Thursday, 31 July 2014

Interpol versus the World Health Organisation

In 2012, I wrote about the paranoid, megalomaniac delusions of the World Health Organisation's 'Conference of the Parties' (COP) shindig that was held in Korea that year. Amongst other things, they made the Walter Mitty decision to "eliminate the illicit trade in tobacco"—something that has never been achieved with any other product, let alone one that grows ever more expensive on the licit market.

The masterstroke of this confederacy of unelected dunces was to ban journalists from their sessions in the fear that one of them might have 'links' to the tobacco industry and therefore might—what?—Hyptonise them? Give them the evil eye? Who knows, but they then proceeded to ban Interpol—yes, frickin' Interpol, who have been fighting the illicit trade in tobacco for donkey's years—on the basis that it had taken money from Philip Morris to help fight tobacco smuggling.

I said at the time:

This is madness. Is there any organisation these maniacs do not suspect are 'front groups' for Big Backy? The real issue here is not allowing the industry—or Interpol—to engage, it is that no opposing views are allowed whatsoever. I don't imagine that the industry necessarily represents the views of its customers, but they represent them better than the people who hate the customers, hate the industry and hate the product. Ideally, I'd like to see the tobacco control "community" invite smokers to their conferences and ask them how they feel about higher taxes and outdoor smoking bans, but they never do. I can't think why.

The result of excluding everybody except fellow fanatics is that you end up with retarded and delusional policies which only make sense at two in the morning when they are being discussed by monomaniacs in the hotel bar. It seems obvious, for example, that the tobacco industry could make common cause with the anti-tobacco industry—not to mention Interpol—on the issue of counterfeit cigarettes where both parties stand to lose. No dice, say the anti-smokers.

Remember that we are not talking about Interpol taking part in the discussions, only about them being admitted as spectators. Such is the tinfoil hat mentality of the anti-smoking lobby today that mere observation is considered threatening.

The next WHO COP meeting takes place, appropriately enough, in Russia. While the rest of the world balks at the idea of associating with Putin's terrorist-supporting, gay-bashing, journalist-hating semi-dictatorship, the denizens of public health are rushing to embrace it because it has recently introduced a smoking ban. An interesting set of priorities.

Even now, the WHO zealots are still furrowing their brows and beating their chests about the idea of Interpol being in the audience at their miserable conference. It's worth reading this document to see the depths of paranoia to which this once great institution has sunk.

The WHO clings to Article 5.3 of the FCTC which 'public health' campaigners seem to think is a some sort of Get Out of Jail card for them to avoid seeing, hearing or speaking to anyone who disagrees with them. To be clear, this is what it says (in full):

In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.

That's all it says—that the tobacco industry shouldn't be helping to develop 'public health policies' in nation states.

In its response to the WHO, Interpol gently points out that it is "not a country and consequently cannot be party to the FCTC". It also points out that it has no role in setting policy. If it was less polite, it might also have said that, even if it could set policy, it was hardly likely to be able to do so as an observer at row Q of a WHO meeting. If it was really impolite, it could have pointed out that the WHO is not a country either, it is an unelected supranational part-private, part-public organisation like Interpol, and should not be setting policy either.

The WHO has not yet made a decision about whether to let Interpol (I'll say it again—because it's hard to believe I'm actually typing this—frickin' Interpol) into their Moscow conference. It admits that Interpol is a "respected, credible international organization" and acknowledges "the value of its expertise in law enforcement and combating illicit trafficking of goods". Well, duh. But it still frets about "the importance of transparency in dealings with the tobacco industry" as if Interpol was actually the tobacco industry.

Interestingly, the WHO has expressed no concern whatsoever about the funding Interpol receives from the pharmaceutical industry (which, quite reasonably, is used to fund the massive black market in medicines). But why would it? After all, the WHO's tobacco division has been getting millions of dollars from Big Pharma since 1999 and it sees no conflict in trying to kill off the pharmaceutical industry's main competitor in the nicotine market, e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes will be one of the main topics under consideration at the Moscow summit and we know how the pharmaceutical industry feels about them. It is, funnily enough, the same as the WHO feels about them.


But let's not worry about that little competing interest, shall we? Let's worry about someone from the world's police cooperation service watching from the wings.

Crooked and delusional beyond belief.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ad busting

Some very funny business at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Back in early 2012, the Department of Health produced a peculiar television advert showing tumours growing from a cigarette. This was supposed to illustrate the claim that "every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation".

This always seemed to me to be an odd way to encourage people to quit smoking. Quite obviously, 15 cigarettes is not enough to cause cancer and even the least numerate viewer could work out that, even if true, millions of smoking-related 'mutations' do not turn into malignant tumours.

But is it true? That's the question Angela Harbutt, who used to work for the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, wanted to know when she filed a complaint with the ASA in January 2013. Now, 18 months later, the whole story can be told. Put very simply, the ASA brought in some experts and ruled that the advertisement was scientifically insupportable. They ruled that it was scientifically insupportable not once, not twice, but three times.

And then, at the eleventh hour, the Department of Health intervened and the ASA changed its mind. The whole story is quite bizarre and I won't attempt to relate it in full. Instead, I'll direct you to Liberal Vision and Taking Liberties for the full details. Do have a read.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A temperance manifesto for 2015

The Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) is planning to hold a 'day of action' on September 5th to raise awareness of the neo-temperance lobby. The 'action' appears to revolve around a few state-funded pressure groups messing about on Twitter. Their slogan/hashtag is #21billion, which refers to the supposed 'cost to the economy' of alcohol misuse. This is a bogus figure. Aside from being created in 2003, when alcohol consumption was considerably higher than it is today, its largest elements are not costs to the economy, but are 'emotional impact costs' and private costs. None of these costs are balanced by any benefits, thereby rendering the figure meaningless. See Full Fact for a breakdown.

Nevertheless, £21 billion is a big number and that's all that matters to the soapbox orators of the AHA. They can be confident that journalists will not check it and will instead portray it as a cost to the taxpayer. In truth, the cost to the taxpayer of alcohol use is significantly less than the £12 billion drinkers pay in alcohol duty, but the AHA won't be mentioning that.

The Alcohol Health Alliance was formed by Ian Gilmore in 2007, modelled on the Smokefree Alliance that had successfully conned the government into introducing the smoking ban. Their debt to the anti-smokers is clear to see. Here are some of their "specific asks for the 2015 General Election"...

Introduce a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol for all alcohol sales, together with a mechanism to regularly review and revise this price

Not a big surprise, this one. For the AHA, the most important aspect is having a mechanism to keep raising the price. If they seize the price lever, you can be sure the minimum price will go up and up and up. You can also be sure that a higher minimum price will be set for pubs, as it has in Canada.

At least one third of every alcohol product label should be given over to an evidence-based health warning specified by an independent regulatory body

A third! This idea is obviously borrowed from their anti-smoking colleagues.

The sale of alcohol in shops should be restricted to specific times of the day and designated areas. No alcohol promotion should occur outside these areas.

The sale of alcohol is already restricted to certain times of day. Presumably what they mean is that they want opening hours to be severely curtailed. The 'designated areas' idea refers to their obsession with having alcohol sold in separate sections of supermarkets to inconvenience shoppers.

Licensing legislation should be comprehensively reviewed. Licensing authorities must be empowered to tackle alcohol-related harm by controlling the total availability of alcohol in their jurisdiction

This will be a one-way street, of course. The AHA is not in favour of local authorities liberalising the sale and availability of alcohol.

All alcohol advertising and sponsorship should be prohibited. In the short term alcohol advertising should only be permitted in newspapers and other adult press. Its content should be limited to factual information about brand, provenance and product strength

Anti-smoking campaigners promised that banning tobacco advertising would not lead to a ban on alcohol advertising. As regular readers will know, this is because they are congenital liars. The AHA's plan is identical to the anti-smoking lobby's plan of days gone by—to ban advertising on TV and radio before banning it completely.

