Thursday, 22 March 2018

What exactly is the tobacco playbook?

A recent Guardian article portrayed bacon as the new smoking...

The meat industry’s tactics in defending bacon have been “right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook”, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University.

No slippery slope there, then! But what exactly is 'the tobacco industry's playbook'? It's a phrase we hear a lot these days when campaigners are trying the poison the well against their perceived enemies. I've done a bit of searching and the tobacco playbook seems to be used by nearly everybody and includes nearly everything. Here's my top twenty...

1. Sporting associations being involved with medical organisations.

NFL’s partnership with CDC on head injuries is straight out of big tobacco’s playbook

2. Soft drink companies 'donating to adversarial health groups':

Big Soda is using Big Tobacco's playbook

A recent review found that in the past five years, Pepsi and Coke sponsored nearly 100 health-related organizations including the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and even The Obesity Society.

3. Booze companies lobbying:

A new study has found that Australian alcohol companies have successfully copied tactics straight out of the tobacco playbook to block the introduction of mandated pregnancy warning labels.

4. Mobile phone companies questioning whether their products cause brain cancer:

They have their response straight out of the big tobacco playbook and they use it. “Although we are constantly exploring the subject, currently there is no direct evidence that links cell phone usage to brain cancer.”

5. Advertising to men:

“That appeal to macho culture is straight out of the tobacco industry playbook. They are using a lot of the same tactics ... it’s targeting your kids, it’s often sexist and designed with the intent of creating the problem gamblers of tomorrow,” he said.

6. Advertising to anyone:

Old tobacco playbook gets new use with e-cigarette advertising 

The electronic cigarette ads push the same themes as old cigarette ads: sophistication, freedom, equality and individualism, said Timothy de Waal Malefyt, a visiting associate professor at Fordham University’s business school and former advertising executive.

7. Advertising e-cigarettes:

“As Big Tobacco corners the e-cigarette market, it is using e-cigarettes as a global PR scheme to gloss over its tarnished image, positioning itself as a‘solution’ to the problem it drives. In reality, the e-cigarette industry is taking advantage of the regulatory vacuum to employ the Big Tobacco playbook to hook a new generation on its products,” said John Stewart of the U.S.-based group Corporate Accountability International.

8. Distributing e-cigarettes:

Thirteen Members of Congress today called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take immediate action to protect young people from predatory e-cigarette marketing and distribution tactics that are straight out of big tobacco's playbook.

9. Hiring public relations firms:

Today, Big Soda faces the same PR challenges as Big Tobacco, and its PR strategy is straight out of the Big Tobacco playbook. In fact, the soda industry taps many of the same PR firms that helped Big Tobacco deceive the public for so long.

10. Taking legal action (about wording in a referendum on soda taxes):

“This lawsuit is straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook that Big Soda is now using,” Martin Bourque, executive director of the nonprofit Ecology Center and a member of the Measure D campaign committee, said in an email.

11. Publishing peer-reviewed studies:

“This comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research. “This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.”

12. Partnering with a non-profit organisation:

By partnering with a group that could otherwise be one of its staunchest critics, Walmart is taking a page right out of the Big Tobacco playbook: Buying silence.

13. Funding scientific research:

Taking a page right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, five major beverage manufacturers are ponying up $67.7 million to prove that a glass of wine, beer or cocktail every day will increase one’s chances of avoiding a heart attack and live longer.

14. Supposedly advertising to children:

“Predatory marketing to children was the hallmark of Big Tobacco nearly two decades ago,” Madhusoodanan wrote in an e-mail. “McDonald’s and the fast food industry have taken a page right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook and are driving an epidemic of diet-related diseases by getting kids addicted to their junk food at a young age and building brand loyalties that last a lifetime.”

Read more here:

15. Paying CEOs a lot of money:

Sabet said the marijuana industry is taking "pages right out of the big tobacco playbook."
"I think no doubt we are going down the path of creating Big Tobacco 2.0," Sabet said. "When you look at the techniques of the marijuana industry, they downplay risks, they produce marijuana candies and other fun items, they fund research and political advocacy and most of all they are corporate CEOs poised to make millions, the comparison couldn't be more perfect."

16. Advertising to people while they do everyday tasks:

The editorial also compared the people behind “pot-peddling” to those who sell cigarettes. “Marketing pot to consumers while they carry out everyday tasks is right out of the old Big Tobacco playbook,” the piece stated.

17. Talking about personal choice:

Out of the tobacco playbook

Tactics employed by the food and drink industry to influence the public health debate are “identical” to those used by the tobacco industry 30 years ago, experts have warned.

“It’s exactly identical to tobacco,” said Professor Timothy Noakes, an authority on nutrition who has witnessed colleagues accepting funding from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

“The only difference is, in the past the public was not as aware as they are today of the dangers and benefits of different products. Now the companies have to be cleverer and they have to target scientists who are particularly influential.”

Both tobacco and junk food companies emphasise the importance of personal choice.

 18. Pointing out that regressive taxes are regressive:
Is the anti-sugar tax lobby taking a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook?

This week, the Institute of Race Relations became the latest organisation to attempt to discredit research showing that taxing sugary drinks could save lives in South Africa. Hofman cautions that attacks on the public health rationale behind the tax may be similar to ploys that health activists, particularly anti-tobacco campaigners, have seen before.

The institute questioned the rationale behind the proposed tax, arguing that it would only be a burden on the poor and would not reduce obesity.

Hofman has hit back, saying that the tobacco lobby spent years trying to discredit scientific research that revealed the dangers of smoking.

“This is a strategy from the tobacco playbook, in which they [the industry] tried to discredit peer-reviewed scientific research."

 19. Having a trade organisation:

Salt Industry Takes Page from Big Tobacco's Playbook

Remember the Tobacco Institute? The "research" organization set up by Big Tobacco that served mainly to obfuscate and distort what they and other scientists knew about the incredibly harmful effects of smoking?

Meet its reincarnation: the Salt Institute.

20. Borrowing from the oil industry:

Evidence Suggests the Oil Industry Wrote Big Tobacco's Playbook, Then Used It to Lie About Climate Change 

It has long been assumed that, in its efforts to deceive investors and the public about the negative impact its business has on the environment, Big Oil borrowed Big Tobacco's so-called tactical "playbook." But these documents indicate that infamous playbook appears to have actually originated within the oil industry itself.

I hope that's cleared things up.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The temperance lobby's problem with supply and demand

With minimum pricing starting in Scotland in a few weeks, state-funded temperance groups are looking for new dragons to slay. Advertising is the number one choice, but our old friend 'availability' is also a priority.

From the BBC...

