Thursday, 28 March 2013

Meet the new boss...

One of the coalition's stated priorities after the general election was to have a "bonfire of the quangos" which would save the taxpayer £2.6 billion and rid us of numerous pointless bureaucrats. Three cheers for that, of course, and some progress seems to have been made, with more than 100 of these parasitic organisations biting the dust.

It is, however, notoriously difficult to slim down the size of the state thanks to the vested interests who depend upon it. Governments are also incredibly inefficient even when it comes to closing things down. Almost unbelievably, the cost of the bonfire will be £830 million—nearly twice the original estimate—and the government could not resist setting up some new quangos in the process.

On Monday 1 April, Public Health England will begin its work of dealing with all the outbreaks of cholera and scarlet fever which blight the country on a daily basis. I jest, of course. You could count the number of genuine public health issues in the UK on one hand. Instead, this bloated organ of the state will be focusing on private health issues and hassling people about their bad habits. Presumably the government thinks that there is a gap in the market for another taxpayer-funded gaggle of fussbuckets to join the chorus of the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, Action on Smoking and Health, Alcohol Concern, Consensus Action on Smoking and Health, the Alcohol Health Alliance, the National Obesity Forum, The Lancet, the Smokefree Coalition, DrinkWise North West, SmokeFree North-East, the UK Faculty for Public Health, the Royal College of General Practitioners etc. etc. etc.

The budget for Public Health England is a little under half a billion pounds a year and its management structure has all the hallmarks of a money pit for pencil-pushers, ball-jugglers and frustrated politicians who think they're too important to do a real job.

Although this quango is not yet fully operational, it has already started issuing proclamations and demanding legislation. What do you think the first topic addressed by this 'public health' group was?


Seasonal influenza?

Hospital superbugs?

Of course not...

New public health agency backs calls for minimum price on alcohol

The new national agency in charge of public health in England has backed proposals to establish a minimum price on a unit of alcohol to try to curb the harmful effects of drinking.

This, I suspect, is the tip of very large iceberg.

Junk and buffoons

I've been busy working to a deadline these last few days, but that doesn't mean I haven't been keeping an eye on what's going on—and what a lot of goings on there have been.

I'm sick of writing about these risible smoking ban/heart attack miracles, but the latest effort from Prince Edward Island, Canada deserves a mention. Michael Siegel has already covered it and Dick Puddlecote reckons it's the worst ever. The category is too tight for me to endorse that view whole-heartedly but it's certainly in the top ten.

As ever, the claim is that the rate of heart attack admissions fell after the smoking ban was introduced. Siegel says that the heart attack admission rate actually rose, but you can make your own mind up by looking at the graph that the authors cheerfully published in the study.

The heart attack (acute myocardial infarction) rate is shown in blue. As you can see it stayed the same for a few years and then rose a few years later. I don't know what drugs you would have to be on to see a fall in heart attacks after the smoking ban, but nevertheless our intrepid researchers conclude that:
A comprehensive smoking ban in PEI reduced the overall mean number of acute myocardial infarction admissions

Actually, the only disease that showed a marked decrease right after the smoking ban was bowel obstruction (shown in red below), but since this is one of the few diseases to have not yet been blamed on passive smoking, it was used as a control.

Who knows how the authors conjured up this latest heart miracle? Frankly, who cares? Not the media, apparently, who completely ignored it. There is, however, a quiet admission in the study that it is not necessary for hospital admissions to actually decrease for tobacco control researchers to say that hospital admissions decreased.

The predicted reduced monthly AMI admissions and for angina in men demonstrate that, even when hospitalization rates are increasing, public health interventions can lower the expected rate of hospitalizations.

Truly, tobacco control is a fairytale world where madmen and charlatans run riot. We can only hope that branches of real science are not so irretrievably corrupt.

Speaking of charlatans, silly sociologist Simon Fenton Chapman has been exhibiting his phenomenal lack of self-awareness on Twitter again. Having spent his career accusing anyone who looks at him in a funny way of being in the pay of Big Tobacco, the boot is on the other foot now that he has rebranded himself as an expert on, and enthusiast of, industrial wind turbines. Dick Puddlcote's post about the narcissistic twonk is well worth reading, as is Carl Phillips'.

Meanwhile, fake charity ASH continues to pull out all the stops as they pursue the ridiculous and ultimately rather trivial objective of winning the plain packs campaign. As reported in The Guardian and not many other places, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has gathered some of tobacco control's finest minds like, er, Anna Gilmore to assure them that making every pack of cigarettes look exactly the same will not help counterfeiters, no sir.

What the Guardian fails to mention is that the All Party Group was formed by ASH, is run by ASH and essentially is ASH with a few useful idiots from parliament like Stephen Williams roped in to give it legitimacy. It is the sock puppet's sock puppet, as I mentioned in the IEA paper of that name:

ASH continues to influence public and politicians through its media appearances, press releases and parliamentary briefings. In 2010/11, it responded to no fewer than fourteen public consultations, often in support of measures ASH itself had recommended to the DH, which continues to fund them. In Westminster, it works through the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, which was set up by ASH director Mike Daube in 1976 in the hope of persuading individual MPs to table Private Members’ Bills and Early Day Motions on ASH’s behalf. The APPG was originally known, more tellingly, as the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Action on Smoking and Health and ASH continues to dominate its activity.

The avenues that APPGs open up to lobbyists have received surprisingly little discussion in the popular press. The Register of All-Party Groups says that APPGs are “essentially run by and for Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords.” If this was ever true, it is true no longer. When Robin Fenwick investigated All-Party Groups in 2011 he concluded that APPGSs have been “comprehensively invaded by vested interests seeking to buy access to our legislators.” Of the 534 APPGs on the register, 77 were run by public affairs agencies and 98 were “run by charities with agendas to promote”.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health falls into the latter category. Its secretariat is ASH’s current director, Deborah Arnott, and the charity pays for the printing, stationery and group receptions, as well as providing the briefing material. The group’s secretariat is ASH’s current director Deborah Arnott and its last Annual General Meeting was attended by just four MPs, alongside three members of ASH and ten representatives from other charities. The group is used primarily as a vehicle for ASH to brief MPs, lobby for funding and send press releases.

The Hands Off Our Packs blog has more to say about this. Well worth a read.

Finally, Scotland has decided to become 'tobacco-free' by 2034. The bafflingly arbitrary date makes me wonder if there were all-night talks in Edinburgh in which ASH Scotland managed to get the government to climbdown on its original 2035 plan. Whatever, the health minister used it as another excuse to bang on about those bloody plain packs. No doubt he hopes to "lead the way" in some regard. It's pathetic how these little politicians have no other plan for getting themselves in the history books other than by passing some cheap law to ban something.

The ever-hopeful BBC reported this non-story thus:

Plain cigarette packaging is to be introduced in Scotland under a plan to make the nation "tobacco free" by 2034.

