Thursday, 22 June 2017

Food and soft drink taxes in the EU

I was in Lithuania this week talking about food and soft drink taxes at the Lithuanian Free Market Institute. This is what I said...


By a bizarre coincidence, there was a big neo-temperance conference in the same hotel the following day featuring John Holmes, Robin Room and many other familiar names. Our paths did not cross.

Monday, 19 June 2017

When the chips are down

There was a story in The Telegraph last week claiming that eating chips (french fries, if you're American) 'doubles your chances of death'. The headline was obviously silly, but I'm not sure the study should be taken too seriously either.

I wrote about it for the Spectator. Have a read.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Taxi for the gateway theory

New smoking prevalence data were published today and it was egg on face time again for the anti-vaping alarmists.

Britain's smoking rate fell by 1.7 percentage points between 2015 and 2016 and has fallen by 4.3 percentage points since vaping went mainstream in 2012. All that talk about the 'gateway effect' is looking decidedly stupid now. Taxi for Capewell and McKee please!

As this graph shows, the smoking rate was flatlining between 2007 and 2012 when ASH's neo-prohibitionist efforts were in full effect. Since then, ASH have been mainly lobbying for plain packaging, a policy that came into force this year and isn't covered by the latest ONS data. The only anti-smoking law of any note since 2012 was the display ban and that wasn't introduced until 2015. Whereas government coercion failed to reduce the smoking rate, vaping in a free market worked.


To put it another way, the smoking rate fell at an average rate of 0.1% in the five years after the smoking ban. Since 2012, it has fallen at more than 1.0% a year. Taxi for Arnott!

To put it still another way, between 2013 and 2016 the UK had vaping but did not have plain packaging and the smoking rate fell by 3.1 percentage points. In Australia, which had plain packaging but did not have vaping, the smoking rate fell by 0.6 percentage points. In fact, as the Australian government recently admitted, 'the daily smoking rate did not significantly decline' at all between 2013 and 2016. Taxi for Chapman!

Meanwhile in the good ol' US of A, new smoking figures for school students were also been released today. Was there any sign of a gateway effect in the home of anti-vaping hysteria? Not at all. Cigarette smoking prevalence is down to just 8 per cent among high school students. In 2011, the rate was 16 per cent.



That's right, the smoking rate has halved in five years 'despite' (ie. because of) e-cigarette use rocketing up. This news comes less than six months after Stanton Glantz claimed that the smoking rate among school kids is not falling faster than it did before and said:

“E-cigarettes are encouraging – not discouraging – youth to smoke and to consume nicotine, and are expanding the tobacco market.”

Taxi for Stan please!

Enough time has passed for us to close the book on the gateway hypothesis. If 'public health' was an honest enterprise, the people responsible would resign, or at least apologise. Let's not forget that they wanted to ban e-cigarettes - and probably still do.

There will be no resignations, of course. The denial and quack science will continue, but it is getting ever more more difficult to maintain this absurd scare story.

Violence in psychiatric hospitals - junk science edition

A study has been published in The Lancet looking at whether violent assaults rose or fell after a psychiatric hospital banned smoking. Here are the results (click to enlarge)...


As you can see, it made no difference at all. See you tomorrow.









No, hang on. The authors of the study have got something to tell you...

In our study in a large UK mental health organisation, there was a significant reduction in the number of physical assaults after the introduction of the comprehensive smoke-free policy, when controlling for time, seasonality, and confounders of violence.

You what?!

After adjustment for all significant confounders, the results suggest there was a 39% reduction in the number of violent assaults per month overall in the period after the introduction of the policy compared with the period before the policy was introduced.

Jeez. Stop wasting our time with this garbage.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The tobacco template

Benedict Spence has written a nice little article at Spectator Health about the inevitable demands for graphic warnings and plain packaging to be rolled out to alcohol.

Do have a read of it but also have a look at the news story that inspired it. It's a classic of the genre...

Dr Judith Mackay, an advisor to the World Health Organisation who took on the tobacco lobby [ie. people who enjoy smoking - CJS] in Asia, said there were lessons to be learned from the fight against smoking in efforts to "de-normalise" excessive alcohol or calorie consumption. 

'Lessons to be learned'? Check.
'Denormalisation'? Check.

