Thursday, 8 June 2023

The W.H.O. is beyond help

I've got an article in this week's Spectator about the corrupt and incompetent WHO.

Since declaring Covid-19 to be ‘over as a global health emergency’ early last month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made it very clear that it has no intention of reforming. At its World Health Assembly two weeks ago, North Korea was among ten nations elected to sit on the WHO’s Executive Board, thereby giving Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian state the power to appoint WHO regional directors and potentially vote for the next director-general. The World Health Assembly did not censure North Korea for its countless human rights abuses, which include starving its own people. Instead it singled out Israel for criticism.

A few days later, as Russian bombs fell on Ukrainian families, the WHO’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, met Putin’s deputy health minister to discuss what Dr Tedros described in an ill-advised tweet as Russia’s ‘work to advance maternal and child health’. Dr Tedros also found time to meet the president of Fifa, perhaps the only international organisation that has faced more allegations of corruption and incompetence, to sign a four-year extension of its Memorandum of Understanding.

With Covid-19 fading as a health threat, the WHO is keen to get back to talking about its real priorities. In April, it published ‘Reporting about alcohol: a guide for journalists’, an alleged ‘fact sheet’ largely written by neo-temperance campaigners which falsely claims that ‘there is no evidence for the common belief that drinking alcohol in moderate amounts can help people live longer by decreasing their risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke or other conditions’. There is, in fact, a mountain of such evidence built up over decades.

Last month, the WHO published a report claiming that artificial sweeteners do not help people lose weight and may cause cancer. Last week, Dr Tedros declared that switching from smoking to vaping should not be seen as harm reduction and that e-cigarettes are ‘a trap’.


Tuesday, 6 June 2023

W.H.O. boss lies about vaping

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, once of the Tigray People's Liberation Front and now Director-General of the World Health Organisation, held a press conference on Friday in which he shamelessly lied about e-cigarettes.

“When the tobacco industry introduced electronic cigarettes and vaping, one narrative they tried to really sell is, is that this is part of harm reduction. It is not true. It actually is a trap.”

“Kids are being recruited at early age, 10, 11, 12 to do vaping and e-cigarettes because they think that it is cool because it comes in different colours, different flavours and so on. Then they get hooked for life. And most actually move into regular cigarette smoking.”

There are quite a few lies to unpack here. Firstly, the tobacco industry didn't 'introduce' e-cigarettes. It only moved into the market in 2013, 12 years after they had been invented. By the time the first vaping company was snapped up by a tobacco company, I'd already been using e-cigarettes for several years and had stopped smoking.

Nor is vaping 'a trap'. This is a ludicrous bit of scaremongering. The latest Cochrane Review concluded that there is 'high certainty evidence that nicotine e-cigarettes are more effective than traditional nicotine-replacement therapy (NRT) in helping people quit smoking'. This is in contrast to the 'very low certainty' evidence that the WHO has been citing recently to scare people off artificial sweeteners.

Finally, it is a flagrant lie that most children who vape 'move into regular smoking'. On the contrary, e-cigarettes have a prophylactic effect which is why smoking is extremely rare in schools despite - or rather because - vaping has become more popular. The evidence from the UK, USA and many other countries is clear to see. (Australia may be the exception but there is no accounting for the stupidity of the government.)

Wouldn't it be nice to have a World Health Organisation that doesn't lie to our faces? Is that too much to ask?

Monday, 5 June 2023

The surprising survival of the temperance lobby

I was on Consumer Choice radio last week having a good chat with Yael Ossowski and David Clement about (mostly) alcohol policy. 

Have a listen.

Friday, 2 June 2023

Australia: a special kind of stupid

More bad news from the supposed world leader in tobacco control. Official figures show that teen smoking rates rose sixfold between 2018 and 2023, from 2% to 12.8%.

It's been over a decade since Australia introduced plain packaging, a policy that the Southern hemisphere's wrongest man, Simon Chapman, likened to a vaccine for lung cancer. Australia has had the highest cigarette taxes in the world for ages, the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes has always been illegal, and all they have to show for it is an insanely big black market for both tobacco and e-cigarettes, more children smoking and a whole bunch of people using unregulated vapes. The wowsers just can't stop winning, can they?

Naturally, this has led to much soul searching among the tobacco control elite who are having to reassess their assumptions in the face of this overwhelming evidence of policy failure.

I'm joking, of course. They are doubling down again.

If you spoke to someone from the reality-based community, they would tell you that children find it easier to access a product when the market is in the hands of illicit traders because illicit traders don't care who they sell to. They might also point out that the Australian government has gone out of its way to portray vaping as being at least as bad as smoking. School children in Australia are taught that vaping causes brain damage. Public health agencies produce websites that purport to tell people the facts about vaping but actually tell them lies and misleading half-truths.


Alas, Australia's 'public health' industry is about as far from reality as it is possible to get. Their narrative is that youth smoking rates have risen in tandem with youth vaping rates and that this is proof of the legendary 'gateway effect'. In their view, it's not a failure of policy, it's the fault of the people who have been "promoting vaping".

The problem with this theory - aside from the fact that there are only about three people in Australia who have been promoting vaping - is that it hasn't been happening anywhere else. In England, where vaping actually is promoted, the proportion of 11-15 year olds who smoke regularly has fallen to 1% and the proportion who smoke at all has dropped from 5% to 3% since 2018.

