Monday, 26 June 2017

Virtuous divestments

I've written a short piece for City AM about the moral grandstanding of people who think they can change the world by selling their shares in companies they don't like.

Not content with the government prohibiting smoking in public places, various funds and companies have bought into the ludicrous divestment movement which seeks to bring down industries by trading their shares.

The Guardian started the divestment trend, with its apparent belief that if you get rid of your shares in fossil fuel companies, you will somehow help prevent climate change.

Now Aviva, the insurance company, has announced that it will be selling off its tobacco stock in order to “limit the damage tobacco can cause to health”.

Various universities and local councils have also loudly proclaimed their intention to abandon their investments in “sindustries” such as alcohol, coal and weapons.

This virtue signalling is the emptiest of empty gestures, and, for those whose pensions rely on sound investments, it is an expensive one.

Do have a read.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

10 years of lying about the smoking ban

The smoking ban has always sat on a throne of lies. It was promoted on the basis of junk science and has been retrospectively justified on the basis of blatant quackery.

The tenth anniversary of England's smoking ban is coming up on Saturday and so we must brace ourselves for more lies as we 'celebrate' its anniversary.

The fat cats at Public Health England have got the ball rolling with some utter tosh, as reported in the Guardian...

UK heart disease deaths fall by over 20% since indoor smoking ban

That's right, folks. It's another heart miracle, but since it's been devised by the clots at Public Health England, it's particularly amateurish.

Deaths from heart disease and strokes caused by smoking have fallen dramatically since lighting up in pubs, restaurants and other enclosed public places in England was banned 10 years ago.

New figures have shown that the number of smokers aged 35 and over dying from heart attacks and other cardiac conditions has dropped by over 20% since 2007 while fatalities from a stroke are almost 14% down.

When I first read this, it wasn't clear what the statistics pertained to. The figures appear to be about the number of smokers dying of heart disease, but it would be odd if smokers were getting a health benefit from a reduction in secondhand smoke exposure.

And yet that does seem to be what the figures are for - more or less. The implication is that the smoking ban has made lots of smokers quit. We all know that was the real reason for the ban - although it didn't actually happen in practice - and it seems that PHE have just looked at their estimates of the number of smoking-related diseases - which are guesses piled upon guesses - and applied a bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning:

Figures collected by PHE’s Local Tobacco Control Profiles network show that while there were 32,548 deaths from heart disease attributable to smoking in 2007-09, there were 25,777 between 2013 and 2015 – a fall of 20.8%. Similarly, a total of 9,743 smokers died from a stroke in 2007-09, but fewer – 8,334 – between 2013 and 2015, a drop of 14.5%.

This would be a half-arsed way of claiming that correlation equals causation at the best of times, but since the ban started in 2007, it's unclear why they are comparing 2007-09 to 2013-15. Surely you should compare the pre-ban era to the post-ban era?

This useless statistic seems to be enough for the Guardian and is probably enough for the dirty buggers who like the smoking ban because they don't have to change their clothes from day to day (I hear this a lot). It is certainly enough for PHE boss Duncan Selbie (annual salary: £200,000) who says of the smoking ban...

'Its legacy has had a phenomenally positive impact on societal attitudes to smoking. Smokers have seized the opportunity by quitting in unprecedented numbers...'

As I showed in a recent post, smokers were quitting in large numbers before 2007 but that came to an end after the smoking ban was introduced. In 2003, the smoking rate was 26%. By 2007, it had fallen to 20.9%. But five years later - after what Selbie calls 'undoubtedly the single most important public health reform in generations' - it was still at 20.4%. Only after vaping came on the scene did smoking prevalence start falling again.

So what actually happened with heart disease before and after the smoking ban? Using data from the British Heart Foundation, we can see a steep and steady decline in cardiovascular disease mortality going back decades. Did the decline accelerate after 2007? No, not at all - although it did slow down a few years later. Great success!

You can expect more of this sort of bullshit over the course of the next week because...