Sadly for Auntie's eager beavers, Scotland does not have the authority to pass such a law and so everything continues to hinge on whether the Westminster government decides to ignore coppers, ex-coppers, customs officials, packaging manufacturers, lawyers, intellectual property specialists and 500,000 members of the public. If you want to tell your MP to get a grip and do something useful, click on this link and send him or her an e-mail.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Drink, smoke, eat: prohibition today

This is the video of a Battle of Ideas debate from last year featuring Rob Lyons (Spiked), Sarah Jarvis (GP), Christine Thompson (SAB Miller), some bloke from a sock puppet charity, and my good self. Eagle-eyed viewers may also spot Carl V. Phillips and Mark Littlewood in the audience.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

E-cigarettes in The Economist

There are two superb articles in The Economist this week about e-cigarettes, including a leader near the beginning of the magazine. If you ever need to explain the e-cigarette issue to someone who knows little or nothing about the subject, the leader article—No smoke, so why the fire?—along with this Guardian article from January, are two great places to start.

Who could object? Quite a lot of people, it seems. Instead of embracing e-cigarettes, many health lobbyists are determined to stub them out. Some claim that e-cigarettes may act as “gateways” to the real thing. Others suggest that the flavourings sometimes added to the nicotine-bearing solution make e-cigarettes especially attractive to children—a sort of nicotine equivalent of “alcopop” drinks. But these objections seem to be driven by puritanism, not by reason. Some health lobbyists are so determined to prevent people doing anything that remotely resembles smoking—a process referred to as “denormalisation”—that they refuse to endorse a product that reproduces the pleasure of smoking without the harm.

In some places politicians and other busybodies are listening. Several countries (including Austria and New Zealand) restrict the sale of e-cigarettes, for example by classifying them as medical devices; others (Brazil and Singapore) ban them altogether. Some airlines, too, ban passengers from using e-cigarettes on their planes.

This is wrong. Those charged with improving public health should be promoting e-cigarettes, not discouraging their use. Of course, e-cigarettes should be regulated. Nicotine is an addictive drug, and should therefore be kept out of the hands of children. E-cigarettes should be sold only through licensed outlets, and to adults. It would also be a good idea to do some proper research on them. Nicotine is, after all, a poison (its real purpose is to stop insects eating tobacco plants), so there may be some residual risk to users. But nicotine poisoning is pretty low on the list of bad things that ordinary cigarettes are accused of. Some researchers reckon nicotine to be no more dangerous than caffeine, which coffee plants similarly employ as an insecticide.

The right approach is not to denormalise smoking, but to normalise e-smoking. Those who enjoy nicotine will be able to continue to use it, while everyone else will be spared both the public-health consequences of smoking and the nuisance of other people’s smoke. What’s not to like?

The other article—Vape ’em if you got ’em—isn't too shabby either. It looks at the e-cigarette as a challenge to the tobacco industry. It should never be forgotten that the zealots who call for over-regulation or prohibition of e-cigarettes are the unwittingly dupes of their arch-enemy.

Betting against an industry with addicts for customers carries obvious risks. But these are uncertain times for Big Tobacco. Electronic cigarettes, once dismissed as a novelty, now pose a serious threat... E-cigarette executives dream of relegating traditional cigarettes to the ashtray of history. But as they struggle with taxes, patents and red tape, they may come to envy Big Tobacco’s deep pockets. More deals are likely, thrashed out no doubt in vapour-filled rooms.

I have no commentary to add to these articles. I'm delighted to see e-cigarettes get some positive coverage in The World's Greatest Magazine (and I don't just say that because they liked my first book and described my second book was a "devastating critique". Honest.) I just wanted to bring them to your attention and also point you towards Clive Bates' discussion of them which, as usual, is very sound.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Tobacco control doesn't work, admits CRUK

If you want to see an example of churnalism at its most shameless, compare and contrast this press release from Cancer Research UK with this "news story" in the Daily Express. Barely a single word has been changed. It has also been reported by the BBC and the Guardian, and the gist of it is that underage smoking rates have rocketed and something must be done. Plain packaging is something, therefore it must be done.

Around 207,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking in the UK every year according to new research published today.

This means that nearly 570 children are lighting up and becoming smokers for the first time every day.

The new Cancer Research UK figures show this number has jumped by an extra 50,000 from the previous year, when 157,000 started smoking.

The youth smoking rate rose by 32 per cent in a single year?! Not only is that enormous, but it is the opposite of what should be happening. Recall that one of the anti-smoking mantras is...

A 10% Increase in Price Reduces Smoking Prevalence Among Youth by nearly 7%

There have been steep tax hikes on tobacco in recent years (shown below in £s).

Between 2008 and 2011, the average price of a pack of cigarettes rose by 22 per cent (roughly 15 per cent after taking inflation into account). Between 2010 and 2011—which is the period CRUK looked at—prices rose by 5.4 per cent. According to tobacco control dogma, this should have led to a fall in youth smoking of just under 4 per cent. Instead it rose by an incredible 32 per cent.

"Tobacco taxes are the most effective way to reduce tobacco use, especially among young people," according to the WHO. And let's not forget all those other policies—vending machine bans, graphic warnings etc.—that were implemented for the sake of the chiiiiiiiiiildren at around this time. Is CRUK's report a tacit admission that the neo-prohibitionist model is broken?

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. As Taking Liberties points out, CRUK's figures do not actually tally with official estimates.

According to Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2011:

... the 5% of 11-15yr olds considered regular smokers in 2011 is unchanged over 2010. The proportion of girls who are considered to be regular smokers actually fell from 6% to 5% in 2011. The proportion of 11-15yr olds who have never smoked increased from 73% to 75% (60% in 2005).

You can see the figures below for 11-15 year olds. The trend is very similar to the adult smoking rate, ie. a large decline until 2007 when a slew of anti-smoking policies began to be introduced and then almost no change. Certainly there was no rise in 2010-11.

This looks like another example of campaigners finding official estimates to be unhelpful and so concocting their own (see also the Scottish heart miracle and the Canadian MUP miracle). The trouble is that CRUK's survey seems to be much more prone to random variation than the official stats. The CRUK press release contains this telling line...

Analysis of the data showed that the 2010 figure was unusually low and this most recent figure is similar to the numbers seen in the late 2000s.

OK then. So 2010 was a blip in the data while 2011 was more typical (regression to the mean). The rate of youth smoking hasn't risen in recent years. It has stayed much the same. In other words, the tax hikes and neo-prohibitionist policies have made very little difference and CRUK's figures are dodgy.

Just another day in tobacco control then, and the media swallow it hook, line and sinker as usual.


The link from the CRUK press release to the research doesn't take you anywhere so we can't see what their figures are based on, but the following quote from their press release does not inspire confidence:

A survey among 12 year olds in 2010 found none were regular smokers, one per cent smoked occasionally and two per cent said they used to smoke.

But a year later in 2011 among the same age group of children, now aged 13, two per cent were found to smoke regularly, four per cent smoked occasionally and three per cent said they used to smoke.

Surely this wasn't the basis for their claim that youth smoking rates have risen?! Yes, 13 year olds are more likely to smoke than 12 years (and 14 year olds are more likely to smoke than 13 year olds etc.) but surely even the most incompetent/biased researcher would not use this as evidence that the number of underage smokers is rising. Or do I overestimate them? Either way, it is odd that CRUK would think that such a mundane and fatuous statistic was worth including in a press release.


I missed this explanation from CRUK. The figures are based on the official stats after a lot of jiggery-pokery. The following garbled words are the closest thing we have to a methodology...

This new analysis is based on figures taken from the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England.

The “started smoking” figure is calculated by comparing the smoking rates at each age with the smoking rates of the same group in the year before.

