Sunday 31 December 2023

A review of another awful year

I've cast my mind over 2023 for Spiked. I fear that we are losing and shall go on losing for some time.

It is difficult to tell whether the nation’s rapid descent into neurotic puritanism is being driven by the unhinged political class or by the hateful, purse-lipped, lemon-sucking actions of the public. Evidence for the latter came when a survey by More in Common revealed that one in five Britons wants to close the pubs and bring back the ‘rule of six’. Just under 30 per cent want to close nightclubs and 45 per cent want face masks to be mandatory on public transport. This survey was not carried out in December 2020, at the height of the pandemic, or even in December 2021. It was carried out this month. We must come to terms with the fact that a sizeable minority of our fellow citizens – people who walk past us in the street without giving any indication of the madness bubbling within – have decided that if they don’t personally do or like something, it should be banned.


Thursday 28 December 2023

Corpulence, imbecility and tobacco

I have written about corpulence, imbecility and tobacco from the perspective of 1931 for The Critic.

I have before me The Home Doctor, a 391 page layman’s version of Black’s Medical Dictionary published in 1931. Under the heading of “corpulence” — a word it uses interchangeably with “obesity” — it identifies the causes as being a “luxurious, inactive, or sedentary life, with over-indulgence in sleep and absence of mental occupation”, but above all “over-feeding” especially with “fatty, sugary, and starchy elements”. 

The Home Doctor notes that “women are prone to become more corpulent than men”, a claim that is borne out by modern obesity statistics, although the difference between men and women is quite small. It also notes that “health cannot be long maintained under excessive obesity”, although “even a considerable measure of corpulence, however inconvenient, is not incompatible with a high degree of health and activity, and it is only when in great excess or rapidly increasing that it can be regarded as a morbid state.”


And if you're interested in that kind of thing, I have written about the 1982 film adaptation of Evil Under the Sun on my Substack.

Saturday 23 December 2023

Last Orders Christmas special

If you don't already subscribe, you may not know that the new Last Orders is out and it's an end-of-the-year round up with the nation's sweetheart Kate Andrews. You can listen here.

Thursday 21 December 2023

The madness of sales quotas

The latest political pygmy tactic to get people to buy things they don't want to buy is to force companies to sell them to them. It's not going to work, as I argue in The Critic.

The government has given up trying to persuade us that heat pumps and electric cars are better than the real thing. Subsidies haven’t worked so it is now time for mandatory quotas. From April next year, boiler manufacturers will be told how many heat pumps they have to sell and will be fined £3,000 for every unit they undershoot the target by.  60,000 heat pumps were installed last year, mostly in new builds. Under the laughably named Clean Heat Market Mechanism, the industry will have to install 60,000 heat pumps in existing homes in year one and the target will rise to 450,000 by year four. Companies such as Worcester Bosch, who know more about the home heating market than politicians do, say that this is totally unrealistic and, treating the fines as a cost of doing business, are increasing the price of their boilers accordingly. 

In January, the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate will come into effect, compelling car manufacturers to ensure that at least 22 per cent of the vehicles they sell are electric. The target will rise every year until it hits 80 per cent in 2030. For every electric car they fail to sell, they will be fined £15,000. With electric vehicles currently making up 16 per cent of the market, there will be a lot of fines.

Say what you like about Soviet apparatchiks but at least they only had production quotas. They didn’t have sales quotas because even they couldn’t force people to buy things. People don’t want heat pumps because they are big and expensive and don’t keep you warm. They don’t want electric cars because they don’t have anywhere to charge them and the national charging infrastructure is inadequate. This may change in the future, but it isn’t going to change very soon.

Continued here.

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Challenging obesity myths

I was on TalkTV the other day talking about obesity. The story brought together a couple of myths propagated by The Times (which, like TalkTV, is owned by News UK), including the idea that obesity-related hospital admissions have doubled in six years

I was interested to see that that the £98 billion of 'wider costs to society' claimed by The Times two weeks ago has already morphed into a £98 billion cost to the NHS. I only got one bite of cherry in this interview which I used to challenge both of these lies. I was up against a doctor who basically just said that obesity was unhealthy.

If I had had a chance to respond to his last point, I would have explained that a secondary diagnosis for obesity is not equivalent to obesity being a partial cause of the illness with which a person is admitted. As I wrote on my Substack... 

For example, if an obese woman goes to hospital to have a baby, that is not an obesity-related admission in the sense that it could have been avoided if she wasn’t obese, but it will be recorded as such if a medic thinks her obesity is relevant to her care. This is not a random example. Maternal care is, by some distance, the most common type of admission to have a secondary diagnosis of obesity recorded.


Total consumption theory in the mud

A new study from alcohol researchers at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health looking at 14 countries in 2020-21 has an interesting story to tell about drinking during the pandemic.

Results: When compared to 2019, alcohol-specific mortality rates in 2020 increased by 7.7 % and 8.2 % for women and men, respectively. Increases in alcohol-specific mortality were seen in the majority of countries and continued in 2021. In contrast, alcohol sales declined by an average of 5.0%.  

