Saturday, 14 January 2017

Dry January: spending £30 to make £1

The neo-temperance movement wants to turn January into a secular Lent for hypochondriacs. Now, if you want to stop drinking for a month, that's up to you, but I strongly object to having my tax money spent on the Dry January project, particularly since Cancer Research UK runs an identical campaign without state-funding (the 'Dryathalon').

And I object further when the government uses my money to pay for the fund-raising activities of the soon-to-be-defunct pressure group Alcohol Concern.

When Dry January was set up by Alcohol Concern in 2013, it was moderately successful and raised £38,000. Public Health England has since decided to throw our hard-earned money at it, giving Alcohol Concern £500,000 to spend on the 2015 event and £1,000,000 for last year.

What has been the return on this 'investment'? Alcohol Concern are a little cagey about it, but their Justgiving page suggests that donations haven't risen since the first Dry January was launched on a shoestring. Last year's effort brought in just £33,000.


Given the million pound investment, this is a net loss of £967,000. Dig deep, taxpayers!


UPDATE

The source of the £1 million figure is this article from December 2015. Public Health England's accounts for January 2015 suggest that £1 million is in the right ballpark.

Here's PHE's expenditure on Dry January in that month, excluding payments below £25,000. As you can see, the advertising industry did nicely out of it:

£211,946.14 - M4C Group: Press advertising
£32,251.20 - M & C Saatchi: Employer Toolkit Creative
£31,230 - M & C Saatchi: Radio advertising
£108,835.20 - M & C Saatchi: Fees and launch story development, including case study recruitment
£41,467.62 - Williams Lea Ltd.: Employers pack production
£47,927.38 - M4C Group: Radio advertising
£71,905.48 - M4C Group: Radio advertising
£47,949.62 - M4C Group: Radio advertising
£90,331.20 - M & C Saatchi:Above the line creative development
£40,200 - NHS Confederation: 'provision of services for NHS staff to participate in Dry January'
£52,660.20 - OgilvyOne: 'Behavioural Strategy and Registration Page Development'

That's £776,704 right there.




Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Recycled dental scaremongering

 From the Guardian...

Child 'sugar scourge': thousands having teeth removed in hospital

Experts say annual figures for England obtained by LGA show need for tougher curbs on sugar in children’s diets

More than 40,000 children and young people a year are having rotten teeth removed in hospital in further evidence of what doctors call the “costly scourge of sugar”.

New NHS figures obtained by the Local Government Association (LGA) show that 40,800 under-18s in England had at least one tooth taken out last year under general anaesthetic because of decay. Performing the procedures cost £35.6m.

If this story sounds familiar it is because it is virtually identical to this Guardian news report from last April which said:

The Local Government Association (LGA) says £35m was spent on extracting rotting teeth from under-18s in 2014-15, amounting to 40,970 procedures, compared with 32,457 in 2010-11.

That was based on 2014/15's figure. Today's report was based on 2015/16's figure. Note that the number of extractions has gone down (slightly) in the last year. The Guardian doesn't mention this, nor does it mention the fact that the government banned dentists from taking out more than one tooth in 2000 so all multiple extractions have to be taken out in hospital. The publication of new figures is news of sorts, but it's hard to believe the Guardian would treat it as such if the LGA hadn't made it all about sugar.

The LGA is yet another state-funded lobby group with a bee in its bonnet about sugar and a penchant for higher taxes, hence these attempts to alarm people about childhood teeth extractions without putting the figures in any context. I wrote about this last year but if the LGA can recycle material, so can I...

The LGA’s ‘community wellbeing spokeswoman’ says her figures prove that ‘we don’t just have a child obesity crisis, but a children’s oral health crisis too’.

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


The Office for National Statistics has run the Children’s Dental Health Survey since 1983 and the figures are striking. The number of 12-year-olds who exhibited clear signs of tooth decay fell from 81 per cent in 1983 to 28 per cent in 2013. One in three kids of this age had a cavity in 1983 but by 2013 this had fallen to one in nine. The survey does not look at younger children but in Scotland the prevalence of tooth decay among four-year-olds nearly halved between 1994 and 2014, from 62 per cent in 1994 to 32 per cent in 2014.

The rise in hospital admissions for childhood teeth extraction does not, therefore, reflect a general rise in childhood tooth decay. Quite the opposite. Nor does it reflect a rise in the consumption of sugar or sugary drinks (both have been falling).

There has been no rise in childhood or adult tooth decay as a result of fizzy drinks or anything else. On the contrary, there has been a dramatic decline in tooth decay across all age groups.

