Thursday, 25 May 2017

The nanny state we're in

Since the first edition of the Nanny State Index was published in March 2016, there have been many regulatory changes, most of them for the worse. Of the 28 countries included, all but six of them have a higher score than they did last year.

2016 was a particularly bad year for vapers. Eleven countries now forbid the use of e-cigarettes wherever smoking is banned after Finland, Luxembourg, Hungary and Poland joined the fold. As governments seek to raise money and protect their tobacco revenues, there is also a growing trend towards taxing e-cigarette fluid. Greece, Slovenia, Romania, Latvia and Hungary all introduced new taxes in 2016, and e-cigarette tax rates now range from €0.01 per ml in Latvia to €0.60 per ml in Portugal. Although some governments have been slow to recognise the health benefits of safer nicotine products, they have been quick to see their potential for raising revenue. The emergence of ‘heat-not-burn’ technology, such as iQOS, has inspired Greece and Slovakia to approve new taxes that specifically target tobacco for ‘electronically heated’ products.

The most significant change that took place in 2016 was the introduction of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) which came into effect in May. This legislation is principally aimed at smokers, with a ban on packs of ten, mandatory graphic warnings and, from 2020, a ban on menthol cigarettes, but it also places a significant burden on vapers. The TPD bans all e-cigarette fluids containing more than two per cent nicotine, restricts the sale of e-cigarette fluid to small, 10ml bottles, and bans e-cigarette advertising in printed media, online and on television and radio. As a result of the TPD, twelve countries that scored a perfect zero for nanny state regulation of e-cigarettes now have at least 16 points (out of 100).

The UK and France decided to gold-plate the TPD by becoming the first countries in the Northern hemisphere to ban branding on tobacco packaging (‘plain’ or ‘standardised’ packaging). Hungary, Slovenia and Ireland look set to join them in the next few years and there have inevitably been calls to roll this policy out to food and alcohol.

It is not all bad news, however. Some governments used the TPD as an opportunity to liberalise their vaping laws. Countries that previously had a de jure or de facto ban on e-cigarette sales, including Finland, Denmark, Hungary and Belgium, now permit their sale under varying degrees of regulation.
There are a few flickers of liberalisation in other areas as well. Finland discarded its tax on confectionery, chocolate and ice cream in January 2017 and the Finnish government is considering relaxing its highly restrictive alcohol laws by, for example, making it legal to buy a round of drinks and pay by credit card. In Slovakia, cyclists are now permitted to drink a pint of beer before using a cycle lane. Last year, the Czech Republic’s finance minister pledged to halve VAT on draft beer (this has not yet happened) and, in Bulgaria, a proposed tax on fast food and energy drinks in Bulgaria was rejected thanks to the finance minister.

The most sensational piece of deregulation came in Sweden where the e-cigarette market went from complete illegality to laissez-faire by accident. After Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court ruled that e-cigarettes are not medical devices and cannot be regulated as such, they fell into legal limbo where they remain at the time of writing. Unsurprisingly, there have been no reports of any health problems as result of e-cigarettes being freely bought and sold. The Swedish government should bear this in mind when it finally gets around to regulating the vaping market.

Looking to the future, the prospects for lifestyle freedom generally look bleak. A number of countries are seeking to join Hungary, Finland and France in putting a ‘sin tax’ on sugary drinks. Belgium has already done so. Ireland and the UK will join them next year. Latvia and Lithuania have set a precedent by banning the sale of energy drinks to people aged under 18. France banned free refills of fizzy drinks at the start of 2017. Sweden is set to regulate alcoholic ice cream. Greece has introduced a tax on wine for the first time.

The Czech Republic will soon introduce an indoor smoking ban, albeit with plenty of exemptions. Romania introduced a more severe smoking ban last year, leaving only Austria, Germany and Slovakia as the last truly smoker-friendly countries in the EU - and Austria has a ban planned for 2018. Cyprus is looking to both extend its ban to some outdoor places and include vaping in it. The governments of Scotland and Finland have set a deadline for making their countries ‘tobacco-free’. Estonia and the Netherlands are seriously considering a retail display ban for tobacco.

There has been little in the way of nanny state regulation of alcohol since the last Index was published, but that looks set to change. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all on the verge of introducing heavy temperance legislation, with the health minister of Estonia publicly stating that he wants to treat alcohol and tobacco in the same way, ie. with draconian regulation. Minimum pricing for alcohol is tied up in the courts at the time of writing but, win or lose, the Scottish government will be able to introduce this regressive policy after Brexit. Meanwhile, Ireland has tabled a temperance law that will introduce minimum pricing, extensive advertising restrictions and possibly even a retail display ban similar to that already in place for tobacco.

This rising tide of lifestyle regulation confirms C.S. Lewis’s view that ‘those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.’ The nanny state never sleeps. There is so much legislation and so many new proposals that it can be difficult to keep up, but that is what the Nanny State Index aims to do.

[This is an excerpt from the 2017 Nanny State Index which you can download here.]

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The eating ban

The European Congress on Obesity took place last week in Portugal and various British journalists were sent over to find a story. The organisers were happy to oblige. First they announced that you can't be fat and fit (based on a verbal discussion of an abstract of an unpublished, unreviewed study) and then they upped the ante with a demand for 'junk food' to be banned on public transport.

Both stories got acres of newspaper coverage and the media were particularly attracted to the idea of an eating ban. From the Telegraph...

Fast food should be banned from buses and trains, as part of efforts to “nudge” the public out of round-the-clock snacking, obesity experts say.

The call for radical restrictions, in an attempt to reset social norms, came amid warnings that “guzzling on the go” is fuelling Britain’s weight problem.

Experts at the world’s largest obesity conference urged politicians to make sweeping changes to limit the availability of junk food on public transport.

They said buses, trains and trams should take action, in the same way that other health threats, like smoking, and alcohol, have been banned.

This is a policy taken wholesale from the anti-smoking lobby. Public transport was the first target of campaigners for smoking bans back in the 1970s, but while restrictions on smoking in small, shared, government-owned spaces could be justified on the grounds that some people don't want to smell smoke, the case for banning 'junk food' on public transport is wholly arbitrary.