Dr Mackay, who is due to speak tomorrow at a conference on 'Women and Alcohol' in Edinburgh, said the WHO's convention on tobacco control offered a potential template for similar international cooperation to reduce intakes of alcohol and unhealthy foods...

Anti-smoking 'template'? Check.
Food as well as alcohol? Check.

This could easily be a parody article from a group like FOREST five years ago.

Dr Mackay said: "About 100 out of nearly 200 signed up to the convention on tobacco have these graphic health warnings on the cigarette packs and many are getting plain packaging. Would the same happen to food labels and bottles of alcohol? It's an interesting question. The problem is that everybody has to have food. It's much more nuanced and complicated, and would be fought tooth and nail by the food industry."

Yeah, because it's only the food industry that would be opposed to covering food packaging with diseased organs, isn't it Judith? It's not as if millions of ordinary people would be adversely affected by your morbid crusade to make people think about death every day of their life? 

"It's a matter of degree - if you have one hamburger a year, it's not really going to harm you. On the other hand, if your diet is constantly hamburgers it would."

If you have one cigarette a year, it's not really going to harm you either, but I'm probably breaking some law or other by even mentioning that. And, as always, Judith, the eternal question remains: what the hell has any of this got to do with you?

"I think for alcohol it would be easier because we know the harm - it's not entirely inappropriate to put warnings on label not to drink in pregnancy for example, or not to give children alcohol - so there are some messages that countries could start with that would probably be accepted across the board, before food, but it would be a challenge for both of them."

This woman is utterly lacking in ethics or principles. She is an opportunist prohibitionist. She has no problem with the 'potential template' of denormalising people who drink alcohol and eat hamburgers. On the contrary, it excites her. The only thing holding her back is the 'challenge' of doing it - the opposition from industry, the politics, the timing. She'd go for graphic warnings on alcohol 'before food', but it's quite clear that if she succeeded with alcohol, food would be next.

The only thing keeping these people's whirlwind of destruction in check is political opposition, lobbying and power - but they are increasingly winning those battles. They have no conscience. No sense of right or wrong. No conception of costs and benefits. No interest in freedom or personal responsibility. If they can ban it, they will. If they can put disgusting images on any product that carries the slightest risk, they will.

Still, it is good to have another official acknowledgement that the anti-smoking lobby have created the template for the regulation of other lifestyle choices. As I wrote on this blog six years ago...

...thirty years ago there were people who warned that the anti-smoking campaign would set a template for food faddists, teetotallers and other puritans and cranks. This was always strongly denied, but it is now glaringly obvious that they were right.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Ban children from cars

Sir David King in The Guardian...

The government’s latest estimates suggest that 80% of harmful pollution at the roadside in the UK is coming from cars, vans and buses. This pollution is hugely damaging for our health – tiny particles and poisonous gases are able to travel deep into our lungs and recent studies have shown they can get into our bloodstream.

For children whose lungs are still developing, these emissions are even more dangerous. They can stunt the growth of their lungs and leave them with permanent lung damage.

On average, we spend about 1.5 hours a day in our cars.

I don't believe that statistic for a second but carry on...

In recent years, we have taken major steps to protect children from breathing in secondhand smoke in cars. Alongside the British Lung Foundation, parents across the UK demanded the government bring in new legislation to ban smoking in cars with children. In a 2014 survey nearly 80% of adults and 64% of smokers supported the ban and MPs overwhelmingly voted for it. So why are we still happy for our children to breathe in toxic emissions in the back of our cars?

Ooh, ooh! I know that one! It's because the ban on smoking in cars had nothing to do with children's health. As with all anti-smoking policies, it was about harassing smokers in a futile attempt to make them quit.

While it might feel like you can wind up your windows and seal yourself into the safety of your car, that is far from the case. Cars have a constant through-flow of air even with all the windows shut. Air enters through a large duct at the front and is forced through the car.

Finally! An explanation for why people don't suffocate to death after driving for half an hour! Thanks for setting the record straight, Sir David. We little people could never have worked that out for ourselves.

The best thing for all our health is to leave our cars behind.

That's not going to happen though, is it? Why can't environmentalists make some effort to meet the public halfway?

It’s been shown that the health benefits of walking and cycling far outweigh the costs of breathing in pollution.

