Friday, 28 April 2017

Public Health England and the anti-drink lobby

The very first thing Public Health England did when it was created in 2013 was demand minimum pricing for alcohol. As I said at the time, it had all the hallmarks of another taxpayer-funded nanny state outfit.

So it has proved, but the extent to which this quango acts as a partisan pressure group is only gradually coming to light. Using the Freedom of Information Act, I have found hundreds of e-mails between PHE and the Institute of Alcohol Studies (née the UK Temperance Alliance). IAS is a private organisation with strong views on alcohol policy and their members are entitled to have their voice heard, but the e-mails show that PHE has been working hand-in-glove with them for several years. Other strident neo-temperance campaigners are also heavily involved with PHE's alcohol team, including Alcohol Concern and the fanatic Ian Gilmore (who co-chairs one of PHE's main alcohol committees).

The e-mails only give a glimpse behind the curtain but it is revealing nonetheless. I've written about them for Spectator Health...

Emails released to me under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that IAS not only enjoys a close relationship with the Chief Medical Officer, but is also very friendly with Public Health England (PHE). PHE and IAS were in almost continuous contact in the two years leading up to the publication of the agency’s report on alcohol in December 2016. PHE officials gave its members access to unpublished documents, shared their contacts in government, promoted IAS material, invited IAS members on to three committees and even moved their official meetings to the IAS’s offices in Caxton Street, London.

Between November 2014 and December 2016, IAS had meetings with Public Health England almost every month, exchanged more than 330 emails and had numerous off-the-record conversations in person and over the telephone. 

Do have a read. If you want to see the e-mails in full, you can access them here and here.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Tax vapers, we need the money!

Via United Vapers, there's an interesting little video of Stanton Glantz and Philip Gardiner - two anti-tobacco activist-researchers at the University of California, San Francisco - doing the rounds. The pair are filmed speaking to vapers and vaping business owners who are suffering thanks to the US's insane e-cigarette laws. Those laws have come about, in part, because of the unspeakable junk science that has come out of California.

Watching the film, you would think that Glantz and Gardiner were elected politicians rather than academics. There is no doubt about who has the power and influence. Who made these idiots judge, jury and executioner?

The video makes grim viewing but it does contain the following admission:

Gardiner: I'm in favour of taxing you guys. I wish I could tax it as much as tobacco but I'm willing to compromise to do it less. But it needs to be taxed. Most of the research that we do at the University of California comes from taxes, okay? We have spent a third of our budget over the last two years on e-cigarette research - which is a good thing, I'm all in favour of it - but we have no revenue coming in from it.

Various people in unison: That's not our problem!

Gardiner: But as a scientist at the University of California, that it is my problem.

Every piece of 'e-cigarette research' I have ever seen from a Californian academic has been laughable, scare-mongering, politically-based quackery. The idea that vapers should be taxed to pay for these people to persecute them is obscene.


View it from 5.30 minutes to see the 'public health' racket in action...





Outdoor smoking ban firmly rejected

When Theresa May became prime minister last July I left a hostage to fortune by telling the Morning Advertiser that she was 'surprisingly sound' on nanny state issues. Perhaps those words will come back to haunt me but the early signs are good. For example...

A smoking ban in beer gardens and al-fresco dining areas has been blocked by the Government after ministers warned they would infringe on people's freedom and lead to pub closures.

The proposals to extend the ban to outdoor areas were have been included in a list of demands by councils and health authorities in London which has been supported by Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London.

Same old Labour, always meddling, you might say. Except the same could be said for the Conservative party under David Cameron.

What is most encouraging about the Conservatives' response to Khan is that they have started to use accusations of nanny statism as a political weapon again.

Marcus Jones, a minister for local government, said: “We already knew that Labour councils charge higher council taxes and levy more red tape.

"Now Labour’s municipal killjoys have been caught with a smoking gun, trying to ban adults enjoying their local pub garden. If implemented, these ill-founded proposals would lead to massive pub closures.