You might assume that the issue is about the smell of hot food, but that is not what the nanny statists are interested in. Their intention is paternalistic. Alleged obesity expert Jason Halford (who is obese) says:

“Food is everywhere and the type of food that is most ubiquitous is unhealthy. We need more action across the public sector, we are seeing changes with hospitals it needs to spread to other sectors – councils, transport, universities.”

They are concerned that you will get fat if you eat certain foods and so they want to make it a crime to do so. They are starting with public transport.

Although it is snacking per se that they have a problem with, they can leverage support by focusing on hot food that has a strong smell. People eating a Burger King or Wasabi next to you on a train is one of life's minor nuisances. I don't want it banned but some intolerant prigs do, and there are enough intolerance prigs to give any call for a ban a bit of traction.

Yesterday morning I was on the Good Morning Britain sofa with Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum to discuss the eating ban. It's a dreadful idea but I'm glad they have proposed it because it lays bare the authoritarian impulse at the heart of the nanny state industry. It also happens to be unworkable because there is no legal definition of 'junk food'.

Mr Fry tried to avoid the more obvious criticisms by focusing on hot food and pretending that the main issue was the aroma. Like many food snobs, he is obsessed with hamburgers, although what is so dangerous about bread and meat was never explained.

Alas, it all went wrong when he forgot to maintain the pretence that his concern was about the smell of secondhand food. Under pressure from Piers Morgan, he was asked to give an example of a hot dish that people would be allowed to eat on a train under a Tam Fry dictatorship. What happened next will amaze you.

You can watch the video here or read about it here.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Weekend review

I've been sent a few products to review recently and have been discussing them on Twitter. For those of you who don't follow me on Twitter, here are my reviews (click on the tweet and follow the thread).

First up was a 50w Sub Ohm vape from Kik E-cigs. It's an attractive little gadget but I'm not that keen on Sub Ohming when other people do it and I found I wasn't that keen on it when I did it either. However, if this is the kind of thing you like, you'll like this kind of thing. Looks nice doesn't it?



Next up was some nicotine-free snus from Snus Direct. I suppose this is for snus users who want to give up. I have the opposite problem. I like using snus but struggle get hold of it (thanks, EU). Still, it can't be denied that it has all the features of snus without the nicotine. The only way it could be improved would be by adding some nicotine.



Most recently, I reviewed the PockeX e-cigarette and some unflavoured fluid sent to me by E-Cig Wizard. The fluid has proved to be a more-or-less suitable replacement for my discontinued brand (thanks again, EU) and the e-cigarette itself is a bobby dazzler for a starter kit.

Here it is...




The review starts below...


Please note that I am also available to review hard liquor and cigars.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Tobacco Products Directive now in force

The Tobacco Products Directive came into full effect today. I've written about its petty and counterproductive regulations for Spectator Health...

From tomorrow, it will be a criminal offence to sell vape juice in any container larger than 10ml because, er, something or other. If I want to replace my e-cigarette, I won’t be able to do so in any EU country as its tank can hold more than 2ml of fluid and that presumably poses a threat to somebody somewhere. If I want to buy relatively strong vape juice (over two per cent nicotine), I’ll have to order it from outside the EU because, erm, think of the children or something.

There has never been any coherent explanation for the creation of these seemingly random criminal offences. It was never clear what problem the EU was trying to solve. There was simply an assumption that the vaping scene was an unregulated free-for-all which could only benefit from a good old EU directive. The regulations didn’t have to serve a purpose — any old idea thrown up by anti-vaping lobbyists and ‘public health’ busybodies would do — they only had to exist.

Opponents of vaping like to equate the e-cigarette market with ‘the Wild West’. This ignores the numerous consumer regulations that e-cigarette vendors and manufacturers have to abide by, but it also misses the point. What they call a ‘Wild West’ is — or was — a well-functioning, competitive free market which has resulted in 1.5 million British smokers quitting cigarettes without taxpayers having to pay a penny. If that is the Wild West, let’s have more of it.

Do have a read of that and then watch Prof. Sinclair Davidson explain how plain packaging campaigners made up their own evidence when the policy flopped in Australia...





Friday, 19 May 2017

Tin packs and ten packs

From tomorrow you could face two years in prison if you sell a branded pack of cigarettes. What a great country we live in.

It will also be illegal to sell cigarettes in packs of ten, which leads me to this from The Guardian...

The maker of Marlboro cigarettes has been accused of trying to sidestep new UK laws on plain packaging by rolling out durable tins that look just like ordinary cigarette packets.

Either you break the law or you don't. 'Sidestep' here means 'comply with' - and good for them. I haven't seen any of these tins and, according to the Guardian, Philip Morris have 'distributed a relatively small number' of them, but I wish all the cigarette companies had done the same thing to make a mockery of this absurd law. If you can't geld hold of one, there are plenty of stylish cigarette cases to buy at the click of a button.

It's a tiny gesture of defiance from Philip Morris as their intellectual property is snuffed out, but it has enraged the usual headbangers. Labour MP Alex Cunningham says: 'It’s against the whole spirit of what’s intended with the plain packaging legislation', but since the intention of the legislation is to annoy the tobacco industry - it will do nowt else - it seems wholly in the spirit of this childish spat for the tobacco industry to annoy the anti-smoking lobby.

More weirdly, some cretin from Bath University's Tobacco Research Group is furious that the tins only hold room for 10 cigarettes:

“Research shows that packs of 10 appeal to young people and the price conscious,” said Karen Reeves-Evans, of the Tobacco Research Group at the University of Bath. “By offering packs of 10 in reusable tins, Philip Morris International is knowingly increasing the lifespan of packs of 10 and promoting its brand, if smokers decant their cigarettes into these small branded tins."

You what?!

Even if you ignore the counter-productive idiocy of banning 10-packs, which smokers use as a self-constraint mechanism to reduce their consumption, and focus instead on the mutton-headed justification for the ban, ie. that the chiiiiiiildren are more likely to start smoking if they can buy ten cigarettes for a mere, er, £5, your objective has been achieved by forcing people to buy packs of 20. If smokers want to then decant half of the cigarettes into a tin it is of no consequence to 'young people', 'the price conscious' or anyone else.