If a bit of exercise offsets the perils of air pollution, perhaps the perils are not so great after all?

By bringing in a targeted diesel scrappage scheme they could help many more people make greener and healthier choices.

Sir David fails to mention his own role in getting people to shift from petrol to diesel in the first place. He has recently claimed to have been misled by Big Diesel but a whole generation were told that diesel was preferable to petrol because it emits less carbon dioxide.

King's article is headlined 'Smoking in cars is banned. But children still inhale toxic fumes in backseats'. Those of us who opposed the smoking ban in cars made several of the points King is making now, eg. that cigarette smoke is an utterly trivial source of air pollution when you are on a road.

As one commentator at the Guardian says...

Simple solution. Ban children from cars.
 
 Don't give them ideas.


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Plain packaging fake news

This brief and wafer-thin article in The Scotsman looks very much like fake news...

New packaging laws see slump in cigarette sales

Read more at: http://www.scotsman.com/news/new-packaging-laws-see-slump-in-cigarette-sales-1-4466340
New plain packaging laws see slump in cigarette sales

CIGARETTE retailers have seen a dip in sales since laws enforcing plain packaging were introduced, according to a recent report.

Read more at: http://www.scotsman.com/news/new-packaging-laws-see-slump-in-cigarette-sales-1-4466340
Cigarette retailers have seen a dip in sales since laws enforcing plain packaging were introduced, according to a recent report.

The new laws were introduced barely two weeks ago. It seems unlikely that research could be carried out, reviewed and published in such a short space of time. I can find no trace of this alleged report online, nor can I find any reference to it.

And two-thirds of independent retailers were left with stock they could no longer legally sell, according to a report in trade magazine The Grocer.

The Grocer article is here. It's paywalled but is referenced in this article. It does indeed say that retailers have been left with unsold stock of products that are now illegal to sell. Hardly surprising. It doesn't say anything about plain packaging causing a drop in sales.

Nearly every claim in The Scotsman article that can be verified is untrue, so I rather suspect that the claim about sales is also untrue.

The ban, which also outlawed menthol cigarettes and smaller (30g) bags of rolling tobacco, saw the cheapest packet of cigarettes costing £8.82, according to research by consultants Him.

The 'ban' - ie. the Tobacco Products Directive - does not ban menthol cigarettes until 2020. It doesn't ban 30 gram bags of rolling tobacco - and 30 gram bags are not small by any reasonable definition. And you can easily buy a pack of cigarettes for less than £7.

Four errors in one sentence is pretty impressive. Until I see some evidence to the contrary, I'm going to assume the headline is also wrong.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

'Public health' versus science

I have used this image before to illustrate the relationship between 'public health' advocacy and science and medicine.


In short, 'public health' as we know it today has nothing to do with either science (the search for truth) or medicine (curing disease). It is a political movement with fixed prior beliefs. It has some of the accoutrements of science and medicine - its own journals, its own PhDs and its own systematic reviews - but, as Eric Crampton says, is it not science. It is 'sciency'.

In truth, it is a grotesque parody of science. Grotesque because it seeks to do the opposite of science by confirming dogma and narrowing thought.

Put in simple terms, the scientific method involves developing a falsifiable hypothesis and putting it to the test. Seeking to disprove - rather than prove - a hypothesis is at the heart of the scientific method, as Peter De Forest explains...

The core of the scientific method is the rigorous testing of hypotheses. Hypotheses that endeavor to explain the event are put forward, and then an earnest attempt is made to disprove each. A hypothesis that fails this testing is discarded. A modified hypothesis or new alternate hypotheses are developed and tested in turn. Only a hypothesis that survives repeated vigorous testing develops into an explanatory theory of the event. The scientific method and hypothesis testing is a cyclical, iterative process. The key to the process is the vigorousness and rigorousness of the testing. There is a human tendency to identify with a hypothesis that one has developed and to subconsciously overlook observations or data that do not fit the hypothesis. This is antithetical to good science and must be avoided. Scientists must be involved in actively attempting to disprove their own hypotheses

This is not how it works in 'public health'. In 'public health', the activist-researchers 'know' the truth before they turn on their lap top. They 'know' what the problems are (availability, advertising and affordability) and they know the solutions (bans and taxes). There is ample evidence that these beliefs are wrong-headed or, at the least, overly simplistic, but this evidence is never published in journals that are sympathetic to the cause.