Yes, there are still too many kids with bad teeth but a sugar tax is not going to change that. However, there are things that local authorities could do but don't because it requires more than writing press releases. As I said last year...

The Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) has suggested that hospitals are being used as a last resort for children who have not been registered with a dentist or are ‘seeking dental treatment when the caries [ie cavity] is already at an advanced stage so must be referred to specialist services’. This is certainly plausible. Tooth decay is most common in inner cities and among low-income families. More could be done to encourage ‘hard to reach’ groups, including the foreign born, to take their kids to the dentist. The FDS would like to see a public campaign to this effect, along with education about the effect of sugar on teeth and the promotion of water fluoridation.

Local authorities could do any of this without having to lobby central government. Instead it is grabbing headlines with Jamie Oliver-style anti-obesity policies which are unlikely to make a dent in obesity rates and are even less suited to reducing rates of tooth decay. Sugar is an important cause of tooth decay, but it is the frequency of consumption that matters, not the overall intake. Saliva naturally removes sugar from teeth within 20 minutes. Drinking a can of pop or scoffing a bag of sweets once a day might not be advisable from an obesity perspective but it is trivial in relation to tooth decay. The problem comes when you make the bag of sweets (or the piece of fruit) last all day. Reducing sugar content in individual items, as the LGA wants to do, would make no difference because the issue is the frequency, not the volume.

The bottom line is that there has been a dramatic improvement in children’s teeth in recent decades as a result of tooth-brushing, fluoridation and dental check-ups. If more kids visited the dentist and brushed their teeth, rates of tooth decay would fall further. Local authorities would have to do some work to achieve this behavioural change but, unlike putting little pictures of teaspoons on lemonade bottles, it would actually work.




Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Bullshit inflation: sugar edition

A couple of items to catalogue in the are-you-sure-this-ain't-a-spoof? file. Firstly, a wonderful new website called Secondhand Sugars (they are insistent about the trademark).

Sugars can be harmful to children as early as in the womb. Secondhand Sugars™ are the sugars found in foods and beverages that babies in utero, infants, and children are exposed to involuntarily. The risks include obesity and related diseases like diabetes as well as cognitive and learning problems. Just as we protect children from dangerous secondhand smoke, we should prevent children from being exposed to secondhand sugars.

For God's sake, don't tell them about lactose.

You won't be surprised to hear that the founders of this important new piece of intellectual property hail from California.

So too does Gary Taubes who is busy hawking his new book with articles such as this in the ever-woeful Vox...


The case for eliminating sugar. All of it.


The sugar panic is undergoing an intense period of bullshit inflation at the moment with Taubes competing with articles such as 'Sugar is the "alcohol of the child", yet we let it dominate the breakfast table' by rival anti-carb author Robert Lustig. Taubes says he wrote his latest tome, in part, 'to help drive the policy discussions' but seems to understand that the noose is tightening around us all:

I don’t like the idea of regulation. If regulators feel the evidence is sufficient to go after my sugar, they might decide next week that [the evidence] exists to go after my pastrami. And I’m one of those people who happen to think pastrami is healthy.

Sorry Gary, but that's just the way it goes.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

The anti-science of the diet drink scare

First e-cigarettes, now diet drinks. It's not the unhealthy part of the product that the puritans have a problem with, it's the existence of the product. I fully expect to see a crusade against non-alcoholic beer if anyone ever starts drinking it.

I wrote about the recent claims that diet drinks are making the 'global obesity crisis' worse for Spectator Health...

The idea that zero-calorie products are a cause of obesity is absurd on its face and is unsupported by the evidence. It is not merely junk science, it is anti-science in that it implies that obesity is not caused by a surplus of energy but by some magical process involving bubbles and tin cans. It is front-page news because it is sensational, and it is sensational because it is not true.

Do have a read.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New year, same old sugar panic

Stop it

From the BBC (and everywhere else)...

Kids devouring too much 'breakfast sugar' warning

Children are packing in so much sugar at breakfast that half their daily allowance has already been eaten before school, Public Health England says.

There is no such thing as a sugar allowance. Rationing was abolished in the early 1950s. What we have is a recommendation - a recommendation that was arbitrarily and unscientifically halved recently because - I suspect - people were getting close to meeting it.

A survey of 200 parents with children aged four to 10 revealed the problem starts at breakfast. It found children were eating more than 11g of sugar or nearly three sugar cubes, on average, at breakfast alone.

Eleven grams of sugar is nothing. It's 44 calories. Britain is in a bad place if the consumption of 44 calories is front pages news.