These people are catatonically stupid.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Burying the benefits of drinking - a history lesson

I've come across a very interesting article from 1997 by Carl C. Seltzer, a scientist who wrote a chapter of the 1964 Surgeon General's report on smoking and later became involved with the famous Framingham Study...

The Framingham Study has been abundantly reported in the literature and will be outlined here only briefly. It was established in 1948-1949 by the National Heart Institute to follow 2282 men and 2845 women, 22-62 years of age, who were initially free of coronary heart disease. Each subject at baseline received an extensive standardized cardiovascular examination, which included information on habits, physical characteristics, and blood chemistries. Biennially thereafter, and now extending for more than 40 years, the subjects have been thoroughly re-examined for the same initial characteristics, with development of CHD [coronary heart disease] noted as the ultimate endpoint.

Things got interesting when Seltzer noticed that moderate drinkers had lower rates of cardiovascular disease than teetotallers. This was 45 years ago.

Early in 1972, Dr. William Kannel, who was then assistant director of the Framingham Study, gave me a copy of the Framingham IBM cards containing data for all the participants of the Study. My assignment was to analyze the data with respect to such factors as obesity and body build. During the analysis, I found that after 16 years of follow-up, the Framingham men who habitually consumed moderate amounts of alcohol showed a lesser risk of developing CHD than those who refrained from alcohol drinking. The risk of CHD also showed a “dose-response curve,” i.e., a regularly diminishing gradient proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed. To my knowledge, this result was the first time this phenomenon had been observed in CHD research.

Seltzer wrote up his findings in 1972 and was told to send his paper to the National Heart and Lung Institute.

I sent the revised manuscript on June 26 to Dr. William J. Zukel, then Associate Director for Clinical Applications, NHLI. Dr. Zukel never directly answered my letter. Instead, I next heard from Dr. Kannel, enclosing a memorandum he had received from Dr. Zukel, who refused to allow the alcohol/CHD manuscript to be submitted for publication. The main stated reason was that “An article which openly invites the encouragement of undertaking drinking with the implication of prevention of coronary heart disease would be scientifically misleading and socially undesirable in view of the major health problem of alcoholism that already exists in the country”. Dr. Zukel added that it would not be appropriate “to have such a manuscript with these unsupportable conclusions co-authored from the staff of the NHLI."

He urged that an article be produced maintaining the “conclusion of no significant relationship of alcohol intake to incidence of coronary heart disease”. The results would be based on earlier data showing no association between alcohol consumption and CHD. Dr. Zukel also questioned the statistical significance of findings in the submitted manuscript, and asked that I return the punchcards given to me by Dr. Kannel. Since the alcohol data were not my own, and since Dr. Zukel had prohibited publication, I had no choice but to regard the manuscript as defunct.

And so the evidence was buried because it might send out the wrong message. Writing in 1997, Seltzer treats the episode as an example of bias in government-funded research, but seems to hold no grudge since the association between moderate drinking and better heart health had by then been established beyond doubt.

Despite Dr. Zukel’s suppression of the original scientific results, the Framingham finding about alcohol and CHD has been validated in other studies, and has now become the conventional view in the CHD literature.

Little did he know that a new generation of anti-alcohol researchers like Tim Stockwell (who is now calling for the nationalisation of the alcohol industry) would launch a renewed politically-motivated assault on the evidence.

The main point of this essay, however, is that conflicts of interest and pressures on investigators need not arise exclusively from commercial organizations. A non-profit governmental agency that funds research can also suppress some of its findings, and can alter definitions and analyses to make results that originally contradict a governmental policy emerge as supportive. What should be epidemiologic science may then become political science.

This is a highly perceptive and prescient comment given Public Health England's behaviour in recent years. Some things never change.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Slippery slope: gambling edition

Way back in 1985, half-witted sociologist Simon Chapman scoffed at the idea that a ban on tobacco advertising would open the door to the prohibition of the advertising of any product that displeased puritans. In a document published by the British Medical Association, he wrote:

The 'thin end of the wedge...'?

A further deception is the industry's appeal: "Where will they stop?" The industry argues that if advertising is stopped because tobacco is dangerous, then advertising for cars, motor cycles, alcohol, sugar, aircraft travel and any other potentially dangerous product could also be banned.

All of these products can endanger health, but they are dangerous only when abused. Tobacco is the only advertised product which is hazardous when used as intended.

The British Medical Association has since demanded a total ban on alcohol advertising, but that has not deterred Simple Simon from maintaining that the tobacco advertising ban was not 'the thin end of the wedge'.

He reiterated this view on Australian radio in 2012:

Look, if the slope is slippery, it's the most unslippery slippery dip I've ever seen in my life. We started banning tobacco advertising in 1976 and there has been no other commodity where there has been anything like a serious move to do what we've done with tobacco. And that's because there are great big differences between tobacco and all other commodities. 


So imagine my surprise when he popped up this week to demand that the 1976 ban on televised tobacco advertising be copied to the letter for gambling advertising.

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has already pledged to ban gambling ads before 8.30pm but - who woulda thunk it? - that's not enough for Chapman, who equates it with being 'a little bit pregnant' and wants a total ban (along with a ban on TV presenters mentioning betting odds). Naturally, he cites the anti-smoking crusade as a direct precedent for what should happen.

The history of restricting tobacco advertising is likely to point to what’s ahead in reforms on how gambling promotion.

The last time a direct tobacco advertisement was seen or heard on Australian TV or radio was in August 1976. The Whitlam government introduced the policy, which was continued by the Fraser government. Direct cigarette advertising on radio and television was phased out over the three years between September 1, 1973 and September 1, 1976. 

The decision was framed as a way of reducing the exposure of children to tobacco advertising. Obviously, the proposition was that kids were a prime target for tobacco companies and their advertising was a powerful way of conditioning interest in smoking in young people.