Conclusion: Despite a drop in alcohol consumption, more people died due to alcohol-specific causes during the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe.

This is exactly the opposite of what you would see if there were any truth in the total consumption theory/single distribution theory/whole population approach beloved of the neo-temperance lobby and the Scottish government.  

According to NICE, who have bought into this self-serving dogma, "the number of people who drink a heavy or excessive amount in a given population is related to how much the whole population drinks on average. Thus, reducing the average drinking level, via population interventions, is likely to reduce the number of people with severe problems due to alcohol."
This has always been nonsense. Heavy drinkers don't care what average drinkers consume. Heavy drinking and per capita consumption are only connected insofar as heavy drinkers have a disproportionate impact on per capita consumption because they drink so much. The idea that "reducing the average drinking level" will, in and of itself, reduce heavy drinking and alcohol-related harm is absurd. As I argued in Lockdown Lessons in Health Economics, the UK's experience during Covid disproves the theory. In fact, the UK had been disproving the theory for 20 years before Covid came along. So have other countries.

It's a garbage theory used to justify meddling with moderate drinkers. It needs to die.

Tuesday 19 December 2023

First sign of failure for minimum pricing in Ireland

A study evaluating minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Ireland has been published (the first, I think). It found a statistically significant increase in wholly alcohol-related presentations at an emergency department (ED) of a Dublin hospital, but you'd never guess it from the abstract.


Alcohol consumption was a factor in 19.4% of ED presentations and in 17.3% of hospital admissions across the entire study period. A reduction in overall alcohol-related ED presentations was noted in the period following MUP, although it is not possible to conclude a direct effect.


Alcohol-related harm places a significant strain on EDs and hospitals, and the impact of MUP on hospital burden in Ireland merits further evaluation. Effective measures at local and population levels are urgently required to address this burden.

MUP was introduced on 4 January 2022. The minimum price in Ireland is €1.00 per 10 g of alcohol, substantially more than the 50p per 8 g of alcohol in Scotland and Wales (Irish units are larger). 
The authors looked at data from the hospital in two weeks preceding the introduction of MUP (November and December 2021) and compared it with two weeks in March and April 2022. One of the researchers was in the hospital throughout and interviewed anyone who was there with an ailment that is deemed partially or wholly attributable to alcohol, asking them what they liked to drink and administering the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) to see if they were dependent drinkers. 73% agreed to be interviewed.
The researchers found that presentations that were wholly attributable to alcohol trebled after MUP was introduced. This is not immediately obvious from the way they present the data because they prefer to look at percentages of alcohol-related presentations rather than the number of presentations, but as you can see below the number of 'acute wolly [sic!] related' presentations rose from 5 to 15 and the proportion of alcohol-related presentations that were wholly related to alcohol rose by 19.8 percentage points. Normally, this would be presented as a 200% increase.

This is obviously not what they were hoping for and so they left it out of the abstract, although they do not acknowledge it in the text:
In Period 1, there were 5 cases of alcohol intoxication, and in Period 2, there were 14 cases of alcohol intoxication and 1 case of alcohol withdrawal.
... Although there was a reduction in overall alcohol-related presentations, we observed a significant increase in acute wholly related presentations, and this subgroup represented individuals with alcohol dependence (Supplementary Table S7). The reason for an increase in acute wholly related presentations such as alcohol intoxication or poisoning during Period 2 is unclear, but it could be related to factors noted in the Scottish evaluation of MUP in which the introduction of MUP was associated with reduced household expenditure on food with increased availability of funds for alcohol or switching to consuming more spirits amongst persons with alcohol dependence.
Quite possibly. These are the kinds of thing sensible people warned about in advance, but they were ignored.
Still, at least they've got their reduction in alcohol-related presentations overall. So why are they so circumspect in the abstract, saying 'it is not possible to conclude a direct effect'?

I suspect it is because most of the partially attributable presentations were very unlikely to have been affected by minimum pricing, even in theory. A large chunk of them (4 out of 10) were not just 'partially related' but 'chronic'. Most chronic diseases are unlikely to be affected in such a short space of time by any public health intervention. And, as with the obesity data I discussed yesterday, these people were not necessarily in the ED because of drinking. Some of them probably didn't even drink. These are all simply diseases that can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
The same is true of the acute partially related presentations which mostly involve accidents. There were a lot of these both before and after MUP (it was an accident and emergency department, after all) but there were fewer after. Again, we don't know how many of these people had been drinking or whether they drank at all (the researchers do because they did on AUDIT test on most of them, but they don't tell us - interested readers may find something to explore in the Supplementary Table S7). They are just injuries that can be affected by alcohol. Presumably there are other factors, such as the weather. Maybe there are simply more people drinking in December than in March (the authors admit that their study "did not address potential seasonality of alcohol presentations").

The authors don't conclude that the minimum price should be higher, but prepare yourself for them to start saying that if a few more studies show that the policy has been a flop, as in Scotland. This is quite a small study and the statistical analysis is eccentric to say the least, but it's a nice example of 'public health' researchers burying the lede. If the aim of the policy had been to increase alcohol-related harm, they would have made it very clear that emergency department presentations that are directly caused by alcohol have risen 200% under minimum pricing - and you would have seen this study reported on the BBC. 

