Friday, 14 April 2017

Tax vapers, we need the money!

Via United Vapers, there's an interesting little video of Stanton Glantz and Philip Gardiner - two anti-tobacco activist-researchers at the University of California, San Francisco - doing the rounds. The pair are filmed speaking to vapers and vaping business owners who are suffering thanks to the US's insane e-cigarette laws. Those laws have come about, in part, because of the unspeakable junk science that has come out of California.

Watching the film, you would think that Glantz and Gardiner were elected politicians rather than academics. There is no doubt about who has the power and influence. Who made these idiots judge, jury and executioner?

The video makes grim viewing but it does contain the following admission:

Gardiner: I'm in favour of taxing you guys. I wish I could tax it as much as tobacco but I'm willing to compromise to do it less. But it needs to be taxed. Most of the research that we do at the University of California comes from taxes, okay? We have spent a third of our budget over the last two years on e-cigarette research - which is a good thing, I'm all in favour of it - but we have no revenue coming in from it.

Various people in unison: That's not our problem!

Gardiner: But as a scientist at the University of California, that it is my problem.

Every piece of 'e-cigarette research' I have ever seen from a Californian academic has been laughable, scare-mongering, politically-based quackery. The idea that vapers should be taxed to pay for these people to persecute them is obscene.


View it from 5.30 minutes to see the 'public health' racket in action...





Outdoor smoking ban firmly rejected

When Theresa May became prime minister last July I left a hostage to fortune by telling the Morning Advertiser that she was 'surprisingly sound' on nanny state issues. Perhaps those words will come back to haunt me but the early signs are good. For example...

A smoking ban in beer gardens and al-fresco dining areas has been blocked by the Government after ministers warned they would infringe on people's freedom and lead to pub closures.

The proposals to extend the ban to outdoor areas were have been included in a list of demands by councils and health authorities in London which has been supported by Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London.

Same old Labour, always meddling, you might say. Except the same could be said for the Conservative party under David Cameron.

What is most encouraging about the Conservatives' response to Khan is that they have started to use accusations of nanny statism as a political weapon again.

Marcus Jones, a minister for local government, said: “We already knew that Labour councils charge higher council taxes and levy more red tape.

"Now Labour’s municipal killjoys have been caught with a smoking gun, trying to ban adults enjoying their local pub garden. If implemented, these ill-founded proposals would lead to massive pub closures.

"Conservatives in Government will be vetoing these Labour Party plans. Ahead of May’s local elections, local voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Labour councillors."

Well said, that man. Now let's just admit that the current smoking ban has led to massive pub closures.

It is also encouraging to see the Labour party immediately distance itself from the health fascists.

A Labour spokesman said: "This is not Labour Party policy. It's not something we are considering, nor is it something we will be considering."

It's no surprise to hear that the proposal was inspired by an attention-seeking, third rate 'public health' group.

The Royal Society for Public Health has called for "exclusion zones" around pubs, in parks and at the entrances to schools.
It said that reducing the "convenience" of smoking will prompt more people to give up.

Behind all the bluster about bar staff, that was the true reason for the original smoking ban. The mask has slipped, but it seems they have a political mountain to climb before they achieve their next goal.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Action on Jam

Action On Sugar's usual gimmick is to read the nutritional information on food labels, collate the figures and then alert the public, via a press release, that food companies use sugar as an ingredient. The amount of sugar is explained in terms of teaspoons and the quantities consumed are contrasted with the government's guidelines. Never mind that the guidelines relate to added sugar whereas Action on Sugar's figures show total sugar. Never mind, too, that the guidelines were arbitrarily halved a couple of years ago to ensure that everybody is eating too much of it; a sugar ration from World War II would take you over the guidelines these days.

This schtick works quite well for savoury products. If you're the kind of moron who doesn't realise that sweet and sour sauce has sugar in it or doesn't know that white bread is supposed to contain sugar, you might find Action On Sugar's press releases vaguely interesting. One consequence of the decline of home cooking is that people are constantly surprised by the amount of sugar, salt and fat that are used - and have always been used - in food. Action On Sugar like to talk about sugar being 'hidden' because it implies some sort of chicanery, but everything is 'hidden' in food once it's been cooked.

The inexplicable success of the Great British Bake Off has done nothing to calm the sugar panic. A certain amount of doublethink is required for a nation to go crazy for baking cakes while panicking over tiny quantities of sugar in tomato ketchup. Jeremy Corbyn personified this confusion when he described himself as 'totally anti-sugar'. His hobby is making jam.

Jam is now firmly in Action On Sugar's sights. Their latest publicity stunt exposes the 'shocking' amount of sugar contained in jam, marmalade and chocolate spreads. The worst offender is the seemingly respectable Women's Institute, whose Fine Cut English Breakfast Marmalade has 14.3 grams of sugar per 20 gram serving. In the jam category, Mackays Scottish Strawberry Preserve is named and shamed for having 13.4 grams of sugar per serving and Tesco has the sugariest chocolate spread with 11.8 grams per serving.

Aside from a wry article in The Times, this 'story' has not received much attention from the press. That is a shame because the public need to know what kind of people they are up against. A spokesman for the National Obesity Forum says the WI 'should never have allowed a manufacturing company to lace its product with so much sugar'. The chairman of Action On Sugar has demanded that jam makers 'go well beyond the 20 per cent sugar reduction that Public Health England is calling for'. This is wingnuttery of the highest order and should be reported.

The obvious problem for Action On Sugar is that everybody knows that chocolate, jam and marmalade contain sugar. It is not newsworthy. But there is also the more subtle problem that jam and marmalade are not regarded as suspicious processed foods invented by scary corporations. They were made and eaten by your great-grandmother and the recipes have not changed since the days of Mrs Beeton. The idea that children are endangering their lives by eating two slices of toast with jam, as Action On Sugar have suggested today, would strike any sane person as ludicrous. If having a bit of marmalade is enough to take you over the government's guidelines, you might conclude that it is the guidelines that need changing, not the marmalade.

But it doesn't matter what you think. Jam, marmalade and chocolate spread are going to be changed whether you like it or not. Like a host of other products, they are included in Public Health England's ludicrous sugar reduction scheme. If the manufacturers fail to reduce sugar content by 20 per cent, the government is threatening legislation.

In a few years time, the only way to eat jam the way your grandmother made it will be to do as Mr Corbyn does and make it yourself.



Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Stanton Glantz on e-cigarettes

Vice have produced a worthwhile video about the e-cigarette war in the USA in which chief protagonist Stanton Glantz is interviewed at his desk in San Francisco. Glantz has been fanatically opposed to e-cigarettes from the outset and has been as prolific in producing junk science to support his position as he has been in the past when he was promoting smoke-free movies and smoking ban miracles.

The interview with Glantz reminded me of one of those consumer affairs programmes, such as Watchdog, where the investigative journalist finally catches up with the boss of a fly-by-night building company that has been filmed ripping off customers. All bluff and bluster. I wouldn't be surprised if the interview was cut short after Glantz suddenly remembered an important meeting he had to go to.

After waffling on about the fictitious 'gateway effect' and asserting that vaping is 'as bad as smoking a cigarette' for cardiovascular health, Glantz attacks his old colleague Michael Siegel. Without a hint of irony, Glantz says that Siegel has 'lost all credibility as a scientist'. This is followed by an amusing exchange in which the fat mechanic projects all his failings onto Siegel:

Glantz: One thing that strikes me is that any research which supports his preordained position is good no matter how bad it is, and anything that doesn't is bad no matter how good it is.