An independent body should be established to regulate alcohol promotion, including product and packaging design, in the interests of public health and community safety

What do you suppose they want to do with the packaging? Could they, by any chance, be planning to make it plain?

What we have here is a plan for the state to control the price, curtail the availability and design the packaging of all alcoholic beverages. It is good old fashioned temperance talk bolstered by a generous helping of policies from the tobacco prohibitionists and a dash of 'public health' rhetoric. Is the AHA trying to widen the Overton window or do they really think that there are any politicians (aside from Sarah Wollaston) who are daft enough to endorse this manifesto?

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The high street is dead, long live the high street

Good grief.

English councils propose 'Tesco tax'

A group of local councils in England is formally asking the government for new powers to tax large supermarkets.

BBC News has learned that Derby City Council has called for the right to bring in a levy as a "modest" effort to ensure supermarket spending "re-circulates" in local communities.

The council wants the right to impose a levy on large supermarkets, retain the money raised, and use it to help small businesses.

Let's set aside the strong suspicion that the money raised will never find its way towards 'small businesses' and will instead be funnelled into the half-baked schemes of the cranks who dominate local government (who, by the way, have done as much as anyone to ruin local retailers by jacking up parking fees and pedestrianising town centres). Instead, let's focus on the basic idea that successful businesses should be looted in order to prop up failing businesses.

It is hard to believe that there are still people - grown, adult human beings - who think that robbing Peter to pay Paul is a sensible way to run an economy. A hundred years ago, they would have been in favour of taxing the electricity companies to subsidise the candlestick makers. Forty years ago, they would have been throwing money at British Leyland. This latest wheeze from (Labour-run) Derby City Council shows that no matter how much the left insists that it has changed - no matter how much it recognises the benefits of the market economy - it still doesn't understand the basic principles of free trade. Hence, they say things like this:

"Research has shown that 95% of all the money spent in any large supermarket leaves the local economy for good, compared to just 50% from local independent retailers"

Perhaps so, but 100% of the goods bought in the supermarket end up in the local community and they do so at less expense than if they were bought in the high street. That is a good thing. Shoppers are part of the local community and the availability of cheap, high quality products is to their benefit. Money is merely a token with which people can buy the things they want. The availability of cheaper products has exactly the same positive effect as giving somebody more more money. It enriches all of us except the handful of people who are running moribund businesses.

Where the money ends up is immaterial. It is what we get for our money that matters. The whole point of trade is that money leaves the 'local economy' in exchange for the best products at the best prices. The market economy does not exist to serve the retailer. It exists to serve the consumer and, like all taxes, the Tesco Tax will ultimately be paid by consumers. They will be forced to pay higher prices in supermarkets in order to help shops charge higher prices in town centres. It is lunacy beyond belief.

And what is the justification for this looting? Essentially it boils down to a rose-tinted nostalgia for high street shopping by reactionaries, protectionists and the kind of people who insist that supermarkets are unpopular despite the fact that they are always full (due to our old friend 'false consciousness', no doubt). These are the people who hated Woolworths and HMV until the day they went bust, at which point they tearfully mourned the end of an era.

Let's face some facts about the high street. Internet shopping and supermarkets mean that the high street you grew up with is dead and it probably isn't coming back. If you can buy it cheaper online, there is no need to have a shop on the high street. The high street of the future will be dominated by businesses that sell services that cannot be bought virtually, such as hairdressers, and the leisure and entertainment industries. Get used to it.

In fact, prepare to enjoy it. Have you been to a high street recently? Aside from a few quaint market towns, British high street are awful. Not only are they awful, but they have been awful for decades. There is no reason to get misty-eyed about these concrete monstrosities and every reason to want them to die and be reborn.

We can have a flourishing high street of pubs, coffee shops, bookies, secondhand goods, specialist services and so on, but let's accept that the general high street retailer has had its day. Let's keep the fun stuff - the successful stuff; the stuff people actually want - in town and let's kick the boring shopping out of town. And if the new face of the high street means that some of the old shops will be turned into residential housing then all the better. The lack of housing is far more urgent problem than the sustainability of Dixons and WH Smith.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Simon Chapman: tedious self-plagiarist

Simon Chapman is on a one-man mission to pretend that plain packaging is working, hardly surprising since he's got a book coming out and the policy represents his last chance to become a footnote in history.

The latest part of his counter-offensive is a letter to the FT in which he argues that although the smoking rate has been falling at roughly the same rate for years in absolute terms, it has sped up in relative terms. This, of course, is just a mathematical inevitability if you have a declining number of smokers. If two per cent of the population give up smoking every three years, that two per cent is obviously going to be a larger proportion of smokers if smokers make up 15 per cent, rather than 40 per cent, of the population.

It's taken as read that Chapman's arguments are going to be fallacious so I'd like to focus on an amusing piece of trivia. He ends his letter thus:

Like Monty Python’s Black Knight talking about “just a flesh wound” after losing all four limbs, this is not likely to be the last round of denials from Big Tobacco.

It's a nice little analogy because it diverts attention from the fact that it is Chapman who is flailing around while his ridiculous idea falls apart in the most predictable way. He must be proud of this line because he used it two days earlier when writing a black-is-white propaganda piece for ABC (in which he introduced yet another layer of wrong, see Dick Puddlecote for details).

Like Monty Python's Black Knight talking about "just a flesh wound" after losing all four limbs, this is not likely to be the last round of denials from Big Tobacco.

In fact, he's very proud of it, because he used it in August 2012 when writing about the legal challenges to plain packaging...

Like the mortally wounded Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Big Tobacco will now be hoping that, despite losing its right arm and buckets of blood (just flesh wounds), two other cases will see off the scourge of plain packs, against all the odds.

And he used it again in October 2012 in a completely irrelevant context...

Professor Chapman says tobacco companies will do anything to create a sense of "intrigue" about their products.

"They're a bit like the Black Knight in Monty Python in The Holy Grail; you cut their legs off, you cut their arms off and they keep on saying, 'it's just a flesh wound, bring it on'."


And he was using it way back in 2001 when writing about the claim that pylons cause cancer (see page 251 of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist to appreciate the irony of Chappers debunking dodgy epidemiology)...

Those in the media who believe that high voltage power lines and pylons cause cancer in children are like the plucky, armless black knight in Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail: they just won't give up.

Maybe he's been using it for even longer than that, who knows? Perhaps he's one of those fellows who quotes huge chunks of Monty Python sketches in public. What a character!

Shouting the same old line over and over again is the characteristic of a tub-thumping campaigner, not a serious thinker, but even the most zealous street corner barker gets tired of repeating themselves eventually. Maybe it's time for Chapman to invest in a new metaphor?


UPDATE

On Twitter, Jon Fell has directed my attention to page 174 of a book published in 2007 titled Public Health Advocacy and Tobacco Control. Can you guess the name of its author?







Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Soda tax chumps

If, like me, you smile inwardly every time a moron uses the term 'Big Soda', you've got a treat in store. In November, the city of San "Ban" Francisco will be voting on whether to bring in a punitively high tax on fizzy drinks. That means four months of deranged campaigning in the Bay Area to look forward to.

As an hors d'oeuvre, check out the Choose Health SF website. Its blog and FAQ sections offer particularly good sport. Anybody with a rational mind left San Francisco years ago, leaving a population of quacks, hypochondriacs, drug casualties and champagne socialists. It shows. There is barely a sentence on this website that does not rely, at best, on logical fallacies. More commonly, it relies on bizarre assertions and free association.