Dodgy obesity stats

The Times has become obsessed to the point of derangement about obesity and food. Its front page yesterday claimed that obesity-related hospital admissions have doubled in just six years. This statistic doesn't pass the smell test, as I explain on my Substack.

When statistics like this rise or fall dramatically in a short space of time, it is usually worth looking for a change in methodology. Sure enough, what we have here is a sharp rise in the number of people going to hospital with a secondary diagnosis of obesity. Back in 2009/10, only 142,219 admissions had obesity mentioned as a secondary diagnosis. By 2022/23, this had risen to 1,235,961. In the same period, the rate of obesity among adults has risen only slightly. A ten-fold rise in admissions isn’t very plausible, especially since admissions for which there was a primary diagnosis of obesity haven’t risen at all.

A secondary diagnosis of obesity doesn’t mean that your illness was caused by obesity, nor does it mean that you wouldn’t have got ill if you hadn’t been obese, as the statisticians who collate this data explain

A secondary diagnosis of obesity does not necessarily indicate obesity as a contributing factor for the admission, but may instead indicate that obesity is a factor relevant to a patient’s episode of care.

For example, if an obese woman goes to hospital to have a baby, that is not an obesity-related admission in the sense that it could have been avoided if she wasn’t obese, but it will be recorded as such if a medic thinks her obesity is relevant to her care. This is not a random example. Maternal care is, by some distance, the most common type of admission to have a secondary diagnosis of obesity recorded.


Monday 18 December 2023

Prohibition and 'public health'

If Rishi Sunak goes ahead with his ruse of banning anyone born after a certain year from ever buying tobacco, the UK will be the only country in the world to have such a policy, but it will not be the only place in the world. I have only recently learnt this, but apparently there is a suburb of Boston where no one born in the 21st century can buy tobacco.
Politicians in Brookline, Massachusetts introduced the law under the cover of Covid in 2020 and it is currently being reviewed by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. The Boston Globe has been covering the story...

Katharine Silbaugh, a Boston University law professor and one of the leading petitioners of Brookline’s bylaw, argued that nicotine and tobacco shouldn’t be regulated like alcohol or cannabis, which “whether we’re right or not, we believe at some age, they are safe enough to use.”

No, Katharine. You don't have age restrictions on alcohol and cannabis because they become safe enough to use when you're 21 (as the law is in the USA). It is because once you reach a certain age, you are old enough to make your own decisions. Once you are an adult, you can make your own trade-offs between risks and benefits, rather than have them made for you by some bossy law professor.

“It doesn’t make sense to have an age restriction that seems to indicate that you have become old enough to smoke,” she said. “You’re never old enough to smoke.”

This is what the anti-smoking lobby have believed all along, but have only had the stones to say out loud in recent years. Tobacco control has always been a prohibitionist movement. 'Public health' is a prohibitionist movement. You cannot trust them.

It is ironic that Silbaugh cites alcohol and cannabis as products that are more suitable to age restrictions than to prohibition. In the USA since the start of the 20th century, both products have been legal before being made illegal and then being made legal again. Americans can't seem to make their minds up about whether you are ever "old enough" to consume these products. Now it is tobacco's turn to undergo prohibition.

It is almost a cliché to say that prohibition doesn't work but it bears repeating. Take Australia, where nicotine vapes have always been illegal. For the last few years it has even been illegal to import them for your own use. Figures published last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show how well the ban has worked: 14.4% of Australian adults have used an e-cigarette. In the UK, where nicotine vapes have always been legal and public health agencies have actively encouraged smokers to switch to them, the figure happens to be exactly the same: 14.4% of British adults have used an e-cigarette.

The figures for young people are even more striking. Among Australians aged 18-24, 38% have ever used an e-cigarette. In the UK, 22% of 16-24 year olds have ever used an e-cigarette. The figures are not directly comparable because the UK figures include 16 and 17 year olds, but it is clear from the data that more young adults have tried vaping in Australia than they have in Britain.

There is nothing wrong with that, but it is a pretty remarkable fail for a country that not only prohibits the sale of nicotine vapes but whose government, media and public health establishment is hysterically opposed to them.

If the prohibitionists want a crumb of comfort, the rate of current use is slightly lower in Australia (4%) than in Britain (5.2%). So, er, well done.

Saturday 16 December 2023

Sugar tax study retracted

A study from 2021 which claimed that the sugar tax reduced sugar consumption from soft drinks by 10% was retracted last week. It appears the 13 authors made an enormous cock up and the 'real' figure is a trivially small 2.7%.

The media have paid no attention to this whatsoever so I wrote about it for The Critic...

