know their own name? I can't find any academic references, but it's not the kind of thing any parent needs to Google. It happens in the first year, usually between four and nine months. It is safe to say that approximately 100 per cent of kids know their own name by the time they are four years old.

If any readers can help me out by finding the relevant study (if it exists), please do, but it looks to me like this claim is a load of nonsense. Perhaps it started with the trivial statement that most young children who can't read can recognise images and became mangled over time until it turned into a claim that is obviously untrue.

Monday, 27 June 2022

A swift half with Mark Schrad

I wrote a somewhat critical review of Mark Schrad's book Smashing the Liquor Machine a few months ago so I was delighted when he accepted my invitation to come on my little YouTube show to discuss it. Watch below...

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Minimum pricing continues to go wrong

"Minimum pricing is one of the stronger policies the Scottish Government has come up with"

Minimum pricing in Ireland has very predictably led to people driving to Northern Ireland to buy booze, as the Irish Times reports.... 

In the car park of Seamus McNamee’s off-licence, First and Last, located just minutes north of the Border, are vehicles from all over the country.

The customers, some of whom have travelled from the likes of Carlow, Wexford and Roscommon specifically, reflect the surge in business the Jonesborough retailer has experienced from the South of Ireland, following the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in the Republic.

“Since the Irish Government introduced MUP, it’s just been gradually crazy with people from southern Ireland. Since March, and then the last bank holiday weekend, it’s just been crazy. We’re run off our feet,” Mr McNamee said.

“It’s hard to quantify the increase because of the pandemic, but I’d say it’s jumped up another 30 to 40 per cent.”

Slabs of beer are the most popular for those travelling cross-Border, Mr McNamee said, as they have been most affected by the new law.

“It used to take us maybe three or four weeks to sell a pallet. Now, since MUP, we would be doing three to four pallets of Coors or Bud per week.”

Consumers are buying in bulk, too, and buying for four or five members of the one family at a time.

“They’re coming with a list and getting their bits and pieces here. You can get a spend of between €200 to €400, up to maybe €2,000 or €3,000.”

Meanwhile in Scotland, where the case for minimum pricing is in tatters, a 'public health expert' is doing an impression of Comical Ali.

A PUBLIC health expert has rubbished a Tory MSP's claim that minimum alcohol pricing isn’t working in Scotland.

In May 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to set a base price for each unit of alcohol sold - driving up the price of cheaper booze.

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Tory MSP for Glasgow region, claimed during a meeting of the health committee in Holyrood that the scheme was failing and that the most vulnerable were cutting back on food to afford the high prices. 

Indeed. Here is what the report concluded:

The introduction of a £0.50 MUP in Scotland led to a marked increase in the prices paid for alcohol by people with alcohol dependence. There is no clear evidence that this led to reduced alcohol consumption or levels of alcohol dependence among people drinking at harmful levels. 
... People who struggled to afford the higher prices arising from MUP coped by using, and often intensifying, strategies they were familiar with from previous periods when alcohol was unaffordable for them. These strategies typically included obtaining more money by reducing spending on food and utility bills, increasing borrowing from sources such as family, friends or pawnbrokers, running down savings or other capital, and using foodbanks or other charities. In line with this, the policy increased the financial strain felt by a significant minority of people with alcohol dependence.

However, Professor Petra Meier told MSPs that she didn’t agree with his assessment of the policy and said it was one of the “stronger policies” the Scottish Government has come up with without full control of tax powers and alcohol duties. 

... Meier, director of the SIPHER Consortium which analyses the long term impact of health policies, said that she didn’t agree with Gulhane’s assessment.

She added: “It's working on the whole. There are some very heavy drinkers who may not have the opportunity to cut down their drinking who then substitute for food spending. I don't think that's a problem of the price you put on alcohol, I think it's a problem on the health services that haven't been available." [what?! - CJS]

... Meier added that for very dependent drinkers the policy “hasn't had many detrimental effects, but there has been some substitution with big purchases”.

This is delusional stuff. There is literally no evidence that minimum pricing is working. The evaluations looking at heavy drinkers, crime and hospital activity all found no evidence of any benefits. 

Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that Petra Meier was the head of the Sheffield University group that did all the modelling for minimum pricing. This modelling was virtually the only 'evidence' that the policy would work and it turned out to be deeply flawed. 
Long time readers may recall that Meier had no experience in the field of alcohol research (or modelling, as far as I can see) until she spotted a gap in the market for government-commissioned minimum pricing modelling. Having expressed an interest in alcohol research, she was immediately embraced by neo-temperance activist-academics like Robin Room and Tim Stockwell. 
She has done rather well out of it. She is now a professor and, in 2019, received £5 million from the unwitting taxpayer to set up her SIPHER outfit which employs many of her chums. Last year, she received the ultimate accolade from the temperance lobby when she was made president of the weirdo cult anti-drinking organisation, the Kettil Bruun Society (named after the godfather of the ridiculous 'whole population approach'). 