Scotland's poorest people suffer most from having easy access to alcohol in their area, a new study has suggested.

Researchers at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities found those on the lowest incomes were more likely to drink too much if availability was high.

They have suggested the Scottish government should look at cutting the number of shops selling alcohol - particularly in areas of low income.

Sigh. We have been through it time and time again. As I said when a similar piece of junk was published in 2014...

Look, areas of high demand will have more supply. That is as true of alcohol as it is of any other product. If supply was sufficient to create demand then alcohol retailers would open more and more off licences everywhere until they were evenly distributed across the country on a per capita basis. They don't do that because they follow demand instead. Off licences are more densely concentrated in certain areas for the same reason that bookmakers, coffee shops and Polish food shops are more concentrated in certain areas, ie. because that's where the customers are.

Just as the alcohol retail industry cannot expect to increase aggregate demand by opening a new off licence, temperance activists should not expect to reduce aggregate demand by closing them down. Alas they do expect that because they're simple folk who believe, like every temperance crusader before them, that demand for alcohol is somehow created by the sneaky alcohol industry. Hence their quixotic battle against availability and advertising that flies in the face of everything we know about the workings of markets.

Alas, the BBC couldn't be bothered to ask somebody with half a brain to explain how supply and demand works. 

The team's findings suggested that interventions to reduce drinking which focus exclusively on consumer behaviour - such as media campaigns and warning labels on bottles and cans - were unlikely to make significant improvements to health. 

That's a bit awkward for their 'public health' colleagues given that the third part of their neo-temperance agenda is putting cancer warnings on alcohol, but never mind.

They argued that radical policy changes were needed to address health inequalities in alcohol-related harm. Changes, they said, should include reducing the availability of alcohol. 

Of course they did. What do you expect from these people? Either they are stopped or they continue their whirlwind of destruction until alcohol is illegal.

If they genuinely believe that people drink excessively because they have five off licences within walking distance rather than three then they are profoundly stupid. If they don't believe that, they are deceitful activists. Either way they should not given a platform to spout their obvious nonsense unchallenged.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

More jobs for the boys on the obesity gravy train

Further to my previous posts about the copious studies showing that living near fast food outlets does not make you fat, here's another example of a 'public health' activist-academic ignoring the evidence.

In January, The Times ran a story in which it was claimed that the number of fast food outlets around schools has risen by 67 per cent in the last eight years. Professor Russell Viner of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was quoted...

Russell Viner, of RCPCH, said that fast-food chains were “cashing in on school-age footfall” and “enticing young people and their pocket money . . . [with] devastating consequences for the overall health of our children.”

... Professor Viner said that fast-food chains “bombarded” children with adverts. “While it’s not surprising that fast food franchises tend to concentrate in poorer areas and those with bigger populations, which means nearer schools, this is even more reason for concern.”

This is not what the evidence says, and words like 'bombarded' and 'enticing' make Viner sound more like a campaigner than a scientist.

It turns out that he has some strongly held views on policy. In the same month, he was using emotional language about children reclaiming their childhood in his efforts to urge the government to ban 'junk food' advertising before 9pm... 

"We urge Government to show it is serious about protecting children’s health by banning junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed. Only then can children reclaim their childhood.”

More recently, in response to the ridiculous Cancer Research claim that overweight/obesity among millenials is rising (it's not), Russell Viner was the lead signatory of a letter to The Times...

The government is considering further measures to reduce childhood obesity. Health leaders are unanimous that protecting children from junk food adverts must be prioritised: last weekend, for example, more than a third of the adverts shown during a popular family-time programme were for high fat, sugar and salt foods. These adverts were seen by more than a million children.

Policymakers from all parties must listen to the sector and to the public. We need to get to grips with obesity now before it is too late.

Viner is entitled to his views and is free to campaign for whatever policies he likes. He's obviously already made his mind up, but hopefully the government will commission some impartial academics to evaluate the evidence and recommend policies.

Oh wait, they already have. A £5 million cheque was written last August for set up a new group...

The Department of Health has announced £5 million of funding for a new obesity policy research unit at University College London.

One year on from the launch of the childhood obesity plan, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Obesity Policy Research Unit has been set up to provide resource for long term research into childhood obesity.

It will give independent advice to policy makers and analysts, and develop understanding on the causes of childhood obesity, looking at social inequalities, the early years of childhood, and marketing to children and families.

Independent advice, splendid! And who, I wonder, has been put in charge of this lavishly funded outfit?

Professor Russell Viner, Policy Research Unit Director and Professor of Adolescent Health who will lead the Unit...

What with all the cash being given to sugar tax campaigners to evaluate the sugar tax, the obesity gravy train/echo chamber is shaping up very nicely for some people, isn't it?

Monday, 19 March 2018

Motivated reasoning - a case study

Last week, the IEA published my report Fast Food Outlets: What is the Evidence? As the title suggests, it is a review of the published evidence on the proximity and density of fast food outlets to obesity. It shows that only 20 per cent of the 74 studies conducted have found a positive association between fast food availability and body weight. Of the studies related to children, only 15 per cent have found a positive association.

This is no secret to those who are familiar with the evidence. Several previous evidence reviews have come to much the same conclusion.

Williams et al. (2014: 372) ‘did not find strong evidence at this time to justify policies related to regulating the food environments around schools’. Gordon-Larsen (2014) found that: ‘Studies of access to fast food and body weight generally showed null results’. Cobb et al. (2015) found that two-thirds of the associations between fast food availability and obesity in the literature were null, as did Mackenbach et al. (2014: 12) who took the methodological quality of the studies into account when conducting their review before concluding that ‘the overall evidence for an association between environmental factors and weight status is weak.’

Public Health England and its minions in local authorities have chosen to either ignore the academic literature or cherry-pick the few studies that appear to support 'zoning laws' (ie. banning new fast food outlets opening in certain areas). If they are not going to be honest about what the evidence says, it is up to people like me to shine a light on it.

This hasn't gone down well with a man called Greg Fell. Greg is Sheffield's Director of Public Health and is on £106,000 plus expenses and benefits (his predecessor was on an almost unbelievable £178,000). He is not some hikikomarxist living in his mum's basement. It is easy to forget that as you read his blog post.

Given the source, I’d guess it’s been funded by KFC, maybe the Colonel himself.

This is Fell's opening gambit. Going straight in with the ad hominem is what the bottom feeders on Twitter do and that is about Fell's level. It's his 'guess' that the IEA report was 'funded by KFC'. I can tell you categorically that it wasn't. The IEA doesn't do commissioned research and I've never heard of KFC, or any other fast food outlet, giving money to the IEA in all my years working for them. I can tell you with 100 per cent certainty that the first time anybody in the fast food industry, from the biggest burger chain to the smallest kebab shop, heard about this report was the day it was published.