Public Health England could make themselves useful by waging an educational campaign against the hysteria and scientific illiteracy of the anti-sugar/low carb/high fat cultists. With a bit of effort, it might avert the epidemic of eating disorders that is on its way if the current irrationality persists. Instead, it is effectively collaborating with the Action on Sugar cranks in order to promote its Change4Life app.

So let's look at the healthy breakfast alternatives suggested by Change4Life, five of which are given pride of place on Auntie Beeb's report of this non-story.


Of the two sweet dishes suggested, the blueberry and banana smoothie contains 15 grams of sugar and a serving of the porridge contains 20 grams of sugar. Even the baked tomatoes have 9 grams of sugar.

A touch of hypocrisy from Public Health England? Perhaps, but these dishes are not unhealthy. The amount of sugar in them is perfectly normal and appropriate. It would be very difficult to put together a palatable sweet dish for an adult or a child without 11 grams of sugar.

The survey also showed that 84% of parents thought they were giving their children a healthy start to the day.

For the most part, the parents are right. No child is going to come to harm by having 44 calories of sugar in their cereal bowl, on their toast or in their glass. Can everybody please get a grip?

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Review of 2016: nanny state edition

2016 was the most entertaining year I can remember. I doubt we shall see another one like it.

If 'post-truth' is the word of the year - and apparently it is - the nanny statists have been ahead of the curve for a long time and they excelled themselves again this year. Here are a few of the lowlights of 2016 in the world of so-called 'public health'...

January

An Australian surgeon takes the anti-sugar crusade to its logical conclusion by waging a war on fruit - ('it advertises itself by being brightly coloured, shiny, sweet and attracts the wild life'). This is not a spoof.

Corpulent anti-vaping toad Martin McKee is caught lying to the Chief Medical Officer. Soon afterwards, the Chief Medical Officer is lying to the public about the health effects of moderate drinking. This was the big 'public health' story of January - the unscientific lowering of the drinking guidelines, as discussed here, here and here.

As plain packaging begins to be endorsed by countries outside the antipodes, the vultures from the obesity and alcohol 'research community' naturally circled. Expect to see much more of this in 2017.

2016 was a particularly paternalistic year for The Times who had a constant bee in its bonnet about gambling and sugar. It started the year by putting its weight behind the sugar tax. You won't be surprised that I argued it was wrong to do so.

Sally Davies' portrait on the wall of the gents toilet in Shepherds, Westminster
 
February

Sally Davies calls on women to think about breast cancer every time they pour a glass of wine. I suggested that this was indicative of our Chief Medical Officer's unhealthy state of mind.

There was more shameless bollocks about heart attacks declining as a result of people not smoking in pubs.

America is a basket case on e-cigarettes. The lies coming from across the Atlantic were so bold and brassy they took you breath away.

Cancer Research UK comes up with some fantasy modelling (very much a feature of 2016) to push the sugar tax. See the Stats Guy's analysis of it.

Anti-smoking campaigners in Australia and around the world continue to lie and lie again about the damp squib of plain packaging. The official review of the policy - much delayed as activists desperately groped around for a hint of success - is quietly released and uses some laughable modelling to generate the desired result.

The Times gets its knickers in a twist about a non-existent gambling epidemic.

Inspired by anti-nicotine lunatic Stan Glantz, a deluded Californian takes Hollywood to court for showing smoking in films (the case was recently dismissed).


Television in 2016

March

The EU Nanny State Index is published for the first time. The UK comes third, just behind the temperance-minded Scandinavians.

Action on Sugar were all over the airwaves in 2016. One of their typically ludicrous pieces of research was covered in this post.

George Osborne masks some embarrassing financial news by announcing a sugar levy. The Office for Budget Responsibility immediately admit that it's going to cost the government £1 billion. Thanks Jamie! I wrote about the regressive sugar tax here.

Public Health England launch a useless, patronising website called How Are You [sic]. I shudder to think of the cost. (It was plugged again a few days ago with this scare story.) I wrote about it at the time for the Telegraph.


April

Our Brussels overlords raise the idea of taxing e-cigarettes and clamping down on drinkers. If only there was some way of getting out of this bossy institution...

The Lib Dems put together a plan for cannabis legalisation which sounded nearly as grim as prohibition.

Australia goes full wowser. Never go full wowser.

You're not helping, The Sun.
May

Aseem Malhotra and his low carb oddballs virtually destroy the National Obesity Forum. I optimistically write Malhotra's political obituary for Spectator Health.

Plain packaging starts to be rolled out. ASH spent years - and vast sums of our money - lobbying for this stupid policy. The unintended consequences of it belong to them.

The EU's new, destructive laws on e-cigarettes are also introduced. Somewhat belatedly, the House of Lords condemned them.