It must stick in the craw that some of her old Sheffield colleagues co-authored the Public Health Scotland evaluation that delivered such a blow to the cause two weeks ago, and it must be hard to admit that the work upon which your reputation rests was worthless junk, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

What lockdown tells us about alcohol policy

I have a new study out today with the IEA looking at the extraordinary social experiment of lockdown and what it tells us about alcohol policy.
According to contemporary 'public health' ideology, harmful drinking is the result of 'commercial determinants', especially advertising, affordability and availability. If you clamp down on those then alcohol consumption will decline, and if alcohol consumption declines then harmful drinking will decline because - as the influential epidemiologist Geoffrey Rose put it...
‘… from the average alcohol intake of a population one can predict precisely the number of heavy drinkers. It is therefore likely to follow that changes in average consumption will lead to corresponding changes in the prevalence of alcoholism and in alcohol-related health problems.’
In March 2020, the number of licensed premises open in the UK fell by two-thirds and spending on alcohol advertising fell by half. Alcohol also became slightly affordable. 

As a result there was a dramatic decline in consumption and a commensurate decline in alcohol-related harm, right? 

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Alcohol consumption is at a historic low, temperance lobby demands action

Public Health Scotland has just published the alcohol consumption stats for 2021. With the country in lockdown for much of the year, consumption remained unusually low, but it was not zero and therefore 
not low enough for the temperance lobby.
From the Scotsman...
Scots still drinking too much as drop in alcohol intake stalls

ALCOHOL consumption in Scotland remains too high, amid calls to increase the minimum unit price. 
Minimum pricing doesn't work. The evidence is in. Give it up.
An average adult in Scotland drank the equivalent of around two bottles of wine per week in 2021, based on estimates from alcohol retail sales.

Consumption also appears to have stalled after previously falling to a historic low.

Consumption fell in 2020 because people were locked down and the hospitality industry was closed for months. The same thing happened in most countries. It remained unusually low in 2021 for the same reason. It was never going to keep going down and it is very likely to rise in 2022.

The real question is whether alcohol-related deaths also fell to a 'historic low'. Reader, they did not. In 2020, they stood at a nine year high in Scotland. So much for the Scottish government's 'whole population approach' and the ludicrous 'single distribution theory' which dictates that "we can reduce alcohol related harm through efforts directed towards reducing the mean consumption in the population, because this will also reduce drinking among the heaviest drinkers and by extension rates of harm."

In 2020, purchase data indicated that 9.4 litres of pure alcohol - or 18.1 units - was sold per adult per week in Scotland, the lowest level since current records began in 1994. This remained the same in 2021. 

However, adults are advised not to exceed 14 units.

The 14 unit guideline is based on no evidence and was arrived at through a process that was frankly corrupt.

In 2021, off-trade premises such as supermarkets and other off-licences, accounted for 85% of all the alcohol purchased in Scotland, compared to 73% in 2019 and 90% in 2020.

If you close the on-trade for five months, that's what's going to happen.

It comes after a study published last week revealed that there was "no clear evidence" that minimum unit pricing, introduced in Scotland in May 2018, had reduced alcohol intake amongst the most harmful drinkers, with evidence that they had cut back on food and heating instead to cope with the increased cost.

Indeed it did. This is an important which Scotland's state-funded temperance groups are doing their best to ignore.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said it was "encouraging" to see the decrease in drinking from 2020 sustained, but called on ministers to "optimise" minimum pricing by increasing it "at least in line with inflation". Campaigners have pushed for a hike from 50 to 65 pence per unit.

Ms Douglas added: "Alongside this we need restrictions on the aggressive marketing of alcohol and to reduce how easily available it is in our communities. 

In this racket there is zero accountability. Minimum pricing has failed and there is no good evidence to suggest that restricting alcohol advertising will work. Alcohol consumption is at the lowest level on record, but that hasn't helped anything. The people at Alcohol Focus Scotland should be stripped of their public funding, if not tarred and feathered. Instead, they are doubling down on minimum pricing and setting their sights on another futile policy.

In a sane world, the Scottish government would tell them to shove off.

Public Health Minister Maree Todd said: "Work on reviewing the level of minimum unit pricing is underway and we will be consulting on potential restrictions on alcohol advertising later this year."

Of course they are.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Paul McCartney at 80

It was Paul McCartney's 80th birthday yesterday and he'll be playing Glastonbury next week. I've written about his 52 year post-Beatles career and his desire to be ordinary for Quillette

When the Beatles broke up in late 1969, Paul McCartney retreated to his farm in Scotland with his wife Linda and their children. If he had wanted to secure lifelong adoration, he could have stayed there and never released another record. His legend would have only grown. Instead, he set out to do it all again. He never wrote another ‘Blackbird’ or ‘For No One,’ but then who did? It is enough that he formed one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, wrote a string of smash hits, including one of the best James Bond songs and the UK’s best-selling single to date, made at least one classic album, and was still producing high quality work in his 70s. If the Beatles had never existed, Paul McCartney would still be considered one of the greats.