But let's pretend for a moment that the IEA is mostly funded by McDonald's and that this particular report was commissioned by Pizza Hut. Hell, let's say it was written by Pizza Hut. Would its findings be any more or less true? Of course not. Leaving aside the fact that the report is only a summary of studies written by other people (mostly 'public health' people), the validity of a study's conclusions cannot be judged by the identity or motivations of its author. If it turns out to be a pack of lies then the motivations of the author might explain why, but these motivations do not automatically make it a pack of lies. This is basic critical thinking.

However, as I say, no such commercial interests were involved in this report so Fell's 'guess' is worthless. But that doesn't stop him putting it at the heart of his blog post's title:

The McKentucky-Hut review of fast food zoning evidence

It is worth noting how casually these people lie. Whether something is true or false seems wholly irrelevant to them. The only thing that matters is the effect that saying it will have on the reader.

Having indicated that evidence is not really his thing, Fell confirms it...

Bluntly, I can’t be bothered to go through it line my line. It seems of pretty poor quality academically speaking – a bit opaque re methods, selective quoting, flawed lines of argument. Of course maybe it doesn’t present to be an academic work, but it will still be presented as evidence to decision makers – who may or may not be able to pick through the flaws.

Not only is Fell not prepared to 'go through the it line by line' (ie. read it properly), he is apparently too busy to explain what the 'flaws' are. What are the 'flawed lines of argument'? What examples can he give of 'selective quoting'? Alas, he can't be bothered to provide a single example.

Or, more likely, he can't find any 'flaws' in a report that is mostly just a list of studies and a summary of their conclusions, but he has seen critiques of other people's work that use these phrases and thinks that he can poison the well by repeating him here. 

Some extracts of the studies reviewed are given. Obviously there’s no way of knowing whether the extract actually represents the conclusion of the original study.

I laughed out loud when I read this. Obviously there is a way of knowing whether the extract reflects the conclusion. You can read the study. To Fell, the idea of reading an academic study all the way through is not just alien, but completely unthinkable.

I don't expect readers to go through 74 studies to check that my conclusion is sound. I know better than anyone what a long and tedious process it is. On the other hand, if you're going to effectively accuse me of lying then the onus is on you to read the evidence and prove it.

What you don't do is say that you can't bothered to read the evidence while showing that you can be bothered to write a blog post implying that I'm making it all up. That would be true of any blogger, but it is doubly true of a Director of Public Health who should be familiar with the evidence anyway.

But who needs evidence anyway?

It is important we don’t become our own worst enemy in the pursuit of evidence.

As I said in a prior blog, Lack of evidence is frequently cited as barrier for not doing something. This is fine, but that must be considered in terms of counterfactual – what’s the evidence for the counterfactual or maintaining the status quo. Is doing noting an option. Establishing a level of burden of evidence proof in a complex system is different. Some say we need to move to a decision logic framework, not hypothesis testing – ie not a criminal burden of proof, but balance of probability and what is happening in the background.

But there is not a 'lack of evidence' in this area. There are 74 studies looking at this specific issue. There may be a lack of evidence to support the policies for which Fell advocates, but that is not remotely the same thing as a lack of evidence. If you have twenty well-conducted, peer-reviewed studies looking at mobile phone use, for example, and none of them found an association with autism, it would be dishonest to claim that there is a lack of evidence or that 'we just don't know'. We would conclude that mobile phone use does not cause autism. If one or two of them found a weak association, we would conclude that, on the balance of probabilities, mobile phone use does not cause autism.

It would obviously be wrong to claim that people who live near fast food outlets were more likely to be obese if no research had ever been conducted. But it is arguably even more wrong to make this claim after dozens of studies had been carried out all over the world for fifteen years and the majority of them had failed to find any such association.

There will always be those who are opposed to a policy proposition, sometimes on the basis of evidence, sometimes on pure ideological or commercial grounds.

Whether the Planning Authority should pay any attention to it is also debatable

The Authority might ask who sponsored the IEA to do this review, and why. 

Accusing someone of being 'ideological' is what Twitter bottom feeders do when ad hominems fall on stony ground. If the IEA presents evidence that free markets are the solution to a certain problem, an imbecile might respond by pointing out that the IEA is a free market think tank and therefore 'would say that, wouldn't they?' The appeal of this line of attack is the same as that of the ad hominem. It allows idiots to dismiss evidence without having to deal with its substance, or even read it.

In the lines quoted above, Fell commits both fallacies. He thereby concludes his blog post in the way he started it, with not a single substantive criticism of the research and with a claim about funding which is simply untrue.

I will leave the reader to judge who is being 'ideological' here but, as my colleague Kristian says, Fell's response is a wonderful example of a dull mind in motivated reasoning mode.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Last Orders returns

The Last Orders podcast is back! Join me, Tom Slater and Brendan O'Neill to discuss Public Health England's calorie crusade, minimum pricing and the absolute filth being propagated by Love Island and Geordie Shore.

LISTEN HERE or subscribe on iTunes.

PS. I was also on the Heartland podcast this week talking about the American Cancer Society's volte-face on e-cigarettes.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Fast food outlets and obesity

I was on the radio last year with some woman from a 'public health' group who wanted fast food outlets banned around schools because there was 'overwhelming evidence' that proximity to these shops increased the risk of obesity.

It's a pretty good rule of thumb that if someone from the 'public health' racket claims that there is 'overwhelming evidence' of something then there is probably little or no evidence of it. So I looked into the literature, expecting to find a dozen studies or so. Instead I found 74 studies and this bit of fact-checking turned into a full blown project.

Today sees the publication of the resulting report: Fast Food Outlets and Obesity: What is the Evidence? You can download it for free but the basic conclusion is easy to summarise. There are far more studies showing no association between both the density and proximity of fast food outlets and obesity among both children and adults. In the case of children, null studies outnumber studies showing a positive association by more than four to one.

My report includes more studies than any previous evidence review in this area and its conclusion is the same as the six evidence reviews published by other researchers. The evidence that restricting fast food outlets will have any impact on obesity is extremely weak. If 'public health' was an evidence-based enterprise, it would have abandoned the idea years ago.

Do have a read of the report or read this short blog post about it.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The futility of divestment

I was in Edinburgh last week at a pensions and investment conference talking about the divestment movement. I have written about this idea before. It suggests that if you disapprove of an activity, you should sell your shares in the industry that facilitates it. In doing so you will achieve, er, absolutely nothing.