Q: Is that the same for you?

Glantz: No, no, no.

Q: What bit of research recently has upended a few of your assumptions about e-cigarettes?

Glantz: Er, about e-cigarettes... er... nothing has come out that has - but I...

Q: But there's a bunch of stuff that has come out that disagrees with you.

Glantz: I'm not, I'm not... no, no.

Q: Yes, of course there is!

The whole thing is quite entertaining so have a watch of it below.




Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Responsible drinking

Mark Petticrew is one of the many psychologists who got on the 'public health' gravy train to satisfy his appetite for controlling other people's lives. He was one of the main people responsible for lowering the drinking guidelines last year and when he is not complaining about the free exchange of goods and services, his main schtick is to carry out 'reviews' of voluntary agreements between government and industry.

If it doesn't involve taxing the poor or creating criminal offences, Petticrew isn't interested, and so he invariably concludes that initiatives like the Responsibility Deal don't 'work' whereas heavy-handed and regressive policies do (even when the latter have obviously failed or haven't even been tried).

His findings are therefore highly predictable. Public Health Responsibility Deal on healthy eating? "Could be effective" but needs "food pricing strategies, restrictions on marketing .. and clear penalties". Responsibility Deal for alcohol? Not very effective, needs "law enforcement" to make "alcohol less available and more expensive." Voluntary agreements in general? Can be effective but only when there are "substantial disincentives for non-participation and sanctions for non-compliance", ie. when they are not voluntary. 

You get the picture. For Petticrew, the iron fist is always preferable to the velvet glove. In a new article in the Journal of Public Health, he and a colleague have now moved onto the concept of 'responsible drinking' which he thinks is yet another crafty industry trick.

Industry responsibility messages particularly appear to frame responsibility around the individual drinker, rather than alcohol consumption itself, often focusing on a minority of ‘harmful drinkers’, as opposed to the majority of ‘moderate’ or ‘social’ drinkers, while presenting responsible drinking as a behavioural issue, rather than a health or consumption level issue.

This sentence is close to gibberish for a normal person but it is quite typical of how 'public health' views behaviour. Notice how the 'individual drinker' is separated from 'alcohol consumption' as if there were no connection between the two, as if consumption does not stem from behaviour, as if human agency does not exist and alcohol consumption is just something that happens to people. In the 'public health' view, consumption is not something that the individual chooses, it is something that the government controls by tinkering with prices and regulating advertisements.

The gist of Petticrew's article is that the concept of personal responsibility is used predominantly, if not exclusively, by drinks companies to disguise the fact that it is they, not us, who decide how much we drink...

The term ‘responsible drinking’ was used almost exclusively by industry bodies (AB InBev, Diageo and DrinkIQ), or industry-funded bodies (Portman Group, IARD and ICAP). 

This conclusion is based on a Google binge (sorry, a 'web-based document search') which compared how the term 'responsible drinking' was used by industry groups and neo-temperance groups. Petticrew says that this amounts to 'comparing industry and non-industry sources' but it is nothing of the sort. Lots of 'non-industry sources' use the term 'responsible drinking' but Petticrew doesn't mention them because it would ruin his narrative.

The British government, for example, has long promoted 'responsible drinking' and explained what it means by the phrase:

Through our Public Health Responsibility Deal, companies have agreed to encourage a culture of responsible drinking, which will help people to drink within guidelines.

You can see the same term being used approvingly by all sorts of institutions, including the BBC, the NHS, the police, the Methodist Church and Sheffield University. The term 'moderate drinking', which Petticrew also takes umbrage at, is even more widely used by academics and medics.

It only takes a brief 'web-based document search' to find evidence of this, so who did Petticrew think he was fooling? If his little study shows anything at all, it is that a handful of anti-alcohol groups refuse to use a phrase that is commonly employed by the rest of society, presumably because they don't believe in personal responsibility. It is they who are the aberration. 

The term did not appear to be used in any of the documents sourced from PHE or Alcohol Concern, and was used once by the WHO

So the term 'responsible drinking' doesn't suit the agenda of the 'public health' lobby. So what?

While the meaning of ‘responsible drinking’ in the context of these messages is unclear, as the term is typically not defined

This is not true. The government defines it as drinking within the guidelines (see above) and so does the industry. Here is a typical label on an alcoholic drink in the UK.



It seems pretty obvious that the 'drink responsibly' plea is directly related to the unit recommendations that appear immediately below it. Petticrew admits that the message is sometimes 'presented alongside official guidelines' but complains that the advice 'may conflict with official guidance'. In so far as this is true, it is only because the guidelines were changed by Petticrew and his cronies last year and the drinks companies are still deciding whether or not they should put information on their products that is blatantly untrue (I hope they don't although some are already doing so.)

As the label shows, responsible drinking goes beyond following the guidelines and encompasses not drinking if you are pregnant or driving, but it is quite clear that 'responsible' or 'moderate' drinking is defined by the drinks industry, in part, as drinking within the government's guidelines. Given how low the guidelines were even before Petticrew and the temperance lobby set about them, this is a rather extreme interpretation of responsible drinking. The message to drink responsibly would be perfectly valid if it had no unit-based definition at all.

He concludes:

We conclude that public health practitioners should be aware of the derivation and use of concepts such as ‘responsible’ or ‘moderate’ drinking by industry and industry-funded bodies, as these may exist to promote industry agendas and undermine public health agendas.

Good grief. The paranoia is rampant.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Benzene, soft drinks and secondhand smoke

Science-Based Medicine reports on a court case in which the Nigerian Bottling Company was prosecuted (and lost) for selling soft drinks to the UK which had too much benzene in them.

This sounds pretty scary on the face of it, but the dose is in the poison. There is benzene in water and there is benzene in soft drinks, but very little. For some reason, the UK has a much lower limit than the international standard and a lower limit than Nigeria. Its 150 mg/kg limit for benzoic acid is a quarter of the Codex limit.

The product was tested on import into the UK and found to exceed their limit on benzoic acid (note – this refers to benzoic acid, not benzene):
The UK standards limit benzoic acid in soft drinks to a maximum of 150 mg/kg. Both Fanta and Sprite have benzoic levels of 200 mg/kg which is lower than the Nigerian regulatory limit of 250 mg/kg when combined with ascorbic acid and 300 mg/kg without ascorbic acid and also lower than the 600 mg/kg international limit set by Codex.
So the product was compliant with Nigerian and international limits, but over the stricter limit for the UK. 

The company said that it bottled the drinks to comply with Nigerian law and that they were not intended for export. The judge didn't accept this and suggested that the drinks were not 'fit for human consumption' even though they would be legal in many countries, including her own.

However, the main thing that interested me in the article was how much benzene people breathe in day-to-day life, presumably safely.

The WHO, as stated above, estimates that the average person is exposed to 250-400 micrograms of benzene per day. You will inhale 32 micrograms when you fill up your car, and 40 micrograms from driving for one hour. Smokers inhale 2-7 thousand micrograms a day, and passive exposure to smoke contributes an estimated 50 micrograms per day.

This suggests that amount of benzene you inhale from breathing secondhand smoke is well within the limit of what you would expect in a normal day.