Saturday, 11 June 2022

Debating with Debs

I'm on holiday for a week so I will leave you with my debate with ASH's Deborah Arnott from yesterday. All three of the people on screen are ex-smokers but I get the impression that Debs is the only one who is still itching for a fag.

Friday, 10 June 2022

A swift half with Joanna Williams

It was great to talk to Joanna Williams yesterday about the silly Khan review and her new book about wokeism, the title of which I kept getting wrong but which you can buy here.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

Send in the clowns - Javed Khan's tobacco review

Javed Khan published his 'independent review of tobacco control' today and it is far madder than anyone expected. It's titled 'Making smoking obsolete', but it is full of supply-side interventions, including incremental prohibition. He doesn't seem to realise that products become obsolete when demand dries up, not supply.
Khan has consulted with the worst extremists in the 'public health' industry and grabbed every half-baked idea that has ever been proposed, including raising the smoking age every year, painting cigarettes green and putting individual health warnings on them, banning films which show people using tobacco from being broadcast before 9pm and have warnings flash up on screen when they do, banning people who live in social housing from smoking in their own home, banning smoking outside and hiking the price of a pack of cigarettes up to around £20. 
There's also lots of stuff about looting smokers and giving the cash to people in 'public health'. In fact, that is the first item on his agenda. This has ASH's fingerprints all over it. See if you can spot the difference between Khan's plan and the plan put out by ASH's puppet All-Party group last year. There isn't one.

In a way, it's good that he's given a voice to the mentalists because the public will finally realise that they are dealing with swivel-eyed prohibitionists. On the other hand, it leaves the government in a bit of a bind because they will be expected to act on at least some of the recommendations. I don't think they anticipated Khan to go native so quickly and so completely.
There's fun to be had in the appendix of the report in which Khan hears from focus groups made up of actual smokers and discovers that they are quite happy and just want to be left alone. 

Attitudes to smoking

There is a notable lack of drive or even inclination to quit smoking among many. 

Participants considered smoking was an essential tool for dealing with life. 

Attitudes to quitting

Awareness of health risks is high but can be rationalised, justified or ignored.

Quitting: attitudes towards support services

Not top of their mind; much disinterest in quit support services; some rejection.

A main barrier is a lack of desire to quit; but some actively do not want to engage.

Policy ideas

Reaction muted and negative. In some instances, negativity linked to perceived increased difficulty to smoke.

Student smokers (who took up smoking at university)

Students are positive, upbeat about the future.

Notably, most are without care about their smoking. 

No urge or desire to quit.

Generally minimal concern about ability to quit when they want to; related lack of interest in support services.

Ethnic minority smokers

Generally aligned with other smokers regarding situations, behaviour, and attitudes to smoking.

LGBTQ+ smokers

Generally aligned with other smokers regarding situations, behaviour and attitudes to smoking.

Oh well, never mind. It doesn't matter what smokers think. They're not 'stakeholders'.
We know how 'public health' lobbying works by now. There is a very clear playbook. The moment the government gets within two miles of a policy, they portray it as inevitable that it will become law. When the government fails to implement it, they accuse it of being in thrall to tobacco industry lobbyists. 
Within hours of the report being published, the spinning had already begun. 
Downing Street accused of blocking plans to raise legal smoking age every year in bid to appease Tory right 
There weren't any plans to block, of course.
Labour has raised concerns over links between David Canzini, Downing Street’s powerful deputy chief of staff, and tobacco companies, and demanded to know what role he had had in any watering down of plans on the new smoking laws.
... Mr Canzini used to work for Sir Lynton Crosby’s lobbying firm CT Group, whose clients include tobacco firms.
So tedious, but you know this government will buckle sooner or later.
I put out a comment with the IEA earlier...
“Javed Khan has managed to gather the most crackpot ideas from the fringes of nanny state extremism and compiled them in a single document. The idea of raising the smoking age every year would mean treating the adults of the future as if they were children forever. In years to come, perhaps we will see furtive 40 year olds hanging around outside shops looking for 41 year olds to buy them cigarettes.  

“Other bizarre proposals include painting cigarettes green, putting health warnings on individual sticks and banning people from smoking in their own home. He wants to ban films which show people using tobacco from being broadcast before 9pm and have warnings flash up on screen when they do. 

“His plan to ban smoking in beer gardens will be the final nail in the coffin of the pub industry, while his idea of hiking the price of cigarettes by 30 per cent overnight will be warmly welcomed by Britain’s tobacco smugglers who are already doing a roaring trade.