As I said at the conference, if you really dislike an industry you might not want to feel that you have to cheer it on because you have a stake in its success. Fair enough. But the divestment movement seems to think that selling off shares has some tangible effect on a company's activities. I see no mechanism by which a private investor selling a share in a fossil fuel company could have the slightest impact on the demand for fossil fuels or the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. The same principle applies to tobacco, guns, alcohol, gambling, sugar or any other 'sin stock'.

If you only want to invest in 'ethical' companies and you are prepared to get potentially lower returns, that is up to you. What I object to is local authorities selling off high-yielding shares from their pensions portfolio for the sake of futile virtue-signalling. These losses ultimately have to make up by taxpayers. That is unethical.

I was on the panel with someone from Tobacco Free Portfolios. If you visit their website or watch their TED talk, you will notice that they do not offer a single reason why divesting from tobacco will have any impact on the number of cigarettes sold or the number of people who smoke. Action on Smoking and Health recently published a briefing paper encouraging local authorities to divest from tobacco. Nowhere in its eight pages is there any indication that divesting will do any good.

Given that there is no theoretical reason to assume that divesting has any effect on the supply or demand for the product in question, and given that proponents of divestment are unable to offer even a bad argument for it, you have to conclude that the whole thing is a pointless gesture.

The ASH document focuses on trying to persuade councils that tobacco stocks are not a good longterm prospect. The woman from Tobacco Free Portfolios made a similar argument. ASH are probably overestimating the efficacy of their anti-smoking policies, but it could nevertheless be true. Who knows?

Either way, that is an investment decision, not an ethical decision. If ASH knew for certain that BAT shares would be the best performing investment of the next decade, they would still encourage divestment. Claiming that tobacco shares - which have been extraordinarily lucrative in the past, despite increasing regulation - are going to head south is a way of wriggling out of giving a single tangible benefit of divestment.

In any case, why would we trust single issue pressure groups over the combined wisdom of investors? As somebody in the audience pointed out, future risks are priced into share prices. You don't have to be a strict believer in the efficient market hypothesis to see that share prices are a better guide to the value of a company than the value put on it by people who hate the company.

Let's remember that anti-smoking groups also claim that it is not in the interest of retailers to sell cigarettes and that tobacco farmers would make more money planting different crops. If either of these claims were true, you would expect retailers and farmers to have worked it out or themselves and changed their business model accordingly. It is hard to believe that organisations with an extreme prejudice against tobacco know more about the economics of the market than people who have got skin in the game.

You can watch the discussion below:

Monday, 12 March 2018

The scandal of 'public health' money being spent on health

A lot of the 'cuts' in the supposed era of austerity are imaginary. The education budget was ring-fenced from the outset and the NHS budget has risen year-on-year. Pensions have increased in line with the ludicrously generous triple lock. Between them, these three budgets make up the majority of government spending.

But one area where there really have been cuts is in central government grants to local authorities. Councils get most of their money from central government and these grants have fallen appreciably - and look set to continue falling.

Among these grants is the money they get from Public Health England. There has been a lot of chatter about 'public health' budgets being 'slashed' by the evil Tories and a lot of junk economics from those whose livelihoods depend on the gravy train continuing.

In January, born again teetotaller Nick Cohen wrote an overwrought piece for the Observer in which he bemoaned the cuts to 'public health' but failed to mention the size of the budget, perhaps because it is so enormous that people would be sanguine about a five per cent cut. In 2016/17, Public Health England's budget was £4.5 billion, of which £3.4 billion went to local authorities.

Moreover, the 'public health' budget for local authorities has risen over the years, from £2.8 billion in 2014/15, to £3 billion in 2015/16 and then to £3.4 billion. Bear these figures in mind when you hear that the 'public health' budget is going to be 'slashed' by £170 million in the next two years. In real terms, the budget will still be bigger than it was three years ago.

This gigantic stack of cash is ring-fenced for 'public health' which is great news for fat cat Directors of Public Health and the various parasitic 'stakeholders' that live off the 'health and wellbeing' industry. It is not so good for residents.

Many local councillors resent being forced to spend money on useless nanny state projects while budgets for genuine public services are cut. Hats off, then, to Northamptonshire City Council for this...

Northamptonshire County Council: £10m public health grant probe

A council dubbed the "worst-run in the country" is under investigation over allegations it used millions of pounds ring-fenced for public health to prop up other services.

Northamptonshire County Council is in talks with Public Health England about the possible "claw-back" of up to £10m.

It comes after the authority voted for almost £40m in budget cuts.

Conservative council leader Heather Smith said the money "may have been spent in adult social care".

She added: "It is debatable whether that was a public health need or not."

Social care may not be a 'public health' need, but it is a health need and I suspect that if local residents were asked if they wanted the money to be spent on helping the sick and infirm or spent on hassling people about their lifestyles, there would be a strong majority for the former.

The county council received more than £70m in funding from Public Health England over a two-year period.

It was meant to be used only for specific purposes, such as health education and smoking cessation services.


Mrs Smith said the money "may have been spent in adult social care, looking after people in some way or another".

Shocking stuff. We can't have 'public health' budgets spent on looking after people!

The fact is that Northamptonshire County Council is skint. Really skint. And yet, like other councils, it has been forced to employ an army of bureaucrats and busybodies to run fatuous, jargon-riddled projects which stretch the concept of 'public health' to breaking point by including things like 'financial wellbeing' and 'social wellbeing'. Its Public Health Director is on £155,000 a year and it has created a 'public health' mini-quango called First for Wellbeing (budget: £17 million) which does lots of 'fun activities' that are enjoyed by a tiny proportion of the local population.

It also parrots the usual inaccurate nanny state propaganda such as...

It might not seem like you are drinking too much, but even having just one or two drinks on most nights can do serious harm to your health, both physically and mentally.


Frequent exposure to other people’s smoke will almost put them at as much risk as an actual smoker!

You can see why councillors might think that 'looking after people in some way or another' is a better use of £10 million than continuing to pour it down this money pit. Northamptonshire County Council may be the 'worst-run in the country' but in this instance it is a beacon of hope that every other council should follow.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The World Conference on Tobacco or Prohibition

No matter how low the bar of reason and integrity is set, the anti-smoking racket finds ways to limbo dance beneath it. This week, I have been following the #WCTOH2018 hashtag in awe. There is no shortage of charlatans and spivs in the anti-drink, anti-soda and anti-food cults, but for shameless hypocrisy and junk science, no one can touch the anti-smoking lobby.

WCTOH is the World Conference on Tobacco or Health. If memory serves, it has been taking place since 1967 and was a more or less serious science conference until around 1983 when the prohibitionists began to take over (see my book Velvet Glove, Iron Fist for details). It is now a playground for fanatics and tax spongers. Britain was well represented, with various activist-academics running up a quarter of a million pound bill for the taxpayer to pick up.

