Monday 29 April 2024

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill echo chamber

When I mentioned the ludicrously one-sided Tobacco and Vapes Bill committee last week, I speculated about who would be called to give 'evidence'...

We shall see who gives oral evidence next week. I would guess it'll be Debs from ASH plus someone from the Department of Health, a local public health director and one of the other sockpuppet NGOs like FRESH.

The list has now been published. Sure enough, Debs will be first up to speak tomorrow morning alongside Sheila Duffy (ASH Scotland) and someone from Cancer Research UK (which funds ASH). Ailsa Rutter (CEO of FRESH) will appear in the afternoon alongside local public health director half-wit Greg Fell and a host of prohibitionist academics including Robert West, Linda Bauld and Ann McNeill.

On Wednesday, the MPs will be treated to the thoughts of England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty plus the chief medical officers from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A couple of NHS mandarins are also on the bill. Anna Gilmore will make her inevitable appearance in the afternoon.

It doesn't stop there. They've also got someone from the godawful Local Government Association and various representatives from big charities, including Age UK for some reason (perhaps they will be talking about what happens when only pensioners are allowed to buy tobacco). The general secretary of the teachers' union NASWUT will also be making an appearance. 

The only person who vaguely represents the private sector is Adrian Simpson of the British Retail Consortium. He is also among the small handful of speakers who are not funded by the state. There will be no one representing smokers and no one making the case for personal freedom, although they have found space for an obscure PhD student, Laura Young, who wants to ban disposable vapes.

You just have to laugh, really. The Chinese Communist Party makes more of an effort to appear pluralist than this government. The only consolation is that the prohibitionist MPs will be stuck in this echo chamber listening to the same clichés for two solid days. I hope it feels like a lifetime.


Friday 26 April 2024

Tobacco and Vapes Bill - another stitch up

Desperate to rush the Tobacco and Vapes Bill through Parliament before anyone can think about it too carefully, the government is taking it to the committee stage next week. There is no chance of anyone asking awkward questions because none of the 17 MPs on the committee voted against it. 

As Guido reports...

16 of the 17 committee members voted for the bill and the one who didn’t, Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy, is vice-chairman of the APPG on Smoking and Health which has been pushing the ban constantly. Almost a quarter of the committee members are from the APPG, which is run by the anti-smoking lobby group ASH. Sorry news for MPs who hoped amendments might be considered fairly…

Simon Clark, director of smokers’ rights group Forest tells Guido: “Committees don’t need to be balanced but this is such an obvious stitch-up it’s embarrassing. The make-up of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill Committee is effectively a f*ck you to every MP who voted against the Bill, and every member of the public who opposes the generational smoking ban.” It wouldn’t be the first time the government has deployed smoke and mirrors for this bill…

Four of the 17 MPs are on ASH's APPG (which was originally called the All-Party Group on Action on Smoking and Health), including its chairman Bob Blackman. I can only assume that Mary Kelly Foy didn't vote for the Bill because she wasn't in London at the time.

This is obviously a stitch up. Everyone knows the Bill is going to be rammed through on a tide of virtue-signalling from political pygmies, but they don't need to make it this obvious. Is the government so fearful of opposition that it won't allow a single dissenting or sceptical voice?

We shall see who gives oral evidence next week. I would guess it'll be Debs from ASH plus someone from the Department of Health, a local public health director and one of the other sockpuppet NGOs like FRESH. 

The House of Lords Food, Diet and Obesity Committee recently held its 'evidence sessions' and kicked off with Chris van Tulleken, Henry Dimbleby and Tim Spector, all of whom will be familiar with anyone who is up to speed with modern diet entrepreneurs. Also in the first sessions were Katharine Jenner (Food Foundation/Action on Sugar), Anna Taylor (Obesity Health Alliance), Fran Bernhard (Sustain), Rob Percival (Soil Association) and a host of lesser known academics whose bias is obvious from their tweets, such as...

Nikita Sinclair (Imperial College)

Wendy Wills (University of Hertfordshire)
Amelia A Lake, (Teesside University)

The difference is that the House of Lords committee is essentially a vanity project in the second chamber whereas the Tobacco and Vapes Bill committee is responsible for crafting good legislation. What a joke.

Thursday 25 April 2024

More useless alcohol modelling

The 'public health' lobby has been spinning plates this week, trying to exploit the UK's rise in alcohol-specific deaths while claiming that minimum pricing is saving lives. Meanwhile, Colin Angus has admitted that a model he produced in 2022 completely failed to predict what was about to happen.