So 12 year olds in 2011 are compared with 12 year olds in 2010. Both regular – one or more cigarette per week – and occasional smokers – less than one cigarette per week – are included.

There were an additional two per cent smokers in 2011 than 2010 (regular smokers from zero per cent to two per cent) but in addition one per cent of the 12 year old smokers in 2010 gave up (used to smoke up from two per cent to three per cent) so an equivalent number of smokers must have started (or else the one per cent smokers giving up and starting would cancel each other out) so there are actually three per cent new children smoking.

The three per cent is applied to the UK population to give a number of new children age 13 who start smoking in the UK. This is repeated for the other age groups and the totals added to give a figure for the number of new children.

Is anybody else reminded of this?

Basically, they're treating numbers that have been rounded up or down to the nearest percent as if they were precise figures. It is, for example, clearly implausible that there was not a single 12 year old smoker in 2010, but the figure can still be cited a 0% if the figure is 0.49% of lower. CRUK treats 0% as if it was zero people and 1% as if it was 1.0% etc. The 50,000 extra smokers they report is a rounding error that comes from inappropriately mixing lots of other rounded numbers together as if they were exact proportions of the school-age population.

It's imaginative junk science, I'll give them that, but it's junk all the same and it is totally inconsistent with the Office for National Statistics' conclusion that: "The proportion of 11-15yr olds who have never smoked increased [between 2010 and 2011] from 73% to 75%."

If this kind of thing is representative of Cancer Research's work, I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for them to find a cure for cancer.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The mess of the plain packs consultation

As reported in The Times and by Guido Fawkes, Rupert Darwall has published a report looking at the farcical plain packs consultation. Regular readers will know that the Department of Health's consultation has been biased to the point of absurdity, with leading questions, partisan activists brought in as experts and taxpayers' money spent on cheer-leading. Darwall argues that the whole thing was "deliberately framed to garner support for plain packaging" and that the "flaws in the consultation are sufficiently extensive as to cast doubt on whether it is anything more than an exercise in going through the motions to justify a pre-determined conclusion."

The report was funded by Philip Morris, as the author has gone out of his way to make clear. For those who like to throw ad homs about, that will be enough to justify their refusal to even read it, but for those who prefer to make judgements based on evidence, there are some juicy facts to enjoy.

Dick Puddlecote has already flagged up some of the highlights and I recommend you read his post. There is, however, much more to be said.

To start with, Darwall notes the recent stalling of smoking's decline...

The apparent stalling in the decline of smoking occurred during a period of increasingly tight tobacco controls. Like the 1998 White Paper, the 2011 Tobacco Control Plan does not analyse the effectiveness of individual measures, even though after more than a decade, the evidence is clearer now than it was then: Not all public health initiatives designed to curb smoking work.

Anyone who is serious about finding the best ways to discourage teen smoking would look for best practice elsewhere. If they did so, they would see that graphic health warning, display bans and other simplistic neo-prohibitionist policies are not the answer...

Why is it that the UK has nearly double the rate of young smokers compared to the US (23% vs.12%) despite having much more prominent health warnings – the US only requires textual health warnings on one side of the packet?

It is, on the face of it, remarkable that despite three of the last four years showing no drop in the UK's smoking rate there has been no moratorium and no reassessment of the neo-prohibitionist model (see my last post about Ireland for evidence that tobacco control is not a results-driven business). This conspicuous lack of success seems not to worry the public health industry. Instead they divert our attention by pointing to some phantom success just around the corner, in this case plain packaging, but the fundamental rationale behind the policy is highly dubious...

The consultation exercise rests on the unstated assumption that branded cigarette packaging is a factor that turns non-smokers into smokers and prevents smokers from trying to quit. Whether the assumption is valid is critical to the efficacy of the proposed policy. If it is not, the policy will not cut smoking.

A 116-page review commissioned by the DH from the University of Stirling (the Stirling University review) came to the trivially true conclusion that tobacco companies try to make their packaging attractive, but presented no evidence as to whether packaging was a factor in people starting smoking or is an obstacle to them quitting.

The consultation does not ask the critical question:

Is branded cigarette packaging a means of attracting new smokers and dissuading existing ones from giving up?

Or is it a competitive tool used by tobacco companies to win market share and enable them to charge premium prices?

Evidence that tobacco companies make significant investments in packaging and branding cannot answer the question because it doesn't answer tell us anything about the effect on the purchaser's decision to buy and smoke cigarettes.

This is an important point because it gets to the heart of the neo-prohibitionists' bone-headed belief that people start smoking as a result of packaging and, therefore, that tobacco companies somehow design their packaging in a way that "entices" non-smokers. But insofar as the branding of different cigarettes has a purpose, it is to imply a higher value for more pricey brands. Darwall cites evidence about alcohol advertising in France...

According to the 1996 study, the main impact of advertising is to persuade consumers to trade up to more expensive, higher quality brands.'


If the parallel with the drinks industry holds, then the de-branding of cigarette packets might cause a shift in the opposite direction with an associated volume effect.

So if branding disappears, prices fall and smoking increases.

A simpleton like Simon Chapman would argue that this cannot be so, because if tobacco companies believed that plain packaging would lead to more smoking they would not oppose it. But they do oppose it, therefore plain packaging must lead to less smoking. QED.

This kind of logic displays a woeful naïveté about why the tobacco industry is profitable. It does not depend on more smoking, it depends on wider margins. As pampered academics, Hastings and Chapman cannot understand the mechanics of business and Darwall lists this shortcoming as one of the reasons they failed to get to grips with plain packaging...

Not carrying out any analysis of the economics of the tobacco industry to find out why its profitability and shareholder returns have been so strong during a period of tightening tobacco controls and the role of brands in supporting high prices in a declining volume market, findings which would contradict the premise of the policy.

Moreover, Darwall notes that the assumption of Hastings et al. that packaging is a factor in smoking initiation has not been an assumption in previous Department of Health documents...

The causes as to why teens and young people start smoking is a subject of extensive research and should constitute the natural starting point for an objective policy analysis. The 1998 White Paper noted that young people start smoking for a variety of reasons (it did not, however, mention cigarette packaging as one of them).

Indeed. And...

In 2009, the DH concluded there was insufficiently robust evidence to support a move to plain packaging. The 2012 consultation does not spell out how the evidence might have changed since 2009.

The evidence has changed very little. Darwall shows that the number of studies increased by just one after 2009. The evidence did not change, but the people assessing it did. Enter Gerard Hastings, a social scientist from the far-left with a penchant for state control and a deep hatred of corporations. Hastings and his cohorts at Stirling University authored a third of the 37 studies that were assessed in the consultation document and they were put at the head of table when it came to analysing the evidence for plain packaging. They also analysed the evidence for graphic warnings, which a US judge dismissed as speculation and conjecture last year. Darwall rightly draws attention to...

...the differences between what is viewed as evidence by a court and by the social scientists at Stirling University. Based on essentially the same material as that reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals three years later, which it characterized as speculation and conjecture, the 2009 Stirling University review claimed:

'There is solid research evidence to show that health warnings do deliver real health benefits.’

Hastings' tendency to draw confident conclusions from feeble evidence is a running theme in his work for the Department of Health on plain packaging. When Darwall looks at the one significant new study that appeared post-2009, he finds that it is by no means compelling...