But hang on, I thought that benzene in secondhand smoke was a mortal threat? I remember a TV advert put out by the Department of Health in 2006 as part of its campaign to prepare people for the smoking ban which featured someone who purported to be a scientist talking about how toxic benzene is and how awful it would be if benzene fumes got in the air. She even put on a gas mask.

She was then told that cigarette smoke contains benzene and, rather than asking a scientific question like 'How much?', she screwed her face up and said 'that's horrible'. The advert ended with the message: 'Where there's smoke, there's poison.'



You don't suppose the government was trying to deceive us in some way, do you?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A tale of two state-funded charities

I once spoke at a debate about state-funding of charities at which I said that no third party organisation should be able to use taxpayers' money to campaign for their political pet projects. It was hosted by a charity which was 99 per cent funded by the government and the audience was predominantly, predictably left-wing.

Suspecting that the crowd would not much care about taxpayers' money being used to further the agenda of 'social justice' or 'public health', I tried to think of a political cause that would be universally unpopular in a room of metropolitan liberals and arrived at anti-abortion activism. I may also have mentioned fox-hunting. 'Imagine how you would feel', I said, 'if the government was giving your money to charities to campaign against abortion rights.' I suggested that there would be outrage.

My opposite number, Kate Pickett of The Spirit Level fame, sought to ease the audience's fears by telling them that it would never happen. This was a typically obtuse statement but, since it was undeniably true, it nicely demonstrated the political imbalance of government donations to the third sector.

Yesterday, however, an anti-abortion charity did get some money from the government and there was indeed outrage.

A £250,000 grant to an anti-abortion group - using money raised from the tax on sanitary products - has been criticised. 

MPs and campaign groups said it was wrong that Life received one of the largest amounts from the government fund that comes from the 5% VAT on tampons and towels.

If the charity was being given this money to campaign against abortion, it would be as wrong as any form of government sock-puppetry. However, the article makes it clear that it is not.

Life said the money supported a project for homeless pregnant women in London.

...Life said it planned to use the money to develop its services, including "housing, practical help, non-directive counselling and life-skills training for pregnant and homeless women".

...The DCMS said the money for Life was to fund a specific west London project to help homeless and other at-risk women.


It seems as if the grant is for service provision and that the fury it has unleashed is rooted in moral offence at a charity with a difficult point of view receiving any money from the government. For example, Labour MP Paula Sherriff said it was 'bitterly ironic' for the government to 'hand over that money to organisations that don't even believe we should have control over our own bodies'.

But there were no such complaints yesterday when another organisation that doesn't believe that we should have control over our own bodies got a hand out from the taxpayer:

Almost half a million pounds has been announced to try to slash smoking rates in Wales.

A decade after a smoking ban was introduced, 19% of adults now smoke in Wales - a 5% drop since before it came in.

The Welsh Government announced £417,000 for campaign charity ASH Cymru to try to cut it 3% further by 2020.

Not only is this £417,000 more than the £250,000 given to Life, it is all going to be used for political campaigning because ASH Wales does nothing but political campaigning.

And so ASH Wales, which is definitely not pro-choice when it comes to adults choosing to smoke, have got another fat stack of cash to lobby for smoking to be banned on beaches, at universities and God knows where else as part of their vendetta against smokers. 'Public health' is a racket that lots of people are doing very well out of.
 
And because the money comes from the Welsh Assembly, not Westminster, they are not required to abide by the anti-sockpuppet clause which bans third party organisations from lobbying on the taxpayers' dime. The anti-abortion charity, by contrast, does have to abide by the clause - which makes the hysteria about their grant even more ridiculous.

Censorious French fanatics

See you in court

News from France's Cour de cassation (the highest French court)...

This case was introduced following the broadcast of a TV program consisting in filming, during a dinner, several guests from various backgrounds, which showed three famous persons smoking.

Both the broadcaster, the company managing the channel’s website (from which viewers could access the TV program by means of catch-up TV), and their directors, were sued on the grounds that the French public health code prohibits the propaganda and the advertising, direct or indirect, in favor of tobacco.

Sacré bleu!

The question that was asked to the Cour de cassation was  whether the showing of notorious people smoking in a TV program was to be considered as tobacco advertising.

The Court of appeal of Paris had decided that the broadcast of the sequences showing the guests smoking, action that could be interpreted as a moment of pleasure, participated to a promotion in favor of tobacco. The Court held that it was the case even though there was no additional comment to highlight this moment.

The Court of appeal also found that the sequences could have been deleted during the editing of the TV program, and that such deletion would not have affected the comprehensibility of the debates nor it would have violated the freedom of expression.

You really couldn't it up. Has the whole world been driven insane by the health gestapo?

Not quite the whole world, it seems...

However, the Cour de cassation did not follow the Court of appeal’s reasoning. It considered that the mere fact that persons were showed smoking during a TV program does not constitute advertising in favor of tobacco.
No kidding! The case needed to go to the highest court in the land to establish that?! How many lawyers got rich of this ludicrous court case? Who instigated it?

Bloody hell.



New Last Orders podcast with Mark Littlewood

Tom Slater and I recorded a new Spiked Last Orders podcast last week. This time our guest was my argumentative IEA boss Mark Littlewood and we discussed crappy journalism, the health benefits of drinking and the food reformulation scam.

If you haven't subscribed on iTunes, you can listen (and comment) here.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Gary Taubes and sugar abstinence

The slippery slope doesn't get more blatant than this from Gary Taubes in the Guardian...

So now, assuming [the food] industry goes along with this voluntary programme, and assuming that kids don’t respond to smaller portions or sugar-reduced formulations by eating more, both of which are possible, what’s the chance that we’ll see a significant curbing of the epidemics, even if the 20% goal is reached?

Let’s use cigarettes and lung cancer as our pedagogical example, confident, as we are, that cigarettes cause lung cancer. Cigarette consumption in the UK peaked in the mid-1970s when half of all men smoked and over 40% of women. Together they averaged 17 cigarettes a day. Now let’s imagine that we didn’t get those smokers to quit, but we managed to cut their consumption by 20%. Instead of 17 cigarettes a day, they’re averaging 14.

Would we expect to see a decrease in lung cancer prevalence? Would we expect that the lung cancer epidemic would be curbed at all, let alone within a few years of peak consumption? I would wager that even the PHE authorities would acknowledge that such a change would have little effect. Reasons here, too, would abound. Among them that it takes lung-cancer risk 20 years to return to baseline after the smoker quits. So these 14-a-day smokers would still be at high risk, albeit perhaps not quite as high.

I don't have high hopes of the food reformulation scheme but this comparison is ridiculous. Obesity is caused by an excess of calories. If people reduce their calorie consumption (or increase their energy expenditure) they are less likely to be obese.

If we take Taubes' analogy with cigarettes to its logical conclusion, there is no point reducing calorie consumption - the only answer is for people to consume no calories at all.

I am, of course, assuming that the laws of thermodynamics (or what people like Taubes pejoratively describe as the 'calorie theory') are correct. I'm not quite sure what theory Taubes has to replace mainstream science, but it sounds fairly bizarre...

We see an overweight child with a chocolate bar and our tendency is to think that the chocolate bar is the proximate cause [speak for yourself - CJS]. Get rid of that chocolate bar, or shrink it in size, and we have a child who never gets overweight to begin with. But these epidemics of obesity and diabetes have been in the works since the late 19th century, cooking along, quite likely passed down from sugar-eating mothers to their children even in the womb. If so, our kids are getting fatter not just because they’re eating sugar, but because they’re programmed – epigenetically, in the scientific lingo – before they’re even born.

