You can also see me much earlier in the day on BBC Breakfast.
On another note, these are very encouraging words from the new head of the Charity Commission.
Basis for government alcohol policy is bogusAs a consultation on minimum alcohol pricing launches, the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) has released a report showing that the evidence base for minimum alcohol pricing is, to all intents and purposes, non-existent.
Co-authored by John C. Duffy, a statistician with forty years experience in the field of alcohol epidemiology, the report explains that most of the estimated health outcomes, used to justify calls for a minimum alcohol pricing of 40p or 50p per unit, have come from a single, flawed computer model.
This model, the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model, is used to predict minimum pricing’s effect on everything from NHS expenditure to unemployment, and is based on false assumptions and wild speculation which render any predictions meaningless.
Arguments for minimum alcohol pricing based on this computer model should be ignored and the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model should not play a role in the debate.
The model is deeply flawed for a number of reasons:
When calculating health outcomes, the model assumes that heavy drinkers are more likely to reduce their alcohol consumption as a result of a price rise. This contrasts with ample evidence that heavy drinkers are less price-sensitive. The majority of alcohol related harm is linked to heavy drinkers who are much less likely to be deterred by price rise than a casual consumer. By claiming that any price rise will lead to bigger drops in consumption amongst heavy drinkers, the model ignores the complex psychological and societal factors leading to alcoholism and alcohol-related violence.
It bases its calculations on controversial beliefs regarding the relationship between per capita consumption and rates of alcohol related harm. A low rate of per capita alcohol consumption is no guarantee of better health outcomes. There is little to be gained from making moderate drinkers reduce their consumption slightly.
The model provides figures without estimates of error and ignores statistical error in the alcohol-harm relationship. Patterns of consumption and harm are not the same in all countries. When Denmark reduced the tax on spirits by 45% in 2003 it did not experience any increase in alcohol consumption, and instead there was a decline in alcohol-related problems. As alcohol has become more affordable as a result of rising incomes we have seen a decline in alcohol consumption across most of Europe and the US. There are, of course, examples where higher prices have reduced alcohol consumption and alcohol related harm, but it is clear that price interventions are highly unpredictable and cannot be easily extrapolated from a computer model.
The model ignores other potential negative social outcomes of minimum pricing, such as a likely increase in the illicit alcohol trade and the greater poverty it may push many consumers into. It also ignores some of the health benefits associated with moderate drinking habits.
Alcohol-related harm may rise, fall or stay the same under a minimum pricing regime. The evidence simply does not exist for reliable forecasts to be made about the consequences of such a far-reaching policy. The Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model is riddled with flaws and wishful thinking. It has no merit as a guide to policy and the government should not base legislation on such speculative and weak statistics.
Christopher Snowdon, co-author of the report, adds: “In the era of evidence-based policy, it seems that speculative statistics are considered superior to no statistics and a wrong answer is better than no answer. We argue that this is a mistake. The aura of scientific certainty, or even mild confidence, in computer-generated numbers based on dubious assumptions is misplaced. Minimum pricing might reduce alcohol harm, or it might increase it, or it might bring about other unexpected consequences, good or bad. An admission that the evidence base is, to all intents and purposes, non-existent is less likely to mislead decision-makers than a spurious prediction. The only certainty is that minimum pricing will transfer large sums of money from the poorest people in society to wealthy industries. This is a deeply regressive leap into the unknown and it should not be taken as a response to wafer-thin ‘evidence’.”
John C. Duffy, co-author of the report adds: “A supporter of the model might ask me ‘If you’re so smart, what’s your model – what do you predict?’ My answer is that I don’t have a model and therefore I won’t make a prediction. There is not enough information around to produce a reliable model and I won’t invent one that is engineered (by undemonstrated assumptions) to fit the prevailing facts and pretend that it is of any use for prediction. As Taleb says in The Black Swan about those who attempt to justify worthless predictions because ‘that’s their job’—get another job.”
If your idea of 'democracy' is 'a system where me and my condescending arsehole chums get to dictate to other people what kind of coffee they're going to be allowed to drink', then I hope you never develop any kind of inclination towards fascism.