All the study shows is that smokers are willing to pay more for branded cigarettes compared to de-branded packs with pictorial health warnings. The results say nothing about how many cigarettes they might smoke from branded compared to plain packs with pictorial health warnings. The  authors’  conclusion  about  a  reduction  in  demand  for   cigarettes reflects a fundamental misconception, confusing the perceived value of the branded pack compared to a plain pack and  smokers’  demand  for  cigarettes.

The inability of anti-smoking campaigners-cum-researchers to distinguish between revealed and stated preferences has led them up many blind alleys in recent years. I was interested to see this quiet admission from the Department of Health dated 2012...

‘Although many participants felt the smokefree legislation would be likely to encourage them to cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoked, there was a disparity between intentions and actions.'

In other words—and as we have seen before—it didn't work.

There is much more of this. Do go read the whole report.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Ireland: the clown prince of tobacco control

Back in December 2011, I mentioned that Ireland's Office of Revenue Commissioners had made explicit mention of the Laffer Curve—an elementary piece of economics that is denied by ignorant lefties and clueless tobacco controllers—in the context of the country's sky-high cigarette taxes. They wrote:

Laffer suggests there may be an optimum tax rate that maximises tax revenue (the peak of the Laffer curve), moving either direction (higher or lower taxes) from that peak will lower revenue.

It seems likely that a Laffer type effect exists in the cigarette market in Ireland and the current level of taxation may be beyond the optimum. Therefore higher tax rates (higher prices) will lead to lower tax revenue.

They even included a nice little graph to explain to this to the Emerald Isle's politicians:

From a purely financial point of view, the tip of that curve is the sweet spot and the Irish government was going beyond it, spurred on by zealous anti-smoking folk in a country that prides itself on "leading the way" in tobacco control. As I said at the time...

As Ireland’s customs wonks have now realised, this golden goose has reached the limit of how many eggs it can lay. Smokers, like drinkers, traditionally take a hit when economies tank, but governments in the highest taxing nations—including the UK—may have to start taking Arthur Laffer more seriously if they want to protect their income.

They should have listened to old Snowy, because now this has happened...

Black market cigarette trade on the increase

State losing hundreds of millions in revenue as gangs go door to door selling smuggled goods

Cigarette-smuggling continues to soar in Ireland, with new Department of Finance figures showing that tobacco excise tax receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased and the number of people smoking has remained constant at 29 per cent of the population.

There is more than a little cognitive dissonance at work here, as Dan Mitchell notes:

I have to laugh at the part of the article that says, “receipts are falling dramatically short of targets, even though taxes have increased.” This is what’s called the Fox Butterfield effect, when a leftist expresses puzzlement about something that’s actually common sense. Named after a former New York Times reporter who was baffled that more people were in prison at the same time that crime rates were falling...

And it gets worse in tobacco control's "jewel in the crown"...

Criminal gangs are openly selling smuggled cigarettes on the streets of central Dublin and other cities, door to door and at fairs and markets. Counterfeit cigarettes can be brought to the Irish market at a cost of just 20 cents a pack and sold on the black market at €4.50. The average selling price of legitimate cigarettes is €9.20 a pack.

And there could be worse to come...

Former PSNI assistant chief constable Peter Sheridan has warned that EU and Irish government proposals for the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes could result in "significant opportunities" for terrorist organisations such as the Real and Dissident IRA.

Onwards and upwards! Just keep doing what a small cabal of unelectable anti-smoking lunatics like Deborah "It is a myth that high duties on tobacco lead to increased smuggling" Arnott tell you and everything will be grand!

In case you've forgotten, Ireland is the country that has consistently come in the top two of the European 'Tobacco Control Scorecard' (battling it out with the UK). The country has followed the anti-tobacco blueprint to the letter, from smoking bans to display bans to eye-watering tobacco taxes. How has that worked out for them? Just in case you missed it when I quoted it above, here's that key line again...

...the number of people smoking has remained constant at 29 per cent of the population.

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

Meanwhile, snus-loving Sweden, a country that came a mediocre 9th in the Tobacco Control Scorecard, has a smoking prevalence of 14 per cent. Go figure!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Bring on the recession?

Brendon O'Neill is in the Telegraph reminding the bien pensants of the left about their guilty little secret—that the 'austerity' they bemoan is exactly what they were demanding a few years ago. Brendan has written about this before, as I have in The Spirit Level Delusion, but the hypocrisy of these misanthropes can't be pointed out often enough. Indeed, as Brendan says...

To describe this shift among radicals from loving austerity to hating it as hypocrisy would be to do a disservice to hypocrites. It is something closer to political schizophrenia.

Brendan mentions some of the most notorious offenders, including Monbiot and his semi-legendary 'Bring on the Recession' op-ed of 2007:

These days he rails against austerity, especially of the Tory variety, saying it has “extended the crisis” and “hurt” ordinary people by propelling Britain into a double-dip recession. But wait – I thought he loved the idea of recession? In 2007 he wrote an article called “Bring on the recession”, in which he argued that, as “unpleasant as it will be”, and yes, “some people [will] lose their jobs and homes”, a recession might at least help prevent “ecological disaster” by reining in pesky, polluting economic growth.

And then there is Johann Hari, who stopped vandalising his enemies' Wikipedia pages for long enough in 2008 to glorify the end of economic growth in the Independent...

The disgraced Independent columnist Johann Hari ridiculed David Cameron’s proposed austerity measures in 2010, saying these “cuts will kill, not cure”. Yet just two years earlier, in early 2008, he was calling on the then Labour government to introduce a system of wartime-style rationing in order to “force us all… to shift towards cleaner behaviour”. Force – what a lovely word. “Just as the government in the Second World War did not ask people to eat less voluntarily, governments today cannot ask us to burn fewer greenhouse gases voluntarily”, he said. In the space of two years, he went from demanding war-like austerity to make greedy people learn to live with less to lambasting Cameron for daring to impose cuts on people’s living standards.

For the sake of completeness, I'd like to offer some other examples. For instance, here is Hephzibah Anderson, writing in the Observer in February 2008.

Hurrah for the recession. It will do us a power of good

... Feeling poorer in pocket may not make us richer in spirit, but it could just help us get there. If we really are teetering on the brink of recession, technical or otherwise, it may remind us that houses are places to live - castles, perhaps, but not piggy banks. It may force us to recall the thrill of yearning for something, the more tantalising aspects of restraint, the delicious frisson of anticipation rather than the dull ache of satiation.

Here is Tim Lott writing in the Independent in August of the same year. This article has so many layers of wrong that it deserves to be quoted at length. According to Lott, the recession was going to be the cure for pretty much everything...

Bring on the pain of a recession and purge our coarsened souls

... Christopher Ruhm, the American economist, for instance, has published a study suggesting that a 1 per cent rise in unemployment reduced the death rate in the US by 0.5 per cent. Higher unemployment, he argues, can mean fewer cars on the road and thus fewer accidents. This also means less air pollution and a drop in pulmonary diseases and heart attacks. Also he suggests that during a slump it is the heaviest smokers, drinkers and the most obese who are likely to change their behaviour.

Recession can lead to many other benefits – a boom in public works for instance. With residential construction virtually stopped it's likely to get a lot cheaper to build things. One of the enduring legacies of America's Great Depression, for example, was the infrastructure: roads, bridges, dams, city halls, museums and parks. During recessions, governments get far more for their money, so embark on public works projects, which can also cut unemployment.