This is not just any old bunch of researchers. They are conducting the official evaluation of the sugar tax and have been given £1.6 million of taxpayers’ money to do so. The same team has since produced a study claiming that the sugar tax reduced obesity among one group of girls but not among another group of girls and not among any boys (and obesity rates actually rose among all age groups), and a study claiming that it reduced tooth decay extractions among a subset of children who never drank many sugary drinks to begin with (I wrote about the latter last month). Almost unbelievably, they have a study in the pipeline that will claim that the sugar tax reduced childhood hospital admissions for asthma by more than 20 per cent!

The retraction casts further doubt on all these claims, partly because it raises serious questions about the team’s competence and partly because the reduction in sugar consumption attributed to the tax is now so tiny that any measurable difference in health outcomes is less plausible than ever.


Friday 15 December 2023

Has the smoking rate stalled?


Smoking decline stalls since Covid as more young people take up the habit - study

A decades-long decline in smoking in England has nearly ground to a halt since the pandemic, a study suggests.

The rate of decline slowed from 5.2% in the years before the pandemic to just 0.3% between April 2020 and August 2022, according to the research.

The lead researcher said it was likely more young people had taken up smoking and that urgent measures were needed.

Of course she did. The study is here. It was written before Rishi Sunak went crazy and announced a weird, sliding age-based prohibition, but the BBC is using it as a justification for it. 

Based on surveys with 101,960 adults representative of the population, researchers estimated 16.2% smoked in June 2017, falling to 15.1% by the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, but just 15% in August 2022, since when the the slower rate of decline has remained consistent.

She didn't actually do this research. She just used the figures from the Smoking Toolkit Study. Those figures show that the smoking rate was 15.4% in 2019 and was exactly 14.8% between 2020 and 2023. There was a marked rise in smoking rates among 16-21 years in 2020 which has since gone into decline (although not back to 2019 levels).

Researchers noted higher levels of stress and social isolation among younger adults during the pandemic.

Yep. We also saw a large rise in alcohol-related deaths and childhood 'obesity' in 2020.

Young adults may start smoking because they believed e-cigarettes were equally bad for them, Dr Jackson said.

Yes. That too. The EVALI panic took place in 2019 and people are hopelessly misinformed about the relative risks of vaping and smoking these days. 
There are certainly reasons to think that smoking might have had a mini-revival in recent years, but has it really?

The ONS survey - usually considered the best source - shows the smoking rate steadily ticking down every year.

Among 18-24 year olds, the rate dropped from 16% in 2019 to 14.7% in 2020 and had dropped to 11.6% by 2022.

Among 25-34 year olds, the rate dropped from 19% in 2019 to 18% in 2020 and had dropped to 16.3% by 2022.

Overall, the rate has been falling by roughly 0.5 percentage points every year since 2016, except 2020 when it was nearly flat (but still fell slightly). 

There is also the fact that tobacco sales have fallen. In 2019/20, 25.9 billion cigarettes were sold. By 2022/23, it was down to 20.3 billion. Rolling tobacco sales rose in 2020/21, presumably because people were unable to buy it abroad thanks to lockdowns and travel restrictions, but the total figure was still lower in 2022/23 than it had been in 2019/20.

I dare say there has been a shift to the black market, but a 20% drop in cigarette sales doesn't seem consistent with flat-lining smoking rates.

It is possible that the ONS is wrong, the Smoking Toolkit Study is right and the drop in sales is all down to the black market growing, but we must at least consider the possibility that the Smoking Toolkit is wrong. Its survey went online in April 2020 and has stayed online whereas I think the ONS survey went online but is now back to being done in person. We know how much difference switching from face-to-face to online can make.

Whatever the truth, the 'public health' mob will cite whichever statistics are most useful to them and those are the ones the BBC reported.

Monday 11 December 2023

Prohibition 2.0 - the video

The video of the IEA's Prohibition 2.0 event is now available to watch. It was a really good discussion covering a lot of different aspects of Rishi Sunak's daft idea of gradually raising the smoking age. 

Mark Oates stepped in at the last minute and was typically erudite. 

Paul North from Volte-Face explained why prohibition doesn't work from the perspective of a drug reform activist and he had some interesting things to say about why so few people in drug reform have spoken out against this particular prohibition. 

And Craig Whittaker MP was a breath of fresh air, talking about how he was until recently a smoker before switching to heated tobacco (which will also be prohibited if the legislation goes ahead as planned).

If you weren't at the event, be sure to watch the video.

Meanwhile, the BBC continues to weep bitter tears over New Zealand turning its back on prohibition. In a ridiculously one-sided article published today, it takes a 'white saviour' approach to the Maoris - who smoke more than white New Zealanders - and pretends that they would have been the greatest beneficiaries of a ban. In fact, history shows that ethnic minorities suffer the most under prohibition.

Thursday 7 December 2023

Food junk round up

 There had been a glut of food-related junk in the news recently. I ponder some of them on my Substack.

Alcohol research - who funds it?

When I mention the vast amount of evidence showing that moderate drinking is good for your health, midwits will occasionally respond with the objection that non-drinkers are inherently less healthy or that the studies showing a protective effect are funded by the booze industry.

The 'sick quitter' hypothesis is a zombie argument that was debunked decades ago. The claim about industry funding is not really an argument. If the science is sound, it doesn't matter who funds the studies.