After a decade writing about this issue, I shouldn't be surprised by the pitiful standard of the rhetoric but it just keeps getting worse. Consumers are never mentioned except, perhaps, as victims of Big Tobacco. Ridiculous assertions abound, such as the claim that cigarette taxes were 'once thought regressive' but are no longer because, er, it doesn't help the cause to admit it.

As for the science behind reduced-harm claims of new products, the response of the tobacco control cult is to simply ignore it.

Perhaps my favourite non-argument of the week was a 'debunking' of the Nanny State Index (which I edit). The Index is only a league table of policies that 'public health' people lobby for so they should be proud if their country is at the top, but a Finnish 'public health' professional gave a whole presentation about it, including the killer argument that the Index is 'rubbish'. Alas, this was also the only argument.

How old are these people?

The most striking aspect of this year's event was how much of it was devoted to in-fighting and the preservation of funding. The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, funded by Philip Morris, has a billion dollars of research funding which the tobakko kontrol establishment can't access because it would blacken their names in the eyes of their colleagues. This is driving them (even more) mad and a lot of energy has been expended turning their own friend Derek Yach into a non-person.

Then there are e-cigarettes. Tobacco control is explicitly morphing into nicotine control. The target is almost irrelevant. The key word is control and the emergence of a viable, low risk alternative for cigarettes is an existential threat to their racket. The same goes for snus. Naturally, therefore, the speakers at this (Pfizer-funded) conference are opposed to harm reduction and use classic merchant-of-doubt tactics to suppress them (or, in the case of snus in the EU, to keep it suppressed).

They are quite prepared to resort to blatant lies to this end...

Carl Phillips and Dick Puddlecote have covered some of the lowlights from this event so I won't go through them all, suffice to say that rank hypocrisy is a running theme, from demanding 'nothing about us without us' to complaining about the WHO shutting out civil society.

Shutting people out is what the WHO does, of course, as we shall doubtless see again in Geneva this October. This week, the corrupt WHO capitulated to demands from China to exclude delegates from Taiwan. Tobacco controllers who rightly described this as an outrage seem to have no problem with the press and public being kicked out of the COP meetings every two years, just as those who 'demand nothing about us without us' never ask smokers what they think about being under their 'control'.

That brings us to smoking, which is supposed to be reason for the conference's existence. After years of denial, the prohibitionists are finally owning up to being prohibitionists. There was even an official declaration.

You might think that the experience of alcohol prohibition and the war on drugs would make 'experts' wary of endorsing a ban on a product consumed by a billion people. But according to Tobacco Control's news editor, there is nothing to worry about:

If smokers had any doubts about what these people have in store for them, an official declaration at the world's foremost tobacco control conference to ban the sale of cigarettes should put an end to them.

Let's not mince words any more. These people are not the tobacco control lobby and they are certainly not public health professionals. They are prohibitionists and should only be described as such.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

What is the real rate of child obesity?

Since I started digging into the methodology used to estimate the rate of childhood obesity in Britain, I have been shocked by how shoddy it is. The figures that are routinely cited are quite simply a lie. They vastly exaggerate the number of kids who are obese.

In my previous post about this for the Spectator I said that the real rate is at least half of that claimed. That much should be obvious. A rate of 23 per cent among 11-15 year olds is extremely unlikely when the rate among 16-24 year olds is only eleven per cent.

In my new post, published today, I show some more credible evidence and argue that the true rate of obesity among children in this age group is closer to one in twenty, not one in five. Indeed, it could easily be one in fifty.

Do read it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Food is the new tobacco

As reported by the Sun and a few of other newspapers, Public Health England is going ahead with its insane plan to withdraw a fifth of calories from the food supply. Not quite the whole food supply, as the quango has admitted that it can't take energy out of vegetables, but the targets apply to the following:

Egg products, potato products, meat products, processed meats, poultry, fish, meat alternatives, pies, pastries, sausages, burgers, pasta, rice, noodles, savoury biscuits, crackers, bread with additions (e.g. ciabatta with olives), cooking sauces, table sauces, dressings, crisps, savoury snacks, ready meals, takeaways, dips, hummus, coleslaw, pizza, ‘food-to-go’, sandwiches, composite salads and soups.

Biscuits, chocolate bars, confectionery etc. have already been covered by the sugar reduction plan and so are not included.

So much for only reformulating 'food that contributes most to intakes of children up to the age of 18 years', as PHE originally claimed when the 'childhood obesity' plan was devised. PHE bureaucrat Alison Tedstone now admits that everything is fair game:

“Our children don’t eat special children’s food,” she said. “We buy the same food for our entire family.”

As usual in 'public health', it's not really about children. It's about treating adults like children.

But PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie said the steps were as much about influencing the diets of adults.

"Britain needs to go on a diet."

But Britain doesn't need to go on a diet. Some people need to go on a diet, but 74 per cent of us are not obese and a fair proportion of 26 per cent do not want to go on a diet. Some of us need to eat more. And for the many millions of people who consume roughly the right number of calories, cutting energy content in food by 20 per cent is the equivalent of raising the price by 25 per cent. 

Meanwhile, PHE are sticking to their bizarre 400-600-600 rule; 400 calories for breakfast and 600 calories each for lunch and tea. This obviously adds up to 1,600, well below the 2,500 calories the agency maintains are needed by men every day, and so they advise us to consume an extra 900 calories in snacks, soft drinks and alcohol. Even nanny statist Susan Jebb raised her eyebrows at this:

While she welcomed raising calorie-awareness, she [Jebb] noted that the recommendation to eat a total of 1,600 calories for main meals was well below daily levels and assumed people were snacking. “Maybe it is better to have a slightly bigger meal and not to snack,” she said.

In December I wrote...

This seems to be a case of PHE deliberately giving people false information with the intention of tricking them into eating less, based on the assumption that we underestimate how much we eat, even to ourselves. The idea is that if you tell people to eat 1,600 calories, perhaps they will eat 2,300 calories.

...PHE are no longer pretending to be a source of accurate advice. They are in the business of nudging, manipulation and deliberate deceit.

This has now been confirmed by Alison Tedstone who told the Times...

She says people should stick to 1,600 calories a day for meals, leaving room for drinks and snacks. “This is not official calorie guidance; it’s a handy rule of thumb,” she said. Men are still advised to eat 2,500 calories a day and women 2,000 but after seeing that people did not admit to a third of what they ate Dr Tedstone said that the advice would help them to keep to the targets.