So, direct tobacco ads on TV and radio could help kids take up smoking. But the very same appeals in ads in print, on billboards, in shops and as sporting and cultural sponsorship apparently could not. This was the bizarre logic in governments at the time banning tobacco advertising in only selected media, but not across the board.

As ordinary commonsense and research highlighted the inanity of this policy, governments incrementally increased the number of media where cigarette ad bans applied. It took from September 1973 until April, 30 1996 (when tobacco sponsorship of cricket finally ended) for all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion to end in Australia. That’s 22 years and 8 months from start to finish.

With all the lessons learned from tobacco, I'm sure the wowsers will be able to go from a TV ban to a total ban in much less than 22 years and 8 months. Or at least they would do if there was 'anything like a serious move to do what we've done with tobacco' but, as Chapman has repeatedly assured us, there definitely isn't.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Tory paternalism and gambling

Philip Blond at ResPublica is the latest to join the moral crusade (gravy train?) against fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). These are the machines in betting shops that have become controversial thanks to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, a pressure group set up and lavishly funded by the casino tycoon Derek Webb.

I first wrote about FOBTs back in 2013 after hearing several claims that were patently untrue. Whatever anti-gambling campaigners might say, there has been no proliferation of betting shops in the last decade, no rise in problem gambling, and there is no evidence that FOBTs are more 'addictive' than other forms of gambling.

The claim that FOBTs are the 'crack cocaine of gambling' has no basis in fact; this catchy phrase seems to have been coined by Donald Trump in the 1980s when he was lobbying against electronic gambling to protect his casino business. This is apt since the whole anti-FOBT enterprise is firmly 'post-truth'.

Blond's blog post is titled 'A stake in it for everyone; why Conservatives should support regulation of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals'. This implies that FOBTs are currently unregulated. This is obviously untrue. There are strict limits on where they can be played (betting shops and casinos, basically) and there are all sorts of other regulations - age restrictions, stake limits etc - in addition to extensive self-regulation. When Blond says 'regulated', he means 'de facto banned' since he wants stakes to be reduced by 98%, from a maximum of £100 to just £2.

If the stake was reduced to £2, people would not play them. FOBTs are not jackpot machines. You need to put a reasonable amount on to win a reasonable amount. Non-gamblers don't always seem to understand this, as I explained in my briefing paper last year...

To a non-gambler, it might seem incongruous that FOBTs have a stake limit of £100 when other gambling machines have a limit of £1 or £2, but this only reflects the different nature of the games. Fruit machines with a low stake have jackpots which allow up to £500 to be won in a single spin. FOBTs, by contrast, do not have jackpots. In blackjack, a winning player can usually do no more than double what he has staked. The same is true of a roulette player betting on red or black, or odds or evens (the exception is when the player bets on a single number which returns at a rate of 36:1, but since FOBT payouts are capped at £500 it makes no sense to place more than £13 on such a bet).

Given the 1:1 payout ratio, there would be little excitement in betting £2 to win £2 and therefore the stake is considerably higher on FOBTs. In most casinos, the minimum stake on blackjack and roulette is £5 and it is often as high as £10 or £15. Any cap on the maximum stake can only ever be arbitrary, but it must be set high enough for players to get a sufficient sense of risk and reward to make the games satisfying.

The so-called Campaign for Fairer Gambling know that reducing the stake to £2 will - to quote the name of their other group - 'Stop the FOBTs'. It's not regulation. It's prohibition in all but name, like allowing beer no stronger than 0.5%.

Blond says...

FOBTs or B2 machines are highly addictive, one way we know this, according to research conducted by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, is that FOBT users are much more likely to be ‘problem gamblers’, statistics from the gambling helpline showed that in one year (2011/2012) 28% of calls to the helpline were from gamblers who were experiencing problems owing to their use of FOBTs.

I wouldn't trust research from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling as far as I could throw it, but even if this six year old statistic was true, it does not prove that FOBTs are addictive or that their users are 'much more likely' to be problem gamblers. The mere fact that problem gamblers play the machines tells us nothing. Problem gamblers tend to engage in lots of different gambling activities, including the lottery.


  • The original conclusion that there is no consistent evidence that particular gambling activities are predictive of problem gambling, after controlling for the level of involvement, holds true in 2010 and 2012.
  • The 2007 finding that machines in bookmakers are the exception does not persist into 2010 and 2012.

Playing the Tory card, Blond bashes one of the few good things the last Labour government did - dragging gambling regulation into the 21st century. 

This liberalisation has not delivered economic prosperity. Research carried out by Landman Economics has found that gamblers have lost £11 billion on FOBTs since 2008, this money generates little return for the productive economy because such machines reduce the staffing needs of betting shops and the cost of gambling itself reduces disposable and non-disposable income for individuals and families who fall into the ‘just about managing’ demographic.

People don't 'lose' money on gambling. They spend it. It's a form of entertainment and people should be able to spend their money on whatever the hell they like.

Moreover, jobs are a cost. If we ran the economy on the basis of maximising job creation, we would go back to feudal agriculture. Bookmakers are just as much a part of the 'productive economy' as theatres, football clubs and pubs. So, too, are the other parts of the gambling sector which Blond curiously fails to criticise.

FOBTs only account for 13.6 per cent of total UK gambling spend. The largest sector of the industry is online and that it where gamblers will go if anti-FOBT campaigners get their way. With bookies making half of their revenue from FOBTs, it is safe to assume that many of them will close down if the stake is dropped to £2. The jobs of those who work in them will then be lost to offshore online gambling firms, so spare me your mock-concern about employment.
 
During the General Election it is vital that we redouble our efforts to make the case for a less liberalised and more highly regulated gambling market, an endeavour that reflects conservative tenets of family, community and prosperity.

Less liberalisation and more regulation are conservative tenets now, are they?

Our high streets should be at the heart of our economic and social fabric, providing places of work and places of collective expression. 

Bookmakers are both places of work and places of 'collective expression'. Some people like gambling. Get over it.

The disproportionate growth of betting shops, that have come to dominate some high streets, runs counter to that aspiration and has in part been fuelled by the exponential growth in low-cost, low-maintenance FOBTs.