But, as a matter of fact, very few of the studies are funded by the alcohol industry. An article published this month in Addictive Behaviors gives us chapter and verse on this. Of the 713 primary studies on drinking and cardiovascular disease published between 1969 and 2019, only 8 per cent declared alcohol industry funding. In the last 15 years, there have been hardly any. (NB. The benefits of moderate drinking are mostly related to heart disease.)


One of the article's two authors is Jim McCambridge who has spent his whole career obsessing over the alcohol industry and would love to debunk the J-Curve. In the introduction, he describes the question of whether moderate drinking is good for the heart as "a major scientific controversy" (only in temperance circles) and even resurrects the sick quitter cope. You can tell from the text that has was disappointed not to find more industry funding, but that's just too bad. The facts are the facts.


Wednesday 6 December 2023

Last chance to speak your brains

The public consultation on the government's Tobacco and Vapes Bill closes today at 11.59pm so make some noise. It won’t take you long. Answers are limited to 300 words and you don’t have to answer all the questions. You don’t even have to write anything. You can just tick the ‘disagree’ or ‘agree’ boxes. You can read my response here. Attention vapers: most of the questions involve you.

FOREST have done some polling and found that most people believe that you should be allowed to buy tobacco once you've turned 18. This is interesting because when people are asked if they support the Sunak prohibition, most of them say yes. 

These opinions are obviously mutually exclusive but I suspect most people have simply not thought it through. Smoking is a low salience issue these days and when people hear the government say "14 year olds will never be allowed to buy tobacco" all they can picture is a 14 year old. They don't picture 24 year olds and 34 year olds not being allowed to buy cigarettes in the future. 

No wonder the government is trying to rush this stupid policy through before the public have had the chance to give it some serious thought.



Tuesday 5 December 2023

Paternalism in public health

I was pleased to appear on the Vaping Unplugged podcast recently. Have a watch/listen.

Don't forget the public consultation on the Tobacco and Vapes Bill closes at 11.59pm tomorrow. It includes many questions about new e-cigarette regulations so give the government a piece of your mind.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Prohibition 2.0 - ready to go again?


A new IEA briefing from me was published today looking at Sunak's tobacco ban. You can download it here. In it, I look at the justifications set out by the government and the predictable problems that will ensue if it goes ahead.

I've also written about this for the Spectator.

Prohibition has a bad name for a good reason and you don’t need to go back to 1920s America for the evidence. The tiny kingdom of Bhutan banned tobacco sales in 2004 at a time when its smoking rate was very low. Western public health campaigners applauded the move, but a study in 2011 noted that it was accompanied by ‘smuggling and a thriving black market’.

15 years later, 22 per cent of Bhutanese 13-15 year olds were tobacco users. Among this age group, the World Health Organisation reports that ‘prevalence of current cigarette smoking increased continuously from 2009 to 2019’. So much for the ‘smoke-free generation’. The ban was lifted in 2021 because there were so many people smuggling tobacco into Bhutan that the government was worried that they were spreading Covid-19.

The irony is that Sunak announced the prohibition policy at the Conservative party conference during a speech in which he condemned his predecessors for short-term thinking and portrayed himself as the man to make sensible decisions in the nation’s longterm interests. But this policy will only start to bite after 2026 when Mr Sunak is likely to be long gone. Far from being a departure from short-termism, the generational ban is just another unworkable political gimmick designed to garner headlines. Sunak is essentially opening a new front in the war on drugs and leaving future governments to deal with the consequences.

And we have a panel discussion in that London tonight. All welcome.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Gambling Commission fiddling the problem gambling statistics

The Guardian's resident anti-gambling correspondent got excited about figures which suggested that there are eight times as many problem gamblers than previously believed last week. I had a look at this stat for The Critic. It seems that the Gambling Commission is usually a notoriously weak methodology to inflate the stats.

There are several reasons why the new survey inflates the statistics, but the main issue is selection bias. All surveys try to get a representative sample of the population, but you can’t force someone to participate. If there are systematic biases behind people’s reasons for participating or not participating, the data will be skewed.

And indeed there are. Firstly, online surveys appeal to people who are very online — and that includes a lot of problem gamblers. Older people, who are less likely to be problem gamblers, are under-represented. The Gambling Commission has acknowledged that an “online methodology means that the sample responding to the survey are more likely to be engaged online, thus skewing the data”. 

Secondly, people who gamble a lot are attracted to surveys about gambling. The Health Survey for England asks about a range of health issues, but the new Gambling Survey for Great Britain is just about gambling. The clue is right there in the name and a study published in 2009 found that “gamblers and problem gamblers are intrinsically more interested in “gambling” surveys and therefore participate at a much higher rate than nongamblers”. If a disproportionate number of problem gamblers take the survey, the survey will naturally identify a disproportionately high number of problem gamblers.

The Health Survey for England has a response rate of more than 50 per cent, but the response rate for the Gambling Survey for Great Britain is only around 20 per cent. Four out of five people simply refuse to take the new survey, leaving a relatively small group of self-selecting individuals who differ from the general population in various ways, not least in being more likely to have gambling problems.