This is classic Taubes. One of his characteristics is to make wild suggestions that have little or no evidence to support them and then proceed as if they were true ("If so..."). His cigarette metaphor above uses the same trick. He insists that smoking is the 'pedagogical example' without demonstrating that it is similar or relevant to the issue of obesity.

In any case, it all lurches towards a predictable conclusion...

This epidemic has deep roots and may require drastic action to curb. That PHE is acting is admirable. But maybe we should treat this like cigarettes: aim to curb the number of sugar consumers, rather than the amount of sugar they consume.

Spoken like a true fanatic. Taubes has previously claimed that people need to give up sugar entirely (see The Case for Eliminating Sugar. All of It.)

Needless to say, he has an anti-sugar book to sell. It's a crowded field of publishing that requires authors to make increasingly ludicrous statements if they want to be noticed. This is not to say that Taubes doesn't believe what he's saying. He probably does. The all-or-nothing approach is integral to the life of a zealot.

The myth about 'public health' saving money

An article was published in the British Medical Journal last week which claimed that £1 spent on 'public health' saved the NHS a multiple of £1 in the long run. Return on investment ratios of 8:1 or even 14:1 were discussed.

All total nonsense and a massive misrepresentation of the economics literature. To explain why, I wrote this piece for Spectator Health:

The reference to the ‘wider health and social care economy’ is a clue that we are not dealing with hard cash here. Nobody could argue with spending a billion pounds on public health if it extended people’s lives and saved £14 billion, but that’s not the proposition. 

In reality, the investment requires real money that comes out of the taxpayers’ pocket whereas the return is measured by giving a theoretical monetary value to a year of life and multiplying it by the number of years that are thought to be added by public health interventions. In this instance, it was assumed that an extra year of life is worth £60,000. So, if a £2 billion preventive health initiative leads to one million people living for an extra six months, the return on investment is £30 billion. 

That is all well and good, but it is not a £30 billion saving to the taxpayer. The cost is financial whereas the benefits are non-financial, albeit put in monetary terms for the purposes of an exercise. There is no financial return on the investment. On the contrary, by extending people’s lives the intervention will almost certainly lead to higher costs further down the line.

Do have a read.

Incidentally, I see that all of the authors (who include green ink warrior Simon 'Caps Lock' Capewell) appear to work in the state-funded 'public health' industry'.

1. North Wales Local Public Health Team, Public Health Wales, Mold, Flintshire, UK
2. Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, UK
3. Department of Public Health, Halton Borough Council, Cheshire, UK
4. Department of Public Health, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, Merseyside, UK
5. Centre for Health Economics, University of York, UK 

And yet, despite their article being a blatant appeal for more taxpayers' money (eg. 'The UK government's ‘efficiency savings’ thus represent a false economy which will generate many billions of additional future costs to the ailing NHS and wider UK economy') they declare that they have no conflict of interest. Really?!

PS. If you want to see what the economic literature on preventive health actually says, read Death and Taxes.

PPS. As the flu jab cock-up proved, 'public health' only saves money when it goes wrong.

The flu jab blunder which contributed to the largest spike in deaths in a generation may have brought unexpected benefits for Britain’s pension black hole, a new report suggests.

Latest projections from the The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) show that the increase in the mortality rate in 2016 has slightly reduced overall life expectancy for the over 65s, down 1.3 per cent for men, and 2 per cent for women.

According to Mercer, the world’s largest human resources consulting firm, the shift has removed around £28 billion of pension scheme liabilities from the balance sheets of FTSE350 companies.
 



Friday, 31 March 2017

Letter to The Times

I wrote a short letter to The Times yesterday about the food reformulation scam. So far has the Overton Window shifted that the only permissible debate is between those who applaud the vandalisation of the food supply and those who think it should be enforced by law, though God knows how that would happen in practice.





Thursday, 30 March 2017

It's never really about the children

Public Health England are pushing on with their mad idea to take arbitrary percentages of sugar, fat, salt and calories out of Britain's food supply. It is a idea worthy of Caligula. The last few weeks have seen various food companies announce that their products will be getting smaller. Some have attempted to blame this on Brexit, but inflation is no reason to reduce the size (the normal thing to do would be to increase the price). It's all being done under pressure from this unelected quango with the minimum of public debate.

Health by stealth, they call it, and rightly so. If people were well informed about what was going on, there would be bedlam. Although every reformulation and shrinkage unleashes hell from consumers (see the recent Irn-Bru announcement, for example), you'd never guess there was any opposition to PHE's totalitarian scheme if you read today's coverage.

The BBC's report was typical. It contains a quote from PHE's Alison Tedstone, who obviously supports the policy, plus a quote from Action on Sugar's Graham MacGregor. I'm no psychiatrist but it wouldn't surprise me to hear that MacGregor is at least half mad. He naturally supports state control of the food supply as well. Someone from the British Dietetic Association is also quoted. She not only supports the PHE plan but wants a watershed ban on so-called junk food advertising. The article closes with some bloody 'public health nutritionist' who 'said PHE was doing the right thing'.

The BBC perpetuates the lie that this is all being done 'in a bid to make UK children more healthy.' As ever in the 'public health' racket, the welfare of children is being used as an excuse to kick adult consumers. Let's just remind ourselves about the spiralling epidemic of childhood obesity that supposedly requires the wholesale desecration of the food supply.


Let's also remember that childhood obesity figures are not really measures of childhood obesity. The BMI measure doesn't work with children because hardly any of them have a BMI of more than 25, so it was arbitrarily decided in the 1990s that all children above the 95th percentile were obese for the purposes of data collection.

But childhood obesity is a smokescreen, just as Brexit is a cover story for the corporatist rip off of smaller portions for the same price. As the 'public health nutritionist' says

"This is an excellent approach... Not only are these foods commonly consumed by children - but also by the whole family."

There is no opt out unless you are prepared to do your shopping in another country. The foods that we know and love are, in effect, being prohibited.

Monday, 27 March 2017

The decent and tolerant people of Wales

Given the state-funded hate campaign against smokers that we have seen over the last ten years it is remarkable that the majority of people remain sensible and tolerant when it comes to smoking bans. Every survey that gives people the option of designated, ventilated smoking rooms finds a majority of smokers and nonsmokers in favour. This has been shown yet again in Wales - see Taking Liberties and Dick Puddlecote for details.

Twelve months ago, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in Scotland, we commissioned a poll of 1,000+ adults living in Scotland.

One of the questions we asked was:

Do you think pubs and private members’ clubs, including working men's clubs, should or should not be allowed to provide a well-ventilated designated smoking room to accommodate smokers?

The response was clear:

Should be allowed 54%
Should not be allowed 40%
Don’t know 6%

Two weeks ago, to mark the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban in Wales which falls on Sunday April 2, we commissioned another poll.

We asked 1,000 people living in Wales exactly the same question and got a very similar response:

Should be allowed 58%
Should not be allowed 37%
Don’t know 5%

It has always been thus. As Simon Clark says, 'These polls are staggeringly consistent.' As I mentioned when the IEA conducted a poll on lifestyle freedom in 2015, the anti-smokers only manage to make smoking bans look popular by giving people a choice between a total ban and totally unrestricted smoking. This was noted by YouGov's Anthony Wells way back in 2005:

In the first group there is the recent BMRB poll commissioned by ASH, but there are also several polls commissioned by non-partisan companies. In an ICM survey for the BBC back in July 2004 they asked whether “the Government should ban smoking in enclosed public spaces such as pubs and restaurants” – 65% of people thought they should. A second ICM survey for the Guardian, in October 2004, asked if respondents approved or disapproved “of a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, such as pubs, restaurants and offices?” 66% of people approved. A YouGov poll for KPMG found almost identical results – 64% supported a ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants. So, all the recent polls seem to agree on a figure of around two-thirds support.