Costa's Totnes pull-out 'provoked fury'Costa Coffee's decision to drop plans to open in Totnes has led to a war of words in the town. Campaign group No To Costa collected 5,750 signatures against the plan, which prompted the firm to pull out last month. The coffee chain's plan would have caused "irreversible damage" to the town, campaigners said.
However, one independent coffee shop owner said its decision not to move in left other people "furious".
Costa announced that it was not going to open in Fore Street because it had "recognised the strength of feeling" against national brands in the town.
They had responded to the likes of eco-charity Transition Town Totnes (TTT) which, after backing the campaign against Costa, has been accused of going beyond its aims.
...Costa's decision, she said, had affected young people in the town who wanted jobs and a meeting place. "A lot of people were furious after Costa pulled out," she said.
A Facebook page has been created "for all those against the narrow minded people at Totnes transition town that seem hell bent on sending Totnes back to the stone age".
Take Back Totnes creator Matt Trant, said: "TTT acted as if it was representing the majority in the town but it wasn't. I hardly bumped into one person that was against Costa and I have lived here 21 years. A lot of people felt cheated."
This project, which is for the low-impact affordable housing development for local people made progress, albeit at times rather slow progress, in its negotiations with the Dartington Trust for the land to build the scheme.
Fruit and Nut trees
This project identifies appropriate sites for the wild planting of fruit and nut trees. Over the last year we have planted over 30 trees: almonds, walnuts, sweet chestnuts and heart-nuts, as well as apples, plums and pears in the public spaces around town. Most have been developed by the Agroforestry Research Trust in Dartington, and are specially adapted to grow well in our climate.
This theme group meets bi-monthly and explores the role the arts has to play in preparing for a carbon constrained, energy lean world. This includes allowing temporary spaces, time and practical projects to explore, engaging, experiencing, enthusing and empowering.
Transition Town Totnes Financial Statements for the year ended 31 August 2011Department of Energy and Climate Change: £548,773
Total donations and grants: £598,051
Indeed, most studies which involve direct questioning find that the majority of respondents expect plain packaging to have no effect on smoking prevalence and cigarette consumption. This includes ASH’s own “citizen’s jury” who were “sceptical that branding encouraged people to start smoking or to continue smoking and so did not believe that plain packaging would reduce the number of smokers significantly.”
Is Big Tobacco up to its dirty tricks again? A murky episode in Brussels suggests its questionable approach to law-making might not have gone out with the European smoking ban.
Maltese politician John Dalli was the EU health commissioner charged with implementing a new tobacco control directive. It would have forced large pictures of smoking-related diseases on cigarette packets, restricted sales of smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes and stepped up the ban on snus, a €500m-a-year cigarette smoking substitute gum banned everywhere in the EU except Sweden.
Before the directive could be passed, however, Dalli was called to the European Commission and given 30 minutes to read a final report by Olaf, the EU anti-corruption police. The report's contents remain under wraps, but Dalli promptly resigned, under pressure from commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, 30 minutes later.
The background to the Olaf report was a dossier provided to the commission by lobbyists for Swedish Match, which makes snus and pipe tobacco. It is claimed that Silvio Zammit, an associate of Dalli and a Maltese mayor and owner of a seaside kiosk on the island, solicited an initial €10m, with another €50m to follow, from the company in return for influencing Dalli to make his directive less hostile to snus.
Zammit claims he works as a legitimate lobbyist, that he was approached by Swedish Match and that he is not guilty of soliciting any money. Olaf admits that the evidence against Dalli is "circumstantial"...
...and limited to the possibility that he might have known about the payment.
Dalli, who emphatically denies all charges, says he has been stitched up by a tobacco industry that didn't appreciate his hard line.
Olaf itself may not be entirely objective. The European Commission has signed a series of agreements with the fag companies, leading to €2.15bn of funding being funnelled to the commission—some of it filtering down to Olaf to fund the fight against cigarette smuggling.
The tobacco lobby has long had it in for Dalli and his ominous directive which should have been launched last month.
What's more, Barroso was also uncomfortable with Dalli's tough policy measures—supposedly on legal grounds—and told him so. His secretary general, Catherine Day, repeatedly delayed launching the new directive even though it was finalised. What has left many EU observers blinking in disbelief is the skimpiness of Olaf's work. Five months into what he called "a comprehensive investigation", Olaf boss Giovanni Kessler admitted finding no proof that compromised Dalli.
