Saturday 30 March 2024

The nanny state trough

If you told me that there was a massive pile of cash to be dished out to 'public health' academics and asked me to guess which two people would be first in line for it, I would say Anna Gilmore and Petra Meier. And sure enough, they were. This week it was announced that they're getting £15 million between them to build yet another little empire, on top of SIPHER, SPECTRUM and the rest. It is, as I say on my Substack, a racket. 

Anna Gilmore has her finger in so many pies that it is difficult to keep up. She made her name back in the day by pretending that England’s smoking ban reduced the number of hospital admissions for heart attacks. Having demonstrated that she will say anything for money, she was made a professor and spent the 2010s in a flurry of activity, displaying an extraordinary degree of ineptitude in a range of disciplines, including economics. She became director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, an organisation that received millions of pounds from the (state-funded) UK Clinical Research Collaboration despite doing no clinical research. Spotting new funding opportunities, the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies became the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies in 2013. She has since branched out into ‘research’ on fossil fuels which she says, not unpredictably, should be subject to ‘tobacco control style regulation’.

In 2018, she got $20 million from Mike Bloomberg to set up an ‘industry watchdog’ and in 2019 she got a grant from SPECTRUM to research ‘unhealthy commodity industries’. SPECTRUM is the preposterous acronym for Shaping Public hEalth poliCies To Reduce ineqUalities and harM. It was funded to the tune of £5.9 million by the UK Prevention Research Partnership, a largely taxpayer-funded body created in 2017 to provide yet another source of cash for nanny state quackademics.

Gilmore is also the co-director of something called the Centre for 21st Century Public Health which doesn’t have much to say about itself but is more than likely paid for by you and me.


Also, there's a new Last Orders to listen to.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Looking back on the WHO and looking forward to prohibition

I caught up with Martin Cullip and Lindsey Stroud on their podcast Across the Pond last week. I was with them in Panama in February to shadow the big WHO anti-nicotine conference. We looked back on events over there and discussed Rishi Sunak's looming crackdown on vapes and tobacco.

Monday 25 March 2024

Temperance 2.0

There's a good article in the wine trade press titled 'How Neo-Prohibitionists Came to Shape Alcohol Policy' by Felicity Carter looking at temperance groups masquerading as 'public health' NGOs. Give it a read. 

Movendi International describes itself as "the largest independent global movement for development through alcohol prevention."

Founded in upstate New York in 1851, it began as a temperance group that was heavily influenced by the Freemasons-complete with regalia and rituals. Originally called the Independent Order of Good Templars (I.O.G.T.), it spread rapidly across the U.S., Canada, and England. By 1900 there were groups in places as far-flung as Sri Lanka, Burma, Nigeria, and Panama. Everywhere the I.O.G.T. went, it inspired the founding of other temperance groups.

The efforts of such groups culminated, of course, during Prohibition, yet the unpopularity of Prohibition caused membership to fall, while the rise of Alcoholics Anonymous made such groups less relevant. After World War II, the I.O.G.T. turned to southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

It dispensed with the regalia in the 1970s and rebranded as Movendi International in 2020. Movendi is a portmanteau of 'modus vivendi,' meaning 'way of living;' it presents itself as a human rights, "heart-led" organization and says it is not against alcohol12. Instead, "...we advocate for every person's right to choose to live free from alcohol." Yet anyone who joins must agree13 that "I lead a lifestyle free from the use of alcohol and other drugs."

Movendi's worldview is simple: There are no artisans, small producers, or vignerons connected to land and history. There is only 'Big Alcohol,' which uses propaganda words like "moderation" and "craft" to conceal its true nature.

And Big Alcohol is an ally of Big Tobacco14Movendi links alcohol to tobacco whenever it can.

But while Movendi and other groups are busy mischaracterizing the alcohol industry as one united group, they go out of their way to hide their own origins.

Take Movendi's Swedish branch, the IOGT-NTO15, which presents itself as an anti-poverty organization-solving poverty by solving alcohol. It was formed in 1970 after the Swedish branch of I.O.G.T. merged with a Christian temperance group.

Ironically, the Swedish branch is partly funded by a lottery16; in 2018 they were taken to court17 and threatened with a fine of 3 million kroner (about $260,000) if they didn't stop using deceptive practices. Specialists have long recognized that gambling is an addiction, making this a curious choice of funding for a temperance movement.

Other temperance groups use similar tactics. Take the Institute of Alcohol Studies18 in London, for example, which has a stellar line-up of doctors and scientists advising it, but which is funded by Alliance House19, a temperance group headed by religious figures.