Meanwhile, if you ask people how they would like to see smoking in pubs dealt with, and give them a list of possible options including things other than an outright ban, you get very different results. The Office of National Statistics carry out an annual poll that asks about attitudes to smoking. It shows that around 65% of people would like “restrictions” on smoking, but asked what sort of restrictions people would like to see only 31% say they would like a complete ban; most people prefer separate smoking and non-smoking areas.

Populus have done at least two polls with this sort of question design. A May 2004 poll on behalf of Forest found that only 24% of people supported a total ban, a May 2005 poll, this time for the TMA, found that only 26% wanted a complete ban. In both cases respondents were given alternative choices to a straightforward ban, and in both cases respondents preferred to have smoking and non-smoking sections in pubs. If you ask the question in this way, then support for a total ban stands somewhere between a quarter and a third.


You won't be surprised to hear that ASH's chief harridan, Deborah Arnott, has responded to the new survey by saying: 'The benefits of smoke-free laws are not a matter of public opinion.' Perhaps she could stop wasting taxpayers' money on rigged opinion polls then?

Friday, 24 March 2017

Tobacco Control fail

The 2016 Tobacco Control Scale (TCS) was published yesterday. The TCS pats governments on the back for capitulating to the whims of the anti-smoking lobby, regardless of whether the policies actually work.

Charting each country's score against smoking rates show that obedience to 'public health' diktats is no guarantee of lower smoking rates, even if forcing people to stop smoking were ethically justifiable - which it isn't. As with previous TCSs, there is no statistically significant association between tobacco control scores and smoking prevalence (the r-squared is 0.08, if you're statistically minded).


I've used smoking prevalence data from the OECD and the WHO circa 2015 for this graph. As I mentioned recently, Sweden's smoking rate has since fallen to nine per cent. The Swedes get a fairly mediocre score in the TCS because they don't ban all tobacco advertising, don't have a display ban, don't have plain packaging, don't have especially high tobacco taxes, don't spend much money on anti-smoking campaigns and don't have a 'comprehensive' smoking ban. Above all, they don't ban snus - and that is the reason they have the lowest smoking rate of any developed country. Naughty Swedes.

It says a lot about the tobacco control racket that Sweden gets the same score as Turkey. Turkey was the blue-eyed boy of the anti-smoking movement when the TCS was published in 2013. It introduced a draconian smoking ban in 2008 and has graphic warnings on cigarette packs covering 65% of the surface area. It bans nearly all tobacco advertising and it prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes.

In 2013, WHO director-general Margaret Chan delivered a speech in which she drooled over the fact that Turkey 'has some of the most stringent tobacco control measures in the world' and claimed that 'Turkey’s success in tobacco control has stunned many observers'. The WHO has a penchant for authoritarian regimes, but Chan was particularly awestruck by the Turks.

I am most pleased to mark World No Tobacco Day in Turkey, a country that is a model of success in tobacco control and an inspiration for the world...

Moreover this country was the first in the world to achieve all six MPOWER demand-reduction measures for tobacco control at the highest possible level of achievement. No other country in the world has done this...

I thank the Turkish government for collaborating so closely with WHO... Turkey is the only country in the world to receive three WHO awards for achievements in tobacco control...

It is a model for other countries to follow, and it is a source of great encouragement...

Thank you, Turkey, for being such a shining, and inspiring, model of success. Tobacco control works.

I could quote more of this hubris but you get the picture. Suffice to say, things did not go quite so well in the real world:

From 2008 to 2011, tobacco consumption in Turkey fell to less than 100 billion cigarettes per year. In 2015, the figure stood at 125 billion, including contraband cigarettes and loose tobacco, according to Elif Dagli from the Turkish Thorax Society’s Tobacco Control Working Group. The smoking rate rose from 39% to 42% among men, and from 12% to 13% among women. The real alarm, however, concerns the young. Compared to the 2003-2012 period, the consumption of cigarettes and other tobacco products in the 13-15 age group increased by 51% and 88%, respectively, Dagli said.

 Trebles all round!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Moderate drinking: doubt, denial and whataboutery

Yet another study has shown that teetotallers have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular death and death. The study was published in the British Medical Journal and involved nearly two million people, including 280,000 people who had never drunk alcohol. It was conducted by researchers at Cambridge University and University College, and the non-drinker category was split into never drinkers and former drinkers to prevent the usual squeals of 'sick quitter!' from the deniers in 'public health'. The table of results are at the bottom of this post.

I've written a full post about this for Spectator Health so please read that first, but here are a few additional thoughts.

The BMJ study is difficult to argue with, but the usual suspects have been out in force to sow as much doubt as they can. They have opted for a strategy that they would claim was ripped out of the 'Big Tobacco playbook' if other people did it. It takes three forms: outright denial, raising spurious methodological objections, and diverting attention to other issues.

Using examples from the last twelve hours, let me illustrate how this works.

Doubt

Ian Gilmore of the Alcohol Health Alliance, a long time foe of booze, went for the old trick of saying 'correlation is not causation' without explaining why we should not infer causation after 40 years of the same findings being produced. Doubt is his product.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “As the authors of the study say, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions from the study about cause and effect between moderate alcohol consumption and heart health."

As Gilmore knows, no epidemiological study is able to establish causation, but in the absence of any plausible explanation it seems reasonable to conclude that the effect is causal. Gilmore offers no alternative explanation and the BMJ study explicitly states that his beloved 'sick quitter' hypothesis does explain the results. Gilmore doesn't mention this in his press release. Instead he promotes the risible Chief Medical Officer's report that he and his buddies in the temperance lobby oversaw.

Denial

Outright denials came from the British Heart Foundation, of all people:

“This study suggests that sticking within alcohol guidelines may actually lower your risk of some heart conditions,” says Tracy Parker, of charity the British Heart Foundation, who was not involved in the study. “But it’s important to remember that the risks of drinking alcohol far outweigh any possible benefits. These findings are certainly no reason to start drinking alcohol if you don’t already.”

In fact, the BMJ study shows that participants who drank within the old UK guidelines were 24 per cent less likely to die and 31 per cent less likely to have coronary heart disease by the time the study ended. Let's not mince words, the BHF spokeswoman is lying here.

Whataboutery

James Nicholls of Alcohol Research UK, which is merging with Alcohol Concern, combined denial with whataboutery involving exercise and food.

“There are better ways to strengthen the heart such as exercise and good diet. All things being equal – and given the increased risk of suffering other health conditions linked to any amount of alcohol consumption – if you drink within the existing guidelines it is unlikely that alcohol will either lengthen or shorten your life.”

If a 24 per cent increased risk of mortality is unlikely to shorten your life then presumably a 34 per cent increase is not much to worry about either. A 34 per cent increased risk is what heavy drinkers have, according to this study. Perhaps we should put an end to alcohol research and do something more worthwhile? (To be entirely fair, the Guardian quoted the least true part of James's statement, the full version of which you can read here.)