“It is easy to laugh at some of these proposals and Mr Khan should be thanked for providing some entertainment in these difficult times, but there is a non-trivial risk that a future government will be silly enough to implement them. Before filing this report in the bin, the government should make it clear that adults have the right to smoke and that efforts to reduce the smoking rate will not come at the expense of civil liberties.”
I'm also quoted in the Sun...

Christopher Snowdon, an author and head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, called the report "absolutely insane".

"I don't why the Government asked this guy to carry out a review," he blasted.

"He has gathered the most crackpot ideas from the lunatic fringe of the nanny state lobby and compiled them in a single document.

"It's an embarrassment."

Prof David Nutt isn't happy with it either:
"The ever-tightening ban on cigarette sales will simply feed an ever-growing black market. The Government is repeating the mistakes America made a century ago in its Prohibition of alcohol. The report points out that the UK is geographically “vulnerable” to illicit trade by criminal gangs. With the advent of free ports, this whole approach doesn’t make a lot of sense.” 
“The review contains muddled thinking, with proposals that make political impact rather than having any health impact or value."  
“It would be far, far better for the Government to focus on helping hardened smokers of all ages to switch to reduced risk products. That is how Scandinavia has beaten smoking. It has allowed its nicotine users to switch to snus which every scientist knows is vastly safer than smoking. For decades they have been reaping the health dividend from a product that doesn’t even cause oral cancer. That’s why Switzerland and the USA have authorised snus. But our Government continues to ban the world’s most successful alternative to smoking." 
Khan rejects snus in his report. He largely dismisses heated tobacco too.
Why did the government ask this guy to do the job again?

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Raising the smoking age and other bad ideas

Rumour has it that the 'independent review of tobacco control' will recommend raising the age at which people can buy tobacco to 21, just as ASH have been demanding.

I've written about this for Cap-X...

An independent audit of tobacco control would be more appropriate. Anti-smoking campaigners pop up every few years with their stern faces to tell us that they have got a new evidence-based policy which the Government must act upon. The Government then dithers until the pressure builds enough for it to capitulate, the policy is introduced and we never hear about it again. The last one was plain packaging, which was portrayed as something of a panacea at the time (one of its more excitable advocates described it as a vaccine for lung cancer), but when the dust settled it turned out to have no effect on cigarette sales. Randomised controlled trials have since shown that it was never likely to work.

Independent reviews are supposed to ‘take the politics out’ of issues that are inherently political. They are supposed to generate ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘thinking outside of the box’. In practice, they usually involve someone who doesn’t know a great deal about a subject being surrounded by activists, and who ends up parroting the activists’ demands.

And the New Statesman...

In the UK, the age at which people are considered to be adults has generally gone down over the years. Until 1970, you had to be 21 to vote. The age of homosexual consent was 21 until 1994. These days, the only thing you’re not allowed to do between the age of 18 and 20 is adopt a child. With the exception of the age of consent (16), driving a car (17) and giving blood (17), the law has coalesced around the age of 18 as being the age at which people have the physical and mental maturity to make their own decisions.

When the legal smoking age rose from 16 to 18 in 2007, civil libertarians raised few objections since it only created parity with other potentially risky activities, such as gambling, drinking and fighting in a war. Increasing it to 21 brings it in line with almost nothing and looks more like the start of incremental prohibition than a considered verdict on the age at which people have enough wisdom to weigh up risks and benefits.

They're both short articles so do have a read.

Speaking of stupid nanny state policies, I've also written about the utter failure of minimum pricing for Spiked.

In 2014, Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, described minimum pricing as an ‘evidence-based policy exquisitely targeted at those, and those around them, who are currently suffering harm’. Gilmore’s partner in temperance activism, Nick Sheron, said that MUP was an ‘almost perfect alcohol policy because it targets cheap booze bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers completely unaffected’. In another turn of phrase, he said MUP ‘exquisitely targets the heaviest drinkers’.

Today’s report shows just how exquisite minimum pricing is. Carried out over five years and focusing on the ‘people drinking at harmful levels’, for whom minimum pricing was supposedly calibrated, the research has found almost nothing to suggest that putting an arbitrary floor price on alcohol causes anything but misery.

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Minimum pricing in the mud

The latest report in the official minimum pricing evaluation was published by Public Health Scotland this morning. Today's report looks at perhaps the most important aspect of the policy - whether it helped people who drink at harmful levels. 
Several of the authors, including Petra Meier and John Holmes, were behind the Sheffield University modelling that led to the policy being implemented in the first place. This gave them a conflict of interest which, in my view, should have disqualified them from being on the evaluation team. Having said the policy was going to work, they have a clear incentive for making it look like it worked.

But whatever their incentive, they haven't been able to make a silk purse out of this pig's ear. The Scottish Government are going to put a brave face on it, but the report tells a story of failure.