Woe betide anybody foolish enough to take the country's leading 'public health' agency at its word.

These people are dangerous idiots, but the food industry will have to go along with them because it has been none-too-subtly threatened with advertising bans, taxes and mandatory limits if it doesn't acquiesce.

As for consumers, the best we can hope for are smaller portions and a higher cost of living.

I have written about this for Spectator Health.

It is difficult to find the words to describe how demented this policy is. Imagine a Soviet commissar, drunk on power and vodka, who had been driven mad after contracting syphilis. Even he would not issue an edict like this. It is off the scale of anything the ‘public health’ lobby has tried before. It represents the final severing of the thread that once connected Public Health England to the real world.

Do have a read.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Jamie Oliver and 'middle-class logic'

Jamie Oliver is on the front of today's Times with some ill advised comments about fat people.

“When you get trapped in the disadvantaged cycle, the concept of middle-class logic doesn’t work. What you see is parents who aren’t even thinking about five fruit and veg a day, they’re thinking about enough food for the day,” he told The Times.

“Willpower is a very unique personal thing . . . We can’t judge our equivalent of logic on theirs because they’re in a different gear, almost in a different country."

Oliver believes everything he is told by his friends in organisations like Action on Sugar and then regurgitates their views to the media, not always very well. In this instance, he is talking about the socio-economic gradient of obesity and the idea is that people on low incomes are so stressed and cash-strapped that they can't help but stuff their faces with crisps and pizza. Victims of circumstance, they inevitably become obese.

Fortunately for them, there is a white knight - St Jamie of Essex - who will rescue them by taxing soft drinks and banning food discounts in supermarkets. The poor plebs are incapable of making decisions for themselves so the government must make their decisions for them.

You can see why the 'public health' lobby likes this argument. They are always looking for ways to sidestep the issue of choice and personal freedom. If being slim depends on having access to what Oliver calls 'middle-class logic', the case for state intervention appears stronger.

The problem with this analysis is not just that it is incredibly patronising but that it doesn't explain why so many rich people are obese and so many poor people are slim. For all the talk about the 'obesogenic' environment and lack of choice, the fact remains that the majority of us (74%) are not obese. Even in the 'most deprived' groups, 68% are not obese. It seems that a very large number of people from every social class is able to exercise willpower and 'logic'.

Indeed, obesity only has a socio-economic gradient among women. As the Health Survey for England shows, there is virtually no relationship between income and obesity for men.

Among women, the relationship is much stronger, but the obesity rate is still 20 per cent for the wealthiest women. If poverty-related factors are the cause of obesity, why are so many rich women obese and why do these factors seem to have no influence on men?

Even if the relationship between poverty and obesity were stronger, it would not necessarily imply a lack of willpower. People on low incomes are more likely to ignore government health advice on a number of issues and George Orwell nailed some of the reasons for this in The Road to Wigan Pier. The decision to prioritise taste and convenience over healthy is not irrational, per se.

More to the point, even if we accept the premise that obesity is caused by poverty, stress and unhappiness, Jamie Oliver is in no position to solve these problems. He is not going to improve the living conditions of working people. Instead, he is going to force his millionaire preferences on them and if they don’t comply, he is going to make them poorer, starting with his regressive sugar tax before moving on to banning food discounts.

This is a classic characteristic of middle class reform movements. They tackle symptoms rather than causes and ultimately punish the people they are supposed to be helping.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Jobs for the boys on the sugar levy evaluation

The sugar levy begins at the start of next month. Ribena is the latest kamikaze soft drink to be reformulated (ie. ruined) in an attempt to avoid the 8p per 330ml tax. The usual scenes are playing out on social media...

Will the tax-incentivised reformulation or the anticipated drop in consumption have any impact on obesity? Given that sugary sales in the UK have slumped by 45 per cent since 2003 without reducing obesity one iota, it is reasonable to predict that it won't. Moreover, as I mentioned yesterday, the latest evidence review found that:

We were unable to find evidence that any sugar tax actually implemented anywhere in the world has led to improvements in health.

But you never know, eh? Quite reasonably, the government has commissioned some research to evaluate the sugar levy. Less reasonably, it has given the commission to a bunch of people who have the double conflict of interest of having (a) campaigned for the policy, and (b) produced research predicting that it would work. In any serious area of science, this would disqualify them evaluating it but that is not how things work in 'public health'.

The first names on the team sheet to evaluate minimum pricing were the MUP supporters in Sheffield and Stirling. For the sugar tax, the job has also gone to nine people at the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR). There are some very familiar faces.

The evaluation will be led by Martin White. There are signs that he may be predisposed to believing that the sugar tax will be a success...

"Studying a wide range of effects of the tax will help us be more certain about the true impacts of the tax. For example, if purchases of sugary drinks, their sugar content, tooth decay and childhood obesity all go down, and purchases of other types of drinks go up, this will increase our confidence that the tax has had a positive impact on health.

We anticipate the tax’s effects will go beyond health. For instance, a healthier population should be more economically productive. Or people drinking fewer sugary drinks might mean fewer jobs in the food industry. We will use economic models to predict the impacts of the tax on the whole UK economy.”

But we don't need to read between the lines to guess White's views. His Twitter feed makes no secret of his fondness for sugar taxes and other illiberal interventions.  

Among White's co-investigators in the evaluation is the Reverend Mike Rayner who wrote in 2012 - and I am not making this up...

In all of this I see a sacred dimension. You may not believe that I have heard God aright but I think God is calling me to work towards the introduction of soft-drink taxes in this country

In 2013, Rayner co-authored a study which claimed that a 20 per cent sugar tax would lead to a 15 per cent fall in sugary drink consumption which, in turn, would lead to a 1.3 per cent decline in obesity. These figures have been widely cited as evidence that the sugar levy will work despite the fact that there has been a much bigger fall in sugary drink consumption without a tax and yet there has been no decline in obesity.

Three other people on the evaluation team - Oliver Mytton, Adam Briggs and Peter Scarborough - were co-authors of that study. This is a glaring conflict of interest. Academics who have effectively staked their reputation on the sugar tax working are naturally going to be disinclined to say that it didn't.

It is not just that their model happened to conclude that the tax would work. They were active supporters of the sugar tax cause for years and celebrated when it was announced.

And then there is Harry Rutter, a dyed-in-the-wool nanny state zealot who sees everything in terms of 'public health' versus industry. He is, of course, very keen on sugar taxes...

The last two 'co-investigators' are Steven Cummins, Jean Adams and Richard Smith. Cummins and Adams were responsible for a risible study last year which used declining sales in Jamie Oliver's failing restaurants as evidence that the sugar levy would work. Adams also produced a study with Oliver Mytton (see above) which found that the sugar levy wasn't very popular and recommended that 'the public health community should seek to address outstanding public concerns in order to ensure successful and strong implementation'.