"Conservatives in Government will be vetoing these Labour Party plans. Ahead of May’s local elections, local voters have a right to know the bad and mad ideas that are being peddled by Labour councillors."

Well said, that man. Now let's just admit that the current smoking ban has led to massive pub closures.

It is also encouraging to see the Labour party immediately distance itself from the health fascists.

A Labour spokesman said: "This is not Labour Party policy. It's not something we are considering, nor is it something we will be considering."

It's no surprise to hear that the proposal was inspired by an attention-seeking, third rate 'public health' group.

The Royal Society for Public Health has called for "exclusion zones" around pubs, in parks and at the entrances to schools.
It said that reducing the "convenience" of smoking will prompt more people to give up.

Behind all the bluster about bar staff, that was the true reason for the original smoking ban. The mask has slipped, but it seems they have a political mountain to climb before they achieve their next goal.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Action on Jam

Action On Sugar's usual gimmick is to read the nutritional information on food labels, collate the figures and then alert the public, via a press release, that food companies use sugar as an ingredient. The amount of sugar is explained in terms of teaspoons and the quantities consumed are contrasted with the government's guidelines. Never mind that the guidelines relate to added sugar whereas Action on Sugar's figures show total sugar. Never mind, too, that the guidelines were arbitrarily halved a couple of years ago to ensure that everybody is eating too much of it; a sugar ration from World War II would take you over the guidelines these days.

This schtick works quite well for savoury products. If you're the kind of moron who doesn't realise that sweet and sour sauce has sugar in it or doesn't know that white bread is supposed to contain sugar, you might find Action On Sugar's press releases vaguely interesting. One consequence of the decline of home cooking is that people are constantly surprised by the amount of sugar, salt and fat that are used - and have always been used - in food. Action On Sugar like to talk about sugar being 'hidden' because it implies some sort of chicanery, but everything is 'hidden' in food once it's been cooked.

The inexplicable success of the Great British Bake Off has done nothing to calm the sugar panic. A certain amount of doublethink is required for a nation to go crazy for baking cakes while panicking over tiny quantities of sugar in tomato ketchup. Jeremy Corbyn personified this confusion when he described himself as 'totally anti-sugar'. His hobby is making jam.

Jam is now firmly in Action On Sugar's sights. Their latest publicity stunt exposes the 'shocking' amount of sugar contained in jam, marmalade and chocolate spreads. The worst offender is the seemingly respectable Women's Institute, whose Fine Cut English Breakfast Marmalade has 14.3 grams of sugar per 20 gram serving. In the jam category, Mackays Scottish Strawberry Preserve is named and shamed for having 13.4 grams of sugar per serving and Tesco has the sugariest chocolate spread with 11.8 grams per serving.

Aside from a wry article in The Times, this 'story' has not received much attention from the press. That is a shame because the public need to know what kind of people they are up against. A spokesman for the National Obesity Forum says the WI 'should never have allowed a manufacturing company to lace its product with so much sugar'. The chairman of Action On Sugar has demanded that jam makers 'go well beyond the 20 per cent sugar reduction that Public Health England is calling for'. This is wingnuttery of the highest order and should be reported.

The obvious problem for Action On Sugar is that everybody knows that chocolate, jam and marmalade contain sugar. It is not newsworthy. But there is also the more subtle problem that jam and marmalade are not regarded as suspicious processed foods invented by scary corporations. They were made and eaten by your great-grandmother and the recipes have not changed since the days of Mrs Beeton. The idea that children are endangering their lives by eating two slices of toast with jam, as Action On Sugar have suggested today, would strike any sane person as ludicrous. If having a bit of marmalade is enough to take you over the government's guidelines, you might conclude that it is the guidelines that need changing, not the marmalade.

But it doesn't matter what you think. Jam, marmalade and chocolate spread are going to be changed whether you like it or not. Like a host of other products, they are included in Public Health England's ludicrous sugar reduction scheme. If the manufacturers fail to reduce sugar content by 20 per cent, the government is threatening legislation.

