Thursday, 23 March 2017

When Is 24% Not 24%?

There's been a lot of oil-spreading today from 'public health' extremists trying to calm waters after a landmark study showed that moderate drinking is better for your health than not drinking at all.
Reduce your chances of having a heart attack by a THIRD with a daily pint or glass of wine 
People who drink in moderation can also slash their risk of dying young by a quarter - even compared to teetotallers
OK, that's The Sun, but it was also widely covered by other news sources. The important bit in this is what The Sun calls "a quarter". The figure, if you look at the source in the BMJ, is an increase in risk of 24% or - in epidemiological terms - a relative risk (RR) of 1.24.

This, strangely enough, is exactly the same RR that the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) - after a generation long campaign of policy-driven cultivated junk science - came up with for your increased chances (not absolute chance) of lung cancer and heart disease from secondhand smoke if you live with a smoker for decades. On the basis of this {cough} incredibly huge risk from about 1 in a thousand to 1.24 in a thousand, property rights were destroyed and smoking banned in every pub, bingo hall, working mens club, office, garage, works van and bus shelter with more than 50% shelter in the whole of the country.

It was compelling; a definite and incontrovertible health threat.

About the time the BMA and ASH were promoting this 24% figure as an Armageddon which has seen the corpses of bar workers piled high in British pubs, the exact same increased RR for heart attacks was dismissed as irrelevant when related to Ibuprofen, as reported by the BBC.
For ibuprofen, the odds increased by almost a quarter (24%), and for diclofenac it rose by over a half (55%). For celecoxib the odds increased by a fifth (21%) and for rofecoxib it rose by a third (32%).
It's very important that people don't panic; hundreds of thousands of arthritis patients take these drugs without problems or side effects 
A spokeswoman from Arthritis Research Campaign
But this translates into a low actual risk.
So what is the reaction by 'public health' to this same RR for teetotalism today? Well, it's kinda a bit meh. They have dismissed it as if it's inconsequential, as if it's not worth even worrying about. The responses have generally been that there are far worse things in life to fuss over, nothing to see here, move on.

As Snowdon notes in Spectator Health, this is the very height of hypocrisy.
If moderate drinking was a pharmaceutical with the same weight of evidence behind it, doctors would be prescribing it. If it was a fruit, wellness gurus would be getting rich off it. But you will never hear anyone from the ‘public health’ lobby telling teetotallers to start drinking. You will seldom even hear them acknowledge the fact that teetotallers die younger. More likely, you will see them resorting to long-debunked arguments to cast doubt on the scientific evidence. They will do almost anything to avoid advising people to drink alcohol. 
On the face of it, this is remarkable. We live in an age in which weak epidemiological associations are used to justify all manner of interventions in people’s lifestyles and yet here is a strong, proven link between the consumption of a product and substantially lower risks of both heart disease and overall mortality, and yet it is treated as a trivial factoid.
How does a 24% relative risk over a very long period indoors translate to "no safe level" of exposure to secondhand smoke even if it's outdoors briefly on a windy day, and lead to liberty-destroying bans and the destruction of the hospitality industry, yet the same 24% when it goes against prohibitionist 'public health' ideology is all of a sudden something to be ignored? When is 24% dangerous in 'public health' communications and when is 24% not?

I think we should be told. I also think we should be told why one 24% figure is used to deliberately decimate pubs and the other one - which would be favourable to pubs - is derided as not very important at all.

It's never been about health, has it? 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

May As Well Smoke Tons, Says Fresh North East

The echo chamber of tobacco control can be a quite remarkable thing at times.

Yesterday, entirely state-funded anti-smoking sock muppets Fresh North East published possibly the worst advice I've ever seen from an organisation of their kind.
Warning to light and social smokers
SMOKERS who've cut down are being warned they are still facing significant risks of cancer and heart disease unless they quit or switch as a campaign launches today. 
But with many smokers cutting down to ten or fewer cigarettes a day, or to hand rolling tobacco, Fresh is warning people not to ignore the substantial risks from smoking only a few cigarettes a day.