Of the nine people involved in the evaluation, Smith is the only one who does not have a track record of openly supporting the sugar tax, often with fanatical - and literally religious - zeal. The government might as well have asked Action on Sugar to evaluate the policy.

There are thousands of well qualified social scientists with no skin in the game who could have been hired to look at this. Instead, a group of glorified activists has been given £1.5 million of taxpayers' money to mark their own homework. 'Public health' is a shameless racket.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

"We were unable to find evidence that any sugar tax actually implemented anywhere in the world has led to improvements in health"

It cannot be said too often that sugar taxes have not reduced obesity anywhere in the world, and it is not for want of trying. Many places have experimented with taxes on sugary drinks, in particular, but the impact on calorie consumption has been trivial to non-existent. Naturally, therefore, they have had zero impact on obesity.

Most politicians don't care what the evidence says. Sugar taxes raise revenue and that is enough for them. If they want to portray sugar taxes as a health measure, they can always point to theoretical models created by sugar tax advocates which claim that a tax of 10 or 20 per cent will lead to x fewer cases of obesity.

But the real world evidence is clear. They don't work because consumers will tend to pay up or switch brands or switch to other sugary products. In any case, the proportion of calories they get from soft drinks is small to begin with.

The 'public health' lobby are bluffing. They tend to get away with claiming that there is 'overwhelming evidence' for policies which have weak or conflicting evidence behind them and, as we have seen with minimum pricing, politicians are often unable to distinguish between modelling from advocates and evidence from the real world. 

But in New Zealand, the government did bother to look at the evidence and commissioned the respected New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) to review it. NZIER reviewed 47 studies and this is what they said:

The evidence that sugar taxes improve health is weak.


Our conclusion is that the evidence base gets weaker further along the chain of intervention logic. If taxes did not have economic costs, through deadweight losses and implementation costs, then even a slight causal link between a tax and an improvement in health outcomes might be justified. That, however, is not the case

NZIER's full report was published at the end of January and is worth reading. It is a sober and rational assessment. By contrast, the response from a leading Kiwi nanny statist, Boyd Swinburn, was a predictable rant about 'merchants of doubt'.

The 'public health' racket is in such a sorry state that ad hominem attacks have increasingly become its only weapon. Unable to find any ties between NZIER and Big Sugar, Swinburn resorts to the soft smear of complaining that a government-funded report written by impartial economists could be useful to those who oppose sugar taxes - and, in Swinburn's cartoon world, only nasty corporations oppose sugar taxes.

Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway coined the term Merchants of Doubt in their expose of how Big Tobacco and Big Oil paid scientists and conservative think-tanks to dispute the scientific evidence on tobacco harm and climate change. Doubt in the evidence was the "product" they were marketing to avoid government actions which might threaten big business profits.

A health levy on sugary drinks, with the money going to prevention, is the new target. As expected, Big Food and Beverage and business interest groups are the leading merchants of doubt but conservative politicians and economists steeped in last century's economic theories are joining their ranks.

God knows what 'last century's economic theories' are. Perhaps he is referring to things like price elasticity, substitution effects and the concept of regressive taxation?

I'm tempted to fisk the whole of Swinburn's article, but what's the point? If you read it, you will see the double standards, sleight of hand and misdirection fly off the page. It is not exactly subtle.

But you may want to also read NZIER's Laurie Kubiak's response. The following is, I think, the key point:

The framework looks at why a tax on sugar taxes might be effective, by asking "by what process would a tax on fizzy drinks lead to improvements in health?" This is not a simple matter when it comes to sugar in drinks (as opposed, say, to tobacco), because there are many high-sugar substitutes to fizzy drinks that are not taxed in most countries. If a tax on drinks simply induces a switch to chocolate, for example, then health outcomes might remain unchanged.

We think that to be effective at improving health, a sugar tax must work across five steps: it must increase price, the increase in price must cause consumption to fall, reducing consumption must lead to a lower sugar and/or energy intake, the lower energy intake must result in lower physiological risk factors and lower physiological risk factors must improve health outcomes.

... We found that the evidence for effectiveness became weaker the more steps in the logic were included in the study. It is possible a sugar tax may lead to some reduced consumption of the taxed product in some contexts. However, we found no studies based on actual experience with sugar taxes that identified any resulting impact on obesity, diabetes or other health outcomes.

And the take-home message is, as always:

We were unable to find evidence that any sugar tax actually implemented anywhere in the world has led to improvements in health.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The affordability of alcohol

As the Daily Express reports, the Institute of Alcohol Studies (previously the UK Temperance Alliance) has issued some figures on the affordability of alcohol.

Good news! Supermarket beer almost 200 PER CENT more affordable than 30 years ago

Supermarket beer is almost 188 per cent more affordable today than it was 30 years ago, according to a study. Wine and spirits sold in supermarkets and off-licences are 131 per cent more affordable than in 1987 compared with 34 per cent cheaper in pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants - or “on-trade” venues - figures from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) show.

The Express's positive take on the figures was not shared by the IAS, nor by most of the other newspapers who reported it. It is all part of the campaign for minimum pricing in England. Chris 'No Further Action' Rennard will be asking a question about it in the House of Lords today and he has written a piece for Politics Home in which he repeats the figures above and concludes that '[g]reater affordability helps to fuel alcohol consumption'.

Rennard does not pause to wonder why, if the link between affordability and consumption is so strong, consumption is lower than it was thirty years ago (see below). Nor does he mention the fact that the sale of beer - which has supposedly become much more affordable - has fallen by a third since 1990.
The IAS's usual line on the price of alcohol prices is that it has got 60 per cent more affordable since 1980. This figure comes from the NHS and is true so far it goes. However, 'more affordable' is often misinterpreted as 'cheaper in real terms'. The Times makes that mistake today with its story 'Cheaper alcohol boosts calls for minimum prices'.

But affordability is more of a measure of rising incomes than falling prices. The NHS data shows that the retail price index has risen by 297 per cent since 1980, which is to say that prices have increased threefold, while the alcohol price index has risen by 377 per cent. Alcohol has therefore become more expensive in real terms.

And yet the proportion of household income spent on alcohol has fallen from three per cent in 1988 to 1.6 per cent in 2016. This is good news for everybody except the temperance lobby, but it is because incomes have roughly doubled in real terms since 1980, not because alcohol has got cheaper. Incomes have greatly outstripped inflation and, to a lesser extent, the rising price of alcohol, but alcohol has nevertheless become more expensive in real terms.