In a few years time, the only way to eat jam the way your grandmother made it will be to do as Mr Corbyn does and make it yourself.



Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Stanton Glantz on e-cigarettes

Vice have produced a worthwhile video about the e-cigarette war in the USA in which chief protagonist Stanton Glantz is interviewed at his desk in San Francisco. Glantz has been fanatically opposed to e-cigarettes from the outset and has been as prolific in producing junk science to support his position as he has been in the past when he was promoting smoke-free movies and smoking ban miracles.

The interview with Glantz reminded me of one of those consumer affairs programmes, such as Watchdog, where the investigative journalist finally catches up with the boss of a fly-by-night building company that has been filmed ripping off customers. All bluff and bluster. I wouldn't be surprised if the interview was cut short after Glantz suddenly remembered an important meeting he had to go to.

After waffling on about the fictitious 'gateway effect' and asserting that vaping is 'as bad as smoking a cigarette' for cardiovascular health, Glantz attacks his old colleague Michael Siegel. Without a hint of irony, Glantz says that Siegel has 'lost all credibility as a scientist'. This is followed by an amusing exchange in which the fat mechanic projects all his failings onto Siegel:

Glantz: One thing that strikes me is that any research which supports his preordained position is good no matter how bad it is, and anything that doesn't is bad no matter how good it is.

Q: Is that the same for you?

Glantz: No, no, no.

Q: What bit of research recently has upended a few of your assumptions about e-cigarettes?

Glantz: Er, about e-cigarettes... er... nothing has come out that has - but I...

Q: But there's a bunch of stuff that has come out that disagrees with you.

Glantz: I'm not, I'm not... no, no.

Q: Yes, of course there is!

The whole thing is quite entertaining so have a watch of it below.




Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Responsible drinking

Mark Petticrew is one of the many psychologists who got on the 'public health' gravy train to satisfy his appetite for controlling other people's lives. He was one of the main people responsible for lowering the drinking guidelines last year and when he is not complaining about the free exchange of goods and services, his main schtick is to carry out 'reviews' of voluntary agreements between government and industry.

If it doesn't involve taxing the poor or creating criminal offences, Petticrew isn't interested, and so he invariably concludes that initiatives like the Responsibility Deal don't 'work' whereas heavy-handed and regressive policies do (even when the latter have obviously failed or haven't even been tried).

His findings are therefore highly predictable. Public Health Responsibility Deal on healthy eating? "Could be effective" but needs "food pricing strategies, restrictions on marketing .. and clear penalties". Responsibility Deal for alcohol? Not very effective, needs "law enforcement" to make "alcohol less available and more expensive." Voluntary agreements in general? Can be effective but only when there are "substantial disincentives for non-participation and sanctions for non-compliance", ie. when they are not voluntary. 

You get the picture. For Petticrew, the iron fist is always preferable to the velvet glove. In a new article in the Journal of Public Health, he and a colleague have now moved onto the concept of 'responsible drinking' which he thinks is yet another crafty industry trick.

Industry responsibility messages particularly appear to frame responsibility around the individual drinker, rather than alcohol consumption itself, often focusing on a minority of ‘harmful drinkers’, as opposed to the majority of ‘moderate’ or ‘social’ drinkers, while presenting responsible drinking as a behavioural issue, rather than a health or consumption level issue.

This sentence is close to gibberish for a normal person but it is quite typical of how 'public health' views behaviour. Notice how the 'individual drinker' is separated from 'alcohol consumption' as if there were no connection between the two, as if consumption does not stem from behaviour, as if human agency does not exist and alcohol consumption is just something that happens to people. In the 'public health' view, consumption is not something that the individual chooses, it is something that the government controls by tinkering with prices and regulating advertisements.

The gist of Petticrew's article is that the concept of personal responsibility is used predominantly, if not exclusively, by drinks companies to disguise the fact that it is they, not us, who decide how much we drink...