As well as record numbers of people quitting in the North East, a survey by Fresh found many smokers have cut down - with 1 in five smokers consuming five or fewer cigarettes a day compared to 1 in 10 smokers in 2009.
This is entirely down to the tobacco control fallacy that smoking one cigarette a month is on a par with smoking 40 a day. It is scientifically preposterous and puts them into the same category as 15th Century knuckle-draggers who opposed Paracelsus's claim that the dose makes the poison.

They don't actually believe that, of course, because most of what the tobacco control industry comes out with is cleverly-worded lies. This is no exception.
[Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, said:] "Cost and awareness of the health risks are both factors. If you only smoke a few cigarettes a day, it must be tempting to hope the risks don't apply. However, the evidence is clear that even a few cigarettes a day can cause cancer and heart disease, and change lives forever.
That may or may not be correct, but it most certainly is true that if you smoke a few cigs every now and then the risks will be far lower than if you walk around like a human chimney.

So wedded to the quit or die approach are these idiots that they cannot even contemplate celebrating the fact that smokers are smoking fewer cigarettes and cutting down their exposure.
Prof John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and a consultant in respiratory medicine, said: "Many smokers who are aware of the risks will cut down on how much they smoke, hoping this will reduce the harm."
Well, it will, John, there is absolutely no doubt about that. There might still be a potential for harm, but - just like you have far less chance of being run over by a bus if you run in front of it once instead of 20 times a day - the potential is much reduced if you smoke less. To deny that is right up there with anti-vaccination fuckwittery.

Yet this is the state of corralled anti-scientific groupthink that the government funds these days. Utter garbage presented as sage advice and with unintended consequences written all over it.

It's clear, as usual, that these anti-smoking organisations don't understand smokers even one tiny bit. It's often like they've never actually fucking met one! If you are, or have ever been, a smoker you'd know that there is only one message this sends; don't bother cutting down, the risk is the same so you may as well carry on smoking lots.

For committed smokers who enjoy tobacco - like those studied by Neil McKegany for his Pleasure of Smoking report at Christmas - this is exactly the type of thing they will seize on to explain why they carry on smoking with abandon. Why cut down if there is no benefit, eh? May as well just smoke as many as I like.

There are times when ideology trumps sound thinking, and the tobacco control industry is guilty of that on a daily basis. However, this advice is so pathetic and utterly poor that you have to wonder if it's designed specifically to keep smokers smoking. I can't imagine why a state-funded organisation that relies on there being smokers for its income would go for that approach, of course, but maybe you could enlighten me.

Someone did ask them for more information but there's not been a reply thus far.

I'm sure it will be forthcoming. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

Oh Bournemouth Freedom, Shine On Me

OK, Bournemouth doesn't quite scan for the title like Philadelphia does, but Twitter followers may have noticed that I've just returned from the seaside town after a weekend spent at the fourth annual Freedom Festival hosted by The Freedom Association.

If you don't know of the Freedom Association, it is a non-partisan group funded by public donations established in the 1970s which boasts around 30 MPs amongst its paid-up membership. This was evident from the weekend where the speakers list was peppered with MPs, MEPs, prominent political commentators and even a cabinet minister in the form of Priti Patel. The panels focussed on current issues but always - as it says on the tin - with an eye on freedom.

To go through them all in detail would take this into essay territory, but there were discussions on Brexit and Trump, free trade, students unions and safe spaces, council tax and social care, robot technology and driverless cars, vaping and the nanny state. This, along with two "in conversation" interviews including one delving into Priti Patel's ascent to the cabinet - billed as "more a Piers Morgan Life Stories than Daily Politics interrogation" - hosted by Grant Tucker of The Times, and a BBC Question Time style debate with elected local, national, and European politicians chaired by Mark Wallace of Conservative Home. There was also a powerfully shocking account of how the European arrest warrant serves to prop up corrupt Eastern European judicial practices and drag the UK's proud tradition of legal fairness into the gutter from Alexander Adamescu.