Friday 22 March 2024

Dan Malleck on drink, drugs and prohibition

I forgot to mention that we've started a new series of The Swift Half with Snowdon. Check out the entertaining episode with the anarcho-capitalist Charlie Amos here.

The Canadian historian Dan Malleck was in London recently so I got him to come on The Swift Half again. Dan is one of the few people to have publicly spoken out about the zany new alcohol guidelines that have been proposed in Canada. We discussed how that was going and talked about drink, drugs and prohibition generally. Give it a watch.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Greg Fell - Britain's most pointless man?

Our old fiend Greg Fell has been busy getting billboards banned in Sheffield in what even he admits is a pointless endeavour. 

There are over 130 directors of public health in England and it is nice work if you can get it. The job comes with a six figure salary and you don’t need a medical degree. So long as you can turn up to meetings and drop phrases like “health inequalities” and “commercial determinants of health” into conversation, you’re in clover. Not knowing much about infectious diseases proved to be a handicap when COVID-19 emerged in 2020 and public health directors were left twiddling their thumbs while they waited for instructions from central government, but Greg Fell spotted an opportunity. When Boris Johnson closed the pubs on 20 March, he suggested that “whilst we are implementing emergency legislation why not go really far and ban tobacco sales”. Exactly four years later, the government brought forward legislation to do precisely that.

With COVID-19 in the rearview mirror, there is a palpable sense of relief among directors of public health that they can get back to lobbying for petty interventions in private lifestyles. Last December, Wakefield’s public health director complained that legal action from Kentucky Fried Chicken was “thwarting efforts to stop fast-food outlets near schools” in his area. There was happier news in Sunderland where the council managed to prevent a Mexican takeaway shop from opening and the public health director’s annual report focused exclusively on the “commercial determinants of health”. They are so back!


Tuesday 19 March 2024

Same old ASH

Last week, former public health minister Steve Brine wrote in support of Sunak’s tobacco ban for Conservative Home. Like nearly everyone who goes to the Department of Health, Brine went native and has never recovered. His article is the usual blinkered prohibitionist nonsense - he even denies that the ban will boost the illicit trade - but he starts with a statistic that sounds credible.

Two-thirds of adults in Britain back the Government’s smoking ban plan, including nearly three-quarters of Conservative voters, in a representative poll carried out by YouGov for ASH.

He returns to this poll in his closing paragraph.

The public understand that the Government’s smoking ban will save lives and improve the health and wellbeing not just of individuals and their families but also of our economy. That is why the overwhelming majority of the public and parliamentarians support the legislation.

Since 87% of Britons do not smoke and the UK has become an oppresively intolerant country in recent years, this claim wouldn’t surprise me. But I know better than to trust an ASH survey. Before the smoking ban, they conducted several polls claiming that most people wanted a total ban on smoking in pubs. They achieved this by giving people a binary option between smoking everywhere versus smoking nowhere. But when other polls gave people the option of allowing separate smoking rooms, most people were happy with that (and remained so for years after the ban was introduced).
The question ASH used in their latest survey is almost unbelievable:

How strongly, if at all, do you support or oppose a goal to make Britain a country where no one smokes?”

You will have noticed that there is no mention of ban there. There is no mention of any policy, coercive or liberal, let alone the gradual prohibition of all cigarettes, cigars, heated tobacco, shisha and cigarette packs. It doesn’t show that ‘the overwhelming majority’ ‘support the legislation’. It is just an aspiration, a ‘goal’. It would be quite possible for a liberal who supports tobacco harm reduction but hates the nanny state to agree with this ambition.

Read the rest on my Substack (free). And I have replied on Conservative Home today.

Monday 18 March 2024

Prohibition, problem gambling and playing with words

Australia's umpteenth attempt to ban e-cigarettes has been warmly applauded by the renowned wowser and imbecile Simon Chapman. Nicotine-containing vapes have always been illegal in Australia. Importation of these products for personal use was banned a few years ago and now the government is banning all e-cigarettes regardless of whether they contain nicotine or not. 

As dozens of tobacconists are being literally firebombed, the devastating yet predictable consequences of prohibition (for vapes) and neo-prohibitionist sin taxes (on cigarettes) could not be more obvious to Australians. (There's an excellent article by two criminologists in The Conversation that is well worth reading.) But Simple Simon not only refuses to take any share of the blame for the consequences of the policies he spent his life lobbying for, he refuses to accept that what is happening to vapes is prohibition. Why? Because vapers will (in theory) be allowed to get e-cigarettes on prescription.