The graph below shows the number of bookmakers in Britain since 1961.


Can you see any 'disproportionate growth'? No. It's another anti-FOBT lie. The whole crusade is castle built on sand.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Graphic warnings for hamburgers

Nick Ferrari on The Pledge (a British TV show) taking a lone stand against a bunch of celebrities who want graphic warnings, plain packaging and, in the case of James Caan, prohibition for hamburgers.

Further proof that smokers have been used as guinea pigs for a maniacal project.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Labour wonders why pubs have been closing

The Labour Party's draft manifesto was leaked yesterday. It contains this gem...

We will set up a National Review of Local Pubs to examine the causes for the large-scale demise of pubs

Gee, I wonder what could be behind the 'large-scale demise of pubs'?  Perhaps we could start by looking at the Labour Party's 2005 manifesto which said:

We will legislate to ensure that all enclosed public places and workplaces other than licensed premises will be smoke-free. The legislation will ensure that all restaurants will be smoke-free; all pubs and bars preparing and serving food will be smoke-free; and other pubs and bars will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free. In membership clubs the members will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free.

The manifesto pledge to provide exemptions for wet pub and clubs was broken when ASH collaborated with Labour rebels to get smoking banned in all pubs and clubs.

A total ban on smoking in all English pubs appeared to be drawing closer tonight, after rebel MPs tabled an amendment demanding that the government's proposed partial ban be made comprehensive. 

We all know what happened next. The UK got one of the world's most draconian smoking bans, pub attendance fell and beer sales went into freefall. As The Guardian reported in January 2008...

Pub beer flattened by smoking ban

The number of pints served in Britain's pubs and bars in the run-up to the busy festive period declined by almost 10% as chilly smokers, no longer allowed a cigarette inside a pub, cut short their drinking time or stayed at home.

In the first winter since the UK-wide ban on smoking in public places was imposed in July, pub beer consumption for November fell 9.7% against the same period in 2006, according to industry figures.

Pubs have never recovered. 11,000 of them closed between 2007 and 2013. Only the most deluded or dishonest anti-smoking campaigner pretends that the smoking ban hasn't hammered the hospitality industry.

It seems unlikely that Jeremy Corbyn will ever be in a position to commission a government review of pub closures. As someone who 'consistently voted for smoking bans', it's safe to assume that he would ignore the elephant in the room even if he did.

There seems to be a reasonable chance that the Labour government that banned smoking in pubs is the last Labour government Britain will ever have. Tony Blair resigned just days before the legislation came into force in 2007. If so, the final 'up yours' to the working class that the smoking ban represented would be a fitting bookend for a party that was once on the side of ordinary people.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Nanny State Index 2017

Today sees the publication of the 2017 edition of the Nanny State Index, a league table of the best and worst places in the European Union to eat, drink, smoke and vape. Each country is given a score according to the scale of its paternalistic regulation of alcohol, e-cigarettes, food and tobacco. There is no change at the top, with Finland enjoying a seemingly impregnable lead as the EU’s number one nanny state thanks to draconian restrictions on all four product categories, but the UK and Ireland are not far behind, saved only by their more liberal approach to vaping. The best performing countries are those which have relatively low taxes and a tolerant attitude to smokers, drinkers and vapers. The Czech Republic and Germany stand out at the foot of the table.

Since the first edition of the Index was published in March 2016, there have been many changes, mostly for the worse, and all but six of the 28 countries studied have a higher score than they did last year. Vapers have been particularly badly hit. When we compiled last year’s index, only one country taxed e-cigarette fluid. That number has now risen to six and seems likely to rise further as governments scramble for money to offset falling tobacco revenues. The number of countries that ban the use of e-cigarettes indoors has risen to eleven. And thanks to a new EU directive, a wide range of vaping products are now illegal, along with most e-cigarette advertising.

While the EU has been responsible for some big changes to e-cigarette and tobacco regulation in the past year, it would be wrong to blame Brussels for more than a fraction of the nanny state activity seen in Europe. The wide variation in scores between the freest countries at the foot of the table and the more restrictive countries at the top shows that national governments have considerable latitude in regulating personal behaviour. Nobody forced the French government to ban free refills of sugary drinks. Nobody forced the Finnish government to ban happy hours in bars. The growing tendency towards taxing soft drinks and banning branding on cigarette packs is the result of politicians capitulating to pressure groups in their own countries. As Germany and several other countries have shown, these vocal minorities can be ignored without the sky falling in.

It is an inconvenient but important fact that there is no correlation between Nanny State Index scores and life expectancy, no correlation between tobacco control scores and smoking rates, and no correlation between alcohol control scores and binge-drinking. Moreover, countries with the toughest anti-obesity policies do not have lower rates of obesity. It is more difficult to evaluate anti-vaping policies as it is not obvious what they are trying to achieve, but if the aim is to somehow improve health, they have failed.

Failure would not be so bad if the policies did not create so many problems and costs. ‘Sin taxes’ fall most heavily on the poor. High prices fuel the black market. Advertising bans restrict competition and stifle innovation. Smoking bans damage pubs and clubs. Excessive regulation creates costly bureaucracies and drains police resources. Perhaps most importantly, nanny state policies prevent adult consumers from living their lives as they choose.

Nevertheless, the nanny state crusade marches on, proof of C. S. Lewis’s observation that ‘those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.’ Looking to the future, the prospects for lifestyle freedom generally look bleak. A number of countries are seeking to join Hungary, Finland and France in putting a ‘sin tax’ on sugary drinks. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all on the verge of introducing heavy temperance legislation. Sweden is set to regulate alcoholic ice cream. Ireland is due to introduce plain packaging for tobacco and may introduce a display ban for alcohol. Even the Czech Republic is buckling to the ‘public health’ lobby by introducing an indoor smoking ban later this month. As the Nanny State Index shows in graphic detail, the hyper-regulation of private behaviour is on the rise all over Europe and things are going to get worse before they get better.