Staffers at the commission's health and consumer directorate, Sanco, emphatically told Olaf investigators that the idea of Dalli ever compromising his treasured directive was incredible.
Word from Brussels is that the writs are just about to start flying.
Just one glass of wine a day linked to breast cancer: researchA review of research on alcohol and breast cancer has found that just one drink a day can increase the risk of breast cancer by five per cent.
Women drinking 'heavily' by having three or more drinks a day are up to 50 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who abstain, it was found.
It could mean that thousands of cases of breast cancer in Britain each year are caused by alcohol.
Glass of wine a day 'fights breast cancer'Women with breast cancer can boost their chances of surviving the disease by drinking a glass of wine a day, according to research.
Those who drink a medium-sized (175ml) glass a day cut their chance of dying within a decade of diagnosis by a fifth - from 20 to 16 per cent, say Cambridge University doctors.
"It killed 100 million in the last century and we thought that was outrageous, but this will be the biggest public health disaster in the history of the world, bar none. It all could be avoided if we could prevent the terroristic tactics of the tobacco industry in marketing its products to children."
Tobacco use is the epidemiological equivalent of a drive-by shooting – it hurts the innocent bystanders, as well as those held captive by an addiction that damages their health.
Members of civil society,
We need you, now more than ever.
Experience has shown that, when government political resolve falters or weakens under industry pressure, coalitions of civil society can take up the slack and carry the day. We need this kind of outcry, this kind of rage.
Eurocare strongly recommended exclusion of the alcohol industry as a stakeholder, similarly as it is being done with the tobacco industry.
The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products
"The elimination of all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products, including smuggling and illegal manufacturing, is an essential component of tobacco control," says Ambassador Ricardo Varela, President of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the WHO FCTC.
You have before you state-of-the art reports on recommended responses to smokeless tobacco products and electronic nicotine delivery systems. Again, industry is seeping through the cracks.
"Look, if the slope is slippery, it's the most unslippery slippery dip I've ever seen in my life."
Now, with the exception of a trial in the ACT, pokie reform has been kicked down the road – past the next election. And that means more lives will be destroyed.
Something has to be done, so how about this for an idea… it’s similar to what's happening with cigarettes. How about the equivalent of plain paper packaging, but for pokies. How about we turn off all the flashing lights. How about we turn off all whistling sound effects and the bells. How about we make the screen a simple black-and-white display with no fancy graphics or icons. In other words, plain packaging for pokies.
We know the lights and the whistles and the bells are what lures in the problem gamblers. It stands to reason then that if we got rid of them we’d go a long way to solving the problem.
THE Baillieu Government [in the state of Victoria] has ordered pubs and clubs to install "plain packaging" betting signs in a bid to curb pokies losses.
... Signs promoting Tatts Pokies or Tabaret must be replaced by plain versions, which will simply say "pokies" in white text on a single colour background.
The rules even specify the plain font to be used - Helvetica, Arial or similar.
... The rules ban "decorative ridges or illumination, embossing, bulges or other irregularities". Also prohibited are "words, numbers, symbols or pictures" associated with pokies.
TASMANIAN Greens gaming spokesman Kim Booth yesterday called for the Treasurer to urgently trial plain packaging on pokies machines.
Mr Booth said that while waiting for the federal mandatory pre-commitment reforms, the lure of pokies' bells, whistles, dollar signs, gold mines and treasure chests needed to be removed, and it was a possible first step to a solution to problem pokies gambling.
"Plain packaging works for anti-smoking* so it should be investigated to see if it would be equally effective against pokies," Mr Booth said.
“Tasmanians lose more than $200 per year to poker machines, which is why the Greens support a $1 bet limit, plain packaging for pokies and mandatory pre-commitment, as temporary measures leading to an eventual ban.”
They show how Big Sugar used Big Tobacco-style tactics to ensure that government agencies would dismiss troubling health claims against their products.
With the jury still out on sugar's health effects, producers simply needed to make sure that the uncertainty lingered.
Like the tobacco industry before it, the sugar industry may be facing the inexorable exposure of its product as a killer—science will ultimately settle the matter one way or the other—but as Big Tobacco learned a long time ago, even the inexorable can be held up for a very long time.