Very interesting, too, was a Saturday lunchtime speech by Conor Burns MP on how he knew that the referendum would return a Brexit result when he had reports from his Bournemouth constituency at 10:30 in the morning that voters were turning up with their own pens. So worried were they that the establishment might erase their choice, it was clear from the areas the reports were coming from that these were people who had never voted before and wanted to make absolutely sure their view was logged.

The event was attended by 130 very politically-knowledgeable people who passionately believe in freedom, which was clear from the questions directed at panellists from the floor. The panel on the nanny state, for example seeing as we talk of such things here, saw two members of the audience suggest different descriptions for those who want to deny us just about any pleasurable product on specious grounds. "Nanny State is too woolly, it should be called the Bully State", said one, while another described the word nanny as "a bit Mary Poppins, I prefer the term Medical Gestapo".

The most encouraging panel of the weekend though, for me, was the one that closed the event on the subject of "Freedom: Why it's important and why we need to fight for it every day".

Panel discussing fighting for freedom
Lawyer and columnist Donal Blaney spoke about the regulatory state and how it is growing to frightening levels, enabling government departments to now steal money directly from bank accounts for alleged tax arrears without the necessity of proving the debt in court, while Mark Littlewood of the IEA reminded us - as if you hadn't noticed - that "the main enemy of freedom is the state" and that it is well past time that economic policy focussed on what is good for consumers and not producers.

However, quote of the weekend was from Bill Etheridge. Some may remember that he spoke at our little protest in Stony Stratford in 2011 when he was a Freedom Association activist, but he has come a long way since then and is now a UKIP MEP. He began by describing how, even though he is an elected member of the EU parliament, he is banned from speaking at universities up and down the UK. He was, however, afforded a slot at a university in Israel recently where they were staggered to hear about the 'safe spaces' that have sprung up to deny free speech in our higher education institutions.

He argued that if we want to see real freedom in the UK "politicians should inject the concept of freedom into every area of policy". This is an extremely laudable goal and one which is the direct opposite of what the Medical Gestapo public health nanny statists want to see. Groups like the FCTC and other health harpies regularly talk about placing health at the heart of every policy area above and beyond anything else, so much so that local licensing decisions on pubs, for example, must now pass a public health test instead of being decided on by a judge weighing up all evidence.

As you can imagine, if you look at every policy through the lens of health and health only, our rights as individuals to make choices based on informed assessment of our own risk is going to be impossible; freedom of choice hasn't got a chance. Etheridge is absolutely correct that freedom should be at least considered each and every time politicians sit down to debate any issue. If a health threat is compelling, yes freedom should take a back seat, but it's gone so far into extremism from health lobbyists that there needs to be a drastic re-balance of priorities. To take just one example, when we have a situation where tobacco controllers have no evidence worthy of the name that plain packs will make any impact to smoking rates whatsoever, and yet one of their main planks to enforce the policy is that it will harm the freedom of smokers to express their social identity with branding, it's clear that tobacco control has perverted policy in a ghastly way and that freedom should be given far more prominence by legislators.

The weekend wasn't all heavy political discussion, mind, and it won't surprise you that amongst such freedom-loving people the (vape-friendly) bars thrived until well into the early hours. I crashed about 2am on both evenings and felt like a bit of a lightweight by comparison with some others!

There was also fun and games with the fund-raising side of the weekend. Top prize on the Friday night was a copy of the Brexit Bill signed by Theresa May, something I coveted greatly so eagerly threw in my £10 entry. The entrants were whittled down with a toss of a coin as we stood holding our heads or our backsides to display our choices at each round, not that I got further than the first hurdle after finding out that the mantra "tails never fails" is demonstrably incorrect.

More entertaining still was the Saturday night raffle where the top prize was a full size cardboard cut-out of Donald Trump which humorously greeted everyone at the registration desk. I entered in the hope that it would turn heads on my drive back up the M3 sitting in the passenger seat, but it was won by a triumphant Mark Littlewood who subsequently took it home on the train back to London to be exhibited, it was suggested, on the roof of the IEA in Lord North Street.