This is much debated, but my feeling is that the environment may also benefit from a recession. People will want to cut their energy costs, therefore non-essential power consumption will drop by far more than any amount of liberal nagging would achieve. There will be pressure on the organic market, as Rose Prince discusses on page 54, but equally there will be less eating out (therefore less driving) and less meat eating (since it is more expensive). Holidays and therefore air travel will slump, curbing pollution.

The rise in energy costs, one of the chief reasons for the recession, is liable to have a number of positive knock-on effects. The mall culture that has destroyed many of Britain's high streets is likely to erode in the face of the financial burden of a car journey that can offset many of the economic benefits of out-of-town superstores. High streets – especially as rents begin to fall as businesses fail – can start to regenerate with smaller, more individual shops.

... During the Eighties, for instance, it could be argued that the huge amount of youth unemployment led to a burgeoning of creativity. The inevitability – and relative acceptability – of being on the dole meant creative layabouts spent a lot of time doing reasonably creative things, and it helped fill the art schools and led to, among other things, the New Wave in music and, arguably, Brit Art. Perhaps a rise in youth unemployment again will lead to another creative upsurge.

There are a few more common sense benefits of a recession – retail businesses will be offering more discounts and perks for a longer period to attract customers and visitors, for instance. Divorce rates are dropping, partly because people can't afford to split up. But the main benefit for me of a recession is not any of the above, but the inevitable change in values that is likely to occur. After all there is no doubt that the past 10 years has seen a exponential increase in vulgarity, greed and stupidity. And, of course, shopping, which encompasses all three.

This kind of mentality was not confined to lefties. In the Sunday Times, India Knight said—under the headline 'Aah, what a relief the boom has turned to bust'—that “I am happy to observe that the decades of vulgar excess are finally over." And Alexander Chancellor, writing in the Guardian, had the following thoughts...

A recession will be tough. But it might turn us into a friendlier - and even happier - society

How so, Mr Chancellor?

I remember during the 1980s how polite taxi drivers became, so eager were they to attract custom

Good times!

One of the effects of financial hardship is to make people care less about their waistlines or about anything else that is supposed to keep them trim and fit. They feel free to be themselves again.

Hurrah for the recession indeed. But for Chancellor, the real benefit of economic malaise is greater social cohesion and a return to traditional values...

In a document leaked to the press this week, the Home Office warned the prime minister that the recession would mean more crime, more racism and more extremism. There may well be some risk of that, but it doesn't exclude a more general resurgence of a Britain admiringly described by John Major as one of "long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible suburbs and, as George Orwell said, 'Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist.'"

Perhaps "old maids bicycling to holy communion" is pushing it a bit, but hard times can have the effect of making society cosier and less competitive. It may be my imagination, but I think I can already feel in London a quieter, more amiable atmosphere, in which people are friendlier and less abusive than they were when times were good.

Financial insecurity does improve people's manners, even if this is only out of self-interest. I remember during the economic downturn of the 1980s how polite shopkeepers and even taxi drivers became, so eager were they to attract one's custom. We may find that this will happen again.

Given that depressions are bound to be depressing in lots of ways, it helps to remember that every cloud has a silver lining: and the silver lining in this case could be, for a short time at least, a somewhat more cohesive and even happier society.

This kind of talk sounds pretty ridiculous five years on. It sounded pretty ridiculous at the time, truth be told (which is why I kept the clipping at the top of this blog post). In part, it can be attributed the demands of being a contrarian newspaper columnist with space to fill, but there is no doubt that there are many people in well-paid jobs who believe that poverty is noble and empowering. They have been quiet since the end of 2008 for reasons I discussed in The Spirit Level Delusion...

When the full impact of the recession hit home a few months later, these columnists had the good sense to shut up about unemployment cleansing the soul for fear of being lynched by their readers. By the time The Spirit Level appeared on the shelves in March 2009, Britain was well into the longest recession since the 1930s. The anti-consumerists no longer had to fantasise about what a world without economic growth would look like.

It would be nice to think that some of these miserablists have learnt a lesson from the era of alleged austerity, but I suspect that it will only take a few quarters of economic growth for the attacks on GDP to return.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Satire still dead

My thanks to Jean on Twitter for pointing me to this mental anti-smoking advert (from 2011) which aims to mop up the last of California's incurable hypochondriacs.

I can't embed the video, but click here to have your mind blown.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Pretty, pretty good

By now, I'm sure you will have heard the news that was first reported by the BBC last night and apparently confirmed today...

Sources have confirmed to the Telegraph that the Coalition will not attempt to implement the Prime Minister’s plan for a 45p per unit minimum price.

This is still not official, but Sarah Wollaston went into full "help me, I'm melting" mode last night on Twitter so I guess she knows something. She's since appeared on television repeating the lie that alcohol costs the NHS and the police £21 billion a year to deal with. In fact, these costs are much lower than this and are amply covered by alcohol duty. Even if this were not so, minimum pricing would put a further cost on the population without raising any more tax revenue.

The shadow home office minister, Labour non-entity Diana Johnson, has accused Cameron of "weak leadership" which is a bit rich when you read her own evasive and wishy-washy statement on minimum pricing. But the former shadow home secretary, David Davis, really seems to get it...

"It won’t just hit those, it’ll hit poor people. It’ll hit people in the north. It’ll hit the pensioner having their one bottle of wine a week; it’ll hit the hard-up couple doing the same. It’s going to cost…it’s going to transfer £1billion from the public to the people who sell alcohol, and it’s not going to work.

Unusually for a politician, David understands that medics should not be lawmakers and that their evidence is suspect...

“If I wanted medical advice I’d go to a medic. This is a social policy issue: it’s much more complex than saying put the price up and we’ll stop it... The medics are not evidence. The medics are making an argument; they’re not actually presenting evidence to show that this works. I’ve not seen anywhere that this works.”

After Stanton Glanz's bollocking and the court decision on Bloomberg's soda ban, this is turning out to be a pretty good week. Plus it's No Smoking Day today and the government hasn't used it as an excuse to pass more draconian anti-smoking laws. Oh, and that crank Aseem Malhotra has been pulled up for getting his facts wrong again. Happy days.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Think of them children

This study was almost entirely ignored by the media when it was published in Tobakko Kontrol yesterday (except for four lines in the Nottingham Post), but it gives an interesting insight into the minds of 'tobacco control professionals' in 2013. The lead author is Ailsa Lyons, a minion at the (state-funded) UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies who wants to clamp down on smoking and drinking in the movies. She has a PhD in philosophy and so naturally works in the UKCTCS's Department of, er, Epidemiology. In tobacco control terms, therefore, she is both a "scientist" and a "doctor".

The study's press release (which is sub-headed "More stringent controls could help curb young people starting to smoke, say doctors") begins...

UK children are being exposed to millions of tobacco images/messages every week on prime time television, indicates research published online in Tobacco Control.

Yes, they're thinking of the children again. Where does exposure to the sight of tobacco on screen come in the spectrum of fanaticism? Is it fourth-hand or fifth-hand smoke? I lose track.

The authors analysed the weekly content of all five free to air UK TV channels, broadcast between 1800 and 2200 hours on three separate occasions, four weeks apart, in April, May, and June 2010.

