Tuesday 3 January 2023

Regional minimum pricing - the latest grift

Are the minimum pricing modellers going to brazen it out? With their predictions turning to dust in Scotland (and Wales), will they do the decent thing and apologise or will they carry on as if nothing has happened?

A study published late last year suggests that they will keep their eyes on the price (government grants) and hope that no one notices that everything they've ever forecast has been wrong.

Their new study looks at the prospect of regional minimum pricing. This is an acknowledgement that there is little appetite for a failed policy which pointlessly increases the cost of living in Westminster, but that there are regional sockpuppet groups such as Balance NorthEast that are still keen.

The authors make it clear that they have been working hand in glove with the sockpuppets (boom, boom!) and that their study is designed to give them ammunition.  

We involved a wide stakeholder group throughout the development, conduct and delivery of this project. The idea for the project arose directly from conversations with Directors of Public Health and public health advocacy organizations in the North West region of England. The research was designed to be directly relevant to their evidence needs: specifically, the need for local level evidence regarding alcohol consumption, related harms and the estimated effects of MUP. 

This stakeholder involvement directly influenced the project by making us reconsider (a) the outcomes to be modelled; as a consequence of stakeholder input we added crime, and (b) the nature and design of project outputs—input from stakeholders encouraged us to develop locally relevant dissemination resources that were more interactive and of a higher quality design than originally planned. These ‘evidence assets’ were designed to support the communication needs of public health stakeholders.

Regular readers will recall that Petra Meier initially got into this work because she spotted a gap in the market. Her team are now more or less openly guns for hire.

The idea of regional minimum pricing is interesting insofar as a government that was genuinely pursuing evidence-based policy could have trialled it in one region to see how it went. The obvious problem with this would be the ease with which people could travel to a different region to buy their drinks (as we have seen with soda taxes in the USA). But we now have Scotland and Wales as the real-world guinea pigs so it doesn't matter any more, and the modellers don't bother modelling the impact of out-of-region shopping anyway.

Instead, we get the usual conclusion that minimum pricing would reduce deaths, hospitalisations and crime, plus some lobbying-orientated guff about levelling up.

Because we estimate the greatest impacts on health to occur in the most deprived groups, MUP would reduce health inequalities within UTLAs as well as reducing inequality between UTLAs. This, and the fact that current rates of alcohol harm are highest in the North of England, suggests that both national and local MUP policies have the potential to contribute to the ‘levelling-up agenda’ of the current UK government, which aims to reduce geographical inequalities

Despite all the evidence that heavy drinkers are the least price sensitive consumers - including a study by one of the authors - the model continues to assume the opposite, claiming that high-risk drinkers would reduce their consumption reducing by 7.7% compared to 3.6% nationally. Evidence from Scotland clearly shows the opposite. Indeed, the most recent study found that the heaviest drinking men drank more after minimum pricing was introduced. This is one of the main reasons the models have always been wrong, as John Duffy and I explained a decade ago.

There is not the slightest acknowledgement from the authors that their methods have failed dismally in the past. They ignore the data from Scotland entirely. They are like Hitler in his bunker moving around imaginary armies as the Russians enter Berlin. Only in 'public health' could this stuff still be funded and published.

Speaking of funding, it goes without saying that the taxpayer foots the bill for this:

The main funding source for this study was the NIHR Public Health Research Board, project number 15/129/19.

And you might not be surprised to hear that, in addition to building her own state-funded empire, Petra S. Meier has her fingers in this pie too. 

P.S.M. is a member of the NIHR Public Health Research Funding Board (2016–present).

It is a racket.

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