For example, it is well known that indirect taxes are regressive (ie. they take a larger share of income from the poor than from the rich). It also seems to be the case that people on low incomes tend to drink more fizzy drinks than people on high incomes. Taxing these drinks is therefore indisputably regressive, but in the world of Public Health—especially in California—words mean whatever you want them to mean:

Isn't this just a regressive tax that will further hurt people with low incomes?

A: Spending millions to aggressively market cheap sodas to low-income communities—which are most impacted by the diabetes epidemic—is regressive. 

No it isn't. That's not what it means at all. Try using a dictionary.

Soda companies sell sugary drinks at artificially low prices and then pour billions into marketing to get people to drink more and more. That is regressive.

No it isn't—and any company selling something at an 'artificially low price' (whatever that means) whilst spending billions on marketing would go out of business. Soda is expensive. Tap water isn't. Drink that and shut the hell up.

Elsewhere, the valiant supporters of regressive taxation address the slippery slope argument. This is particularly delicious since San Francisco has for decades been at the centre of many novel anti-smoking policies that have—despite the assurances of wide-eyed campaigners—subsequently been applied to other products. It is more than likely that some of the parents of the soda tax campaigners were making assurances in the 1980s about tobacco being a 'unique product' while insisting that anti-smoking policies would never be applied to things like, well, soda.

Won't you just try to tax other things that are unhealthy for us if this soda tax passes? Why not tax jelly donuts and other fattening foods?

A: The beverage industry likes to argue that if you can’t solve every health problem, don’t bother trying to solve any health problem.

That's not their argument here. The argument is that if you tax soda, you'll tax anything with a high calorie content next.

The fact is that sugary beverages are a unique and significant cause of diabetes and other diseases.

But anti-smoking campaigners said that tobacco was a 'unique' cause of disease and scoffed at the notion that anti-smoking policies were the thin end of the wedge. Why should we believe you this time? Why should we think you will stop at soda?

Would anyone ever argue that we shouldn’t tax cigarettes since there are other causes of lung cancer? 

That's right folks. They're arguing that soda taxes won't set a precedent for other products by citing tobacco as a precedent for soda taxes. It's the next logical step, innit?

Informed observers on both sides of the sin tax debate believe that a no vote in San Francisco could kill off soda taxes worldwide. Their reasoning is that if the stoned bunnies of the Bay Area don't vote for it, no one will. I think they have a point so watch this space.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Plain packaging porky pies

In the last post—about the deceitful claim that there has been a "huge drop" in smoking rates since plain packaging was introduced in Australia—I mentioned that no UK newspapers had been dumb enough to report this propaganda. That was true at the time of writing, but, in the end, the Daily Mail and the Financial Times fell for it.

The Mail will print anything, but I expect more from the FT so I was pleased to see that they have at least published a couple of letters to help put the record straight...

Sir, Your report of the fall in smoking rates in Australia (“Australia smoking rates tumble after plain packaging shift”, FT.com, July 17) painted the results as strong evidence that plain packaging is causally linked to smoking prevalence. It quoted advocates who described the new data as “really dramatic and exceptionally encouraging” and likened plain packaging to the discovery of a vaccine against lung cancer.

When the representatives of Imperial Tobacco cast doubts on this interpretation in the penultimate line, my reaction was: “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

But I was troubled that the only data cited were from 2010 and 2013 and not from earlier in the series of data points. Few, I assume, went to the trouble of accessing the survey. It is a pity your report did not include this graph from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which makes it more difficult to make the link between plain packaging and smoking rates.

Readers should be trusted with analysis of data ourselves, instead of having lobby groups do it for us.

Dr Eoin O’Malley, Dublin City University, Ireland

There is also a letter from the managing director of JTI...

Sir, As a director of the second largest tobacco company in the UK, I am concerned by some of the misleading statements by tobacco control lobbyists reported in your article “Australia smoking rates tumble after plain-packaging shift”, FT.com, July 17).

In fact, the recent Australian smoking prevalence data reinforce the fact that plain packaging does not work.

Daily smoking prevalence declined by 2.3 per cent between 2010 and 2013, consistent with the pre-existing trend. The decrease between the introduction of plain packaging in December 2012 and December 2013 cannot be measured because that level of detail is not available. It is wrong to suggest plain packaging has worked, let alone to report that smoking rates have tumbled as a result.

The data also show that underage smoking has increased in the same period, reversing previous declines. While this obviously undermines the claims of the tobacco control lobbyists, it doesn’t necessarily mean that plain packaging led to the increase. Pretending otherwise would be a misrepresentation of the statistics to fit an ideology. Such junk advocacy should not form part of public policy debate and is no substitute for robust evidence.

Daniel Torras, Managing Director, JTI UK

The point about underage smoking is a good one. As Dick Puddlecote mentioned recently, the same data set that shows the - cough - "huge drop" also shows a rise in underage smoking between 2010 and 2013.


It is also worth noting that ASH are also lying when they claim that "Standardised packaging is the only new policy intervention over this time period and is therefore the most likely reason for the significant fall in smoking prevalence." In fact, there was a 25 per cent tax hike on tobacco in April 2010 which the Australian health minister specifically predicted would cause 2 to 3 per cent of smokers to quit.

There has subsequently been another tax hike (of 12.5 per cent) in December 2013 which led to a fall in (legal) tobacco consumption in the first quarter of this year. As mentioned in a previous post, this tax rise spared the blushes of anti-smoking campaigners because the data clearly show tobacco consumption rising in the first year of plain packaging (2013). Naturally, they ignored the 2013 data and claimed that the decline that followed the tax rise was the result of plain packaging.


All in all, just another week of porky pies in the world of tobacco control.



Thursday, 17 July 2014

Dogs bark, cows moo, ASH lies

Even by ASH's standards, this is staggeringly dishonest...

Huge drop in Australian smoking rates attributed to standardised packs
New figures released by the Australian government have shown adult smoking rates have fallen by a massive 15%. Before the measure was introduced in December 2012, daily smoking prevalence stood at 15.1% and has now fallen to 12.8%. Standardised packaging is the only new policy intervention over this time period and is therefore the most likely reason for the significant fall in smoking prevalence.

If the smoking rate has really fallen from 15.1% to 12.8% in the year and a half since plain packaging came in, that would be good prima facie evidence that the policy is working. Smoking rates in Australia have been falling since the 1970s, but a decline of 2.3 percentage points would be two or three times greater than the annual decline.

Impressive stuff, then, and ASH's Deborah Arnott is excited:
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH said:"The UK government is currently consulting on standardised packaging before deciding whether to proceed and has asked for new and emerging evidence. Well here it is and it demonstrates a massive decline in smoking prevalence in Australia following introduction of standardised packaging. This is exactly the strong and convincing evidence the tobacco industry said was needed."

There's only one problem. She's lying. Almost incredibly, the date ASH describes as being "before the measure was introduced" was not November 2012 (the month before plain packaging came in). It is not 2012 at all. It is not even 2011. The date they are referring to is 2010, more than two years before plain packaging was introduced.

ASH even gives the reference to the Australian report in its press release so that anyone can check it. I urge you to do so. It very clearly shows a steady and gradual downward trend in smoking rates going back to 1993. There is no increase in the rate of decline in 2013 and no effect from plain packaging. The rate has not "fallen by a massive 15%" since plain packaging came in, as ASH claims, and there has not been "a massive decline in smoking prevalence in Australia following introduction of standardised packaging". 

The data show that the smoking rate has been falling by 0.4-0.9 percentage points every year for twenty years and has continued to do so since plain packaging came in. There has not been a "huge drop" in smoking rates since the policy was enacted. There has been, at best, a mundane and totally predictable continuation of the secular decline.

The report that ASH uses as its sole reference says that "daily smoking declined significantly between 2010 and 2013 (from 15.1% to 12.8%)". This is a three year period. There is no mention of a three year period in the ASH propaganda. Their trick is pathetically simple. They are taking a three year gradual decline and pretending that it is a one year "huge" decline. There is nothing more to it than that. It is a piece of transparent mischief that a child could see through.