Monday, 8 May 2017

Worthless research into thirdhand smoke

There's a wacky psychologist over in San Diego called Georg Matt who has been pushing the concept of 'thirdhand smoke' for a decade. Thirdhand smoke is the ludicrous name for any measurable deposits of nicotine found in hair, clothing, carpets and furniture. It is not smoke and it is not in the least bit dangerous, but in chemophobic California there mere presence of CHEMICALS is enough to start a panic.

Readers with long memories will fondly recall Matt getting headlines around the world with a study of zero academic merit in 2009 when he conducted a phone interview asking parents if they were concerned about thirdhand smoke. Since Matt had just invented the concept, most of them were obviously not concerned about it, but the gullible media (eg. the BBC) still reported the 'news' as he hoped... 

Many people are unaware that even smoking away from babies or pregnant women presents a risk, according to US research.

You have to take your hat off to the way Matt played journalists with this study. His research never found any 'risk' from thirdhand smoke and this set the pattern for all the research that has come after it (and there has been plenty because the cranks of California hived out millions of dollars from smokers to pay for a Thirdhand Smoke Research Consortium). There has never been any real attempt to show actual harm from the smell of tobacco on an old sofa because there is none.

It's a simple process. Modern technology can detect chemicals at the tiniest of trace levels. All the activist-researchers have to do is report that scary-sounding chemicals have been identified and the media lap it up. You don't need to find evidence of harm if journalists are going to infer it.

Matt has been at it again in the latest issue of the amusing comic Tobacco Control. His latest study should be a set text in any course on junk science. He took samples from 25 kids who showed up at a hospital to see if their hands contained traces of nicotine or cotinine (cotinine is a biomarker for nicotine). 18 of them lived with a smoker and all of them had what Matt calls 'potentially SHS-related complaints' (SHS is secondhand smoke and a potentially SHS-related complaint is pretty much everything except a broken leg in California).

So what did he find? It turns out that all of the kids - every single one of them - had detectable levels of nicotine on their hands. All but one of them had detectable levels of cotinine.

Given that cotinine is a biomarker for nicotine it seems likely that something went wrong with the test they did on the one kid who had traces of nicotine but no traces of cotinine. Although Matt claims that 'nicotine is specific to tobacco', both nicotine and cotinine are found in various common vegetables. Matt's little experiment shows nothing more than that cool technology can find nanograms of nicotine on anybody. As his study notes, 'Reported smoking behaviour [of the parents] was not correlated with nicotine or cotinine.'

The fact that these kids were showing up to hospital is irrelevant. It tells us nothing since Matt doesn't bother to assemble a control group of kids who are not showing up to hospital. Even if he had, it wouldn't have told us anything about the health impact of mythical thirdhand smoke.

Indeed, it's pretty difficult to see what conclusion we are supposed to come to after reading this study. Matt emphasises the supposedly interesting finding that nicotine levels were 'higher than expected'. Previous studies have found levels of 25 nanograms per wipe on adults who live with smokers whereas he found an average of 86 nanograms per wipe (for reference, smokers have around 650 ng/wipe on their hands). But even this finding seems to be due to his team wiping a different part of the hand to previous researchers:

Another limitation is that we may have found higher-than-expected nicotine levels, because we wiped the insides of children’s entire hands (ie, palm and volar aspect of fingers). Our ongoing research now includes hand surface area measurements so that we can compare new findings with our previous work.

To make his research seem worthwhile, Matt invents the concept of OTS which stands for Overall Tobacco Smoke and says...

Our findings indicate that children carry tobacco smoke toxicants on their hands, even when nobody around them is smoking. Thus, nicotine and other THS compounds on children’s hands may contribute to OTS, independent of SHS.

The invention of OTS doubles down on the patently false claim that trace residues are 'smoke', and the use of the word 'toxicants' is designed to imply evidence of harm where there is none. Elsewhere in the study he makes the homeopathic claim that 'there is concern that THS may be more toxic than SHS'. Insofar as there is 'concern', it mostly comes from Georg Matt who cites himself no fewer than nine times in the study's 16 references.

This is a study that tells us nothing about a non-existent health threat. Its only purpose is to keep the concept of thirdhand smoke going and to keep the grant money rolling in.  

Friday, 5 May 2017

When alcohol prophecies fail

 
In 2014, Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance said that his aim was to get alcohol consumption back to where it was '30 or 40 years ago'.

'Of course, we do not want everybody to stop drinking. That is not the endgame. However, nonetheless, if we could just get the whole consumption curve shifted down by 10 or 20% - if we could get back to where we were in the UK, say, 30 to 40 years ago in our per capita consumption and we would see a huge benefit in health.'

Gilmore seemed unaware that alcohol consumption had already fallen so much by 2014 that it was already back to the levels of 30 or 40 years ago. His chums at the Institute of Alcohol Studies have this handy graph which I have annotated:





So Ian Gilmore must be pleased, right? Time to give up the crusade and move onto something more important?

Of course not. In response to the latest figures on alcohol consumption and harm published this week, he says:

'We know that over the long term, rates of binge drinking are falling, and more people are choosing to abstain from alcohol.

Worryingly, however, these trends do not appear big enough to stop alcohol harm from continuing to rise, and the sharp increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions over the last few years means hundreds of thousands more people each year are experiencing the misery associated with harmful alcohol consumption.

The data released today should be sobering reading for whoever wins the upcoming general election, and we would urge the next government to make tackling alcohol harm an immediate priority to save lives, reduce harm, and reduce the pressure on the NHS.'

It is slightly surprising that Ian Gilmore, who professes expertise on alcohol policy, did not know that alcohol consumption was at 1980s levels when he spoke out in 2014. It is less surprising to find a neo-prohibitionist pressure group demanding further action even achieving its stated goals.

Gilmore made a rookie mistake that most nanny state campaign groups are careful to avoid. He set an explicit target and promised real improvements in health if it was met. He made a further mistake by making a prediction about something that had already happened but which had not been accompanied by any notable improvements in health.

By the logic of the total consumption theory, health outcomes should have shown a marked improvement as a result of a 20 per cent reduction in alcohol consumption. Like most people in pretend 'public health', Gilmore is an advocate of this ridiculous theory, which is why he says 'if we could just get the whole consumption curve shifted down...'