  •  There is no clear evidence that MUP led to an overall reduction in alcohol consumption among people drinking at harmful levels or those with alcohol dependence, although some individuals did report reducing their consumption.
  • There is also no clear evidence that MUP led to a change in the severity of alcohol dependence symptoms among those presenting for treatment.

So much for minimum pricing being a policy that "exquisitely targets the heaviest drinkers".

  • People drinking at harmful levels who struggled to afford the higher prices arising from MUP coped by using, and often intensifying, strategies they were familiar with from previous periods when alcohol was unaffordable for them. These strategies typically included obtaining extra money, while reducing alcohol consumption was a last resort.
  • In line with the above, MUP led to increased financial strain for a substantial minority of those with alcohol dependence as they obtained extra money via methods including reduced spending on food and utility bills, increased borrowing from family, friends or pawnbrokers, running down savings or other capital, and using foodbanks or other forms of charity.

Just like some of us warned.

  • Some people with alcohol dependence and their family members reported concerns about increased intoxication after they switched to consuming spirits rather than cider. In some of these cases, people also expressed concerns about increased violence. 

This is the 'public health' policy that just keeps on giving, isn't it? Well worth £270 million.

The termination of WP4 [work package 4] meant the project could not explore in detail the impact of MUP on the health of people drinking at harmful levels. However, the remaining WPs did not find any evidence of changes in the general health of people this group.

So no evidence of a reduction in alcohol consumption among harmful drinkers as a whole, no evidence of a reduction in the severity of alcohol dependence and no evidence of an improvement in health, but plenty of evidence of increased financial problems, substitution effects and reductions in spending on household essentials, and some evidence of an increase in drunkenness and violence. We also know from previous research that there was no impact on crime, A & E attendances or hospital admissions.

I don't remember any of this being projected in the models, do you?

This report should be the final nail in the coffin of minimum pricing. As the authors note and anyone could have predicted, "reducing alcohol consumption was a last resort". The Scots shouldn't wait another two years for the sunset clause to kick in. They should get rid of this dreadful regressive policy now.

The Times notes that the report was released to the press, under embargo, three hours before the confidence vote in Boris Johnson yesterday and that Public Health Scotland "risk-scores its publications by their potential for political embarrassment to the government". Good day to bury bad news, Nicola? 

Monday, 6 June 2022

More evidence that graphic warnings (and plain packaging) don't work

It's a randomised controlled trial in which 357 smokers aged 21 to 65 years from San Diego County, California, who were not actively planning to quit smoking, were sent their usual brand of cigarettes for a month and were then split into three groups for the next three months when they were sent either standard packs, packs with graphic warnings or plain packs (i.e. with no brand imagery but also no graphic warnings). Their smoking and other behaviour was monitored daily.
In practice, both the graphic warning packs and the plain packs were plain. All corporate colours and logos were removed from both (see image at the bottom of this blog post). In effect, it is an RCT about plain packs as we know them.
After four months - with 18,987 cigarette packs sent out and used - it seems that the people who used the graphic warning packs were more likely to conceal them. This what the researchers focus on in the text of the study:  
Daily querying showed that the inclusion of GWLs on cigarette packs increased the percentage of smokers who hid their packs at least some of the time from 41.3% (95% CI, 39.6%-43.0%) during the run-in period to 57.1% (95% CI, 55.9%-58.1%) by the end of the intervention period.

Crucially, however, the study also found that...

Neither smoking prevalence nor consumption differed by group at any point in the study.
This was true of the smokers who had the plain packs as well as the smokers with the graphic warning packs. There was no difference in smoking prevalence or cigarette consumption compared to the group that kept using their normal packs.
It is worth remembering that when the campaign for plain packaging in the UK was reaching its crescendo, a study from Australia got a lot of attention because it appeared to show that some smokers were concealing their cigarettes when they were in cafés and bars after the policy was introduced (by putting them under their wallets or phones, for instance). It was cited as evidence that plain packaging "can deter the take-up of smoking" and "would save lives".

Throughout the agitation for plain packaging, small behavioural or attitudinal shifts from smokers confronted with new packs were taken as a proxy for reduced smoking prevalence or reduced cigarette consumption. The same kind of evidence had been used to campaign for graphic warnings themselves.