A normal bedtime for a child is around 7pm, is it not? So why are these "doctors" looking at TV programmes between 6pm and 10pm in a study that looks at what "UK children are being exposed to"? Could it be because the only programmes which show smoking in any form are "gritty" TV for adults, "reality" TV and the news?

The content was then coded in 1 minute intervals according to whether it was: actual use of a tobacco product; implied use; the presence of tobacco paraphernalia, such as packs and ashtrays; and other references to tobacco, such as a news report.

Implied use of tobacco (sixth-hand smoke?) and the presence of ashtrays in TV programmes—are you kidding me? As for references to tobacco in news reports, there have been plenty of those in recent years thanks to the endless campaign for more and more anti-smoking laws. Are we now being told that these campaigns are counter-productive because they make "the children" aware of tobacco's existence? How funny it would be if this warped logic were taken to its logical conclusion and the anti-smokers were banned from the airwaves.

The break-down of content type showed that actual tobacco use occurred in 245 (1%) of all 1-minute intervals, in 73 (12%) of all programmes, and (0.7%) of all adverts/trailers.

Since 20 per cent of adults are smokers, it appears that smoking is massively under-represented on British television. On the few occasions when it does appear, it is in decades-old repeats, or new stories, or as a shorthand to tell the viewer who the villain is.

This is not the concern of Lyons and company. They do not want to show the world as it is, but as they would like it to be. They have a problem not just with reality TV shows but with reality itself. As ever with these puritans, no indication is given of what a tolerable percentage of on screen "actual tobacco use" would be, but it seems fair to assume that their target is zero. It is not enough for them to ban tobacco advertising. It is not enough for them to stop people smoking tobacco in so-called public places. It is not enough for them to stop retailers displaying the product in shops. The mere depiction of tobacco use, or implied tobacco use, or even inanimate objects which are associated with tobacco use, must be censored, banned and prohibited in the name of the children.

Tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion in TV programmes are banned in the UK, but imagery included for artistic or editorial reasons is exempt. 

Yeah, it is. Do you know why? Because state censorship of journalism and the arts is only fit for totalitarian regimes.

We would recommend that future television programming remove gratuitous depictions of tobacco, particularly actual smoking and tobacco branding, from programmes aimed at young people, or, in the UK, scheduled before the 2100 watershed,” they write.

I have long since become weary of these disingenuous prohibitionists getting their foot in the door with the old think-of-the-chidren/watershed plea. Would they be happy with tobacco advertising if it was on after 9pm? No. Are their fellow travellers happy with a pre-watershed ban on alcohol advertising? No. They'll never be happy until every media abolishes every trace of the vice they are fighting.

It is not just the smell of tobacco that displeases them. It is the sight of tobacco and everything associated with it. This study is a valuable reminder we are dealing with censorious neurotics who can never be satiated and can never be appeased. In more enlightened times, their unabashed contempt for freedom and decency would make them outcasts in civilised society. At best, they would be pitied. More often, they would be mocked and scorned. They would, in short, be "denormalised", and so they should be again.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Bloomberg's spanking

Not so fast, Mikey.

Just as New Yorkers were bracing themselves for Michael Bloomberg's latest attempt to micromanage their lives, the State Supreme Court has ruled that the "Big Gulp ban" is illegal. The wonderfully named Judge Tingling declared that prohibiting the sale of large soft drinks is "arbitrary and capricious" and declared that the public health justification for the ban is weak and unconvincing. Interestingly, he noted that the expansion of the public health industry in New York City was an unwelcome development...

The judge also appeared to be skeptical of the purview of the city’s Board of Health, which the Bloomberg administration had maintained has broad powers to seek to better the public’s health. That interpretation, the judge wrote, “would leave its authority to define, create, mandate and enforce limited only by its own imagination,” and “create an administrative Leviathan.”

And as, er, Bloomberg reports...

“The loopholes in this rule effectively defeat the stated purpose,” Tingling wrote. “It is arbitrary and capricious because it applies to some but not all food establishments in the city, it excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories on specific grounds and the loopholes inherent in the rule, including but not limited to no limitations on refills, defeat and/or serve to gut the purpose of the rule.”

The plaintiffs said the decision by the board of health to approve the ban was overreaching and ignored the rights of New Yorkers to make their own choices. The plan is “grossly unfair” to small businesses such as hot-dog vendors and pizzerias because convenience and grocery stores can still sell the larger sizes, lawyers for the groups told Tingling.

We can expect the usual tears and tantrums from public health tyrants like Marion Nestle who had already been plotting the "next logical step". There will be lots of whinging about the supposed power of "Big Soda" and "Big Sugar". Once again, the laws and constitution of a country that was built on liberty have defeated zealots who believe in elite governance and state control.

I can almost sympathise with Eric Crampton's view that New Yorkers deserved the soda ban for their sin of re-electing a decrepit old skeleton who is always in a nanny state of mind...

...a malicious part of me really wishes this had gone ahead. The ban looked to be an intractable nightmare that New York, having elected Bloomberg, really deserved to endure. They could have served as example unto others. Instead, the lesson is that judges will bat back things that are entirely too crazy, so there's no harm in electing Bloombergs. Sometimes, the electorate does deserve to get what it wants, and that right hard.

New Yorkers might have got off the hook this time, but it is good news for all of us that Bloomberg has been prevented from setting another nasty precedent. All we need now is for the WTO to reject plain packaging and the EU to reject minimum pricing. Isn't it funny how the bright ideas of the alleged public health lobby so often clash with laws which were designed to protect decent, civilised, democratic society?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Stanton's spanking

There are studies and news stories that pass my desk every week which are so barking mad that I don't know where to start, so I don't. A recent example is a "study" published by the esteemed mechanical engineer Stanton Glantz in the esteemed peer-reviewed comic Tobacco Control which claimed that the US political movement the Tea Party was created, at least in large part, by the tobacco industry in the 1980s and continues to act as a front group for Big Tobacco. I do not exaggerate...

Conclusions: Rather than being a purely grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party has developed over time, in part through decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests.

This theory has been endorsed by no less a figure than failed presidential candidate Al Gore and was reported in the Huffington Post thus...

Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaire Koch Brothers

Notice the way the word "confirms" begs the question here. No serious person has ever suggested any such relationship before and no rational individual will be convinced by Glantz's argument, but by implying that this study adds to a body of evidence, the casual reader is led to believe that this hypothesis has now been proved beyond doubt.

This is a relatively common trick in the world of junk science, but the specifics of this particular claim remain far-fetched to say the least. It is generally agreed that the Tea Party came together as a reaction to the Obama administration at the end of the last decade. Glantz argues that it was really formed twenty five years earlier by the tobacco company Philip Morris using a labyrinthine network of lobby groups. To do this, he adopts the schizophrenic methodology of "seven degrees of separation" to produce results which resemble a monkey's drunken Google binge.

From the abstract...

Results: Starting in the 1980s, tobacco companies worked to create the appearance of broad opposition to tobacco control policies by attempting to create a grassroots smokers’ rights movement.

They did fund some smokers' rights groups. That much is true.

Simultaneously, they funded and worked through third-party groups, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy, the predecessor of AFP and FreedomWorks, to accomplish their economic and political agenda.

Uh-huh. So?

There has been continuity of some key players, strategies and messages from these groups to Tea Party organisations.

Also true. So?