I've written about all this for The Critic...

The increase in deaths in 2022 is more of a puzzle. Although there were no Covid restrictions, higher rates of consumption among some drinkers continued. There is some evidence that the figure for 2023 will be lower, but there is no sign of it coming down to pre-Covid levels. The number of people drinking a dangerous amount of alcohol (not just exceeding the Chief Medical Officer’s ridiculous guidelines, but actually drinking more than is good for them) is still higher than in 2019.

The neo-temperance lobby has reacted in predictable fashion. Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK, called for “proper regulation of alcohol marketing, clearer alcohol labelling, and a minimum price for a unit of alcohol”. In Scotland, where the alcohol-specific death rate is 56 per cent higher than in England, the state-funded pressure group Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems demanded “a package of measures which tackle pricing, marketing and availability of alcohol on a population-wide scale”. 

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You can’t blame campaigners for not letting a crisis go to waste, but there are some glaring problems with both the diagnosis and the prescription here.

Firstly, Scotland already has a minimum price for alcohol...
An interesting sidenote is that Angus's model assumed that alcohol consumption rose during the pandemic. In fact, it fell. So why did he think it had risen? Because the number of problem drinkers had risen. It's circular logic based on blind faith in the single distribution theory. He and his team then modelled every conceivable scenario, including everybody returning to their pre-pandemic levels of drinking, nobody returning to their pre-pandemic levels of drinking, everybody drinking more than they did in 2020 and everybody drinking less than they did in 2019. Every model has been shown to be completely, hopelessly wrong. The proverbial dart-throwing chimp could have done a better job.

This garbage was funded by the supposedly cash-strapped NHS. As I say in the article, what was the point? Even if its predictions had been accurate, it wouldn't have helped in any way.

Do read it all.


Thursday 18 April 2024

Libertarian prohibitionists - you've heard it all now

I wasn't going to write about the tobacco ban again for a while, but the ludicrous spectacle of prohibitionists purporting to be champions of liberty has set me off. 

Their logic is that smoking is so addictive that it restricts freedom. They claim that smokers do not actually want to smoke, but were foolish enough to get hooked in childhood and are now unable to quit. And so, despite the evidence of your eyes and ears, it is the people who keep banning things who are standing up for freedom while libertarians support enslavement. 

This was the message of a slightly Orwellian editorial in The Times yesterday which explicitly described smoking as “enslavement” and described the right to smoke as “a fake freedom”. It was the message of Deborah Arnott, the CEO of the Department of Health’s sockpuppet pressure group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), who said: “Smoking is not a free choice. It is an addiction.” And it was the message of public health minister Andrea Leadsom who told the House of Commons that “this is not about freedom to choose; it is about freedom from addiction.” The words ‘addiction’ and ‘addicted’ were mentioned 83 times in that parliamentary debate.

I have already conceded that giving up nicotine is more difficult than giving up cupcakes (although Chris van Tulleken may disagree). But the rhetoric around addiction this week has reached a different level. We have been told that smoking is not  only a difficult habit for some people to break, but is almost impossible, so much so that smokers “face a lifetime of addiction”, as Bob Blackman MP put it, and that while smokers might say that they want to purchase tobacco, they actually do not.

It is difficult to reconcile this with figures from the Office for National Statistics which show that 69 per cent of all the people in England who have ever smoked are now non-smokers. Andrea Leadsom is one of them. Despite claiming in her speech that people who take up smoking can look forward to “a life of addiction to nicotine”, she also mentioned that she gave up a 40-a-day habit when she was 21. Deborah Arnott is also an ex-smoker. She only gave up after she got the job at ASH. I suppose it wouldn’t have been a good look.

Read the rest at The Critic.
Regarding that Orwellian Times editorial. Let's remember what they say about banning tobacco sales completely for when they inevitably support total prohibition in a few years' time. 
And let's give a shout out to Peter Hitchens who doesn't think nicotine (or anything else) is addictive, but wants to ban smoking anyway because he doesn't like it and he thinks he knows best. At least he's honest about it.


A swift half with Adrian Chiles

You won't want to miss the new episode of The Swift Half in which I talk to broadcaster and Guardian super-columnist Adrian Chiles about drinking.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

The hazards of unopened cigarette packs

Proving that there is no end to 'public health' hysteria, some quackademics in South Korea are warning that unopened cigarette packs put nicotine into the atmosphere and need to be regulated. I wish I was making this up. See my Substack for more. 