Rosanna O'Connor of Public Health England went full throttle with the whataboutery:

“Those who don’t drink should not consider taking up drinking to improve their heart health, but are better off stopping smoking, getting regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet.”

Aside from the fact that large numbers of (mainly older) people are unable to be physically active, O'Connor presents a false choice between moderate alcohol consumption and other ways of staying healthy. In fact, research shows that people benefit from moderate drinking even if they already exercise, eat healthily and don't smoke. In other words, if you are a physically active non-smoker with a good diet you will be healthier if you drink moderately. Being teetotal is a risky behaviour no different from having a poor diet. An evidence-based health agency would treat it as such. If Public Health England hadn't just published a pile of dogmatic neo-temperance trash and called it an alcohol review, perhaps they would have admitted the truth today.

Incidentally, the BMJ study has been reported almost everywhere with the notable exception of the BBC. The BBC's health team is usually eager to cover alcohol news. Two days ago they reported a total non-story about the 20 year old fad of drinking alcohol with energy drinks. The Beeb has been keen to write stories about moderate drinking before, such as 'Cancer risk "even from light drinking"', 'Breast cancer link to small amounts of alcohol' and 'Red wine health benefits overhyped' so you would expect them to be interested in the largest study ever conducted on the effect of alcohol on the heart.

And yet they've completely ignored it. I can't think why.

Don't forget the Spectator post.





Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Fake dental news?

The dubious claims about tooth decay are coming thick and fast now. Only two months after the last dodgy press release about children having their teeth extracted in hospital (from the LGA), comes this from the Faculty of Dental Surgeons:

Hospitals in England are seeing thousands of very young children each year needing baby teeth removed. 

The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, which compiled the data, blames tooth decay linked to sugary diets.

Figures show there were 9,206 extractions carried out on children aged four and younger between April 2015 and March 2016.

A decade ago, it was closer to 7,400 extractions.

This 26 per cent rise needs to be put in the context of a 16 per cent rise in the number of children aged under five in that period. Nevertheless, it is a rise and the Faculty of Dental Surgeons wasted no time in pinning the blame on sugar:

‘When you see the numbers tallied up like this it becomes abundantly clear that the sweet habits of our children are having a devastating effect,’ said Professor Nigel Hunt of the RCS Faculty of Dental Surgery.

And yet there is no credible evidence that children's teeth are getting worse. As I said in the Spectator last year...

We are no longer a nation of Austin Powers. ‘The dental health of the majority of British children has improved dramatically since the early 1970s,’ according to a 2005 study, which also noted that ‘levels of dental decay in UK children at five and 12 years are among the lowest in the world.’ A further study in 2011 also found that ‘since the 1970s, the oral health of the population, both children’s dental decay experience and the decline [in] adult tooth loss, has improved steadily and substantially’. This was confirmed in a report from the Faculty of Dental Surgery last year.

It is possible that the number of tooth extractions could have risen despite the overall trend getting better. Extractions are quite rare and there could be some groups in society who are not visiting the dentist or brushing their teeth. (The BBC mentions the worrying fact that '42% of children did not see a dentist in 2015-16'.) 

However, a few weeks after I wrote the Spectator article, Public Health England published the latest data from the Oral Health Survey of 5 Year Olds which told a very different story to the one we're being told today:

Tooth decay among 5 year olds continues significant decline

The oral health survey published today (Tuesday 10 May 2016) by Public Health England (PHE) reveals that less than 25% of the cohort suffers from tooth decay, a 20% drop since 2008.

Public Health England says:

The proportion of 5 year olds who have had teeth removed due to decay was 2.5%, compared to 3.5% in 2008 – about 2,000 fewer children.

And:

The survey also shows the average number of teeth affected by decay per child was 0.8, down from 1.1 in 2008. 

Moreover:

There has been a 9% increase in the proportion of children with no obvious decay since 2008.

Who to believe? Should we believe that tooth decay has fallen dramatically since the 1970s amongst every age group and that the number of under-5s who have had a tooth extracted has dropped from 3.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent since 2008? Or should we believe the opposite?

There are two reasons to take the more positive view. Firstly because it is backed up with a very large amount of evidence from academics, the Office for National Statistics, Public Health England and others. Secondly, because - at the time of writing - the Faculty of Dental Surgeons has not made its own evidence publicly available. 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Smoking rate falls to 9% in Sweden thanks to snus

In Sweden, the smoking rate has fallen to a mere nine per cent, as the New Scientist reports, and snus is being given due credit. It's a good job the EU banned it everywhere else, eh?

I've written about this for Spectator Health. Do have a quick read.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Sugar statistics for everyone to ignore

Mike Gibney has dug out some sugar statistics from around the world to show, for the umpteenth time, that sugar consumption has not been rising during the obesity 'epidemic'.

The Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN measures the “disappearance” of sugar in countries worldwide which takes overall national production data, adds imports and subtracts both exports and non-human use. If used wisely and for time trends only, such data can be very valuable.

In Australia, such data shows a decline in per capita intake of sugar from 152 grams per day in 1980 to 127 in 2011. Using similar techniques, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows a 17% reduction in apparent sugar consumption from 1961 to 2011 (139 to 115g/hd/d). Data from Australian National Nutrition Surveys, which are based on surveys of actual sugar intake at individual level, also show a decline in total sugar intake, from 115 grams per day in 1995 to 105 in 2012. Given that among the devils of sugar sources, those from beverages are considered as the Satanic level, it is interesting to note that such Satanic influences have also fallen over time.

No matter how defined (soft drinks, sugar sweetened beverages, sugary products, sodas plus juices etc.), the time-related decline of sugar intake in liquid form is still obvious. Data from industry sources were also made available to the authors and once again, no matter how defined, the same pattern of a decline in solid and liquid sugar intake is seen. For example, the % of children classified as “consumers “ of sugar-sweetened beverages declined from about 65% in 1995 to 25% in 2012. Energy from sugar-sweetened beverages plus juices in children fell from an average of 9.2 % of calories in 1995 to about 5.5% in 2012. All in all, there is not a shred of evidence from the either global overview or the Australian deep-dive into sugar intakes to suggest any rise whatsoever in sugar intakes.

Facts don't make any difference in this debate, of course. People believe whatever they want to believe and I sympathise with Mike's frustration:

Why therefore do we suffer the avalanche of data telling us about the poisonous nature of sugar and the wicked damage it is doing to the health of our children? In my view this is a consequence of our post truth era where post-truth is defined by The Oxford Dictionary as: ‘An adjective relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

You see, sugar was extracted on the back of the global slave trade and is now used by corporate food giants to manipulate the food supply to make a tasteless mechanically derived ultra-processed foods into ones which are rendered hyper-palatable with copious levels of added sugars. Gurus from California with impeccable medical backgrounds have shown conclusively that sugar is toxic, the new tobacco in fact. Tax the damn thing and be done with it!

That’s the emotional argument. It wins out every time against the peer-reviewed data cited in this blog. As a life timer in nutrition I have come to accept this and other such misuse of nutritional data and its adaptation by populist experts and governmental departments.

Last week another study came out showing a decline in sugar consumption in Australia over the last thirty years. This is laughably called the 'Australian paradox' because (a) it is assumed that sugar consumption must have risen if obesity has risen, and (b) it is assumed that sugar consumption has risen in other countries.