Yet another baseless prediction of sky-rocketing obesity rates is produced by partisan hackademics.

'Public health' lobbyists took time out from thinking of the children to thinking of the middle-aged in 2016. In this article, I looked at the supposed epidemic of middle-aged problem drinking.

June

Being overweight is conveniently redefined as being malnourished for propaganda purposes.

I dig up some historical documents to show how the war on e-cigarettes mirrors the war on snus in the 1980s. I also look at the early years of ASH.

As war continues to ravage Syria, the WHO takes an interest by calling on the country's government, such as it was, to introduce plain packaging for tobacco.

In an unusual moment of clarity, the UK Faculty of Public Health calls for the legalisation of drugs. I offer my suggestions of how this should be done. 

How California views vapers

July

David Cameron departs. He was probably the most nannying prime minister in living memory. He brought in a sugar tax, a tobacco display ban, a plastic bag tax and plain packaging. He wanted to introduce minimum pricing and goodness knows what else. I tentative suggest that Theresa May will be less bad.

St. Jamie of Essex invests in the processed, frozen food industry and Aseem Malhotra makes a fitness video.

After spending years telling us to avoid sunshine and red meat, the 'public health' industry tells us to take vitamin D tablets to tackle the resulting epidemic of rickets.

Rising tobacco taxes are quite obviously leading to more black market sales and lower tax revenues for the government.

Anything California can do, Scotland can do
 August

Despite a mounting campaign of doubt from the neo-temperance lobby, the evidence that moderate drinking is good for you continues to grow.

Taking its cue from England, the Scottish government gets a bunch of temperance crusaders to look at the drinking guidelines.

The UK government publishes its childhood obesity strategy. It's a massive win for the nanny statists which they portray as a defeat because it would have been even worse if Nanny Cameron had still been in charge

The Taxpayers Alliance publish its Nanny State Rich List, shining a light on the money being sucked up by this parasitic, non-productive industry.

Aussie anti-gambling ad meets The Terminator
September

With depressing predictability, various mendacious scumbags demand a ban on smoking outdoors.

For those with eyes to see, the truth about smoking ban/heart attack miracles was as plain as day.

After years of flat-lining smoking rates, vaping leads to a downturn. Anti-smoking fanatics try to take the credit. Meanwhile, the WHO remains doggedly opposed to e-cigarettes.

Branches of the NHS start talking seriously about denying treatment to taxpayers who are fat or smoke.

Stanton Glantz tries to replicate his trick of cherry-picking old tobacco industry documents to generate a conspiracy about Big Sugar - and makes an arse of himself.

In post-truth America, cigarette tar ('total aerosol residue') is the same as road tar (asphalt)

October

The Irish government - which is beyond help by this point - seriously considers putting curtains around alcohol in shops. An Australian temperance zealot can't believe his country didn't think of it first. 

Action on Sugar go berserk when they discover sugar in ice cream.

The SNP wins the penultimate round of the minimum pricing court battle, but since we're leaving the EU it doesn't really matter.

ASH reveal their economic illiteracy - or, some would say, dishonesty - by publishing a comically inept report telling retailers that it isn't worth their while to sell tobacco.

Similarly, the WHO publish a downright deceitful report claiming that sugar taxes work.

When yet another bunch of blinkered campaigners make a ludicrous obesity prediction I put my own money on the line if they are right. No one takes me up on the bet.

The Conservatives - the party of free markets and individual choice

November

Cancer Research makes the nation cringe again with a pitiful press release about bathfuls of fizzy drinks. They follow this up by chucking some money at the hacks at Sheffield University to produce a worthless figure about alcohol-related cancers to get further cheap media attention.

After a prostate cancer charity takes a sceptical view of neo-temperance claims about alcohol, 'public health' blowhards accuse it of lying for money.

The WHO's biennial tobacco control summit begins in the traditional way, with everybody apart from true believers being turfed out. The conference turned out to be a bit of a waste of time, but it allowed 'clean air' campaigners to have a holiday in smog-ridden Delhi - and UK taxpayers get to give another £15 million to tobakko kontrol efforts. As I said at Spectator Health, the WHO has lost the plot.

We tried to warn you
December

Public Health England produced a report on alcohol so riddled with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and deceit that it took me two lengthy posts to scratch the surface (part one and part two). As usual, half a dozen people from Sheffield University and a handful of temperance/anti-industry ideologues were responsible.

The PHE report was press released with a claim so bad it had to be retracted within hours, but the claim that replaced it was little better.