It has taken a long time, but the decline in alcohol consumption is now a recognised fact. The BBC even published an article titled 'Are we falling out of love with booze?' yesterday. And yet estimates of the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions continue to rise.

There are two explanations for this. The first is that the hospital admissions estimates are bunkum. The second is that the total consumption theory is wrong. These two explanations are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think both of them are correct.

Under the 'broad measure' of alcohol-related hospital admissions, numbers have risen by a third since 2004/05 despite a 20 per cent fall in alcohol consumption. Under the somewhat more realistic 'narrow measure', numbers have risen by 22 per cent. For those who believe in the total consumption theory, these figures are awkward, but even for those of us who are sceptical about the theory, it is difficult to take these figures seriously as a proxy for alcohol-related harm when there is so much evidence that 'binge-drinking' has declined.

The reality is that we could all stop drinking tomorrow and the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions would keep rising, not because of the 'lag effect' of chronic disease but because alcohol-related admissions are assumed to be a fixed proportion of each disease or injury. Alcohol-related admissions statistics are not compiled by people who work in hospitals. Statisticians simply take the aggregate number of admissions for each disease and assume that a certain percentage are alcohol-related.

As people live longer and develop more chronic diseases, the number of supposedly alcohol-related admissions is bound to rise, regardless of whether alcohol-related problems are getting better or worse. There is a large amount of garbage in, garbage out about alcohol-attributable fractions and it leads to counter-intuitive findings like this. They are counter-intuitive because they are probably wrong.

Nevertheless, if we look at diseases that are specific to alcohol or that result in the 'hard endpoint' of death (which is less susceptible to miscounting), there is no evidence of an improvement since the decline in consumption began twelve years ago. The rate of alcohol-related death has not risen but nor has it fallen.

That is because the total population theory is nonsense. It is a theory created to justify policy, rather than the other way round. It is perfectly obvious that reducing per capita consumption does not magically reduce heavy drinking or alcoholism (although a decline in heavy-drinking could certainly lead to a decline in per capita alcohol consumption). The overall decline in consumption seen in Britain since 2004 has not had any of the effects that would be predicted by the total consumption theory.

The 'public health' lobby are too thick and lazy to help people who are putting their health at serious risk from alcohol. It's much easier to go to conferences, talking drivel about 'the whole consumption curve' and lobbying the government for regressive, pig-headed, anti-market policies than it is to target the small minority of drinkers who are at serious risk of harm and who require help.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

What is Public Health England doing to our food?

Lucozade's Twitter feed has been a lot of fun recently, as the company responds to outraged customers who have tasted the new, low-sugar version of the drink. Day after day, Lucozade is inundated by complaints and day after day the company adopts the PR strategy of Comical Ali, insisting that their flagship drink has changed due to consumer demand and has a 'great taste'.


Poor old Lucozade. This was not a business decision. Under pressure from the government, they were trying to do their bit to combat the non-existent childhood obesity epidemic. They wanted to avoid the sugar tax and get in the 'public health' racket's good books. And they will - because soon they won't be selling any drinks.

James Delingpole has written about the Lucozade farce in the Spectator today but the media have generally ignored the unfolding story of Britain's food supply being systematically degraded at the insistence of the state. No other country is attempting anything on this scale and for good reason: it is insane. You can't just cut 20 per cent of the sugar out of food products and expect people not to notice. It's going to taste bad.

Part of the reason for the media blackout is that the reformulation process is being carried out in secret. They literally call it 'health by stealth'. I have tried to get the minutes of the meetings with industry out of Public Health England to find out exactly what is being done to specific products but have come up empty-handed. All we have to go on are a succession of announcements about chocolate bars getting smaller, with Brexit-inspired inflation cited as a cover story, and a handful of documents from PHE: Sugar reduction and wider reformulation: stakeholder engagement, Sugar reduction and wider reformulation meetings: November 2016, and Sugar reduction: Achieving the 20%.

There is enough information in these documents to tell that PHE have started to realise the size of the challenge they have set for themselves. The whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen and PHE are bringing nothing to the table except an arbitrary demand to reduce sugar consumption by 20 per cent by 2020 (because who needs sensible policy when you can have a numerically alliterative target?).

The aim is to reduce sugar content by 20 per cent as measured by the sales weighted average. This means that the target cannot be achieved without the biggest selling brands being degraded. This is a massive problem in itself, because consumers do not want their favourite brands to change, but it is also a big problem for the manufacturers because if they ruin their biggest selling brands, they will no longer be the biggest selling brands. People will vote with their wallets and buy something else. And if consumers abandon the leading brands in search of something tastier, the targets will not be met.

This problem is hinted at - but not grasped - in one of the PHE documents when they say...

...businesses are also encouraged to focus on the everyday, ‘standard’ products rather than producing alternative ‘healthier’ options as these tend to be of limited appeal and may have a limited effect on the sales weighted average

PHE do not seem to give any thought as to why reduced-sugar products have 'limited appeal'. They seem to assume that people will always buy the biggest-selling brands regardless of how they taste and, therefore, that they can be tricked into buying 'healthier' options if companies change the recipe.

As Lucozade have recently discovered, this is a fantasy, but it is what happens when economically illiterate 'public health' dogma becomes government policy. The imbeciles of Action on Sugar (who attend PHE's meetings as 'stakeholders') believe that people's choices are made for them by corporate power and advertising. 'Public health' fools talk about companies 'controlling' a certain percentage of the market. As a result, they think that if you control the companies, you control the people. They massively underestimate consumer sovereignty and fundamentally misunderstand how markets work.

PHE discourage companies from making healthy alternatives because they know that people don't like them. Alternatives imply choice, and choice is the last thing PHE wants to give people. They want manufacturers to debase their flagship brands. The companies could do this, albeit reluctantly, while launching a new brand that tastes like the old one, but PHE warn them against this, saying...

If a business brings new products onto the market that are above the guideline sales weighted average sugar level, and they are successful, that business is unlikely to achieve the 5% and 20% targets for sugar reduction.