As of 2012, the Tea Party was beginning to spread internationally.

That is the abstract in full and it is about as good as the evidence gets. All of these statements are either banal or irrelevant. Like the study itself, it is a series of non sequiturs. What significance is there in the Tea Party's alleged international spread, for example? What does it matter if lobby groups use similar "strategies" and "messages"? It would be surprising if they did not.

The only thing that helps tie Glantz's conspiracy theory together is the reappearance of some "key players" who have supported both smokers' rights and a more general small state, free market, libertarian political agenda. But, again, this is hardly surprising, and Glantz puts the cart before the horse in his argument. At one point he quotes a "field co-ordinator" from the tobacco company RJ Reynolds in his study as supporting evidence...

"In about the third year [of the RJR smokers’ rights groups], there was an emphasis on coalition building—anti-tax groups were a natural. You didn’t have to defend your position on tobacco because a tax is a tax is a tax to these guys."

If Glantz was not so blinkered, he would see that these "anti-tax groups" were being perfectly consistent in opposing higher tobacco taxes. As this quote suggests, these groups needed no persuading. They were not holding one position in public and another in private—which is the implicit accusation levelled at those who are "in the pay of Big Tobacco". They really were against high taxes and therefore were against high tobacco taxes.

It is, therefore, no great shock to discover that some organisations which advocate free choice, property rights and individual liberty have been involved in the fight against tobacco prohibition and have also been involved with the Tea Party. Nor is it surprising that some of the organisations that have supported the Tea Party (a very large coalition) have, at one time or another, received donations from tobacco companies (a very large industry). What is surprising about Glantz's paper is how weak these relationships are and how little evidence there is of collusion. Instead, Glantz has to resort to talking about groups that have been defunct for many years. The Tea Party itself barely features. The study links a host of different right-wing political groups to each other and to Big Tobacco without bothering to actually show any Big Tobacco funding of groups that are involved in the Tea Party. It is a mélange of innuendo and guilt by association of the sort that is done equally ineptly by Glantz's protegé Anna Gilmore at Bath University.

But it doesn't stop there. Oh no. The Tea Party has also been known to use the same "strategies" and "messages" as these libertarian, small-state lobby groups, and Glantz reveals this damning evidence in his study.

The smokers’ rights groups’ publications disputed the health effects of second-hand smoke, promoted ‘choice’ [Don't you love the way Glantz puts the word 'choice' in scare quotes, as if no one really believes in such a concept—CJS] and individual rights and encouraged smokers to defend their rights and freedoms. Some of these appeals made direct reference to the Boston Tea Party. For example, a 1989 issue of Philip Morris Magazine included a section on excise taxes that compared that kind of taxation with the taxes being opposed during the Boston Tea Party.

In 1993, Massachusetts smokers’ rights groups distributed a mailing entitled ‘Protect your right to smoke!’ that included ‘Tea Party’ language to describe opposition to tobacco taxes: ‘New Englanders don’t like unfair taxes —remember the Boston Tea Party?—and they’re fighting mad over proposals in Washington to raise the federal tax on cigarettes from 24 cents a pack to $1.24 or maybe even $2.24 a pack.’

What sane person could deny that these random references to one of the most famous events in American history are irrefutable proof that Philip Morris formed an unrelated pressure group of the same name twenty years later?! Only a cynic would suggest that Glantz did a Google search of the 80 million pages of tobacco industry documents for the term "tea party" and then quoted the two best, if not only, examples of such terminology being used by Big Tobacco.

The study really is as bad as these quotes make it sound. It is the sheer, mind-boggling insanity and paranoia of it that left me unable to write about it when it came out last month. Fortunately, Jacob Sullum was on hand to discuss it at Reason...

According to Glantz et al., then, supporting private property rights, consumer choice, and limited government makes you objectively pro-tobacco, whether or not you are getting any money from cigarette manufacturers. After all, those are "well-established industry arguments." Likewise, if you oppose ObamaCare, you are doing the bidding of Big Tobacco, even if you don't realize it.

If these positions are so clearly indefensible, why does the money matter? "It is important for policy-makers to be aware of the corporate funding sources for organisations that work to influence public policy," Glantz et al. write. "It is important for policy-makers,the health community and people who support the Tea Party to be aware of these complex and often hard-to-track linkages." But they never really explain why. Surely it is possible to judge arguments and evidence on their own merits, without reference to the alleged financial interests of the people offering them.

But rather than respond with arguments and evidence of his own, Glantz seeks to discredit his opponents by implying that they do not really believe what they are saying, that they are only in it for the money. "It is important for tobacco control advocates to anticipate and counter Tea Party opposition to tobacco control policies," Glantz and his co-authors write, "and to ensure that policy makers, the media and the public understand the longstanding intersection between the tobacco industry and the Tea Party policy agenda." In other words, if you don't have logic and facts on your side, smear your opponents as Big Tobacco shills or dupes.

This study is such a transparent attempt by Glantz to weld his left-wing agenda to his anti-tobacco obsession that I was amused to hear that he has recently been called out on it. You see, the study was paid for by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. The NCI paid $678,952 for it, according to a subsequent Huffington Post article that was headlined National Cancer Institute funds tea party with hunt. That is a lot of money for any study, let alone a bit of shoddy internet-based research that was knocked out by a nutty professor and two of his UCSF minions.

Deliciously, it seems that politicians are finally starting to ask why public money is being spent propagating the old boy's delusions...

The U.S. House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee on health and human services, labor, and education met to ask the directors of five agencies about ways to avoid duplicating research in a tight budget environment. Toward the end of the 2-hour hearing, Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) asked about a specific National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded study tracing Tea Party's origins to groups supported by tobacco companies (video around 1:51 here). "They allege that somehow the Tea Party had its origin in the 1980s with tobacco funding, which is pretty incredible," Harris said. "Because I mean, I'm a Tea Party guy. I was there when it was established in 2009. I know the origins. I find it incredible that NIH funding is funding this," Harris said, adding that the study reflects "a partisan political agenda."

No fooling.

Harris fired back: "What is within the NIH's abilities to, shall we say, make sure that this researcher or this institution doesn't play fast and loose with taxpayer money in this kind of research?"

The horse has bolted on that one, Mr Harris. The guy's been at it for the best part of forty years.

If you watch the video of the hearings, you'll see the following exchange between Harris and a rather red-faced representative of the NIH, Dr Collins:

Mr Harris: Dr Collins, what methods does the NIH have when this kind of research takes dollars from cancer research—and other important, vital research—what does the NIH do to universities that waste federal tax dollars this way? ... This was the use of federal dollars on a clearly partisan agenda. What is the NIH going to do to make sure that we don't fund this research, we fund the real medical research as we go forward in a time of constrained resources?

Dr Collins: Of course we thought we were funding a different kind of research when these grants were made.

This implies some degree of deception on the part of the grant applicant, but Glantz is playing the victim, saying that he is "very troubled" by the threat of losing his income from unwitting taxpayers allegations.

His grant proposal didn't hide anything, he says. Written several years ago, it discussed his plan to study the influence on policymaking of "third parties" funded by the tobacco industry. "We didn't go looking for the Tea Party. It emerged naturally in the course of the research," he says, just as a cell biologist's research grant might lead in an unexpected direction.