One clue that 'public health' is not scientific is that their hypotheses are always proven correct (for example, take this risible attempt to claim that policy-based computer models pass the Bradford Hill criteria for causality). Its policies always work. This suggests a degree of infallibility that is beyond the reach of mere mortals.

Insofar as hypotheses are altered by 'public health' research, it is only by purporting to show that the problems are even worse than was previously believed and the solutions are even more effective than was previously believed. It is no coincidence that this is what the media and politicians want to hear. It is not science. It is PR.  

Occasionally, an activist-researchers will speak a little too freely and give the game away. Anti-smoking campaigner and Californian 'public health' professor Stanton Glantz once told an audience: 

'…that’s the question that I have applied to my research relating to tobacco: If this comes out the way I think, will it make a difference? And if the answer is yes, then we do it, and if the answer is I don’t know, then we don’t bother. Okay? And that’s the criteria.' ('Revolt Against Tobacco' conference, Los Angeles, 2/10/92. Transcript, p. 14)

And here is Gerard Hastings speaking today at a neo-temperance meeting...


When Hastings talks about consumption, he does not mean the consumption of specific brands, but of the overall category. So, for example, he thinks that an increase in Heineken advertising leads to an increase in per capita alcohol consumption.

Acres of economic evidence based on real world data suggest that he is wrong about this, but he 'knows' he is right. He has known it all his career. To him, it is the 'bleeding obvious' and he has spent 30 years trying to prove it to everybody else.

In truth, the only thing that is bleeding obvious is that real scientists do not proceed on the basis that their hypothesis is self-evidently true and then spend years looking for evidence to confirm it.

Hastings is not a real scientist. He is a professor of social marketing, whatever that means, but that does not stop him being commissioned by the WHO to give his jaundiced view of the evidence and being treated as if he were an expert by parliamentarians. And while his statement today - assuming it has been correctly reported - was a little too candid for a public event, there are plenty of others on the 'public health' gravy train who will say the same in private.

UPDATE

As you can see from the photo below, Hastings sees his next task to be 'proving' that banning alcohol advertising works. You almost have to admire the shamelessness of the man.



 


Monday, 5 June 2017

Lifestyle regulation and the general election

It might not be front of mind for everybody at election time but for single issue voters like me, only one question matters: where do the parties stand on the nanny state? For the benefit of those who have similar concerns, I have waded through every party’s manifesto to see what our would-be masters have in store for drinkers, gamblers, smokers, vapers and people who like eating food. And so, in alphabetical order and with marks out of five for devotion to lifestyle liberties, let us proceed:

Conservatives
**

I have previously argued that Theresa May is relatively sound on nanny state issues. She is reputed to have been one of the cabinet ministers who dissuaded David Cameron from introducing minimum pricing. She voted against the ban on smoking in cars and there is evidence that she watered down Cameron’s hideously paternalistic obesity strategy. We will have to wait and see if my hunch is correct because there is previous little to go in the manifesto. Aside from a vague pledge to ‘continue to take action to reduce childhood obesity’, lifestyle regulation doesn't get a look-in. Nothing on alcohol, nothing on smoking and nothing on gambling. In the spirit of misplaced optimism, I was going to assume that no news is good news and award three stars, but then I remembered plain packaging, the sugar tax and the outrageous food reformulation scam and downgraded it to two.

Green party
**

After publishing a loony’s charter of a manifesto in 2015, the Greens are keeping their cards close to their chest this year. It is reasonable to assume that they still want to ban horse-racing, foie gras and rabbit hutches. They probably still want to squeeze an extra £5 billion out of drinkers and smokers. But they do not explicitly say so. Nor do they explicitly say they want to legalise marijuana. Since they are maintaining a dignified silence over their policies, I will have to judge them on their previous manifesto and award two stars. Without the cannabis legalisation, it would be one.