Note the way in which he portrays those who think e-cigarettes should be sold as consumer products like they are in normal countries as 'extremists'. Note also that he is using a photo of an anti-Prohibition rally taken during Prohibition in the USA. This is, of course, the example that comes most readily to mind when people hear the word 'prohibition'. Chapman is keen to distance himself from that kind of prohibition because it was such a notorious fiasco.

However, if he weren't such an ignoramus and didn't suffer from Dunning-Kruger syndrome, he would know that alcohol was available on prescription during Prohibition (Winston Churchill famously got a doctor's note when he visited the USA). Indeed, the Volstead Act was softer on drink than the Aussie government is on vapes. Ordinary people were never arrested for mere possession of alcohol whereas people are already being arrested for the possession of vapes and vape juice in Australia.

So if Chapman doesn't think the ban on vapes is prohibition, he must think that Prohibition wasn't prohibition either.

Back in Britain, the anti-gambling lobby's rising star Matt Gaskell has also been playing with words.

The problem here is that most of these phrases are technical terms with scientific definitions. The exception is 'addict', but the only people who use that word about problem gamblers are anti-gambling activists and the media. Problem gambling does not necessary involve addiction, but problem gambling is definitely a thing. It is recognised by clinicians and researchers around the world and is diagnosed with the PGSI test. PGSI stands for Problem Gambling Severity Index.

A similar but distinct test is the DSM-V. This refers to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is the diagnostic test for the recognised condition of 'gambling disorder' which, in the previous (fourth) edition, was called 'pathological gambling'.
Matt Gaskell is the Clinical Lead for the NHS Northern Gambling Service which is part of the NHS's National Problem Gambling Clinic . When it opened in 2020, he said:

"Gambling addiction is a new public health crisis. It’s causing serious harm to thousands of people across the UK. This includes mental health problems, serious debt, breakdown of relationships, loss of employment, crime, homelessness and, tragically, sometimes suicide.

"Through my work in mental health and addictions treatment over the years I’ve seen the harms that problem gambling can cause people. However the chances of recovery from addictions like problem gambling can be very good with proper treatment." 
Running a problem gambling clinic without uses terms like 'problem gambling' and 'gambling disorder' is like being an oncologist and banning the terms 'cancer' and 'tumour'. So why this sudden retreat from recognised scientific terminology that no one has had a problem with in the past? It all comes back to what I was writing about last year - the 'public health' takeover of gambling policy and research. Under the new ideology, everyone is at risk from gambling, every gambler is harmed and gambling is inherently dangerous. 

Put simply, the existing literature correctly sees problem gambling as a complex mental disorder (“gambling disorder”) that is best dealt with by clinicians and augmented by harm reduction policies. By contrast, the “public health” approach is to stigmatise gambling, demonise the gambling industry and use tobacco-style regulation to deter as many people from gambling as possible. The difference between the two approaches is that the former is based on evidence and works whereas the latter is based on wilful ignorance, creates negative unintended consequences and fails.
The new wave of anti-gambling activists take issue with anything that implies that the psychological condition of gambling disorder only affects a relative handful of people (which it does) or implies that individuals can do anything about it (which they can). It's going to be difficult for people who treat problem gamblers to maintain this conceit because the first step to recovery is getting people to admit that they are responsible for their actions and can change their behaviour, but I'm sure they'll manage it.

Thursday 14 March 2024

The menthol cigarette ban - another 'public health' win!

Menthol cigarettes were banned in the EU in May 2020 and, as usual, the UK government decided against using its new freedoms outside of the bloc to allow more freedom to people in the UK.

A study in the junk journal Tobacco Control by the usual career anti-smokers (Linda Bauld etc.) now claims victory because...

The current study shows no increase in illicit purchasing 3 years after the ban in GB and is an important contribution to the literature assessing the longer-term impact of menthol cigarette bans; it is another example of how the industry’s oft-predicted surge in illicit cigarette purchases as a result of tobacco control measures did not materialise.

Big Tobacco in the mud! Take that!