Monday 27 November 2023

The BBC's bitter tears over New Zealand

Three days after New Zealand's incoming government decided to repeal the Labour policy of very slowly banning tobacco, the BBC has finally noticed - and it is not happy
Whenever there is a bump in the road towards further state control, the Beeb finds it difficult to disguise its horror, but as it is supposed to be impartial, their journalists have to find ways of editorialising without explicitly taking a side. One way of doing this is to focus on the reaction of the people they agree with and make that the story. In this instance, a neutral headline would be something like 'New Zealand axes tobacco ban'. Instead, the BBC has gone with...
New Zealand smoking ban: Health experts criticise new government's shock reversal
Is it really a "shock" for a centre-right government to oppose a loony left policy? Are Kiwi prohibitionists really "health experts"? Is there no one praising the "reversal"?

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in New Zealand, and the policy had aimed to stop young generations from picking up the habit.

Health experts have strongly criticised the sudden reversal.

"We are appalled and disgusted... this is an incredibly retrograde step on world-leading, absolutely excellent health measures," said Prof Richard Edwards, a tobacco control researcher and public health expert at the University of Otago.

"Most health groups in New Zealand are appalled by what the government's done and are calling on them to backtrack," he told the BBC.

If you enjoy a bit of schadenfreude, I recommend Richard Edwards' Twitter feed. He's been in full meltdown since Friday.

The legislation passed last year had been acclaimed internationally with research models backing the key reforms.

Ooh, a model! Respect the model! It's not as if public health modelling has ever been completely wrong or anything, is it?

While it has been praised as a public health policy, the Smokefree measures drew opposition from some business groups in New Zealand. Owners of newsagents and corner shops criticised the loss of revenue - even with government subsidies.

These are the only opponents of the policy mentioned in the article, thereby consolidating the usual narrative that policy debates about lifestyle regulation can be boiled down to business versus health experts and people versus profits.

Some lawmakers - including the new Prime Minister Chris Luxon - also argued a ban would lead to a black market for tobacco.

It's not even arguable. Obviously prohibition leads to black markets. New Zealand already has a sizeable black market with cigarettes smuggled into the country in large quantities and convenience stores being robbed at gunpoint for their tobacco products.

However his National party, which won 38% of the vote in the 14 October election, hadn't mentioned the Smokefree laws during election campaigning. The announcement by the new finance minister Nicola Willis on Saturday that the government would repeal the laws shocked health experts who believed the policy would be untouched.

Yes, you've already said that. Prohibitionists are upset that prohibition has been cancelled. We get it.

Both minor parties blocked a flagship National policy to open up foreign property ownership - which the party had been relying on to fund tax cuts for middle and higher-income earners. Ms Willis said on Saturday that had led to the party looking elsewhere.

"The suggestion that tax cuts would be paid by people who continue to smoke is absolutely shocking," Emeritus Prof Robert Beaglehole, chair of New Zealand's Action for Smokefree 2025 committee told Pacific Media Network.

Crocodile tears from an anti-smoking zealot pretending to be sad about smokers being taxed. Call for tobacco duty to be cut, Robert.

A national Māori health organisation, Hāpai Te Hauora, called it an "unconscionable blow to the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders".

Smoking rates, and associated disease and health issues, are highest among New Zealand's indigenous Māori population, for whom experts had said the policy would have the most positive impact.

That's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that tobacco prohibition would be racist and neo-colonial in a country where the indigenous people are three times more likely to smoke that the white folk. The smoking rate among rich, white New Zealanders is tiny. They would hardly be affected at all. It is the Maori community that would bear the brunt of the crime and corruption that results from prohibition.

"The government is flying in the face of public opinion and obviously in the face of the vast majority of people who work in this field, health professionals, doctors, nurses," said Prof Edwards.

Good. Cry more.

Friday 24 November 2023

New Zealand averts prohibition

When the British government announced plans to stop anyone born after 2008 from ever buying tobacco last month, it was eager to stress that the UK would not be alone in passing such an eccentric law. The Department for Health and Social Care cited the “case study” of New Zealand which in January 2023 “became the first country in the world to introduce a restriction on the sale of tobacco to anyone born after a specified date”. It also mentioned similar legislation recently tabled in Malaysia. 

Incremental prohibition was meant to create a legacy for the ultra-progressive Jacinda Ardern who rode off into the sunset in January, but her Labour Party got battered in last month’s general election and the incoming government has other ideas. A three way coalition has been formed between the centre-right National Party, the “populist” New Zealand First Party and the liberal (in the uncorrupted sense) ACT Party. Having thrashed out an agreement, they have decided to repeal the generational tobacco ban.

Read all about this fantastic news at The Critic. The BBC doesn't seem too interested in reporting it. 

Asked whether the UK would now see sense and abandon this ridiculous idea, a Downing Street spokesperson said

'No, our position remains unchanged.

'We are committed to that. This is an important long-term decision and step to deliver a smoke-free generation which remains critically important.'

