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.

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