Use whatever term you want - "spinning", "bending the facts", "twisting the truth" - but ASH are doing what they have been doing for years. They are - quite simply - lying, and they are using the crudest of tricks to do so.


Credit to the British media for doing due diligence on this trash and not reporting it. The same cannot be said for the Sydney Morning Herald which has reported it as fact and included a quote from the parasitic sociologist Simon Chapman that does the unthinkable by making ASH look almost honest. I advise you to sit down before reading it...

"It's almost like finding a vaccine that works very well against lung cancer," said Simon Chapman, a professor in public health at the University of Sydney.
These people are truly amongst the greatest and most brazen charlatans of our time.


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Sin tax interview

I recently talked to David Pakman about sin taxes. Here's the video.




See also The Consequences of Not Mugging You.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Punishing the Majority: a reply to Will Haydock

Somewhat belatedly, I'd like to reply to a post by Will Haydock about the IEA report I wrote with John Duffy last month. Titled Punishing the Majority, the report looked at the claim that per capita consumption of alcohol is the determining factor of levels of alcohol-related harm and that governments should introduce policies to control or reduce average consumption in order to reduce problematic consumption (AKA the Total Consumption Model or Whole Population Approach). Using real world data and citing decades of research, we show that this theory does not stack up and recommend that policy be aimed at problem drinkers rather than the general population.

Will points out that you don't need to believe in the TCM in order to believe in whole-population policies such as tax rises...

There isn’t any necessary link between the Total Consumption Model and whole population approaches to alcohol policy. There are all sorts of reasons for identifying a whole population solution even if you know the problems are caused by individuals. 

If Will means that the policies that are proposed by advocates of the Total Consumption Model (TCM) can be justified on other grounds, I agree. The government could put up alcohol taxes on the basis that it would have a deterrent effect on heavy drinkers even if it did not care whether overall (per capita) consumption went up or down.

Sometimes this might be about the ease of administering a policy. For example, we place fixed age limits on alcohol consumption, even though potential drinkers mature physically and mentally at different rates, and won’t all be equally well prepared to deal with alcohol at the same age.

I agree that there are perfectly good reasons for having an age limit on alcohol purchase, but raising the limit isn't a big issue for advocates of the Total Consumption Model and the existence of a limit can clearly be justified on other grounds (eg. child protection).

Sometimes this might be about equality. There’s something attractive about the idea that all units of alcohol should be treated (and taxed) in the same way, rather than differentiating on the basis that more problems are associated with a particular drink. 

I happen to agree with that, but it's not really the issue here and, again, it's not something that fans of the TCM are particularly vocal about.

Finally, support for a whole population approach might be political (or perhaps more accurately moral). Kettil Bruun supported a population-wide approach partly because he felt it might avoid stigmatising dependent drinkers. 

He did, and we discuss his motives in the report. Bruun didn't like the stigmatisation of alcoholics in Scandinavia at the time and he tended to think that society, rather than the individual, was to blame for alcohol misuse. This drew him towards a dubious but highly influential version of the TCM—the Ledermann hypothesis—which he used like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination. Bruun was well-meaning and the treatment of alcoholics in post-war Scandinavia could certainly be draconian, but he went to the opposite extreme by ignoring personal responsibility and treating people like helpless pawns of industry and institutions (as socialists and 'public health' people tend to do).

That is, population-level approaches needn’t have the Total Consumption Model as their cornerstone.

I think we agree so far. However...

More importantly, though, population-wide policies aren’t the ‘cornerstone’ of the Total Consumption Model, as Chris also seems to suggest on his blog. The TCM might prop those policies up, but it would be back-to-front thinking to have the solutions explaining a problem. 

It's hard to believe that Will really thinks that raising prices and restricting advertising and availability are not the cornerstone policies of the TCM, but he must do because he says the same thing again towards the end of his blogpost:

Whole population policies might or might not be a sensible approach to alcohol, but it’s misleading to focus on the idea that ‘The 'cornerstone policies' of the Total Consumption Model involve raising taxes, restricting advertising and limiting availability’, since these policies can be justified in a number of other ways.

This is a simple fallacy. Just because these policies can be justified on other grounds does not mean that one school of thought does not place great importance on them. Of course these policies are at the cornerstones of the Total Consumption Model. They are mentioned in virtually every document produced by supporters of the model since the early 1970s and they are the cornerstone policies of the neo-temperance lobby in Britain today. 

Don't take my word for it. Here's what James Nicholls has to say in his 2009 book, The Politics of Alcohol. On pages 252-3, he lists various anti-drink campaigns seen in England over the centuries along with their 'core arguments' and 'preferred solutions'. At the bottom of the list is the most  recent breed, termed 'Public health'. Its 'core argument', he says, is 'Per capita increases in consumption lead to increases in all alcohol-related problems' and that 'Drink should be tackled at the population level'.

Quite obviously, this is the total consumption/whole population approach and the 'preferred solutions' are, he says, 'Tax increases' and 'Restrictions on alcohol through licensing controls'. I won't put words in James's mouth, but I'd be surprised if he didn't agree that restrictions on advertising are also part of their arsenal.

Who believes in this approach? Lots of people in 'public health'. On page 236, James writes: 'In 1994, a major report entitled Alcohol and the Public Good had argued that focusing on problem drinkers was less effective than tackling overall consumption across the population... These conclusions had been reiterated in another major international report compiled by public health researchers in 2003. The consensus among these researchers was that population-based approaches were the only sure way to tackle alcohol-related problems, and that the most effective way to reduce overall consumption was through raising prices via taxation and reducing access to alcohol via licensing restrictions.'

And, lest you think that this approach has since been abandoned, he notes—on page 250—that the establishment of the Alcohol Health Alliance in 2007 'marked an important moment in the development of a coordinated campaign, led by public health campaigners, for action to reduce per capita consumption through tax increases and stronger licensing restrictions' (my emphasis). He also mentions that this was the 'new consensus among alcohol campaigners'.

James's complaint about Punishing the Majority was that it overstated how influential the Total Consumption Model has been in terms of policies that have actually been implemented (as opposed to policies that the 'public health' lobby would like to see implemented). I can understand why he says that and I have responded here. He is right about licensing, which has been relaxed in the last decade, but I maintain that the UK's alcohol taxes and advertising restrictions reflect a belief in reducing per capita consumption (indeed, when writing about the large tax rises on alcohol that began in 2008, Nicholls writes that 'by framing the announcement in terms of affordability, and by effectively targeting all drinkers, the Treasury had accepted a key tenet of the population model' although he adds that this is 'something they had resisted forcefully for decades' (p. 246).)

Politicians do not need to be familiar with Kettil Bruun and bell curves in order to implement population-based policies. As Will says in his blog post, justifications for policies such as tax rises can be found without resorting to the Ledermann hypothesis. The IEA paper was intended only to assess the validity of the Total Consumption Model which, as we show, is explicitly supported by many 'public health' organisations. We wanted to test two claims: (a) that alcohol-related harm will inevitably fall when per capita consumption declines, and (b) that the policies favoured by the public health lobby are effective in reducing alcohol consumption and/or alcohol-related harm.

To test these claims, we only need to look at countries which have either seen per capita consumption decline or have introduced tax rises, ad bans and/or restricted licensing. It doesn't matter whether the politicians are ideologically committed to the Ledermann hypothesis or are persuaded by those who are—or have completely different motives (such as raising taxes to raise revenue).

Chris’ problem with the Total Consumption Model is that it (apparently) supports population-wide policies, which he says are likely to be ineffective, but we haven’t even agreed on how that potential efficacy might be judged. 