It seems that the British Conservative Party has more in common with Jacinda Ardern's loony left Labour Party than with New Zealand's centre-right.


Thursday 23 November 2023

Fun Police

There's a new podcast called Fun Police which I've just subscribed to. I'm also one of the guests in the first episode which is all about prohibition. Check it out here.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Rolling baccy tax goes through the roof

A little noticed part of today's autumn statement was the inflation plus 12% increase in rolling tobacco tax from 6pm tonight. This is on top of the inflation plus 6% increase last year. In total, duty on rolling baccy has gone up by nearly 40% in just over a year.

Is the government in the pay of international smuggling cartels?

I discuss this in The Critic.

First, it greatly restricted how many cigarettes smokers can legally buy abroad by leaving the European Union. Then it hiked up the price of tobacco way above the rate of inflation. Then it announced a crack down on vaping. And now it is going to literally introduce the prohibition of tobacco, albeit gradually. What’s going on? Did Jeremy Hunt misunderstand the Red Wall MPs when they told him that he needs to do something for white van man?


Monday 20 November 2023

'Health-harming industries'

From the Guardian on Saturday:

Firms are earning £52.7bn a year from UK sales of tobacco, junk food and excessive alcohol, and their consumption is contributing to Britain’s rising tide of illness, a report says.

The report came out today and it only demonstrated that 'public health' types don't understand business or economics. See my Substack for more.

Friday 17 November 2023

Did the sugar tax reduce dental extractions by 12%?

You have probably guessed that the answer is 'no' and you would be right.

The study is therefore making the extraordinary claim that George Osborne’s announcement in March 2016 had an almost immediate effect on rates of tooth decay despite there being little change in the sugar content of soft drinks for the first 18 months and there being no change in the price of sugary drinks for the first two years. Furthermore, the effect was most pronounced among pre-school children who are least likely to consume the drinks in question whereas there was no effect on teenagers who drink more of them than any other age group.

Read the rest at The Critic.

20mph limits and smoking

I was on BBC Politics East the other day talking about 20mph limits and the tobacco ban. I'm against both. If you want to watch it, it's here.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Say no to Prohibition 2.0

If you're in or around London in the next few weeks, there are not one but two opportunities to hear about why the incremental prohibition of tobacco is probably not a good idea.

Firstly, FOREST are holding an event at the Old Queen Street Cafe next Monday with Claire Fox (aka Baroness Fox of Buckley), Henry Hill (ConservativeHome), Reem Ibrahim (Institute of Economic Affairs) and Ella Whelan (Academy of Ideas). RSVP here.

And on November 29th, the IEA will be discussing Prohibition 2.0 at 2 Lord North Street with me, Madeline Grant (The Telegraph), Paul North (Volteface) and Paul Cheema (Association of Convenience Stores). RSVP here.


The government is keen to rush this through before people think about the consequences so make sure you respond to the consultation by 6 December.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

The Lancet on gambling

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that a medical journal has been writing about gambling again. This time it is an anonymous editorial in The Lancet titled “Gambling: a harmful commodity”. Gambling is not actually a commodity. The inspiration for this title was almost certainly the modern temperance textbook “Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity”. Alcohol isn’t a commodity either.

Read the rest at The Critic.

Monday 13 November 2023

Farewell then, Neil O'Brien

Neil O'Brien has stepped down from his role as public health minister to spend more time with his family. He will no longer have to parrot ridiculous claims from the Department of Health, although he could have refused to go along with such nonsense in the first place. After all, he was the elected politician and government minister and he was supposedly to be in charge.
In a way, O'Brien's parliamentary career had been a microcosm of 13 years of nominally Conservative government. He spent years running a centre-right think tank and then had five years as an MP before becoming a minister and all he achieved was introducing a policy nicked from the New Zealand Labour Party before the British Labour Party got the chance to introduce it themselves.
It's the same old story. Every minister, regardless of their intentions, goes native within weeks of being in contact with the Department of Health.
Meanwhile, Steve Barclay, the health minister at the time of writing*, has penned an article for the Express promoting the policy of tobacco prohibition which begins, apparently without irony, with the following sentence.

This Government believes in letting you live your life the way you want to.

How does one explain such absurdities? Is it cognitive dissonance or gaslighting?
Judging by the polls, the public have decided that if they're going to have Labour policies, they might as well have the Labour Party introduce them.
*UPDATE - 3pm
Not any more.

Friday 10 November 2023

WHO tobacco conference cancelled again

 The corrupt and incompetent WHO's anti-nicotine shindig in Panama was suddenly cancelled last night "due to the current security situation". It will now be held in 2024, good luck permitting. 
As CopWatch explained earlier in the week, there are huge protests against the government giving a Canadian company access to the world's biggest copper mine.

The Panamanian public has been outraged at the recent award of a rumoured $400 billion contract with a Canadian mining company to exploit three square miles of Panamanian rainforest to extract copper. Protesters have been on the streets throughout the country chanting and waving banners with slogans such as “Panama is not for sale”. In Panama City itself, crowds of 30,000 protesters have clashed with the Police and Army using tear gas and what the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice page calls “riot control munition”.