"No need for a ticket, he'll sit on my lap"
All in all, it was a weekend bracing both in the face of a brisk cold coastal wind and for the rigorous and encouraging debate which emphasised freedom issues in a current policy environment where you could be forgiven for thinking such concepts are no longer considered.

I'll be back next year for a bit more Bournemouth Freedom, keep an eye out for it if you think it's something for you too and I'll see you at the bar (at least until 2am anyway). 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

PHE "Delighted" At Exiling Vapers To The Outdoors

As Frank Davis will admirably never cease to remind you, when the smoking ban was applied in 2007, an ecstatic Debs Arnott of ASH let her mouth run away with her and boasted gleefully about how "smokers will be exiled to the outdoors".

It's no secret that I believe the ban to have been the most socially destructive and disgracefully illiberal piece of legislation I will ever see in my lifetime. The enforcing of dictatorial rules on private property was hideous enough, but the vile marginalisation of law-abiding citizens and the consequential extension of the idea that laws based solely on snobbery and prejudice are acceptable has been nauseating. These days, you just have to say you are not a fan of something, some wanker will petition the government to ban it and - thanks to the precedent of the smoking ban - politicians will discard all thoughts of personal liberty and seriously consider it. If you can convince people on the back of deliberately contrived junk science that a few wisps of smoke is on a par with letting off a hand grenade, you can install fascist rules on just about anything.

We are that stage now with Public Health England and vaping. On one of their faces PHE will say they are great fans of vaping as an alternative to smoking, for example I was at an event at the Guildhall in September where PHE's Kevin Fenton extolled the virtues of "citizen experts" to aid public health. He specifically singled out e-cigarettes as an example of why this concept was so admirable.

This "consumer-led phenomenon" may be lauded by Fenton and PHE, but it doesn't seem to extend to vapers being allowed to actually mix with the public. You see, in a blog last week, PHE's CEO Duncan Selbie exhibited the other of his organisation's faces by telling us how thrilled he is that vapers, too, are now "exiled to the outdoors".
We're delighted that Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust and Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust have risen to the challenge and, together with providing quitting advice and support for smokers, introduced completely tobacco-free estates on Wednesday 8 March. 
The hospitals have removed smoking shelters and replaced them with designated outdoor vaping points.
"Delighted", no less, that vapers have now not only been shoved outside despite no evidence whatsoever that e-cig vapour is harmful (while subtlely implying to the public that it is), but also now told to go and indulge in the habit well away from where decent people might see them. With no shelter from the elements, and not even allowed to use their e-cigs in their car while in the car park.

It's significant that PHE's 'support' of vaping in workplaces in July said absolutely nothing about the possibility of indoor vaping rooms. They said that vapers should be allowed to vape ... just not indoors. I'd also be prepared to bet a hefty sum that PHE's endorsement and support of vaping doesn't extend to allowing it in their own offices either.

So here we are, 10 years on from the smoking ban, and it is vapers being told that they should get used to being exiled to the outdoors, and - as if to hammer home the point - to use the same marginalisation pens that were originally designed for smokers.

And PHE, the Champion of e-cigs and vaping "citizen experts" is "delighted" about that, apparently. With friends like these, eh? 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Oi! EU! Tax On Vaping? NO!

You may remember that last month was the closing date for an EU consultation on the taxation of manufactured tobacco products. The EU being the meddling EU, this naturally included their initial fumbling towards abusing e-cigs by taxing those too ... despite the devices and the liquid not containing any "manufactured tobacco" whatsoever.

The first results of the consultation have now been made available here, and there are some interesting discussion points.

Firstly, out of 7,686 responses, over 95% of them were submitted by members of the public, with only 3% coming from industry and a mere 1% from NGOs such as those in tobacco control. When tobacco controllers like to paint themselves as a David to the industry's Goliath, that pales into insignificance when it comes to their importance when the public itself gets motivated (more on that later).

Because on the subject of e-cigs especially, the answer to the EU's suggestion of adding tax to vaping was pretty emphatic. And the answer was NO!