Smokers aged 11-15

Regular smokers aged 11-15

Smoking among 18-24 year olds has halved since vaping took off, from 26% in 2011 to 13% in 2021.

It's a similar story in the USA where smoking among high school students has plummeted from 16% in 2011 to 2% in 2022.

Across the ditch in New Zealand, smoking rates nose-dived as soon as e-cigarettes were legalised in late 2020.

It takes a special kind of stupid to engineer a situation in which you have high rates of both smoking and vaping among teenagers, but Australia has somehow managed it. They handed much of the tobacco market and all of the vape market to illicit traders, thereby removing all regulation and ensuring people of any age have access to cheap products, and then created such a moral panic about the least harmful option that doctors give their own children cigarettes to stop them vaping.

Way to go, guys!

Thursday, 1 June 2023

It's a wide world

I've written something for The Critic about how parochial you have to be to think that nanny state policies are essential. 

Policies that are assumed to be indispensable for protecting public health in some countries are regarded as almost preposterous in others. Freedoms that are so mundane as to go unnoticed in some parts of Europe would be portrayed as recklessly anarchic if they were proposed in others. Remember the outrage when it was rumoured that Liz Truss would repeal the sugar tax? People reacted as if it would turn the United Kingdom into some sort of pariah state. In fact, it would have brought us in line with Sweden, Italy, Denmark and countless other countries that function perfectly well without such paternalistic interventions. Norway had repealed its own sugar tax without any fanfare the previous year. 

Imagine if the UK repealed plain packaging for tobacco, relaxed its smoking ban, got rid of its marketing restrictions on so-called junk food and halved its taxes on alcohol. Would it become a Hogarthian nightmare, or would it simply be a bit more like Germany and Luxembourg where none of these restrictions are in force?

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Nanny State Index 2023


The new edition of the biennial Nanny State Index has just been published. Edited by yours truly, it sees new entry Turkey take the top spot with Lithuania, Norway, Finland, Hungary and Ireland in the chasing pack. The UK is up one place to 11th and is only prevented from a podium finish by its relatively sensible approach to vaping.

You can view the results on the website or download the PDF. You can read some of the media coverage here, here and here.

My comment in the press release:  

"With the UK introducing some of the world's most nannying policies on food, it's no surprise to see it rising up the league table against stiff competition. The UK scores poorly in every category except e-cigarettes where it is the best in show.

Scotland and Wales drag down the overall score by having minimum pricing for alcohol, and the UK as a whole is the worst place in Europe to be a smoker.

With alcohol taxes rising sharply this year and more food regulation to come, things will only get worse.

The big picture is one of a constantly expanding nanny state raising prices and trampling freedom.

'The blame for this lies mainly with domestic governments, although the European Union is always keen to interfere and has banned flavoured heated tobacco products since the last edition was published (with an exemption for menthol)."

And I've written about it for the Spectator...

It has been a pathetic sight to watch politicians pleading with the supermarkets to lower food prices. Inflation has yet again proven to be more persistent than the government expected and it will do almost anything to bring it down. The Chancellor has even said that a recession would be a price worth paying to get the cost of living under control. But while the government resorts to ‘voluntary price caps’ on food, it still plans to ban most buy-one-get-one-free food offers in October. A double-digit hike in alcohol duty will come into effect in August. Smokers of rolling tobacco have already endured a tax rise of inflation plus 6 per cent this year.

Clearly the government’s commitment to tackling high prices only goes so far. When it’s a choice between addressing the cost of living and appeasing the ‘public health’ lobby, there is only ever one winner.

Thursday, 25 May 2023

Ireland's alcohol health warnings

I wrote a bit about the pros and cons of alcohol health warnings in Killjoys and have written something about them for The Critic now that they are likely to be a reality in Ireland in a few years.

The exact wording has not been finalised but two warnings have been proposed: “Drinking alcohol causes liver disease” and “There is a direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers”. Both of these statements are scientifically defensible and yet they are misleading because they omit important information. By ignoring any mention of excessive consumption, they imply that any amount of drinking causes these diseases. That is simply untrue of liver disease, which requires sustained consumption at quite high levels, and is debatable in the case of cancer. Although temperance campaigners are insistent that there is “no safe level” when it comes to drinking and cancer, the evidence for this is weak. 

Moreover, there is no mention of which cancers are associated with alcohol consumption. According to Cancer Research UK, there are seven alcohol-related cancers. Five of them are so rare that they are unlikely to give drinkers sleepless nights. Of the two more common types, colorectal cancer is only associated with alcohol consumption among heavy drinkers. This leaves breast cancer as the only common cancer associated with moderate drinking, although the magnitude of the risk is small — similar to that associated with taking the contraceptive pill — and the survival rate is high.

Given the countless risks that life throws at us, I suspect that nearly every drinker who was made aware of these facts would conclude that they are quite happy to take their chances and carry on drinking as they did before. But the Irish warning labels are not making drinkers aware of these facts. They are telling people that “there is a direct link between alcohol and fatal cancer”. While this is not a lie, the signalling effect is likely to make consumers over-estimate the health risk and worry more than they should.