Comparing himself—a laptop-wielding activist—with a lab scientist is very much part of Glantz's schtick, and the last word must go him...

It's not the first time Glantz's research has drawn hostility from Congress. In 1995, House appropriators voted to defund his NCI grant, but their recommendation was stripped from the final spending bill that year. "This is déjà vu all over again," Glantz says.

I would give Glantz credit for that amusing tautology if I thought it was intentional but, like all fundamentalists and zealots, he is bestowed with neither the wit nor the sense of irony.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Smoking rate stays flat, drinking continues to fall

While the BBC is busy reporting that processed meat and salt are killers, the Office for National Statistics has published the latest stats on the Beeb's other bête noirs, alcohol and tobacco. And it's a case of "as you were", with the post-2004 decline in drinking and the post-2007 flattening out of the smoking rate both continuing.

As you can see from the top graph, the smoking rate was falling nicely until 2007 when it reached 21 per cent. Since then it has been virtually static, falling by just one percentage point in four years. 2007 saw the start of a new phase in extreme "evidence-based" tobacco control measures, including the smoking ban, the 'fish hook' ads and an increase in the legal age of purchase. Since then it has been open season on smokers, with graphic warnings (2008), a series of particularly large tax increases (2010-11) and a ban on vending machines (2011).

What's been the effect of all this feverish activity? What have we got to show for the millions of pounds given to the likes of SmokeFree Southwest and the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies? The decline in smoking has slowed to a virtual halt and the illicit trade has boomed.

Meanwhile, alcohol consumption and rates of 'binge drinking' have been sliding downwards for the best part of a decade at a time when we supposedly have '24 hour drinking' and 'pocket money prices'. The answer to this fake drinking epidemic—say the 'experts'—is to copy the policies that have been used in tobacco control!

It beggars belief that anyone can be so blinkered. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if 'public health' was a results-oriented business, these people would be out on their ear. Fortunately for them, nobody in government ever bothers to compare their extravagant promises with the real world consequences and each new failure is implicitly used as justification for further 'tough action'.


The BBC resembles the propaganda wing of the public health lobby more and more by the day. It has now reported the results of the GLS Survey but has spared the anti-smokers' blushes by taking the long view...

Smoking in Britain has more than halved and people are drinking on fewer nights of the week, according to a snapshot survey covering the past 40 years.

Auntie doesn't mention the more recent trend in smoking prevalence. Instead, it quotes a couple of public health lobbyists, the first of whom says...

"We need to get rid of really cheap discounts on alcohol."

And the second says (in the closing line of the article)...

"It is encouraging to see measures such as banning smoking in cars when children are present and introduction of standardised packaging for cigarettes being seriously considered by this government."

Shameless. Utterly shameless.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Euro Puppets

Today saw the release of my latest Institute of Economic Affairs report, Euro Puppets: The European Commission’s remaking of civil society. It is a study of the European Commission's extensive funding of a vast array of pressure groups, think tanks, charities and NGOs.

You can download it for free here.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Plain packaging decision leaked?

According to the Guardian...

Ministers are to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes along the Australian model with legislation this year, after becoming convinced that the branding is a key factor in why young people start to smoke.

The legislation, to be announced in the Queen's speech in May, is also expected to ban smoking in cars carrying anyone aged under 16 years.

Why merely infringe on intellectual property rights when you can infringe on actual property rights as well, huh? What was it that David Cameron said in 2008?

"The era of big, bossy, state interference, top-down lever pulling is coming to an end."

What a comedian. Sadly, the laugh's on us.

The Guardian quotes a "senior Whitehall source"....

"We are going to follow what they have done in Australia. The evidence suggests it is going to deter young smokers. There is going to be legislation," said a senior Whitehall source said.

We should remember that this is only an anonymous leak and may well turn out to be untrue. There can be no doubt that there are senior figures in the Department of Health, such as Andrew Black, the 'Tobacco Programme Manager', who are committed to plain packaging regardless of the evidence and regardless of which elected politicians are in charge. The extraordinary sums of taxpayers' money that have been spent on the campaign are testament to that, as are the numerous incidents of skullduggery that have made a mockery of the public consultation.

It may be that one of the DoH's activists has put out this anonymous briefing to put pressure on the government to go ahead with the policy. Let us remember what Deborah Arnott said about the campaign for the smoking ban in 2006:

It is essential that campaigners create the impression of inevitable success. Campaigning of this kind is literally a confidence trick: the appearance of confidence both creates confidence and demoralises the opposition.

On the other hand, if the government's decision has really been announced via an anonymous Department of Health leak, it will be a fitting end to a public consultation that has been characterised by secret meetings, dodgy dossiers and sock puppet lobbying. If plain packaging is introduced by a supposedly free market coalition despite 2 to 1 opposition in the consultation, it will rightly make people wonder whether what kind of democracy we live in.

Viva España

The BBC has wet its pants over the latest public health press release. Apparently Britain is the sick man of Europe (if you exclude lots of European countries), whereas those paragons of health—the, er, Spanish—lead the pack. As the Guardian reports...

They may be out of work and struggling with financial disaster, but the Spanish have the highest healthy life expectancy in Europe – and beat Australia, Canada, Norway and the USA as well.

So, what is Spain's secret of long life? Is is their smoking rate?

Spain has achieved progress in reducing tobacco consumption, with current rates of daily smokers among adults standing at 26.4% in 2006, down from 41% in 1985. However, smoking rates in Spain still remain higher than the OECD average of 23.3%

How about "hazardous drinking"?

According to a survey by the European Commission (EC), Spain is among the worst European countries for the abuse of alcohol, only Ireland, Romania, Germany and Austria have a worse record.

Then it must be their low rate of obesity, right?

Adult obesity rates in Spain are higher than the OECD average, and child rates are amongst the highest in the OECD. Two out of 3 men are overweight and 1 in 6 people are obese in Spain.

This all adds up to a bit of a mystery if, like the BBC, you have swallowed the public health fantasy that under-regulation of the food, drink and tobacco industries is the true cause of ill health. Perhaps the Guardian hits the nail on the head with this observation...

Spain has an excellent healthcare system, ranked seventh in 2000 on the only occasion the World Health Organisation has compiled a league table. The UK was 18th.

I suppose we could try to improve the NHS (the envy of the world if you exclude 17 countries who do it better), but that would involve the doctors having to do the job they're being paid for instead of issuing press releases and drawing up lists of demands. And that would be asking far too much, wouldn't it now?


As usual, the Daily Mash has a sound take on this latest excuse for the government to stomp on your face...

Statistics show the UK is falling behind other European countries at not ignoring doctors or creepy government health campaigns.

Now the government has pledged to reverse the trend by giving more money to doctors and commissioning a series of creepy health campaigns.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We’re also going to need lots of new laws about food and alcohol and tobacco that will be devised by people with a form of OCD that can only be described as ‘raging’.

“It is going to be unbelievably annoying. Don’t you just hate it here? Still, what are you going to do about it? A big fat nothing, that’s what.”

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Mail on Sunday admits it was wrong about e-cigarettes

Remember this from the Mail on Sunday a few weeks ago?

E-cigarettes 'can cause more harm than smoking,' experts say

They are billed as a healthier alternative to smoking, yet experts now warn that electronic cigarettes may be more damaging than the habit they replace.

I'm pleased so say that the newspaper has today admitted that this was completely untrue...