The IAS figures are interesting because they show the changes in prices in different parts of the market. This is the key graph. Click to enlarge.

The anonymous author of the IAS report does not explain where he or she got the alcohol price figures so I can't verify them (if you have them, please leave a comment). I have to say that I'm a little suspicious of the steepness of the rise in affordability after 2013, in particular, but assuming the data to be broadly correct, it suggests that off-trade beer, wine and spirits have become cheaper in real terms while the same drinks in the on-trade have become more expensive. They have all become more 'affordable', of course, but so has pretty much everything in the UK except housing and healthcare.

The IAS bang on about the alcohol duty escalator flattening the affordability index between 2008. Like Nick Sheron and Ian Gilmore, they portray this as some sort of magic bullet for alcohol harm. Sheron and Gilmore's trick is to pretend that alcohol consumption didn't start falling until the escalator began in 2008. The decline actually began in 2004.

The IAS's trick is to ignore the decline in average incomes during and after the recession. You can see exactly the same flattening in the graph above when the economy contracted in the early 1990s. As incomes fall, everything, including alcohol, becomes less affordable. The escalator had an added effect, of course, but it's not as if 2008-13 was the only time in the last thirty years that the government has increased alcohol duty.

It is good news for consumers that alcohol producers and retailers have become more efficient in the last thirty years. It's only a shame that the government has burdened the on-trade with so much regulation and taxation that it cannot do the same.

We expect things to become more affordable as we get richer. That is the whole point of getting richer. Only the most mean-spirited puritan would look back fondly on the days when households spent twice of much of their income on alcohol.

The temperance lobby does not care whether alcohol becomes less affordable because of recessions or because of taxes or because of minimum pricing. So long as people become poorer, they're happy.

Incidentally, Lord Rennard ends his article with this:

With each day that the Government equivocates on this [minimum pricing], 65 people die from alcohol-related causes. 

I am tired of campaigners using juxtapositions like this. Will minimum pricing stop 65 people dying from alcohol-related causes every week? No. So what is the relevance? Rennard claims that minimum pricing will prevent 525 alcohol-related deaths per year, a figure that is presumably plucked from one of the worthless Sheffield reports.

Let's imagine that the figure of 525 is a realistic expectation rather than a politically-driven fiction. That would reduce the number of daily deaths (which is also an exaggeration, by the way) to 63.4. Given how flaky the figures are to begin with, this is a rounding error.

If, God forbid, England introduces minimum pricing, there will be no winding down of the hysteria, no change in the rhetoric and no meaningful change in the figures that are bandied around. Rennard, or someone like him, will be back within weeks with some other illiberal policy that is urgently needed because: 'With each day that the government equivocates on this, 63.4 people die from alcohol-related causes.'

And so it never ends.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Another risible obesity prediction

Have you noticed that Cancer Research UK has been putting out a lot of politically motivated junk in the last couple of years? Remember the bathfull of cola nonsense? The trend began when they started working with anti-smoking activists like Linda Bauld, coincidentally enough.

Their latest piffle is an obesity forecast that doesn't make sense even if you accept their own stupid methodology. Every newspaper has lapped it up, as usual, and I've written about it for Spectator Health. Do have a read.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The minimum pricing bait-and-switch.

Minimum pricing doesn't start in Scotland until May, but phase two of the campaign has already begun.

From the Sunday Times...

Minimum drink price of 50p ‘just for starters’

The cost of wine, spirits and beer in Scotland could rise by far more than the 50p minimum unit price (MUP) taking effect in May, after politicians and experts warned that the measure will not do enough to safeguard public health.

The temperance beast is never satiated. The battle over minimum pricing isn't about 50p units. It's about whether the price mechanism should be in the grubby hands of the 'public health' racket. Once the government has conceded the point that charging more for a unit of alcohol 'saves lives', there is no obvious reason not to raise it to 'save' more lives.

The junk Sheffield model claims that there would be more health benefits if the price was set at 60p, 70p or 80p. The higher it goes, the greater the supposed benefit.

The idea that a 50p minimum price is 'evidence-based' has always been absurd, and not just because the model itself is worthless. In what sense does the evidence dictate a 50p price rather than a 75p price or a £3 price? It doesn't and it can't. There is no evidence to tell us what the correct price is, but by the logic of 'public health' and the Sheffield model, it should always be higher.

As such, politicians can always be accused of allowing x number of people to die by failing to increase the unit price. Once this Pandora's Box has been opened, it cannot be closed.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has advised Nicola Sturgeon’s administration that the price now could be 64p, based on the consumer price index for alcoholic products in 2011-17. It wants ministers to consider a 60p rate, as proposed by Willie Rennie MSP, the Scottish Lib Dem leader — or even a 70p rate.

The RSE said: “A rise to a rate of 70p would reflect a greater degree of ambition, might also be supported, and would have a larger effect on the consumption of alcohol and on inequalities of outcomes."

Adjusted for inflation, 50p in 2011 is actually closer to 60p than 64p, let alone 70p, but it is true that 50p today is worth less today than it was then. If the intention is to get the putative benefits laid out in the Sheffield report of 2012, a case could be made for setting the price at 60p. But that is not what the public have been sold. The claim that minimum pricing has little or no effect on moderate drinkers and people on low incomes is a lie, but it is a lie based on modelling a 50p unit. At 60p or 70p, the impact is impossible to disguise.

When Sheffield's guns for hire started spinning minimum pricing as a policy that would have a negligible impact on moderate drinkers, they based their assumptions around a 45p unit price. That was in 2014 when nobody was seriously talking about a minimum price below 50p. They focused on the 45p scenario precisely because it was less damaging than 50p.

They have since abandoned the 45p ruse but all their subsequent claims, including the risible lie that minimum pricing 'very specifically affects the alcohol that's only purchased, really, by heavier drinkers', is based on a 50p unit.

Now we see that even 50p may have been unrealistic. The Scottish public has been sold a pig in a poke.

Some politicians and experts want radical action following research indicating that alcohol is 60% more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980, and that it is possible to exceed new lower-risk guidelines for alcohol of 14 units a week for less than £2.50.

Will they be happy when it is possible to exceed the new, fictitious guidelines for less than £7.50? Of course not. There is no theoretical limit to the unit price, but we can be sure that above-inflation rises will be demanded regardless of whether the policy is seen to have worked or not.

In theory, a £1 minimum price would be still more effective. A £3 price would be even better. The only reason nobody is calling for a £3 unit price is that it would raise the cost of living and create all sorts of unintended consequences.

But so will a 50p unit. The only difference is that politicians and medics would be personally affected by a £3 unit whereas they can afford it at 50p.