Our findings indicate that packaged, unopened, and uncombusted cigarettes in cigarette racks at tobacco retailers emits airborne nicotine, which is a previously unrecognized source of nicotine exposure. This result has implications for policy considerations, such as the potential installation of ventilation systems on cigarette racks or the exploration of alternative packaging methods.

Also, check out the new episode of Last Orders.

Sunak's legacy

Rishi Sunak wants tobacco prohibition it to be his legacy. As I say in Spiked, I hope that's what it becomes.

Today, MPs will vote on the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. The result is a foregone conclusion since Labour has promised to support it and their members will comfortably outnumber the handful of Conservative MPs who didn’t get into politics to ban things. The flagship policy in the bill is a ban on anyone born after 2008 from ever legally buying a tobacco product. This will gradually extend the war on drugs to include tobacco, but nearly everybody in Westminster seems to be relaxed about that. In an insult to the public’s intelligence that diminishes us all, the latest health secretary, Victoria Atkins, has claimed that Winston Churchill would approve of his party banning cigars (Churchill’s grandson disagrees).

After spending 14 years achieving so little, this Tory government is using its last few months in office rushing through a policy borrowed from the New Zealand Labour Party, one which the British Labour Party would otherwise push through parliament when it wins the next election. It all seems perverse. The ban will not have any effect until 2027 so there is no need for haste, but it is in keeping with the Tories’ longstanding approach of owning the lefties by introducing Labour policies before Labour gets the chance to do so itself.



Monday 15 April 2024

Tim Stockwell's relationship with evidence

Tim Stockwell, who has been running a one man crusade against the benefits of moderate drinking for 20 years, has been on a bit of a media tour recently. He got a feature in the New York Times two weeks ago and is currently in Scotland where he is gearing up for a talk at the Royal College of Physicians on Wednesday. The talk has been organised by the state-funded Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) and the anti-alcohol Institute of Alcohol Studies. As the Herald reports...

Prof Stockwell's talk in Edinburgh on Wednesday is also expected to coincide with MSPs voting on a motion to increase Scotland's minimum unit price (MUP) levy from 50 to 65 pence.

How fortuitous! 

Stockwell's longstanding approach has been to clog up the search engines with meta-analyses that either cherry-pick the data or retrospectively adjust it to diminish the benefits of moderate drinking - I wrote about his most recent effort last year. In an interview with the Herald this weekend, he was still banging on about the sick quitter hypothesis which has repeatedly been shown to not explain the alcohol J-Curve

He then turns to minimum pricing, which he keenly supports. You may recall that Stockwell conjured up some evidence for this policy back in the day, claiming that a 10% increase in the minimum price of alcohol in a Canadian province led to a 32% reduction in alcohol-related deaths. This would be a remarkably large effect if true but, as data from his own research group showed, it was not remotely true.

Stockwell's approach to matters related to alcohol is refreshingly simple. If he wants something to be true, he says it is true, regardless of what the evidence says. Since most journalists are not familiar with the evidence and trust anyone who sounds like they might be a doctor (Stockwell's degree was in psychology and philosophy), this is more effective than you might think.

For example, there is good evidence from both the official evaluation and independent research that minimum pricing in Scotland did not make heavy drinkers reduce their alcohol consumption. A study in BMJ Open found that the heaviest drinking 5% of men drank more after minimum pricing was introduced. Even the people at Sheffield University who did the modelling for minimum pricing in the first place had to admit that "the introduction of MUP in Scotland did not lead to a decline in the proportion of adult drinkers consuming alcohol at harmful levels".
Stockwell doesn't believe this therefore he says that it ain't so.

He said he is confident that MUP has made a difference to heavy drinkers, despite some surveys suggesting they had not cut down. 

He said: "If you look at total sales data: 50% of the alcohol sold is consumed by heavy drinkers.

"You don't get population level reductions - a 3% total reduction in consumption compared to England and Wales - unless heavy drinkers are cutting down. It's mathematically impossible."

I don't wish to insult your intelligence, dear reader, but it is definitely not mathematically impossible.  

"All the surveys done, however good they seem, are observational studies - not control studies."

Control studies? Does he mean randomised controlled trials? How could you even design an RCT to measure this? Nearly everything we know about the risks of drinking comes from observational studies. Isn't it funny how Stockwell accepts these when they show risks but not benefits and demands an impossible burden of proof when the results don't suit his agenda.

"So it really has worked, especially in people with heavy alcohol use."

OK, bud.