Neither assumption is true, but that hasn't stopped one anti-sugar fanatic hounding those who prefer data to doctrine. Rory Robertson set up a green ink website several years ago attacking Jennie Brand-Miller and Alan Barclay after they published a study showing a fall in sugar consumption over several decades. He even managed to get Sydney University to investigate the pair, both of whom were cleared of any misconduct.

Robertson has since been threatened with being banned from Sydney University for allegedly acting in an 'aggres­sive and intimidating manner'. You won't be surprised to hear that Robertson gave up eating sugar, lost weight and is now something of a crusader. Thanks to his n=1 study, he seems to think that sugar is the sole cause of obesity.

I don't know what it is about giving up sugar that makes people so angry but I see a lot of it Twitter. Perhaps we will one day discover that carbs are good for mental health.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Scot puppets

The SNP has been building a whole own army of lobbyists to create the illusion of public demand for bans, taxes, minimum pricing and general lifestyle micromanagement. I mentioned Alcohol Focus Scotland and ASH Scotland last month. Inherited from previous governments, they consume £1.5 million of taxpayers' money every year between them.

While the UK government has taken action against state-funded political campaigning, the problem has been growing north of the border.

In the field of diet, the Scottish government set up Obesity Action Scotland in mid-2015. It features such familiar faces as Simon Capewell (Action on Sugar) and Sheila Duffy (ASH Scotland) and is entirely dedicated to political campaigning. It does the usual sockpuppety things like welcoming government consultations and lobbying for policies which even the government admits are 'unpopular'. I haven't been able to find out how much public money it is getting (perhaps a reader could find out?) but it mentions no other source of funding than the government so it is safe to assume that it is 100% sockpuppet.

Then there is Food Standards Scotland, an organisation created in 2015 which sounds like a Scottish equivalent of the Food Standards Agency but is actually yet another lobby group. Yesterday, they were lobbying for the sugar tax to be extended to all products that contain sugar and a 'calorie cap' on food eaten outside the home, whatever the hell that means.

Food Standards Scotland can always be relied on to send a warm response to government consultations on raising taxes and is always on hand to offer congratulations to politicians when they introduce nanny state policies while complaining that the policies do not go far enough.

None of this has got anything to do with food standards. It is about telling people what to eat because, according to the FSS, the question of what to have for lunch 'cannot be left to individuals alone'. To that end, FSS sends out regular press releases demanding 'urgent action' and 'radical measures' to raise prices, reduce flavour and restrict choice. It does so with an annual budget of £15 million.

And so the sham continues.




Thursday, 9 March 2017

The year of acrylamide

You may fondly recall the scare story about roast potatoes that made everybody roll their eyes back in January. The villain of the piece was acrylamide, a chemical that is created when carbohydrates are cooked. It is not just roast potatoes, but french fries, biscuits, toasts and many other food stuffs that can generate acrylamide. It can cause cancer in mice, but only at very high doses (‘as much as 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the levels people might be exposed to in foods’, according to the American Cancer Society.)

Nevertheless, the Food Standards Agency tried to generate a bit of hysteria by warning about this supposedly new cancer threat. As I said at the time:

We simply do not know whether acrylamide in food causes cancer in humans. Even if it does, we do not know what a safe level of consumption is. The Food Standards Agency’s assumption that people would benefit from reducing their consumption of roast potatoes and toast is just that — an assumption. It is the precautionary principle on steroids. Further research would be welcome, but it is not the job of the FSA to pre-empt it. We have organisations like the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to weigh the evidence and assess risk. They found ‘inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of acrylamide’. The FSA has gone way beyond its remit by issuing its scare story today.

It later transpired the European Commission is planning to regulate acrylamide in 2017 and a host of the usual pressure groups are campaigning for tough legislation, ie. excessive bans based on the precautionary principle regardless of costs. By accident or design, the FSA was clearing the path for the EU.

This week, two more pressure groups have added their voices to the mix...

Carcinogens found in British baby food and Belgian fries

Two new surveys have found high levels of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, in UK-made baby biscuits and Belgium’s favourite fast food.

...The Changing Markets Foundation and NGO SumOfUs, looked at 48 types of biscuits, including well-known brands like Little Dish and Ella’s Kitchen. The highest acrylamide levels were found in Little Dish biscuits, with levels almost 5 times higher than the European benchmark and 30 times higher than products with the lowest concentrations of acrylamide.

...In the meantime, Changing Markets and Brussels-area news service BRUZZ conducted a similar investigation last month (23 February) of Belgian fries sold in the capital. They found that 15% of the food business surveyed sell fries with high levels of acrylamide, exceeding the European benchmark of 600 µg/kg.

The highest acrylamide level found in the survey was 670 µg/kg, over six times higher than the lowest at 100 µg/kg, followed by two samples at 660 and 620 µg/kg.

I haven't seen either of these studies (if they are studies), but if the highest acrylamide level in french fries is only 10 per cent over the benchmark I doubt that it is much to worry about, since the benchmark is arbitrary in the first place (we don't know for sure that acrylamide causes cancer in humans at all, let alone at what level).

As I mentioned in January, the American Cancer Society, European Food Safety Authority and International Agency for Research on Cancer have all found insufficient evidence to declare that acrylamide, as typically found in food products, increase the risk of cancer. It is rather suspicious that non-scientific pressure groups are suddenly coming out of the woodwork with press releases like this just when the EU is looking to regulate.

The two organisations involved are hardly specialists in this area. Changing Markets specialises in 'campaigns that shift market share away from unsustainable products and companies' and when I visited SumofUs's website (slogan: 'people over profits') I was greeted with a pop-up telling me that 'SumOfUs exists to put bad corporations back in their place'. Apparently, their mission is to 'tame corporate beasts like Pepsi, Nestlé and Monsanto.'

Each to their own, obviously, but it is fair to say that identifying cancer risks is not these group's main area of interest or expertise. I suspect that we are going to see more activist science of this sort as the EU's decision gets closer.

Meanwhile, you might be interested in this paper on acrylamide from the American Council on Science and Health from 2003. The acrylamide scare might be new in Europe, but it has been going on in the USA ever since the chemical was discovered in food in 2002 (despite this, the FDA does not set legal limits on acrylamide in food).

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The vaping revolution rolls on

The latest smoking prevalence figures from the Office for National Statistics will have disappointed the handful of crackpots who still claim that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco that will cause a surge in smoking.

Between 2012 and 2015, the UK's smoking rate fell from 20.4 per cent to 17.8 per cent.* After a number of years when the smoking rate was barely budging, it is now dropping quite rapidly.


As the Guardian rightly notes, vaping is the best explanation for this renewed drop in smoking, but that didn't stop ASH trying to take the credit and demanding more money for itself.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH said: “The decline in smoking is very encouraging and shows that strong tobacco control measures are working. However, the government can’t leave it to individual smokers to try to quit on their own. If the downward trend is to continue we urgently need a new tobacco control plan for England, and proper funding for public health and for mass media campaigns."

ASH's grant from the government is supposedly given to 'support the tobacco control plan for England' - which seems to mean lobbying, in practice - so it is no surprise that they spend all their time demanding a new 'plan' and 'proper funding'. Deborah Arnott is constantly complaining that there is currently no tobacco control plan. She says it was supposed to be published 15 months ago, but it has been delayed. If there has been no tobacco control plan for ASH to 'support' what have they been doing with all that money from the taxpayer? Are they going to return it? I think we should be told.