Haven't we?! I thought the aim was to reduce alcohol-related harm by reducing per capita alcohol consumption. Therefore we surely judge the efficacy by looking at the incidence of alcohol-related disease and mortality. This is what we do in the report and, in line with other studies that we cite, we find the claim that alcohol-related harm is fixed to overall consumption to be false.

I’m sticking my neck out here, because this isn’t quite the reasoning he offers on the blog, but I have a suspicion that the reason he doesn’t like population-wide policies is because they might affect people whose drinking impinges on no-one but themselves. 

No kidding. Why do you think it's called Punishing the Majority? We say on the very first page that population-wide policies 'have significant general welfare costs' which include 'the deadweight costs of taxation, the welfare cost of being unable to drink at chosen times and search costs incurred by limitations on advertising.'
However, as I’ve noted, there are lots of other arguments in favour of population-wide policies other than the TCM.

Fine. Argue for them on different grounds (although I think you'd still lose the argument). All we're saying is that the justification employed by NICE, Alcohol Focus Scotland, the European Commission and many others is bogus and has been known to be bogus by researchers for many years.

Moreover, MUP may affect the majority of drinkers, but it wouldn’t ‘target’ them (as Chris put it on his blog). All drinkers might all be somewhat affected by MUP, but there’s no doubt that people wouldn’t be equally affected by the policy. One good way of seeing this is to watch Nick Sheron’s presentation about the drinking habits of the people he sees with serious liver conditions: they drink a disproportionate amount of cheap alcohol, and would be disproportionately affected by MUP – whether that would reduce their consumption or simply lead to a financial hit. 

The report isn't about minimum pricing (MUP). I would agree that, in some ways, MUP does attempt to target problem drinkers and is therefore a more nuanced policy than traditional TCM policies. However, it is still very clumsy and would have significant financial and welfare costs on people who are not harmful drinkers. In practice, the only people who will be excluded will be a wealthy minority who do not buy cheap and medium priced alcohol, but that is a different discussion.

There’s also something misleading in Chris’ discussion of risk and health in the context of population-wide policies. It’s perfectly correct to point out that an individual won’t be much affected by a small reduction in their consumption, particularly if they’re not at the top end of the consumption spectrum. However, this is to misunderstand how population-level policies work: they don’t aim to make everyone necessarily live longer by a day or so; they aim to make an average population live longer, and affect some individuals significantly. The nature of the prevention paradox is that an individual won’t be noticeably affected by the small reduction in risk their change in consumption habits produces. These small reductions in risk, though, when aggregated across a whole population, can produce a notable reduction in overall mortality.

I don't see how any fair-minded reader of Punishing the Majority could think I don't know this. We write about Geoffrey Rose's theories (which is really what Will is alluding to here) and dismiss them with good reason. Besides, the Total Consumption Model does not merely argue that everybody drinking a little less will be a little better for everybody's health (a dubious assertion in itself). It says that a decline in consumption amongst moderate drinkers—so long as it leads to a fall in per capita consumption—would somehow make harmful drinkers consume less alcohol and suffer less alcohol-related harm. This is patently false and can be shown to be false by looking at countries, such as England in the last decade, where per capita alcohol consumption has fallen considerably.

Of course it can perfectly reasonably be argued that pushing (not quite nudging) people towards certain choices is no business of the state – and that’s fundamentally where the disagreement here lies. The IEA isn’t an expert in the effectiveness of health interventions; it’s a bit more clued up on political philosophy.

If this is meant to be an appeal to authority, I'd point Will towards the CV of my co-author John Duffy. If it is meant to be a 'why would a free market think care about any of this', I'd refer him to the welfare costs mentioned above. Yes, I am interested in the theories and excuses used by the public health lobby to enact policies that have wide-ranging costs on the public and I think people deserve to know whether they are true.

You don't need to look for hidden subtexts with the IEA. Our commitment to individual liberty and free markets could not be more explicit.

The real policy debate should be a clear discussion of what the problem is, and what an appropriate solution might be – which may not necessarily be the most effective solution, as that might not be acceptable for practical or moral reasons.
If this is a debate about liberty and fairness, let’s have it.

We can have that debate any time, but Punishing the Majority is about a specific empirical claim upon which many neo-temperance campaigners have hung their hat. Either it is true or it is not. When 'public health' campaigners hold ludicrous beliefs and tell a dozen lies before getting out of bed in the morning, the IEA would be missing an open goal if it restricted itself to a debate about philosophy. 



Saturday, 12 July 2014

Getting worried, Big Pharma?

I spotted this on the London Tube today. It's the first time I've seen the purveyors of pharmaceutical nicotine openly knocking e-cigarettes...



"Don't vape. Quit for good", it says. Quit what? If you want to quit smoking, the evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are at least as good as Big Pharma's offerings. If you want to quit nicotine, well, why would you want to do that if you like it and it's doing you little or no harm? But if you do want to quit nicotine then taking more nicotine is not the answer.

"Do something incredible", it says. Considering the efficacy of NRT as a smoking cessation aid, it would be pretty incredible if you stopped smoking, let alone stopped using nicotine, with Pharma's products.



Thursday, 10 July 2014

The consequences of not mugging you

Imagine I'm walking towards you in the street. Your wallet is in your hand and I can see that it contains three twenty pound notes. We get closer. A terrible thought suddenly crosses my mind that I could snatch your wallet and run off with £60. We draw still closer and, as we are about to pass, I abandon the criminal thought and go about my day.

As a result of not stealing from you, you are now £60 better off than you would have been. If you had a warped view of the world, you could almost say that I have saved you £60, but even a warped thinker would not would claim that I have actually given you £60.

Take another example. I am walking down the street with £20. The thought suddenly occurs to me that I could double my money by putting it on a greyhound. I spontaneously walk into a betting shop, stick my money down on Bonny Lad and watch the race. The dog comes last, I lose my money and I walk out.

I have lost £20. If you are a fan of rhetoric, you could argue that my bet has cost society £20. After all, I am a member of society. It would be a difficult argument to make and you would be wrong, but you could make it. And yet nobody would seriously claim that my losing bet has cost the taxpayer £20.

These might seem silly examples of logical failure, but they are endemic in the public health racket whenever they talk about the 'costs' of various activities. In the last few days, there have been three examples which nicely illustrate this.

Firstly, as Dick Puddlecote has mentioned, Theresa May, the British home secretary, recently asserted that "Alcohol-fuelled harm costs taxpayers £21 billion a year." This is the common or garden alcohol cost error and would almost be forgivable if it had not been May's ministerial department that came up with the figure in the first place. Her mistake is simple. She has taken an estimate that mainly consists of intangible, internal and/or private costs and pretended that they are all financial costs to the government. They're not (see The Wages of Sin Taxes for details). This happens all the time.

Secondly, Tobacco Control magazine recently published a study with the self-explanatory title 'Economic cost of smoking in people with mental disorders in the UK'. It found...

Results The estimated economic cost of smoking in people with mental disorders was £2.34 billion in 2009/10 in the UK, of which, about £719 million (31% of the total cost) was spent on treating diseases caused by smoking. Productivity losses due to smoking-related diseases were about £823 million (35%) for work-related absenteeism and £797 million (34%) was associated with premature mortality.

As is typical of these kind of studies, the authors don't look at potential savings and so all we have are the costs, not the (more relevant) net costs. Nevertheless, the authors' findings are quite clear. Treating smoking-related diseases amongst this group costs £719 million per annum and it is reasonable to assume, this being Britain, that the lion's share of that treatment is provided by the state and is therefore paid by the taxpayer.

On top of that, there are various costs to individuals and (to some extent) to private businesses, notably lost productivity and absenteeism, as well as the intangible, non-financial cost of premature mortality. These 'costs' do not involve money being spent by anyone. At best, the individual misses out on some extra income.

In short, the only part of the £2.34 billion total that affects taxpayers is the 31 per cent (£719 million) that goes on health care.