Friday 12 April 2024

The Tobacco and Vapes Bill

The Impact Assessment for the Tobacco and Vapes Bill is laughable, relying on nonsense figures from ASH and ignoring the impact on the illicit trade. I've written about it for The Critic where I also ask for an ethical justification for stopping informed adults engaging in risky but self-regarding behaviour.

Last week, the Regulatory Policy Committee gave its verdict on the Impact Assessment. It expressed concern about the “over-reliance on evidence from ASH” and spotted the obvious problem that ASH’s productivity estimates “do not control for other factors that may affect a person’s earnings”. It suggested rethinking the assumption that the prohibition was “unlikely to have substantial impacts on tourism” since smokers may be reluctant to visit a country where they can’t even buy cigarette papers, let alone tobacco. And it politely recommended that more consideration be given to “the continued likelihood of some people buying cigarettes illegally for others”, an issue that is given astonishingly little attention in the Impact Assessment. 

Legislating for prohibition without considering the effect on the black market is almost comically negligent, but there is one other aspect of this policy worth mentioning that is ignored in both the Impact Assessment and the RPC’s opinion. A lot of people enjoy smoking and, if this policy works as intended, that enjoyment will be denied them. This is not a popular thing to say and the anti-smoking lobby goes to great lengths to deny it. They claim that people only smoke because they started in childhood and got hooked. The government claims that “most smokers want to quit”. But do they? There is enormous social pressure on smokers to say that they don’t want to smoke, but in the last Public Health England survey, only 20 per cent of smokers expressed a strong desire to quit and even among this minority, most did not intend to quit in the next three months. Moreover, it is no longer true that most smokers start in childhood. The majority of people who start smoking today have their first cigarette between the age of 18 and 24.


Thursday 11 April 2024

Big Tobacco meets Big Food

I've seen a few posts like this recently, claiming that 'Big Tobacco' used its mysterious, fiendish tricks to manipulate food when some of them bought food companies in the 1980s. 


So why say it? Presumably because it advances the goal of applying tobacco-style regulation to the food your eat.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

A swift half with Simon Clark

I had your friend and mine Simon Clark, the indefatigable leader of FOREST, on the Swift Half last week. We talked about his career fighting for liberty. Check it out.

Monday 1 April 2024

Why is alcohol regulated differently to tobacco?

Why is alcohol advertised openly in the UK, without pictures on the packaging highlighting the medical effects, for example, when tobacco is treated so differently? John Fisher, by email

Yesterday, the Observer published the replies, a mixed bag mostly harvested from the comments section. There are one or two nutters but also a few sensible souls. 

Nobody mentioned the official reason that was repeated for decades by the anti-smoking lobby and which is gradually fading from the popular memory as we slide down the slippery slope.

The official argument for regulating tobacco differently to alcohol is that cigarettes are a “unique product”. The WHO says that tobacco “is the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer." This was the explanation given by anti-smoking campaigners for decades whenever it was suggested that tobacco regulation creates a "slippery slope”. For example, when campaigning for plain packaging in 2012, Deborah Arnott of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said:

“...the “domino theory” i.e. that once a measure has been applied to tobacco it will be applied to other products is patently false. The same argument was used against the ban on tobacco advertising, but 9 years after the tobacco ban in the UK, alcohol advertising is still permitted with no sign of it being prohibited. Tobacco is a uniquely dangerous consumer product which is why there is a WHO health treaty (the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) to regulate tobacco use.”

The American anti-smoking activist and academic Stanton Glantz wrote in 2003:

"The 'slippery slope' argument is one that the tobacco industry has routinely raised to oppose policies against its interests, including smokefree policies, decisions by arts and cultural organizations not to accept tobacco money, advertising restrictions, and other policies. These predicted subsequent problems simply have not materialized"

In the same year, with reference to warning labels on cigarettes, the Australian anti-smoking activist and academic Simon Chapman wrote:

"In pre-warning days, when arguments could be couched in incredulity that tobacco should be singled out from other consumer products, the industry used “slippery slope” or “thin edge of the wedge” rhetoric, arguing that the policy would inexorably bleed into other product areas. 'The precedent is one which could easily come to affect other industries. For instance, a number of medical scientists claim that butter and milk are dangerous to the health of some people. It is recognised that drinking too much liquor or reckless driving are hazards to life... can we expect all these products to carry a ‘danger’ label …?' This argument appears to have quickly lost momentum when the dire predictions of rampant warnings never materialised.”

More recently, however, public health campaigners have cited the precedent of graphic warnings, advertising bans and plain packaging for tobacco as a justification for applying the same regulations to other products, including alcohol. It is far too early to say that the “dire predictions” were wrong.