But there has never been any evidence that these policies have any real effect on smoking behaviour, cigarette consumption, smoking cessation or smoking initiation. 
This is the third randomised controlled trial showing that they don't make any difference where it counts. I wrote about the second one last year. The first one was published in 2015 and found "no evidence that pack type had an effect on either of the primary measures" [number of cigarettes smoked and amount of smoke inhaled] but it did find that smokers "rated the experience of using the pack more negatively .. rated the pack attributes more negatively .. and rated the health warning as more impactful". 
Dozens of studies have found that smokers prefer standard packs to plain packs and written warnings to graphic warrnings. Of course they do. The 'plain' packs and graphic 'warnings' are deliberately ugly. Anti-smoking campaigners and gullible politicians assumed that this would lead to behavioural change. 
Sceptics said that it wouldn't because smokers buy cigarettes for the cigarettes, not the pack. And we were right again, weren't we?
Click to enlarge


Thursday, 2 June 2022

Illiterate 'public health' bozos

The tweet below comes from Wakefield's director of public health who is paid at least £124,000 per annum.

Restricting advertising of unhealthy food and drinks could reduce childhood obesity by two-thirds?! That is, er, quite a claim. Does it sound remotely plausible to you?

However, she cites a source so let's have a look at 'How can local authorities reduce obesity?' by the National Institute for Health Research. It has a section on advertising and it does indeed make that claim. 
Modelling research has predicted that restricting advertising of unhealthy food and drinks between 05:30 and 21:00 could reduce childhood obesity by two-thirds, and help tackle health inequalities.(19)

Reference 19 is this study which modelled the possible effect of a ban on HFSS food advertising before 9pm. It estimated that such a ban could reduce average energy intake by nine calories per day which would somehow reduce childhood obesity by 4.6%.
We estimate that if all HFSS advertising between 05.30 hours and 21.00 hours was withdrawn, UK children (n = 13,729,000), would see on average 1.5 fewer HFSS adverts per day and decrease caloric intake by 9.1 kcal (95% UI 0.5-17.7 kcal), which would reduce the number of children (aged 5-17 years) with obesity by 4.6% (95% UI 1.4%-9.5%) and with overweight (including obesity) by 3.6% (95% UI 1.1%-7.4%).

4.6% is not 67%, so where did the claim about a two-thirds reduction come from? It seems to have come from this line in the study:

Under a scenario where all HFSS advertising is displaced to after 21.00 hours, rather than withdrawn, we estimate that the benefits would be reduced by around two-thirds.

What hope is there for people like Anna Hartley, who is merely a well remunerated foot soldier, when the National Institute for Health Research can't read a simple abstract? 
The actual claim is that there would be a tiny reduction in calorie intake if these adverts were banned, which would be smaller still if the ads were broadcast after 9pm instead (which most of them would be). 
We really are dealing with idiots, aren't we? We have people who can't think taking their lines from people who can't read.

Incidentally, the study itself is garbage and almost certainly overestimates the impact, as I have explained before.

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

New Zealand becomes a target market for tobacco smugglers

A couple of islands in the middle of nowhere with a population of five million people will not be the first choice of tobacco smugglers, but New Zealand has finally made itself a target market.

Data released under the Official Information Act shows the scale of New Zealand's cigarette smuggling problem, after Customs received a $10 million budget boost to fight it.

Cigarettes are being seized at the border in relentless quantities: more than quarter of a million a month, along with an average of 129 kilograms of loose tobacco. 

Customs is bracing for the problem to increase as smoking laws get stricter - and promising to put the heat on the people responsible.

The first three months of this year saw more than 800,000 individual cigarettes confiscated by Customs officers, which was 60 percent more than the same three months in 2021.

They also seized a whopping 390 kilograms of loose tobacco.

Officers had observed increasingly bold smuggling techniques. 

I bet they have. Way to go, New Zealand. You've copied Australian tobacco control policies and have got yourself an Australian-style black market.

As the cost of legally purchased cigarettes creeps up - to a current average of $38 a packet - Hart said illicit trade was becoming more and more lucrative.

$38 is nearly £20, folks. When the government is shafting consumers with taxes like that, buying from the black market isn't just inevitable, it's almost a moral obligation.

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

The imaginary government U-turn on gambling

In the dishonest campaign against fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), the final trick played by anti-gambling activists was to pretend that there had been a 'delay' and a 'U-turn'.
In May 2018, when the government announced that it would be cutting the maximum stake on these machines from £100 to £2, as campaigners had demanded, no date was given. Three months later, it was reported that the government intended to enforce the change from April 2020. That may or may not have been true, but when the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, formally announced the policy in the October Budget Statement, it clearly stated that it would begin in October 2019.
If the earlier reports were true, the government had brought the date forward by six months. As Huw Merrimen MP (who supported the stake reduction) wrote at the time... 

When the changes were first announced earlier this year, there was no clear date set as to when they would come into effect. Some MP’s wanted to wait until April 2020, but a cross-party group argued that this would be too late. That is why the government agreed on a compromise and Philip Hammond announced that the stake would be reduced in October 2019.

The one thing that the government had not done was push the date back. And yet that is what the anti-gambling lobby pretended had happened. Tracey Crouch, the fanatical sports minister, resigned over this supposed 'delay', claiming that "implementation of these changes are now being delayed until October 2019 due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests."
The media went along with this conceit, portraying the switch to October 2019 as a 'six-month postponement' (the Guardian) and a 'U-turn' (New Statesman) rather than the six month acceleration that it was.  