The statistics, which Public Health England (PHE) has shared with the Guardian, come as medical, public health and anti-tobacco groups prepare to mark the 10th anniversary next Friday of smoking being prohibited in indoor public places by Tony Blair’s Labour government on 1 July 2007.

God help us.

Selbie says:

'The smokefree legislation has been extraordinary in the way we now experience and enjoy pubs, clubs, restaurants and so many other public places.'

The only thing that has been extraordinary is how many of these places have closed down since this 'important health reform' was inflicted on us. Twenty per cent of pubs have closed since 2007. Fifty per cent of nightclubs have closed. Bingo halls, snooker clubs and working men's clubs have all taken one hell of a beating.

There is nothing to celebrate in this act of cultural vandalism. We should be having a wake.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Alcohol consumption in Scotland

There has been some discussion in recent years about alcohol consumption being on the rise in Scotland. Naturally, the 'public health' lobby and the SNP have said that this makes the case for higher taxes/minimum pricing/advertising bans even stronger. For example, here's Alcohol Research UK (which has since merged with Alcohol Concern):

NHS Scotland have published updated sales figures for alcohol in Scotland. These suggest that a decline in alcohol consumption since the mid-2000s has started to reverse. Between 2005 and 2013, consumption per head of population in Scotland fell by 9.4%. Since then, however, it has risen by just under 2%. We don’t know yet if this small increase is the start of a longer upswing, but it suggests that industry efforts to stem the reduction in drinking may be starting to have an effect.

What were these 'industry efforts to stem the reduction in drinking'? Who knows, but the *ahem* totally impartial Alcohol Research UK concluded that...

...if Governments wish to make the recent downturn sustainable, then they will need to fend off growing calls from industry for further tax cuts.

The BBC reported a slight rise in alcohol consumption in August 2015, saying:

Alcohol sales in Scotland increase

Alcohol sales in Scotland increased last year, according to the latest figures.

An NHS report said the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka or 114 bottles of wine per adult were sold in 2014.

The Scottish government said the figures reinforced the need for minimum unit pricing.

Of course they did. Indeed, the Scottish government put out its own press release saying: 'Alcohol sales increased slightly during 2014, reinforcing the need for minimum unit pricing to tackle the sale of cheap, strong alcohol.'

At least the SNP admitted that consumption had only risen 'slightly'. The Beeb didn't bother to say how much consumption had risen by, presumably because it was marginal - from 10.6 litres to 10.7 litres per capita. But when it rose slightly again the following year (to 10.8 litres), the Beeb followed up on the 'story', with the usual editorialising from pressure groups:

Adults in Scotland have increased their consumption of alcohol for the second year in a row, according to a report.

NHS Health Scotland said the trend was mainly down to more alcohol being bought in supermarkets and off-licences - particularly beer and wine.

Sales in 2015 were 20% higher in Scotland than they were in England and Wales, with each adult consuming the equivalent of 477 pints of beer.

Alcohol Focus Scotland said the country had become a "nation of home drinkers".

The Scottish government said the report supported the case for minimum pricing.

Meanwhile, Alcohol Focus Scotland called for higher alcohol prices and restricted availability because 'the downward trend in sales has now stalled' and James Morris at Alcohol Policy UK declared that 'NHS Scotland's latest report on alcohol sales data indicates an end to the downward trend in alcohol consumption.'

However, new figures published this week show that alcohol consumption in Scotland fell to 10.5 litres in 2016 and is now at its lowest level since the mid-1990s:

If a rise of 0.1 litres is enough to garner headlines, you'd think that a fall of 0.3 litres would be newsworthy, but you'd be wrong. The drop in consumption was barely mentioned by the journalists who covered the latest figures. The Scotsman didn't mention it at all in its story which was headlined 'Scots buying enough alcohol to push population over drinking guidelines'. Nor did STV, which used the headline 'Alcohol death rates six times higher in poorest areas'.