Fantasy modelling was taken to new lows by the anti-alcohol people in 2016, but Tobacco Control drove it through the bottom of the barrel when it turned a sharp increase in heart attacks (following the introduction of a smoking ban) into a sharp decrease.

The Times continues to harp on about problem gambling doubling, a claim that has been made several times in the last decade, despite no rise in the number of problem gamblers. I explain what's going on in this Spectator piece.


And that's it for 2016. See you in 2017. May you live in interesting times.


PS. You can still listen to the year's Last Orders podcasts with the following guests:

Claire Fox

Sam Bowman

Michael Fitzpatrick

Rob Lyons

Brendan O'Neill and James Allen

Timandra Harkness

Martin Durkin

And you can listen to the IEA's review of the year here.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

How many smokers really want to quit?

Nanny state extremists are fond of claiming that 90 per cent of smokers want to quit. The odious Simon Chapman, for example, when campaigning for smokers to be licensed, wrote...

Some 90% of smokers regret having started smoking

And the Chief Executive of ASH Wales says...

'We know that the vast majority of people who smoke want to quit...'

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that these claims are not wholly truthful. The latest edition of the Health Survey for England, published this month, gave smokers a number of statements, with which the following proportion agreed:


I really want to stop smoking and intend to in the next month: 7%

I really want to stop smoking and intend to in the next three months: 8% 

I really want to stop smoking but I don’t know when I will: 19%

I want to stop smoking and hope to soon: 16%

I want to stop smoking but haven’t thought about when: 10%

I think I should stop smoking but don’t really want to: 20%

I don’t want to stop smoking: 21%



Economists prefer revealed preferences to stated preferences for a good reason: talk is cheap. It would be the easiest thing in the world to tick a box in a survey expressing a desire to give up smoking. It is what you are supposed to say in the current climate, and it carries no cost.

Nevertheless, 41% said they did not want to give up smoking and a further 26% expressed only a vague aspiration to give up. 15% said they 'really wanted' to give up smoking and intended to actually do so in the foreseeable future. Good luck them, but let's not pretend that the 'vast majority' of smokers are locked into a miserable cycle of addiction and are desperate to quit. Even their (unreliable) stated preferences do not imply that.

Furthermore, if you look at the reasons why smokers say they want to quit, some of them have nothing to do with health. The price of tobacco is the most commonly cited reason after health concerns, but the cost of smoking is high because anti-smoking campaigners have successfully lobbied for tobacco duty to be raised with the specific intention of getting smokers to quit. It is an artificial inducement.

Other policies, such as smoking bans, have the same effect. They incline smokers towards quitting by making their lives difficult; they do not make smokers dislike smoking per se.

59 per cent of smokers in the Health Survey for England express some desire to quit. This is a slim majority, not a vast majority, and if we stripped out those who are merely expressing the politically correct opinion, or who only want to quit because anti-smoking campaigners have made their lives miserable, or who are expressing a second-order preference, it is safe to assume that the real figure is well below half.

Undeterred by the obvious problems of taking half-hearted stated preferences literally, ASH Scotland have recently come up with the ruse of talking about 'willing smokers'. Scotland's autocratic government has decided that the country must reduce its smoking rate below 5% by 2034. This seems unlikely, but the state-funded lobbyists at ASH Scotland have found a way to spin it...

The smoking rate currently stands at 21%, suggesting the tobacco-free goal might be some way off and will require some serious shifting to get us there. But, crucially, a consistent two-thirds of Scottish smokers say that they want to stop. This means that the actual willing adult smokers are just 7% of the population – and nearly 90% of the journey to this tobacco-free Scotland is helping those smokers who actively want to be free from their addiction. Who could argue with that?

The answer to that question is, of course, 'anyone with an IQ above room temperature'. It is rather like taking the population of a country and estimating the 'real' population by excluding everybody who says they would quite like to live somewhere else.

The ASH cranks even show a graph to demonstrate how close they are to their 5% goal if you treat the fact that smokers who say they want to quit are still smoking as a mere administrative detail.


If there has been a theme to the 'public health' racket in 2016, it has been wholesale substitution of fantasy for facts, models for reality, and so it is fitting to end the year with this little example.

Back on planet Earth, however, people do things because they enjoy them, and smokers no more appreciate being the target of vilification and extortion than any other minority. This week saw the publication of a report from the Centre for Substance Use Research looking at how 'confirmed smokers' feel about smoking. Based on a survey of over 600 smokers conducted by FOREST, it does not claim to take a representative sample, but it is a valuable reminder that smokers - including those who express a desire to quit - enjoy smoking. This shouldn't be surprising, but in the land of make believe that is 'public health' it is a radical, heretical idea.

You can read The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers here.