But here's how the BMJ promoted the study...



To which I responded...



You might think that the BMJ would blame a slip of the tongue for this mistake, but instead they doubled down and proved that they really don't understand the difference between taxpayers spending money on something and individuals bearing a private cost or forgoing income (you can see their next tweets here and here).

Finally, let's take an example from the third leg of the 'public health' stool—diet—starting with the tweet that led me to it:



The government is taking taxpayers' money and giving it to businesses to spend on advertising? That's outrageous! Or rather it would be outrageous if it were true. Instead, it turns out that the Centre for Science in the Public Interest has a peculiar definition of a subsidy:

Urge Congress to End Taxpayer Subsidies for Junk Food Marketing to Children

With one-third of kids overweight or obese, should U.S. taxpayers be subsidizing junk food marketing to children? Under current tax law, companies are allowed to deduct expenses for advertising and marketing unhealthy foods to children. Please help us to end that obesity-promoting tax loophole.

Marketing is a cost of doing business and is therefore a legitimate expense that comes off the bottom line. Salaries to staff are also business expenses, but would anyone claim that the taxpayer is subsidising the salary of McDonalds' CEO? Would anyone claim that the taxpayer is subsidising the photocopying at Burger King? No. These are expenses and businesses do not pay tax on expenses, only on profit.

What CSPS are really saying is that they don't like 'junk food' advertising and think that food companies should pay additional taxes for the right to advertise. But even if you are warped enough to think that advertising isn't a legitimate business expense, a tax break is not a subsidy.

It is true that the government has less money as a result of not taxing McDonalds' advertising, but it is also true that the government has less money as a result of not introducing a beard tax or a window tax. Is the taxpayer subsidising growers of beards or owners of windows? Only if you are looking down the wrong end of the telescope.

The only way in which you could consider a tax break to be a subsidy is if you believe that the government is entitled to all your money and that anything it allows you to keep is tantamount to a gift. And this brings me back to my original analogy.

I stroll past you in the street without snatching your wallet. As I walk away I begin to feel resentful. You have £60 more than you would have done had I acted on my impulse. I have £60 less than I would have done. It's not fair! I have subsidised you!

Would my reaction be reasonable? Or would I, in fact, be a confused, criminal sociopath?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Let's face some facts about obesity

I recently mentioned a compendium of statistics from the British Heart Foundation which includes a statement that some might find surprising:

Overall intake of calories, fat and saturated fat has decreased since the 1970s. This trend is accompanied by a decrease in sugar and salt intake, and an increase in fibre and fruit and vegetable intake.

This is so far removed from what the public is told by groups like Action on Sugar that it deserves some elaboration.

The Office for National Statistics holds detailed information on the British diet going back to 1974. The evidence is unequivocal that per capita consumption of sugar, fat and carbohydrates has fallen significantly.

Here is saturated fat consumption:


Here is carbohydrate consumption:


Here is total sugar consumption, which only goes back to 1992:



If consumption of sugar, fat and carbohydrate has fallen, what has risen? The answer is: not much. There's been a small rise in Vitamin C and protein consumption. Otherwise, nearly everything has declined or stayed static. Unsurprisingly, then, calorie consumption is also down, from 2,534 calories per person per day in 1974 to less than 2,000 in 2012 (nb. these figures include calories from alcohol).



At this point, I should add a caveat. The figures above refer only to food consumed in the home. Have we been increasingly stuffing our faces in restaurants and chippies? Well, no. Food consumed outside the home makes up about ten per cent of total energy intake and, although we only have evidence on consumption outside the home going back to 2001, there is no sign of a rise here either. On the contrary, since 2001 the number of calories consumed outside the home (including snacks) has fallen by 30 per cent, from 310 to 219 per day.




And if we include food eaten inside and outside the home we once again see a downward trend:



In 2012, the last year for which we have data, total per capita calorie consumption in the UK was 2,262 per person per day. This is considerably less than people were consuming in the home, let alone from all sources, in the mid-1970s.

The facts are clear. Britons, on average are eating about twenty per cent fewer calories than they did forty years ago and we are eating 16 per cent less sugar than we were in 1992.

So, if we're getting fatter despite eating fewer calories (and if we believe the first law of thermodynamics) there can be only one explanation—we are burning off even fewer calories than we are eating. There are a few things that might have made a difference to metabolism, such as warmer houses and the decline of tobacco smoking, but the overriding explanation is the decline in physical activity. The claim that obesity rates have risen because we are being fattened up with fizzy drinks, large helpings and 'hidden' sugar in food is bunkum. The cause of the obesity 'epidemic' has nothing to do with calories in and everything to do with calories out.

Considering how many news stories are written about obesity, you'd think that the facts above would be common knowledge. If there was a physical inactivity industry for the public health lobby to attack (Big Slob-acco), perhaps they would be. Instead, we have a food industry known by the risible moniker of 'Big Food' (the 'men who made us fat') being blamed for stuffing the population with more and more sugar and calories despite no such increase having taken place. Who needs facts when we can blame obesity on people "being bombarded every day by the food industry to consume more and more food" or when we can point the finger at a product that the British have never eaten?

In an increasingly sedentary society, those who are not prepared to do more exercise may find it easier to reduce the number of calories they consume than to live a physically active life. That is not an unreasonable response (although exercise has health benefits that go beyond obesity prevention).

It can certainly be argued that calorie consumption has not fallen fast enough to offset the decline in physical inactivity. For many people, that is obviously true, but let's not pretend that it was rising calorie consumption that caused obesity rates to go up after 1980 and let's ignore irresponsible barkers like Aseem Malhotra who want to "bust the myth of physical activity and obesity". It is not a myth. Physical inactivity, not increased calorie consumption, is behind the rise in obesity in the UK.


UPDATE

This was a timely post. A report in The Guardian grudgingly acknowledges the role of physical inactivity. A new study shows that calorie consumption has not risen in the USA for twenty years, whereas the number of people who never take exercise has more than doubled. This is the Guardian, however, so don't expect any change of heart:

A new study in the American Journal of Medicine says we are fat because we move so much less, not because we eat more. But that is no reason to let the food and drink industry off the hook

Heaven forfend!

It should be noted that the USA and Britain are different insofar as calorie (and sugar) consumption remains higher in the USA than it was in the 1970s whereas both are lower than they used to be in the UK.



Monday, 7 July 2014

The prohibitionist mindset in a nutshell...

... appears in this story about some people who want to ban the sale of energy drinks to chiiiiildren (ie. teenagers):

“Pupils don’t want to be sold the drinks even though they’re buying them"

The false consciousness of the peon masses! Pay no attention to people's revealed preferences. What they really want to do is the opposite of what they actually do.

So why do they do what do?

"– it’s because they’re cheap and addictive, and their peers are taking them."

Firstly, energy drinks are not cheap; they're more expensive than almost any other non-alcoholic drinks.

Secondly, I'm unconvinced that caffeine is addictive in any meaningful sense. I go from drinking lots of it to drinking none of it without the slightest side effect. However, I accept that some people claim to get mild withdrawal symptoms so maybe different individuals react differently.

Thirdly, the fact that their 'peers' are drinking them is not evidence that people don't want to buy them. On the contrary, it is further evidence that people do want to buy them.

The quote above comes from a fifteen year old who is being used as a tool by a Scottish pressure group called Responsible Retailing of Energy Drinks. She's young and we shouldn't judge her too harshly, but her claim that people do the opposite of what they really, truly want to do has been the calling card of prohibitionists through the ages. She will probably grow out of this phase, but the prohibitionists will always have a teenage mentality.

By the way, don't be fooled into thinking that this is just a campaign to stop the sale of energy drinks to chiiiiildren. As always, the demands don't stop there...