Despite being banned in 2020, one million adults continue to smoke menthol cigarettes in GB. The prevalence of menthol cigarette smoking only decreased slightly and non-significantly among adults who smoke, from 16% at the end of 2020 to 14% at the beginning of 2023.
Oh dear. Still, let's not allow the total and utter failure of the policy to achieve its goal distract us from Big Tobacco being wrong about the illicit trade. They're in the mud!
According to the authors, people who smoke menthol cigarettes were no more likely to buy from illicit sources than those who smoke normal cigarettes, although that's not what their own data shows (see table below).
Nevertheless, it is clear that a lot of people have been buying menthol (or menthol-ish) cigarettes from legal sources. The authors explain various ways in which this can be done, all of which could have been predicted by someone who is a genuine expert on the tobacco market rather than a rent-a-gob prohibitionist.
There are several reasons why people in the UK may continue to smoke menthol cigarettes despite the ban. First, it is possible to buy factory-made cigarettes or roll-your-own tobacco with menthol flavour in countries without a ban and bring them back to the UK either within the legal limits for personal use or through illicit means. Second, people can purchase menthol accessories, such as filters or capsules inserted in a hole in filters of factory-made cigarettes, infusion cards for cigarette packs to spread menthol aroma and flavour or menthol-flavoured filters for use with roll-your-own tobacco. These accessories are not covered by the ban and some of them seem to have been placed on the UK market in direct response to the ban. Another tactic that the tobacco industry used to circumvent the ban is to produce cigarettes that may be perceived as mentholated, while the manufacturers claim that the flavours are not characterising and are therefore allowed.

So the reason there has not been a booming black market in menthol cigarettes is that the legislation was so badly drafted that a black market wasn't necessary. And this is supposed to be a win??
Incidentally, all the data used in this study starts in October 2020 and ends in March 2023, despite the ban taking effect in May 2020, so it doesn't tell you anything about what happened when the ban was introduced. Tobacco Control really will publish any old rubbish.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Follow the money in the campaign against GambleAware

The 'Good Law Project' has suddenly started going after the dull but worthy charity GambleAware. Why? As I explain in this article for The Critic, it looks like a case of follow the money.

A levy on gambling companies is imminent and is expected to raise at least £50 million a year. The money will be earmarked for “research, prevention and treatment” and there are a lot of potential recipients who will be fighting like rats in a sack to get their hands on it. The House of Lords called for a gambling levy in June 2020 and the government consulted on the matter later that year. Since then, problem gambling NGOs have been sprouting up all over the place. Among the organisations that have already received grants from the Gambling Commission are Gambling Harm UK (founded in 2020), Deal Me Out CIC (founded in 2020), the Epic Restart Foundation (founded in 2021), GamFam (founded in 2022) and the Academic Forum for the Study of Gambling (founded in 2022).

Having been founded in 2018, Gambling with Lives is a relative veteran and has received £600,000 from the Gambling Commission so far. It is likely to be in the running for further grants when the levy takes effect, alongside such recently formed organisations as The Big Step (founded in 2019), Clean Up Gambling, the Coalition Against Gambling Ads, Bet Know More, Action Against Gambling Harms (all founded in 2020), Tackling Gambling Stigma (founded in 2021) and GamLEARN (founded in 2022).

GambleAware, founded in 2002, is the daddy of them all and has an income of nearly £50 million a year, virtually all of which comes from the gambling industry. These donations will cease when the statutory levy is introduced. The levy will effectively nationalise industry donations, with decisions about how the money is spent made by bureaucrats rather than businesses. When the donations dry up, GambleAware will have to bid for the pot of money marked “prevention”. With 20 years experience of running educational campaigns and helping problem gamblers, it will be the favourite to get the contract, unless its name is sullied in the meantime. If GambleAware becomes politically toxic, there are plenty of pressure groups ready to accept the money who will argue that the most effective form of “prevention” is tobacco-style regulation.

The difference between helping individuals and the 'public health' approach is that the latter doesn't work. It is a political stance to make people within the extended bureaucracy feel virtuous.   

You can see the new ('public health') approach most clearly in Manchester where the local authority has got into bed with Gambling With Lives to create this website which is straightforwardly anti-gambling. It has links to places where problem gamblers can get help, but if you click on the National Gambling Helpline, you will be effectively warned off it by an ad hominem statement.  
So you have a charity subtly dissuading problem gamblers from ringing a problem gambling helpline. This should be a "are we the baddies moment?"

Friday 8 March 2024

Fighting Scotland's sockpuppet state

Annemarie Ward, CEO of the addiction recovery charity FAVOR doesn't hold back in this interview with The Herald. Unlike most Scottish health organisations, she is not funded by the state - and it shows.

Here are some of the choicest quotes...


“So many aspects of their approach need to change,” she says, “but if I were to choose one then it’s this: get rid of all the addiction quangos that have grown fat on public money.”

She begins to describe a lucrative, self-serving sector which is in denial about the true nature of addiction and doesn’t really believe that people can actually recover. And so they specialise in ‘harm reduction’, which she says is “middle-class virtue-signalling at its worst”.   