As usual, click to enlarge
Yep, a whopping 90% of replies said that the EU should keep their snouts out of vaping and just forget the idea (not that they will, from my educated guess).

Now, it's true that a large majority of the respondents were vapers - to be expected as there was a lot of social media encouragement to take part - but it's significant that those declaring themselves to be e-cig users only accounted for 68% of the responses. So there was also substantial agreement from smokers (4%), non-smokers and even perhaps governmental and non-governmental bodies to reach such a high level of consensus.

The UK featured prominently in the published statistics, making up 8.44% of the total (649 fine upstanding individuals), but were pushed into 3rd place behind Germany (40.48%) and Poland (23.8%).

As you can imagine, with so many logging on just to register their objection to taxation for e-cigs, the post-consultation report's 67 pages are full of tables showing around about 70% of respondents understandably not giving an answer on subjects such as waterpipes, cigarillos and raw tobacco, so the EU will be playing with meagre percentages on a lot of their subject matter.

However, one thing that was quite disappointingly clear is that the theory of harm reduction doesn't extend to new 'heat not burn' technology amongst vapers. To illustrate, asked what a prospective tax rate on vaping should look like, presumably all vapers and another 12% on top thought it should be much lower than cigarettes.

But when the same question was asked about heat not burn, the picture looked very different.

This isn't altogether a surprise. Only 81 people identified as users of HnB - which is to be expected due to the market not being established in Europe yet - so there isn't a great deal of understanding about the concept, and also much distrust about products like iQos, most notable of which being that their emergence might be conflated with e-cigs and sway public perception so far as to favour prohibition and bans on vaping too. This has some merit, but if being consistent the same could also be said about sub-ohming huge clouds in public.

I get the nuances, but vapers have two arguments; freedom choice and health, and the health one relies heavily on the very powerful tobacco harm reduction aspect, especially when talking about recreational use. While it's clear that many respondents were only interested in lending their support to vaping because that's the device they use, it's disappointing that so many are so distant from the harm reduction debate that they are not confident in saying that HnB excise should be set as lower or much lower than tobacco, which is quite obviously the case. Maybe my personal view is not widespread, but if using the harm reduction argument to facilitate being left alone with recreational use of nicotine, picking winners within the harm reduced category is not the way to go.

You have to idly wonder what would have been the result if snus was included in this consultation, I have to say. We will never know, of course, because snus is officially banned by the EU despite the TPD consultation in 2011 showing 84% of the public saying the ban should be lifted. Just as now in 2017, back then a large proportion of the responses came from Poland, which led to the EU throwing out 82,000 of them on the corrupt premise that they were from the tobacco industry. It was clear back then that tobacco control was a tiny David in comparison to the Goliath of public opinion, but that didn't matter to the EU, who listened to a few small dictatorial voices and perpetuated the stupid and science-free ban on snus anyway. Remember that next time some tobacco controller bleats that they are overwhelmed by industry power, because it is proof they are lying to you.

I expect the EU and their hideous NGO chums will probably try the same kind of anti-democratic shenanigans again, but will be more sorely tested with 90% of respondents saying e-cigs should be left alone, from a hefty cohort of 7,686, 95% of which are ordinary citizens.

Some people say that the EU isn't very democratic. This might be an interesting experiment to prove or disprove it, doncha think? 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

ASH Scotland: The Mouse That Squeaked ... Nearly

It is a little known fact that when Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was formed in the early 1970s, it wasn't a result of a groundswell of popular anti-smoking opinion, quite the opposite. It wasn't even set up by ordinary citizens giving their time and energy for a cause they believed in.

Nope, ASH was created by the government's Chief Medical Officer of the time, George Godber, and was staffed at its launch by full time government employees. In fact, the only reason ASH was set up at all was because the voluntary anti-smoking lobby was negligible to the point of being almost invisible at the time (it still is), and therefore some in the government thought it a good idea to pay for one which could the lobby government for restrictions on smoking. And government has shovelled huge amounts of cash to prop ASH - and its satellite organisations in Scotland and Wales - up for the 40 odd years since. In short, they had to do this because an overwhelming majority of the public really couldn't give much of a shit about smoking either way.