According to the Foreign Office...

There are ongoing protests and demonstrations in Panama City and across the country. These can include roadblocks and the suspension of public transport. Protests can be unpredictable and may escalate quickly. Clashes between protestors and security authorities have resulted in injuries. The authorities use tear gas and riot control munition to control protests.

This is yet another example of the misfortune - of, if you prefer, karma - that has plagued this conference for years, as CopWatch notes...

The WHO has had a run of extraordinarily bad luck with COP meetings in recent years. Prior to COP6, there was an Ebola outbreak in Africa and the Russians shot down a passenger plane just before Director General Margaret Chan travelled to Moscow to talk about tobacco with Putin. New Delhi saw the worst smog in living memory which closed 20,000 schools in the week the WHO turned up in the city to talk about the dangers of vaping at COP7. The pandemic wrecked plans for COP9 which had to be delayed by a year and held virtually. Now this for COP10.

Copwatch would like to say we have sympathy for such bad luck but, unlike the WHO, we don’t want to mislead you.

It couldn't happen to a worse bunch of people. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Last Orders live!

The Last Orders podcast was recorded live at the Battle of Ideas at the end of last month with the Telegraph’s Madeline Grant and GB News’s Patrick Christys. It was a good laugh. Listen here.

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Glantz caught out

Stanton Glantz has been caught getting up to his old tricks. 

When Foxon and Shiffman confined their analysis to people who could be reasonably described as smokers, they found the opposite of what Glantz claimed.

See my Substack for more.


Thursday 2 November 2023

Panglossian prohibitionism

A question in the House of Commons last week:

Kevan Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment he has made of the potential impact of Government policies on ending cigarette sales to those born on or after 1 January 2009 on the sale of tobacco products in the black market.

Neil O'Brien: No assessment has been made. History shows whenever we introduce new tobacco control legislation and regulations, illicit tobacco has decreased, due to strong enforcement. Consumption of illegal tobacco has gone from 17 billion cigarettes in 2000/1 to three billion cigarettes in 2022/23.

O'Brien's answer, which was doubtless fed to him by Department of Health fools, is highly misleading and it is astonishing that the government has given no thought to what will happen to the illicit trade when tobacco is banned.

I have written about this for The Critic.
It would not be a black swan event if the prohibition of a popular product led to a certain amount of under-the-counter activity. You may have heard about what happened with alcohol in the USA between 1920 and 1933. You may be familiar with the war on drugs. You may even know what happened when Bhutan banned tobacco (it didn’t go well) or when South Africa temporarily banned cigarettes during the pandemic (ditto). Banning the sale of tobacco without assessing the impact on the black market is like giving car keys to a drunk without assessing the impact on pedestrians. 

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Knives out for nicotine pouches

Swedish MEP Charlie Weimars has blown the whistle on the EU's plan to ban nicotine pouches. In a tweet (translated below), he provides a screenshot from a leaked report that crossed his desk.

A secret report I shouldn't have landed on my desk. In the report that will be presented to EU member states this week, there are two notable writings: (1) praise for how successful the snus ban has been and (2) a recommendation that the EU should extend the snus ban to the tobacco-free white snus (nicotine pouches). 

That the EU's snus ban is a success is completely wrong. It is actually snus that makes Sweden the only country in the EU that is on the way to reaching the UN's goal of a smoke-free society (defined as less than 5% smokers), which has saved many lives. A ban on white snus would have been a hard blow to the attempt to eradicate smoking in the EU. Unfortunately, the Swedish exception for tobacco snus does not apply to nicotine pouches. 

If the EU Commission and the member states accept the report's recommendation, white snus will also be banned in Sweden. Men have largely opted out of smoking in favor of snus, while women looking for less dangerous alternatives choose white snus more often. Therefore, such a ban would hit women extra hard. 

The report has been written by consultants who work for DG SANTE (EU health bureaucrats) and the writings probably would not have crept into the report if they did not have the support of the bureaucrats. Most likely this is a test balloon from the bureaucracy. If the proposal falls to the ground at the meeting with the member states, the bureaucrats can blame the consultants and if the proposal does not meet resistance, the bureaucrats can interpret it as a clear support and work on with a sharp proposal. 

This is how you often work in the EU's bureaucracy. The government must therefore already make it clear at the meeting this week that our country opposes a ban on white snus and work to ensure that citizens continue to have the opportunity to choose the least harmful way to use nicotine. Our negotiators are also welcome to raise the issue of the risks to public health of having too many do-gooding bureaucrats in DG SANTE.

The EU just can't help itself. Nicotine pouches contain no tobacco and are surely the safest recreational delivery devices ever invented. The European Commission claims that the "growing popularity of nicotine pouches raises serious public health concerns and represents an increasing challenge for the internal market". This is nonsense. The public health impact of these products is positive and the internal market is irrelevant, as the snus carve out for Sweden shows. 

These people are trying to eradicate nicotine from the world. They are nuts.