Saturday, 24 June 2017

Alcohol consumption in Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

Alcohol sales in Scotland increase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Alcohol-linked deaths '54% higher in Scotland'

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Food and soft drink taxes in the EU

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


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

Monday, 19 June 2017

When the chips are down

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

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

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Taxi for the gateway theory

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

Taxi for Stan please!

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

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

Violence in psychiatric hospitals - junk science edition

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


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









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

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

You what?!

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

Jeez. Stop wasting our time with this garbage.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The tobacco template

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 12 June 2017

Ban children from cars

Sir David King in The Guardian...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As one commentator at the Guardian says...

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