The business of pressure groups is pressure, not evidence, and nothing piles on pressure in contemporary politics like talk of a U-turn.

The government is currently reading through thousands of responses to its public consultation on gambling regulation and the anti-gambling lobby are at it again.
From the Sunday Times...

Ministers are expected to water down plans for a crackdown on betting giants after opposition from the gambling industry.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) will next month publish a review of 17-year-old gambling legislation that was expected to include the introduction of a “polluter pays” mandatory levy on betting firms to fund addiction and research.

Expected by whom? The government has announced no plans and the consultation document does not even hint at a levy. It doesn't mention any specific policies. It is a general call for evidence.  

Premier League clubs were also expected to be forced to remove gambling sponsors from the front of football shirts as part of the biggest shake-up of advertising since tobacco promotion was outlawed.

Again, expected by whom? The government has not said, or even implied, that it is going to ban gambling sponsorship in football. There have been rumours from unnamed sources, but nothing more than that. 

These policies are on the wishlist of the likes of Derek Webb and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling-Related Harm. There is no evidence that they have ever been on the government's agenda.

However, both proposals are understood to have been watered down as the government prepares to publish its white paper.

According to sources familiar with the discussions, No 10 is likely to block the introduction of a compulsory levy in favour of greater voluntary contributions amid fears of imposing further taxes on the industry.

Anonymous briefings happen, of course, but "sources familiar with the discussions" is an unusually vague phrase. "Downing Street insiders" or "sources close to government" would be the more typical way of describing someone involved in the decision-making. "Sources familiar with the discussions" could be anyone.

The only people named in the article are Carolyn Harris and Iain Duncan Smith, both from the APPG on Gambling-Related Harm (of which Derek Webb is the sole funder now that the likes of Bacta and the Hippodrome casino have dropped out). They are outraged, natch, and will be delighted with the free publicity.

 The Daily Mail has cribbed from the Sunday Times and is also screaming 'U-Turn'...

A crackdown on betting giants is to be diluted by ministers - to the fury of anti-gambling campaigners.

Plans to be published next month had been expected to introduce a ‘polluter pays’ levy on gambling firms to fund research into addiction.

They were also expected to propose a ban on the names of gambling sponsors appearing on the front of Premier League football shirts.

But officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are said to have retreated from both proposals following opposition from the industry.
On Twitter, one of the Mail's reporters upgraded an expectation to a "promise":
There has been no such promise. The government has remained tight-lipped throughout. It cannot U-turn on something it has never announced and never publicly supported. 
You can see what the tactic is here. When the government publishes the white paper and it doesn't include every extremist policy demanded by the anti-gambling cranks, the cranks will claim that it has been "watered down" by the government at the behest of the all-powerful gambling lobby - and the docile media will go along with it as usual.

Monday, 30 May 2022

Alcohol policy - theory versus facts

In 2018, Finland relaxed some of its alcohol laws. Notably, it allowed grocery shops to sell alcohol of up to 5.5% ABV. Previously, it had been limited to 4.7% ABV, with stronger beers only available from the state-owned off licences.

This might seem a minor change but it allowed commercial shops to sell standard Finnish beer, which has an average alcohol content of 5.2%.

According to 'public health' ideology, this would be the start of Finns going to hell in a handcart: 

Due to fierce price competition between grocery stores, medium-strength beer has been available for much lower prices in them than in the state stores, while stronger beer only available in state stores has been minimally affected by price competition. Therefore, the reform was not only expected to affect consumption through greater physical availability but also through lowering prices.

It was widely expected in the public health field that the legislative change would increase the demand for strong beer, cider and premixed alcoholic beverages and raise their average alcohol content. 

The policy was subject some intense public debate and a number of MPs were strongly opposed to it, citing expert opinion.

Twenty-eight Members of the Finnish Parliament, including 15 members of the Centre Party, have issued a joint statement calling for amendments to the bill to reform the alcohol legislation of Finland.

... The signatories to the joint statement are demanding that additional emphasis be placed on the views of experts who have expressed their opposition to the reform bill.

“Not one of the expert organisations (18), and not one of the social and health care providers and organisations preventing the adverse effects of alcohol use that issued a statement (11) is supportive of the draft bill,” they point out.

According to Movendi, a gospel temperance group formerly known as the International Order of Good Templars which is bizarrely funded by the Finnish lottery...

The reform is set to have unfortunate consequences for public health in Finland, a country where alcohol consumption is already higher than elsewhere in Scandinavia.