More importantly, there is scant evidence that 'strong tobacco control measures are working'. You can see in the graph above that the smoking rate was falling steadily until 2007 when the smoking ban ushered in a wave of extreme anti-smoking policies. The ban itself was introduced in July 2007, the smoking age was raised from 16 to 18 in October 2007, graphic warnings were introduced in 2008, the tobacco duty escalator was introduced in 2008 and the ban on cigarette vending machines began in 2011. All this was combined with a bunch of anti-smoking advertisements which were so gruesome that some of them were banned.

The effect of this frenzy of prohibitions can be seen above, ie. nothing. The fall in smoking prevalence came to an end and the smoking rate stayed stubbornly at around the 20 per cent mark until e-cigarettes became mainstream in 2012-13. Between 2012 and 2015, the only anti-smoking law that was introduced was the display ban but that didn't come into effect until April 2015.  (There was also the ban on smoking in cars with minors but that didn't come into effect until October 2015 and no one believes that is going to reduce the smoking rate.) 

The only things achieved by 'strong tobacco control measures' are the mass closure of pubs, the maintenance of a large black market for cigarettes, and secondary poverty for low income smokers.

By contrast, e-cigarettes have given people who want to quit smoking an enjoyable and vastly safer alternative. Vaping has not led to a surge in smoking, nor was it ever likely to, despite the hysterical claims of 'public health' racketeers (though not ASH, to be fair). A study published today in Drugs Education, Prevention and Policy finds that the 'availability of e-cigarettes makes smoking appear less attractive to young people [and] discourages tobacco uptake'.

Neo-prohibition has failed. Let's hear it for the free market.


* The media have reported a rate of 17.2 per cent. This is what the ONS webpage says but their dataset says 17.8 per cent. I am waiting for clarification from the ONS on this point. A drop to 17.2 per cent would be quite sensational given  that the rate was 18.8 per cent in 2014. UPDATE: I haven't had official confirmation but someone at the ONS has suggested that the figures are different because 7.2% is for 18+ years whereas 7.8% is for 16+ years.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Plain packaging for food (again)

Pandora's Box has been well and truly opened. From the Guardian...

Sell high calorie foods in plain packaging to beat obesity, says Brain Prize winner

Selling high calorie foods in plain packaging could help in the battle against obesity according to a leading researcher who has won a share of the most lucrative prize in neuroscience for his work on the brain’s reward system.

The colourful wrapping and attractive advertising of calorie-rich foods encourage people to buy items that put them at risk of overeating and becoming obese in the future, said Wolfram Schultz, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Cambridge.

Only a fool didn't see this coming, and Schultz seems like just the kind of loathsome, illiberal, messianic health fascist to push it forward...

“We should not advertise, propagate or encourage the unnecessary ingestion of calories,” Schultz said at a press conference held on Monday to announce the winners of the 2017 Brain Prize. “There should be some way of regulating the desire to get more calories. We don’t need these calories.”

Steady on, Wolfram.

“Colourful wrapping of high energy foods of course makes you buy more of that stuff and once you have it in your fridge, it’s in front of you every time you open the fridge and ultimately you’re going to eat it and eat too much,” he added.

The claim that colourful wrapping makes people buy more food is a strangely evidence-free assertion from a man who's just won a science prize. And why he is banging on about this on the day of his prize-giving anyway? He hasn't conducted any research on plain packaging, and the kind of research that is conducted on plain packaging is certainly not going to win any science prizes.

Weirdly, none of the media that have reported this story have quoted him explicitly supporting plain packaging for food, but the press release I saw earlier today contained this line:

Asked if he meant plain packaging for junk food: "I would think it's worth a try."

I'm sure there are plenty of people in the 'public health' racket who agree with him.


UPDATE

Proving my point in the Daily Mail is the Royal Society for 'Public Health', one the vilest nanny state pressure groups, who say:

‘While introducing plain packaging for foods high in fat, salt or sugar may be more complex than for tobacco, we certainly believe this is worth piloting to better understand what impact it has on consumer perceptions of these foods and ultimately on people’s buying behaviour.’

There is also a quote from yours truly:

Christopher Snowdon, head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs said:

‘This is the slippery slope in action. ‘It was inevitable that there would be demands for food and alcohol to be put in plain packaging once the government capitulated to the nanny statists on tobacco.

‘Sensible people warned that this would happen. We were ignored, but we are being proved right.’

Sadly, there's no quote from Deborah Arnott.


More incompetence in Tobacco Control

There's an article in the anti-smoking magazine Tobacco Control this month claiming that there is a correlation between tobacco control policies - as measured in the Tobacco Control Scale (TCS) - and smoking rates.

This is nonsense from the get-go. Both myself and Clive Bates have mapped smoking rates and TCS scores in the past and found no statistically significant correlation. My graph below shows scores from the 2013 TCS against OCED smoking prevalence data from the same year. 


The Tobacco Control article uses the earlier 2010 TCS and smoking prevalence data from 2012. Don't ask me why they use old figures, I have given up trying to find any logic in the 'public health' racket. Perhaps the newer figures were totally immune to statistical jiggery-pokery.

Whatever tricks the authors used to reach their conclusion are of little importance. They are demonstrably wrong and their study is worthless, but it reminds me to mention something about the Tobacco Control Scale that I only noticed when I was compiling the Nanny State Index.

Tobacco taxes and pricing are the single biggest component of TCS scores. Since some countries are richer than others, the important thing to look at is affordability. The people behind the TCS recognise this and so they weight the price of cigarettes to adjust for the purchasing power of the people in each country:

The price of the Weighted Average Price (WAP) for cigarettes in July 2013, taking into account Purchasing Power Standards (PPS). The country with a WAP of €8.50 a pack and an EU average Purchasing Power Standard receives 30 points.

All good so far. The Nanny State Index does the same thing with alcohol and tobacco duty. A €1 tax on a pack of cigarettes is clearly going to have more effect on consumption in a poor country like Bulgaria than in a rich country like Luxembourg, so you have to account for GDP to reflect this.

Unfortunately, the TCS is designed by economically illiterate 'public health' morons who proceed to adjust for GDP in a way that could not be more wrong:

Gross Domestic Product per capita can be expressed in PPS (Purchasing Power Standard). PPS per capita has been used to take account of the real purchasing power in different countries. In the EU the GDP per capita expressed in PPP varies from 47 in Bulgaria to 75 in Greece, 120 in Belgium and 267 in Luxembourg. The EU average = 100. The country with a weighted average price of €8.50 a pack, based on the EU average PPP (100), receives 30 points. Belgium, for instance, would receive 30 points if the price of a pack was 8.5 x 1.20 = €10.20. In Bulgaria, if the price of a pack would be 8.5 x 0.47 = €4,00.

Do you see what they've done there? They've made a €8.50 pack of cigarettes seem more affordable in Bulgaria than in Belgium.

The correct way to calculate affordability is to divide the price by the PPS and multiply by 100. If you do that, the price of an €8.50 pack of cigarettes adjusted for affordability is €18.09 in Bulgaria and €7.08 in Belgium. That's more like it.

Instead, they've divided the PPS by 100 and multiplied it by the price, thereby making products inherently more affordable in poor countries than in rich countries. And they outline the same dumb methodology for their estimates of how much each country spends on public information campaigns.
 
I don't know how much this affects the correlation between TCS scores and smoking rates, or even if the scores they use even reflect the methodology they outline, but it's yet another small example of 'public health' experts being hopelessly inept.