Labour
**

Jeremy Corbyn might want to resurrect Old Labour but his first Five Year Plan doesn’t involve rolling back taxes on booze and fags to the levels of the 1970s. The great helmsman describes himself as ‘totally anti-sugar’ despite his hobby of jam-making and his manifesto promises ‘a new childhood obesity strategy within the first 100 days, with proposals on advertising and food labelling.’ In practice, this means a ban on so-called ‘junk food’ advertising on primetime television in a futile attempt to put people off eating tasty meals. The manifesto also pledges to ‘implement the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, commonly known as the ‘sugar tax’’, but the legislation for that has already passed through the Commons and is taken as read.

Labour has nothing to say about alcohol, tobacco or e-cigarettes, but it says it will ‘reduce the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2.’ It will also ‘increase the delay between spins’ which is currently 20 seconds. This would make them completely unplayable. To all intents and purposes, it would be a ban and it would almost certainly lead to the closure of hundreds of bookmakers around the UK.

Liberal Democrats
*

According to the Lib Dem manifesto, ‘Liberal Democrats believe that we should all be free from an overreaching state’. Three cheers for that. Alas, these fine words are rather at odds with the policies put forward. The manifesto contains a nanny state wish list that makes a mockery of the first part of the Liberal Democrats’ name, just as their refusal to accept the referendum result makes a mockery of the second.

Like Labour, they want to restrict food advertising before the 9pm watershed, but they are also keen on ‘closing loopholes in the sugary drinks tax’. It is unclear whether this means they want to tax other soft drinks or if they want to extend to tax to food products. Either way, it won’t be good for our wallets.

Farron’s freedom fighters want to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol and ‘encourage the traffic light labelling for food products’. Ironically, the UK is prevented from doing either of these at the moment thanks to the Lib Dems’ beloved EU.

They also want to make the sugar reduction targets legally binding, reduce stakes on fixed odds betting terminals to £2, and introduce a levy on tobacco company profits ‘so they fairly contribute to the costs of health care'. It will be interesting to see how they intend to do the latter, as most tobacco companies are not headquartered in the UK and therefore cannot be subject to a windfall tax. Whatever tax they come up with will no doubt be passed on to consumers one way or another, thereby adding to the £11 billion tax already paid by smokers each year, a sum that covers the 'costs of health care' associated with smoking several times over.

Once again, the Lib Dems have put together another monstrosity of a manifesto to make John Stuart Mill turn in his grave. On the other hand, they want to legalise marijuana - albeit in the most useless and miserable way. I would normally give an extra star for cannabis legalisation but the rest of the manifesto is so horribly paternalistic that I cannot bring myself to give them more than one.

Plaid Cymru
*

The Welsh nationalists have nothing to say about any lifestyle issues in their manifesto, but given that they tried to ban vaping indoors and are keen supporters of minimum pricing, we must assume the worst. One star. [Update: In fairness, it was the Welsh Labour Party that pushed for the vaping ban. Plaid Cymru seemed broadly happy to go along with it, but ended up voting against due to an unrelated spat.]

SNP
**

Why do nationalist parties have so little faith in their own people? Like Plaid Cymru, the SNP are past masters at treating their electorate like children. In their latest manifesto, the Scotch Nats reaffirm their commitment to imposing a deadweight loss on drinkers through minimum pricing and, like the Lib Dems, talk about ‘closing loopholes in the sugary drinks tax’. They also want to shaft commercial broadcasters with a watershed ban on advertisements for food that is high in salt, fat or sugar.

The only tiny glimmer of hope comes when they say that they 'will continue to advocate a review of alcohol taxation to better reflect alcohol content’. I have previously argued that alcohol should be taxed by the unit, rather than the current system which privileges cider drinkers at the expense of those who prefer spirits. The SNP appears to want to move in this direction because ‘the Scotch Whisky industry is a key sector of Scotland’s economy’. Given this hint that they might want to reduce duty on spirits, I will give them two stars rather than the one star that they almost certainly deserve.

UKIP
*

Under Nigel Farage, UKIP could be relied on to take a relaxed approach to booze and tabs, but those days are over. The Kippers' longstanding pledge to amend the smoking ban is notably absent from the 2017 manifesto. Rather than repeal the worst thing Labour ever did, they are going to repeal the best. They want to get rid of the 2003 Licensing Act which was supposed to create 24 hour drinking but never did. UKIP cite some worthless research from the UK Temperance Alliance - or the 'Institute of Alcohol Studies' as it now calls itself - to justify closing the boozers at 11pm. It will, they reckon, ‘protect emergency workers from abuse’. They also want to ‘bring in new legislation to reduce the density of alcohol outlets and restrict trading times’. Back to the Fifties with Nutall!