It's fair to say that this is still the case, as ASH Scotland has found out today.

A Thunderclap is a Twitter effect whereby you gather supporters to a cause and a tweet will be sent out from their accounts at a synchronised time and date. ASH Scotland first tweeted to publicise theirs a fortnight ago.

However, to get your Thunderclap to work you have to gather a requisite number of supporters which - in this case - was 100. ASH Scotland tweeted a further 10 times to promote their big social media assault, including three tweets yesterday alone, but to no avail.

Yep, in two weeks, ASH Scotland failed to find even 100 supporters for their No Smoking Day Thunderclap despite repeatedly badgering its 2,400 followers on Twitter.

Compare this with a Thunderclap organised by unpaid (unlike ASH Scotland) vapers in advance of COP6 in Russia, which generated around 10,000 individual posts all with the #COP6 hashtag on October 12th 2014. So effective was this that it dominated the online conversation, drowned out any publicity the FCTC was hoping to create for its prohibitionist cockwaffle, and freaked out the FCTC so much that it arguably led to the social media blackout of the conference which then followed.

The public are largely unconcerned by smoking or smokers, as the spectacular apathy ASH Scotland's Thunderclap failure generated illustrates. Only 90 people (I say people in the loosest meaning of the word because most of their support would have been fellow tax-sponging 'public health' NGO Twitter accounts) could be bothered to lift a finger and make a few clicks of their mouse in support of ASH Scotland and No Smoking Day. Pitiful.

Not so much a Thunderclap then, more like a Clusterfuck.

In the budget today, Philip Hammond pledged to give an extra £2 billion to fund a big hole in social care, and raised National Insurance for the self-employed to help pay for perceived financial shortages in the NHS, both things that the public cares a lot about. Yet government still persists in throwing millions of the health budget every year at wasteful self-promoting organisations like ASH and the hundreds of local anti-smoking groups which replicate their same useless non-job, despite the public not giving a monkey's.

It's an appalling waste of money. The state should stop funding them.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The 'Rigour' Of Simple Simon

If you ask the public what they understand by the title of "academic", they might imagine an austere and profoundly thoughtful sciencey type who will dot every i and cross every t before issuing their opinion.

But tobacco control 'academics' are far from that stereotype. Take Simple Simon Chapman, for example.

Erm Simon, the vape industry doesn't assure us it is "safe", but they do tend to refer to current evidence which suggests e-cigs are safer than smoking, and there has been no credible evidence so far that vaping results in any harm.  "Looks dodgy" really doesn't cut it as rigorous academic opinion from the decrepit Aussie vandal-cum-pub singer, now does it? In fact, it looks more like behaviour people like Chappers used to condemn from the tobacco industry when accusing them of being "Merchants of Doubt". Tweeting that vaping "looks dodgy" and hinting that industry would say that, wouldn't they, is quite obviously designed to create doubt without any evidence to support it.

Hardly the rigorous academic, eh?

As mentioned the other day, he is also a bit woolly and confused when researching where quotes he remembers seeing have been published.

However, his lack of rigour is probably most acute when assessing conflicts of interest. You see, when struggling against the weight of evidence proving his daft assertions wrong he will routinely play the "you're paid" or "conflict of interest" ad hom card which, in my humble opinion, means he immediately loses said debate.

But he's not so concerned about his own conflicts when promoting self-congratulatory, narcissistic books about ... Simon Chapman. In an article in The Conversation last week, Simple Simon basically argued that science wasn't about rigorous objective analysis, oh no, it was about producing headlines.

Except that the piece was clearly promotion for his new book.

It is blatant commercialism, and with no declared conflicts of interest.  Both he and the University of Sydney stand to benefit from this promotion, but this isn't declared. The University of Sydney is both a partner/funder of The Conversation and also publisher of the book by ... Simon Chapman.

So many blurred lines and lack of transparency mean that Chappers, the University and The Conversation are conflicted. Worth remembering next time the crusty clown accuses others of that kind of thing - as he very often does - isn't it?