Pupils are set to be turned away from tills and the addictive drinks removed completely from general display, with sales assistants fetching individual cans from back rooms for adult customers.

Yes, they want a retail display ban. Following the anti-smoking blueprint to the letter.



Voting for a pig in a poke


Continuing the recent theme of barnstorming parliamentary speeches is this from Finian McGrath in the Irish parliament last week. It provides a neat overview of the issues surrounding plain packaging while gently querying the honesty of the state-funded groups that are pushing for the policy.

I totally accept that smoking is not good for one's health, but nor is excessive eating or binge drinking. However, it seems always to be smokers who get hammered, notwithstanding the €1.2 billion in taxes we contribute to the Exchequer each year. That is a lot of money and it helps to run a lot of services. My philosophy in life is moderation, whether in regard to alcohol, cigarettes or food. Unfortunately, decisions in these matters are being made by the nanny state brigade, with the rest of us expected to toe the line. The superior attitude displayed by some of these people gets up my nose, with their constant lecturing and talking down to people who happen to have an addiction that is harming nobody but themselves. It is time to get real and bring some common sense into this debate.

It is important, too, that we have an honest debate, to which end I intend to point out some of the dishonest statements I have heard in recent weeks. I fully accept that smoking is bad for one's health. I try every day to give up, but bullying, marginalising and hectoring will never work with me. We have seen the disgraceful treatment of people who are using electronic cigarettes as a way of overcoming their addiction. CIE, for example, reacted to a couple of cranks by imposing a total ban on the use of these devices on trains and buses. In Leinster House efforts are being made to ban their use in the private and public bars. That is not a good thing. On the day that a company has announced the creation of 80 new jobs in the manufacture of electronic devices, surely it is time to introduce some element of common sense into our consideration of these matters. I am asking the Government to wise up, cop on and take on board dissenting voices like mine.

I take this opportunity to challenge some of the organisations that have put misleading information into the public domain. For example, the Irish Cancer Society recently stated that the annual cost of smoking to the health budget is €2 billion. However, the Chief Medical Officer gave evidence to the health committee, under the chairmanship of Deputy Jerry Buttimer, in December 2013 that the cost is €664 million. I asked the Minister in a parliamentary question yesterday whether there is a need for the Chief Medical Officer to correct his evidence in light of this discrepancy. The response explained that the Chief Medical Officer based his evidence on a report by the Directorate General for Health and Consumers on liability and the health costs of smoking across all EU member states. The report showed that for Ireland, health expenditure on smoking diseases is €498 million, productivity losses due to absenteeism amount to €15 million, and long-term incapacity caused by smoking costs €151 million. These figures give a total of €664 million and show there is no requirement to correct the parliamentary record. In other words, one group has already been caught out in giving false and misleading information. To reiterate, I am not arguing that smoking is good for one's health but that we should have honest presentation of the facts. [nb. Tobacco taxes in Ireland generate about €1.4 billion - CJS.]

Turning to the legislation, these provisions will have far-reaching implications for retailers and in their impact on jobs, cigarette smuggling and the infringement of intellectual property rights. We are being asked to support the Bill in the absence of information regarding the regulatory impact assessment that was conducted last February.

In effect, Deputies do not know what the cost benefit and the impact of this Bill will be or if the tobacco companies sought compensation in their submissions. This information should be made available to Deputies so they know for what they are voting. Regardless of one's personal attitude to cigarettes and tobacco products, the Minister will agree that they are serious issues for all Members of the Oireachtas.

Additionally, the Minister should be asked if the Attorney General has reviewed this Bill and whether she has any outstanding concerns about its integrity and if she is confident it will withstand legal challenge. We have had a financial crisis and we need money but a case like this could cost taxpayers more money. The Minister and the Government should wake up and smell the coffee and not squander any more taxpayers' money as they have done. We need every cent for our health and disability services and I do not want to see a legal challenge where the State is caught for hundreds of millions of euro.

Let us look at the other facts when it comes to dealing with the packaging issue. It will make counterfeiting easier. By removing branding, smokers will definitely gravitate towards the cheapest products, increasing the amount they smoke. That is something at which the Minister should look. Smoking initiation and ongoing consumption are driven by factors unrelated to packaging. That is the reality. There is no evidence in the form of randomised control trials that proves standardised packaging reduces smoking uptake. That is something at which the Minister should also look. Again, I emphasise that I am giving a different view on these issues.

It is a pity the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, is not here. The Government did not proceed with abolishing upward only rent reviews as it would have required the payment of compensation to landlords whose rights were infringed. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, said on 10 June 2014 that the Government did not want the taxpayers to pick up that bill. What is the connection here? The connection is that we could find ourselves in a situation where there could be a legal challenge costing hundreds of millions of euro. As this plain packaging legislation proposes to deprive tobacco companies of their rights, the same principle applies here.

As many Deputies know, tobacco companies made this point in their submissions to the Department of Health's regulatory impact analysis, which remains unpublished. The Minster is inviting the Dáil to vote for a pig in a poke as long as the regulatory impact analysis conducted on this Bill remains unpublished.

I am warning people that they must be vigilant. The Law Society is concerned about this legislation and yet where has one heard this? The political nanny state brigade have not raised this issue. Irish law protects creative ideas, inventions, designs and music by creating intellectual property rights in respect of them. Intellectual property rights are protected. Under Irish law the right to a trademark is governed by the Trademarks Act 1996. Ireland is a signatory to a number of international agreements, the aim of which is to protect intellectual property rights.

A number of stakeholders, including the Law Society, have raised concerns about the potential negative impact standardised packaging may have on intellectual property rights, that is, the trademarks of tobacco companies and, consequently, on Ireland's international and commercial reputation. That is the Law Society talking and not Deputy Finian McGrath.

I have put forward alternative views in this debate and I would like the Minister to listen to them. If one is bringing in legislation, it should be well thought out because it could end up costing this State. One also has a duty to provide all the information and all the facts to the citizens of this State who deserve truth, honesty and above all not to be caught again and stung in their pockets.

The legislation in Ireland seems to have been pushed back to September, by which time Ireland's hysterical, overweight and unpopular minister for health, James Reilly, is expected to have been shuffled out of the cabinet.

Meanwhile, another public consultation is underway in Britain on what campaigners now insist on calling 'standardised' packaging (the reason for the name change has passed me by). It will run until 7th August and you can use it to tell the government to get a grip here.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Every e-cigarette user should be a free market libertarian

How libertarians are created

I've been using e-cigarettes almost exclusively since October 2012 and, as a customer, I've noticed that the e-cigarette market in Britain has the closest thing to perfect competition that you will see in the real world.

Perfect competition is a theoretical economic model but, like most economic models, it is a useful one. In a market with perfect competition there are a large number of sellers, no barriers to entry, and a largely homogenous range of products. As a user of a second generation e-cigarette, that is pretty much what I see in the marketplace. I live in a fairly small place in Sussex—a big village, really—which has an independent e-cigarette shop (hell, let's give them a plug) and at least a couple of other shops that sell second generation e-cigarettes as part of their business.

All these shops—like many thousands of them nationwide—are buying their gear from China and rebadging it to various degrees. There is a huge range of fluid, but when it comes to the hardware I can buy a battery from the specialist e-cigarette boutique and it will work with the atomiser I bought from the cornershop. It is essentially all the same and anyone can import and sell it.

In terms of first generation products, I've tried the E-Lites and the Vypes and the N-Joys and the Gammuccis and many over cigalikes and, whilst I have slight preference for one over the other, there isn't a big difference between them. As with real cigarettes, if people become loyal to one brand it will be on the basis of price, image and slight differences in taste.

I won't discuss the third generation devices because I don't use them (yet), but what I am about to say also applies to them.

If you have a perfectly competitive market, with no barriers to entry, lots of sellers and homogenous products, an economist would expect to see lower prices and greater innovation as competitors strive to be the top dog. That is exactly what has happened in the e-cigarette market. It has been to the benefit of consumers.