Four years on and we can see what actually happened. According to a new study, the answer is not much at all.
Results: There was no overall change in the total alcohol (0.04 [95% CI −0.03, 0.11] litres/year) or beer purchases (0.05 [95% CI −0.02, 0.11] litres/year). Purchases of ready-to-drink beverages increased by 0.10 [95% CI 0.09, 0.11] litres/year (+ 84%). Total alcohol purchases increased in the three highest income groups, whereas they decreased in the two lowest groups (p for the interaction < 0.0001). 
Conclusions: The increased purchases of alcohol as ready-to-drink beverages were, on the average, compensated for by a decrease in purchases of other alcoholic beverages.

Disaster averted again! 

Meanwhile, evidence that the ridiculous single distribution theory is wrong continues to mount. A study of drinking in Australia in the 2010s has found that everybody in society does not act like a single organism. Who knew?


Throughout the whole population, alcohol consumption had declined in all percentile groups, with the largest proportional declines evident for light and moderate drinkers [e.g. drinkers in the 25th percentile declined by 32.7%; 95% confidence interval (CI) = -41.6, -22.3% per wave]. Broadly collective declines were also found for younger men and women with significant declines in every percentile group, but older groups showed some evidence of polarization. For example, women aged 45–64 years significantly increased their consumption (2.9% per wave, 95% CI = 0.3–5.5%), while consumption for those in the 25th percentile fell significantly (-16.7%, 95% CI = –27.6, -4.2%).


The declines in Australian drinking since 2010 have included important deviations from the collectivity predicted by Skog's influential theory of collectivity of drinking, with markedly different patterns evident among different demographic groups.

How much longer will the temperance/'public health' lobby cling to their daft theories?

Last Orders with Patrick Flynn

There's a new episode of Last Orders out in which we discuss J**** O*****, partygate and Ricky Gervais. Enjoy!

Friday, 27 May 2022

A swift half with Julian Jessop

There's a new episode of the Swift Half online. This week I talk to economist Julian Jessop about inflation.

Thursday, 26 May 2022

The European Commission wants to hear from you

The European Commission is asking for feedback on its Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). The call for evidence closes on 17 June 2022 and is intended to "assess to what extent the framework has fulfilled its goals and whether it is able to support a ‘Tobacco-Free Generation’ by 2040". A new TPD is likely to be proposed and brought into law in the next few years.

Anti-vaping lobbyists will be pushing for a ban on e-cigarette flavours, many of them with the help of Mike Bloomberg's $160 million slush fund. These backdoor prohibitionists see it as the best way to wreck the market because politicians don't understand how important flavours are ('tobacco' flavour, which apparently doesn't count as a flavour, is horrible in my opinion and isn't used by most vapers). The TPD exempts e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) from the ban on 'characterising flavours' unless the Commission can demonstrate that there has been "a substantial change of circumstances".

You can interpret that as you like - and the Commission probably will - but a Commission review published last year concluded that there has not been a substantial change of circumstances with regards to e-cigarettes, although the race is closer when it comes to heated tobacco.

The TPD sets out criteria for a ‘substantial change of circumstances’ and calls for the Commission to withdraw certain regulatory exemptions once those conditions are met (a flavour ban for product categories other than cigarettes and RYO tobacco, labelling exemptions). The Commission followed the market shares closely and no product category reached the threshold that would mandate the Commission to trigger this clause in the reporting period. The closest to the threshold are HTPs. Therefore, assessing the current criteria should be considered.

All the feedback is online to read. It's good to see that most of it is calling on the EU to leave vapers alone. For example:

Emerging products are key to decrease smoking prevalence in the EU. E-cigarettes are a significant harm reduction tool within the mix of emerging products. I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and thanks to the e-cigarette, I have been tobacco free for the past 3 years. I do not think that my freedom of choice should be further restricted if the e-cigarette prevents me from smoking. I also think that flavours play a very important role to switch. I am mostly using fruit flavours and try to avoid tobacco or menthol flavours which reminds me of the time when I smoked combustible cigarettes. 

To me it is quite simple - I don't smoke cigarettes when I have access to my vape. A lot of people are already addicted to nicotine, vaping is a safer alternative and legislations against it hurt millions of people who already vape. Legislations against vape juice also open up the already huge black market for potential risky vape juice.

Well I will put it plain simple. After 25 years of heavy smoking's and hundred's of attempt's to quit. I discovered electronic cigarettes and I never touched a cigarette again and that was 6 years ago. That's all I have to say, it works, worked for me and for many around me. If you want to solve the tobacco problem you will have to listen to the smokers and ex smokers, is that simple, listen to us instead of those "doctors" radicals, proibitionists etc In case you come up with more regulations and proibition, well I will find my stuff on the black market, inside or outside my country. My body my rules.

Feel free to add your two cents. The call for evidence is here. You have to register but it's easy enough. Only an email address is required. You're limited to 4,000 characters (about 700 words) and can add one attachment. Be polite.