As if that weren’t enough - and it really is - UKIP are the third party promising to reduce the stakes on gambling machines in bookmakers which, as mentioned above, amounts to a de facto ban on fixed odds betting terminals. They will also ‘keep and enforce current legislation on the use of illegal drugs’. So much for the purple libertarians.


Conclusion

All of these scores are probably too generous. Politicians know that nanny state legislation is not popular with the public and are therefore reluctant to show their full hand in their manifestos. Labour brought in a draconian smoking ban in 2007 despite its 2015 manifesto explicitly exempting drinking establishments that did not serve food. David Cameron did not mention plain packaging in his 2010 manifesto and the sugar tax did not feature in his 2015 manifesto. The only major nanny state policy to feature in a ruling party’s manifesto in the last decade is minimum pricing for alcohol - and that never happened.

Do your own research and let the buyer beware, but it doesn’t really matter who you vote for, the nanny statists always get in.


[Cross-posted from Spectator Health]

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Australian smoking rate has flatlined since 2013

Image courtesy of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare


When plain packaging came into full force in the UK two weeks ago, anti-smoking campaigners claimed that it would somehow lead to 300,000 fewer smokers in the first twelve months. This figure was essentially plucked out of thin air. Only one country has had plain packaging in force for more than a year. That country is Australia and since we know that cigarette sales rose in the first year, it seems unlikely that the smoking rate fell at the same time.

Australian smoking prevalence statistics are not very helpful if you want a year on year comparison. Nationwide statistics are only collected every three years and plain packaging occurred at the back end of the three year period of 2010-13.

When the figures for 2010-13 were published in 2014, plain pack campaigners pretended that there had been a steep fall thanks to plain packaging. Mike Daube falsely claimed that the 'decline in smoking is really dramatic and exceptionally encouraging – even speeding up' and the risible Simon Chapman said that plain packaging was 'like finding a vaccine that works very well against lung cancer'.

This was the sheerest nonsense. The smoking rate fell at much the same rate as it had been falling for years and it was impossible to tell whether it had risen, dropped or stayed the same since plain packaging was introduced in December 2012.


Today, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released its figures for 2013-16, the first full three year period since plain packaging was introduced. You won't hear the 'public health' lobby shouting about them because the figures show that...

12.2% of people aged 14 or over were daily smokers in 2016. While smoking rates have been on a long-term downward trend, for the first time in over two decades, the daily smoking rate did not significantly decline over the most recent 3 year period (2013 to 2016).

Tobacco taxes are incredibly punitive in Australia, with increases of 12.5% being implemented every year since plain packaging was introduced in a desperate attempt to reduce smoking prevalence. A statistically insignificant drop in the smoking rate from 12.8% to 12.2% is not what was promised when these tax rises were combined with the, er, 'vaccine for lung cancer' of plain packaging.

The graph below comes from Sinclair Davidson of RMIT University (who explains the tricks used by 'public health' campaigners to retrospectively justify plain packaging in the video at the bottom of this post).



The frenzy of anti-smoking activity fanaticism has done nothing except push smokers onto the black market, as was predicted by the reality-based community. 
 
We saw a similar flatlining of the smoking rate in the UK after the smoking ban ushered in a wave of extremist policies. Between 2007 and 2012, the smoking rate barely budged. However, unlike Australia, Britain did not ban e-cigarettes and there has been a significant fall in smoking prevalence since vaping became popular in 2013.



We don't have the British figures for 2016 yet, but between 2012 and 2015 the rate fell from 20.4% to 17.8%, a drop of 2.6 percentage points. In Australia, by contrast, the last three year period saw a statistically insignificant drop of just 0.6 percentage points.

If the 'public health' industry was even slightly evidence-based, Australia would have legalised vaping and Britain would have never bothered with plain packaging. But is not evidence-based. It is a cult, and the chief turnip on the turnip farm has already come up with his pathetic excuses, which amount to 'give us more money'...


I've said it before and I'll say it again, tobacco control is not a results-driven business.