Some Marxists argue that industry is all about capital and that the big players come in, push out the competition and soak up excess profits. Some businesses do indeed hope to do that—and governments on left and right help them—but free marketeers say that it is only through government action that such oligopolies can be formed. We free market libertarians believe that it is regulation that pushes up prices, stifles innovation and allows big business to prosper at the expense of small businesses. The price is ultimately paid by the consumer, whether as a financial cost or a welfare cost.

I know that this blog is read by people with a broad range of political views and I wouldn't want it any other way. I don't much care for champagne socialism (or champagne Toryism for that matter), but I don't vote. Whatever your political preferences, so long you're against state-sanctioned lifestyle regulation you can have a drink with me any time (preferably not champagne).

But if you're a vaper and you've been following the whole mess with the Tobacco Products Directive and the MHRA and the WHO and the BMA and all the other bastards who want to regulate e-cigarettes into the dust, you must surely have learnt a lesson about the joys of laissez-faire and the horrors of big government. Even if we leave aside the fact that it was the socialist parties in the European Parliament that were most keen to ban e-cigarettes, there must be something about this debacle that makes left-leaning punters see some wisdom in the free market.

The vaping scene in Britain today is simply fantastic. Anyone can get into it and, as a result, there is a vast array of retailers and manufacturers fighting on a level playing field to produce the best product at the best price. It's not quite perfect competition, but it's not far off and so there is an incredible amount of innovation and prices are extremely—what's the word?—competitive.

No matter how 'light touch' the EU and MHRA regulations prove to be, we will look back on the first half of this decade as the golden age of vaping. Not because technology and ingenuity will come to a halt in 2016, but because someone has said the nine most terrifying words in the English language: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" (h/t Ronald Reagan).

Being in favour of the free market doesn't necessarily make you a libertarian, of course (the Conservative and Republican parties have given us ample proof of that over the years). As a vaper, it will be necessary for you to step into any bar, restaurant or office in the growing number of places that have banned the use of e-cigarettes by law before those libertarian muscles really begin to flex. A park would be good enough in New York City. I haven't kept up with the regulations in California, but vaping in your own bathroom is probably an offence there.

All I'm saying, dear reader, is that vapers have more reason than most to appreciate the magic of a loosely regulated free market because we have been lucky enough to see one appear before our very eyes and we now have the prospect of seeing it disappear before our very eyes. This is why I called my IEA paper about e-cigarettes Free Market Solutions in Health. Whether you wish to apply that lesson learned to other markets is a matter for you but, y'know, I'm just saying.




Thursday, 3 July 2014

Sport and booze

From a new study in Addiction ...

University students in the United Kingdom who play sport and who personally receive alcohol industry sponsorship or whose club or team receives alcohol industry sponsorship appear to have more problematic drinking behaviour than UK university students who play sport and receive no alcohol industry sponsorship. Policy to reduce or cease such sponsorship should be considered.

This survey-based study claims that students who play sport for alcohol industry-sponsored teams are more likely to be 'hazardous drinkers' than those who don't.

What's a hazardous drinker? It's someone who gets more than eight points in this test. I am one of them, apparently. There's a good chance that you are too because no fewer than 84 per cent of the sportspeople in the Addiction study were hazardous drinkers.

That sounds pretty high, doesn't it? But then people who play sport appear to be a public health nightmare...

Research from the United States, Australia and New Zealand suggests that sportspeople, and especially university students who play sport, drink more hazardously than their non-sporting peers and the general population. Higher rates of drink-driving, anti-social behaviour and unprotected sex were also found in university sports participants

And that's before we get to all those sports injuries and deaths. The answer is plain—ban sports. Either that or we could do the usual thing and try to blame Big Industry.

Yeah, let's just do that...

Sport continues to be a primary vehicle for the promotion of alcohol, with a large proportion of the alcohol industry's advertising and sponsorship budget spent on sport.

Gosh, could that possibly be because people who play (and watch) sport are more likely to drink? Nah, only someone who has the slightest understanding of business would be familiar with the concept of target markets. Instead, let's just pretend that the alcohol industry randomly targets sports and uses its wily ways to draw unsuspecting rugger players into its web of liquor.

The study finds that 89 per cent of the players of alcohol-sponsored teams were hazardous drinkers, compared to 82 per cent of the others. This is not a big difference and I suspect that a little common sense can explain it.

Firstly, what constitutes the 'alcohol industry' in this study?

...participants were asked if they, their team or their club currently received sponsorship (e.g. money, equipment, travel costs, discounted/free alcohol) from an alcohol industry body (e.g. a bar, hotel, liquor store or producer).

OK, so we're including pub teams. That's fair enough. Pubs are part of the alcohol industry. But who plays for pub teams? Generally speaking, it's people who go to the pub a lot. It would be hardly surprising if they drink more than average. 

Secondly, there are thirty six different sports included in this study, but football and rugby are the most popular, each accounting for 18% of the participants. Football and rugby players like a drink, to put it mildly. I don't have the data, but I would put money on them drinking more than those who take part in, say, gymnastics or athletics or swimming. I would also bet that bars, liquor stores and alcohol manufacturers are more likely to sponsor football and rugby than gymnastics and swimming.

I would be amazed if this is not the case but, as I say, I don't have the data, and the reason why I don't have the data is that the authors of the Addiction study don't bother to tell us what proportion of each sport is sponsored by alcohol-related businesses and what proportion of those who play each sport are hazardous drinkers. If alcohol companies sponsor rugby teams more than swimming clubs, then it would not surprise me in the least if there is a statistical correlation between alcohol sponsorship and alcohol consumption, but this only brings me back to my point above—which always seems to fly over the heads of public health folk—that advertisers target people who are in the market for their product.

Perhaps there are people in public health who genuinely believe that football and rugby players drink more than platform divers and trampolinists because the alcohol industry sponsors those sports. In other words, that there are no differences between a gymnast and a forward prop other than their exposure to alcohol sponsorship. To those people, I can only throw up my hands and walk away. Statistical findings are worthless without common sense, and common sense is in desperately short supply in modern epidemiology.


In case the reader is left in any doubt that the Addiction study is policy-based evidence, it ends with the usual political tub thumping, including the obligatory reference to the tobacco industry and a plea to ignore evidence and embrace the ridiculous precautionary principle.

The present study provides some evidence from the United Kingdom, showing that alcohol industry sponsorship is possibly harmful... The tobacco industry has been prohibited from advertising during sports broadcasts and from sponsoring sport in many countries, and there is no evidence to suggest that this has resulted in a decline in sport participation or performance. Similar action has been called for in regard to the alcohol industry, with emphasis on the application of a precautionary principle, in particular on shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of the potentially harmful activity, i.e. the alcohol industry. Secondly, in the absence of strong evidence as to whether the association is likely to be causal which may take many years to develop, public health authorities are compelled to take preventive action until such evidence is available.

Compelled?! The power of public health compels us to attempt to reduce 'hazardous drinking' amongst university athletes from a whopping 89 per cent to a mere, er, 82 per cent on the basis of a naive interpretation of a survey that ignores obvious confounding factors and reverse causation?! Begone with you, stupid people.


PS. Elsewhere in Addiction you will find this gem...

Caffeine addiction? Caffeine for youth? Time to act!

Marketing tactics for caffeinated products targeting youth appear as egregious as previously admonished practices of the tobacco and alcohol industries. As researchers we should move more quickly to understand more clearly the impact of caffeine products on youth health and behavior. In the meantime, initiation of actions (e.g. mandatory labeling, retail and marketing restrictions, educational campaigns) to curtail and counter marketing promotions that promise our youth a better life through caffeine would appear the responsible thing to do.

It never ends.