... She begins naming the addiction quangos and says she’ll soon be compiling a list of them to show how crowded the field is.

This is where Scotland’s public sector gravy train can be seen at full tilt, driven by a vast array of political actors who attend all the right networking events; leadership seminars and lobbying dinners. 

“They’ve become a shadow state,” she says. “They’re policy actors with at least one organisation employing 70-odd staff. There’s no equivalent to them south of the border because England got rid of them years ago. They simply de-funded them as part of a structural change leading to more funding for front-line services.  

“All of these Scottish quangos think they’re doing something, but they’re little more than the government lobbying government for no other purpose than to maintain funding levels.” 

... “I’m willing to work with Labour. I want to contribute positively; I don’t want to be the one who’s always screaming. But if they don’t get rid of these quangos then I know they’ll just continue with the grift of government lobbying government.”

On minimum pricing:

In recent weeks, she’s become a harsh critic of the Scottish Government’s Minimum Unit Pricing policy which seeks to discourage people from buying alcohol. “It simply doesn’t work,” she says, “because those making the policy have no clue about the reality of the lives of those who are worst affected by alcohol addiction.” 

... “I read 40 studies around this and only seven were looking at health-based outcomes. Then I looked at who commissioned the research on all the studies and the only one that was positive about MUP was a researcher from Public Health Scotland. And it was Public Health Scotland who were writing the report. So you wonder if there’s some jiggery-pokery going on here.  

“These people don’t live in the real world. If they were, they’d looking at the correlation in the rise in drugs deaths since Minimum Unit Pricing was introduced in 2018. It doesn’t need a genius to work out why. And in the meantime, I’m still burying my friends.”

On alcohol advertising: 

“I don’t even see the problem with booze adverts. I don’t care about ‘the optics’ of a swimming pool sponsored by Tennent’s lager. The Government thinks the people in these communities are stupid and that we’re easily influenced. They’re obsessed with channelling ethics but what they’re doing in facilitating the already vast profits of the booze industry is grievously unethical.”

Can I get a "hell, yeah"?
You can follow her on Twitter here.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

The vape tax

So the UK is set to have one of the world's highest vape taxes to go alongside a ban on disposable vapes and the gradual (or not so gradual) prohibition of tobacco. I've written about the Tories' deranged scorched earth policy for Spiked...

Hear me out: is it possible that when Rishi Sunak became UK prime minister he set himself a Brewster’s Millions-style challenge of getting support for the Conservative Party down to zero by the time of the General Election? Does he have brainstorming sessions in Downing Street late at night to identify the dwindling number of people who might still vote for him and discuss how to alienate them? ‘We’ve already lost the people who use disposable vapes, but there are still people who use refillable e-cigarettes’, you can just imagine him saying. ‘How do we needlessly annoy them? I’ve got it! Let’s tax e-cigarette fluid.’


Pipes and pipemen

There is an epidemic of kids smoking pipes and cigars, if you believe the people at SPECTRUM. As I explain in The Critic, you shouldn't. 

As a rule of thumb, any sharp rise or fall in a longstanding data series is due to a change in methodology. When it comes to surveys, you reach different groups of people depending on whether you knock on their door, phone them up or use an online questionnaire. People may be more or less likely to confess to bad habits depending on whether you ask them face-to-face, over the phone or on a website. The abrupt rise in the number of people claiming to smoke non-cigarette tobacco in this study is obviously the result of the change in methodology and yet the authors refuse to admit this. Instead, they put forward a bunch of unlikely explanations for why people suddenly started smoking cigars and hookah in March 2020, including the fear that smoking cigarettes increased the risk of getting Covid-19, the ban on menthol cigarettes that was introduced two months later and economic pressures that meant people could only afford to smoke cigars (!). 

You have to scroll down to the “strengths and limitations” section before there is any acknowledgement of the obvious problem. Although the authors claim that people tend to give similar answers in substance abuse surveys regardless of whether they are asked face-to-face or online, they admit that when they used both surveys in a one-off test in March 2022, they found “the prevalence of exclusive non-cigarette smoking was 1.24 percentage points higher in the group surveyed via telephone than face-to-face (2.03 per cent [95 per cent CI = 1.42–2.90] vs. 0.79 per cent [0.48–1.31])”. This is clear evidence that people are nearly three times more likely to say “yes” when you ask them over the phone and yet the authors still insist that the fivefold increase in non-cigarette tobacco consumption is real.