The media were taking their cue from NHS Scotland who put out a press release titled 'Scotland's alcohol problems persists' saying that per capita consumption was 10.5 litres in 2016 and comparing this to England (where consumption is always lower). The press release mainly focused on the number of people who die from excessive drinking.

The press release did mention that the 'increase in population consumption in Scotland between 2013 and 2015 did not continue, with sales per adult returning to a similar level as in 2013' (in fact, they were lower than in 2013), but only the BBC reported this, albeit only in passing...

Sales of alcohol per adult per week were 17% greater in Scotland than in England and Wales - although the rate, which had increased between 2013 and 2015, returned to a similar level as in 2013.

That was the Beeb's only reference to the trend. The rest of the article took the NHS's line...

Alcohol-linked deaths '54% higher in Scotland'

An average of 22 people a week died from alcohol-related causes in Scotland in 2015, figures show.

The figure is 54% higher than in England and Wales.

And, as always, there were plenty of column inches for anyone who wanted to rip off drinkers: 

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell, said: "This report shows that, whilst some progress has been made in tackling alcohol misuse, we need to do more.

"Over the last few years, more than half of alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences was sold at less than 50p per unit and enough alcohol was sold in the off-trade alone to exceed the weekly drinking guideline by a considerable amount.

"That is why we need minimum unit pricing, which will largely impact on the off-trade and will increase the price of the cheap, high-strength alcohol."

Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas, said: "Alcohol is so cheap and widely available that it's easy to forget how it can damage our health.

"We need to introduce this long-delayed policy as soon as possible to improve Scotland's health, cut crime and save lives."

Unlike England, Scotland officially endorses the Whole Population Approach, a daft but convenient fantasy in which heavy drinkers magically reduce their consumption of alcohol if the rest of society drinks less. This theory has never been supported by evidence but it gives 'public health professionals' free rein to lobby for policies that hassle ordinary drinkers instead of doing the hard work of helping alcoholics.

Given Scotland's obsession with per capita alcohol consumption, it's not surprising that campaigners were eager to present a tiny upwards blip as proof that the fall in consumption had 'stalled' and, therefore, required yet more government intervention. Nor is it surprising that they have kept quiet about the latest figures.

But whatever happens to the trend in the future, it is clear that the rate of alcohol consumption is irrelevant to the neo-temperance lobby. If it rises, it shows the need for minimum pricing. If it falls, it shows the need for minimum pricing. If it rises, it's a news story. If it falls, they find another angle. There is no way for drinkers to win.

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:
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:
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.


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:


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.


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.]


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.


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.


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.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Prohibitionists for human rights

This is a new one...

After completing a collaboration with multi-national tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) to develop a “human rights implementation plan” for the company, the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) concluded that immediately stopping the sale and marketing of tobacco is the only way for tobacco companies to uphold basic human rights...

Following DIHR’s completion of their work, they concluded:

"Tobacco is deeply harmful to human health, and there can be no doubt that the production and marketing of tobacco is irreconcilable with the human right to health. For the tobacco industry, the [United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights] therefore require the cessation of the production and marketing of tobacco."

These hideous prohibitionists will cling to any argument to achieve their goals. Tobacco is a plant. Insofar as people have a 'right' to health, it is a right that is breached by nature and the ageing process every day. In any case, a 'right' to health is very different to an obligation to be healthy. 

As so often in the topsy-turvy world of 'public health', the truth is the very opposite of what these people claim. Individuals have ownership of their body. If they wish to smoke a plant that grows naturally in the earth, they should have the right to do so. If they want to make this easier by paying somebody else to plant it, grow it and process it, they should have the right to do that as well.

Quite obviously, the 'production and marketing of tobacco' is not 'irreconcilable with the human right to health' because it does not harm health without the active participation of the individual. Equally obviously, banning people from buying a product is a violation of their rights, even if it might improve their health. If this has to be spelt out, it is only because single-issue pressure groups have debased the currency of human rights.

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.