In other words, do not give consumers choice because there is a risk that consumers will choose the tasty versions. This is draconian as hell and PHE dress it up in Orwellian language, saying:

Our intention is that as a result of the sugar and calorie reduction programme, the healthier choice becomes the default choice for families. 

But what choice is there when the popular brands are turned into diet versions and the companies dare not launch a classic version?

The bottom line is that most people prefer the taste of sugar to that of artificial sweeteners, and many of the products in the firing line are inherently sweet. Products such as chocolate, confectionery and jam are not going to be magically reformulated with sweeteners. There is a dawning realisation that reducing portion sizes or having a calorie cap (which amount to much the same thing) are the only viable options.

While the achievement of the 20% reduction by 2020 is the overall focus of the programme, smaller gradual reductions can provide a useful contribution to reducing sugar and calorie consumption, and ultimately towards achieving the overall goal. This applies particularly in those products where sugar reduction per 100g can be more difficult, for example, in chocolate confectionery. Where this is the case, businesses are expected to employ additional mechanisms, such as reducing portion size, to achieve the total 20% reduction.

PHE repeatedly acknowledge that shrinking products is the way forward for a wide range of foods...







Over the next three years, you are going to hear about a lot of sugary products getting smaller. It will have nothing to do with Brexit or the fall in the pound (quite obviously, the normal response to inflation is to increase the price, not shrink the product). It is because the food industry is desperately trying to comply with the demands of government apparatchiks.

And it doesn't stop there. PHE are also going to be interfering in what restaurants and takeaways can sell (or, as they euphemistically put it, 'engaging with the eating out of home sector to ensure that a level playing field is established'.) 
 
And very soon they will soon be embarking on the next stage of the reformulation programme by reducing flavour in everything...

The wider reformulation programme will also commence later in 2017. At first this will concentrate on setting guidelines to reduce total calories in a wider range of products than those covered by the sugar reduction work (eg savoury snacks, burgers, pizzas) that contribute significantly

It is anticipated that the SACN report on saturated fat will be published by early 2018. This will be used to review and inform our future work on saturated fat reduction. In addition, businesses are expected to continue working towards achieving the current salt reduction targets and we will consider this work in more detail at a later stage this year.


These maniacs have to be stopped.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The curse of plain packaging

One of the indisputable facts about plain packaging that should be universally known but is barely acknowledged, is that cigarettes sales rose every quarter after it was introduced in Australia until large tax rises started nudging them down again.

Image from City AM


This is quite remarkable. It should go without saying that cigarette sales have been falling in most developed countries for a very long time. Between 2012 and 2015, they fell by 14 per cent in Britain.

Because this unusual rise has never really been acknowledged, it has never been fully explained. The most plausible explanation is something that I hinted at way back in 2012 before the policy had been introduced.

Should we care if cigarette companies becomes less profitable and are only able to compete on price? If smokers buy cheaper cigarettes from the licit and illicit market, perhaps we should.

If smokers downgrade to cheaper cigarettes, it is quite possible that they will smoke more of them. If that is not the reason then perhaps it has something to do with the 'forbidden fruit' aspect, or maybe smokers are flicking up two fingers at authority. Who knows?

Of course, it could just have been a bizarre coincidence that cigarette sales happened to rise when a silly anti-smoking policy was introduced. And yet, it seems to be happening again...

It's perhaps a cliché that the French love their cigarettes, but as they say, there's no smoke without fire.

In fact new figures reveal that even despite the French government's controversial efforts to turn the population off cigarettes, the number of people smoking has gone up.

Since France introduced a ban on branded cigarettes in January 2017, more packets of cigarettes have been sold compared to last year when branding was allowed, according to the country's Customs Office (L'administration des Douanes).

In March alone the French bought four million packets of cigarettes, over four percent more than during the same period last year.

Throughout the first four months of 2017, the French shipped over 1 percent more tobacco products into the country than they did in the same period of 2016, officials say.

Contrary to what the news report says, this is not necessarily evidence that the number of smokers has gone up, but it is certainly evidence that the number of cigarettes sold has gone up. A case of déjà-vu?

This is starting to look like a habit.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Nanny State Index Conference is coming

The new Nanny State Index is released on May 10th and we're going hold a conference to discuss it. It will not be a 'public health' conference and, as a result, it should be interesting, stimulating and honest.

It's going to be in Brussels and you can come. See here for details.



Monday, 1 May 2017

The soda tax scam

News in from Seattle...

Today Mayor Ed Murray announced his revised proposal for a tax on sodas and other sugary beverages, which will now also apply to diet soda and similar drinks.

That's right, it's another 'sugar' tax being rolled out to drinks which contain no sugar. Another supposed anti-obesity measure being applied to products which contain no calories. Just like in Philadelphia, just like in France.

It's almost as if the whole soda tax ruse is just another way of the government dipping its greasy hands into the pockets of the gullible public and has nothing to do with health. Say it ain't so!

And if you think the money raised will go towards tackling obesity, you haven't been paying attention. Oakland, California is the latest place to let the mask slip...

Oakland council members blast Mayor Schaaf for soda tax ‘bait and switch’

Three council members are blasting Mayor Libby Schaaf’s plan to spend revenue from a successful soda tax measure to help close the city’s budget deficit, calling the mayor’s proposal a “bait and switch” on voters.

Voters in November passed the penny-per-ounce tax on the promise that while the tax revenue would go to the general fund, it would be spent on an advisory board to use the money to fight childhood obesity and educate the public on the health risks of drinking soda.

Councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington, Desley Brooks and Rebecca Kaplan, who co-authored the measure, said the mayor’s final budget proposes using the revenues to fill the city’s budget deficit.

To be fair, it's better for taxpayers' money to go towards fixing potholes than to be dished out to the venal 'public health' industry, but that is not how soda taxes are sold to the public. If the dumb saps of California knew that the cash would go towards budget deficit reduction they would, quite reasonably, say that the money should be raised through general taxation rather than a regressive sugar tax.
 
The fact that nanny state twonks are being prevented from squandering soda tax revenues is the heart-warming silver lining of this cloud, but it doesn't stop the whole thing being a massive scam.