The term ‘responsible drinking’ was used almost exclusively by industry bodies (AB InBev, Diageo and DrinkIQ), or industry-funded bodies (Portman Group, IARD and ICAP). 

This conclusion is based on a Google binge (sorry, a 'web-based document search') which compared how the term 'responsible drinking' was used by industry groups and neo-temperance groups. Petticrew says that this amounts to 'comparing industry and non-industry sources' but it is nothing of the sort. Lots of 'non-industry sources' use the term 'responsible drinking' but Petticrew doesn't mention them because it would ruin his narrative.

The British government, for example, has long promoted 'responsible drinking' and explained what it means by the phrase:

Through our Public Health Responsibility Deal, companies have agreed to encourage a culture of responsible drinking, which will help people to drink within guidelines.

You can see the same term being used approvingly by all sorts of institutions, including the BBC, the NHS, the police, the Methodist Church and Sheffield University. The term 'moderate drinking', which Petticrew also takes umbrage at, is even more widely used by academics and medics.

It only takes a brief 'web-based document search' to find evidence of this, so who did Petticrew think he was fooling? If his little study shows anything at all, it is that a handful of anti-alcohol groups refuse to use a phrase that is commonly employed by the rest of society, presumably because they don't believe in personal responsibility. It is they who are the aberration. 

The term did not appear to be used in any of the documents sourced from PHE or Alcohol Concern, and was used once by the WHO

So the term 'responsible drinking' doesn't suit the agenda of the 'public health' lobby. So what?

While the meaning of ‘responsible drinking’ in the context of these messages is unclear, as the term is typically not defined

This is not true. The government defines it as drinking within the guidelines (see above) and so does the industry. Here is a typical label on an alcoholic drink in the UK.



It seems pretty obvious that the 'drink responsibly' plea is directly related to the unit recommendations that appear immediately below it. Petticrew admits that the message is sometimes 'presented alongside official guidelines' but complains that the advice 'may conflict with official guidance'. In so far as this is true, it is only because the guidelines were changed by Petticrew and his cronies last year and the drinks companies are still deciding whether or not they should put information on their products that is blatantly untrue (I hope they don't although some are already doing so.)

As the label shows, responsible drinking goes beyond following the guidelines and encompasses not drinking if you are pregnant or driving, but it is quite clear that 'responsible' or 'moderate' drinking is defined by the drinks industry, in part, as drinking within the government's guidelines. Given how low the guidelines were even before Petticrew and the temperance lobby set about them, this is a rather extreme interpretation of responsible drinking. The message to drink responsibly would be perfectly valid if it had no unit-based definition at all.

He concludes:

We conclude that public health practitioners should be aware of the derivation and use of concepts such as ‘responsible’ or ‘moderate’ drinking by industry and industry-funded bodies, as these may exist to promote industry agendas and undermine public health agendas.

Good grief. The paranoia is rampant.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Benzene, soft drinks and secondhand smoke

Science-Based Medicine reports on a court case in which the Nigerian Bottling Company was prosecuted (and lost) for selling soft drinks to the UK which had too much benzene in them.

This sounds pretty scary on the face of it, but the dose is in the poison. There is benzene in water and there is benzene in soft drinks, but very little. For some reason, the UK has a much lower limit than the international standard and a lower limit than Nigeria. Its 150 mg/kg limit for benzoic acid is a quarter of the Codex limit.

The product was tested on import into the UK and found to exceed their limit on benzoic acid (note – this refers to benzoic acid, not benzene):
The UK standards limit benzoic acid in soft drinks to a maximum of 150 mg/kg. Both Fanta and Sprite have benzoic levels of 200 mg/kg which is lower than the Nigerian regulatory limit of 250 mg/kg when combined with ascorbic acid and 300 mg/kg without ascorbic acid and also lower than the 600 mg/kg international limit set by Codex.
So the product was compliant with Nigerian and international limits, but over the stricter limit for the UK. 

The company said that it bottled the drinks to comply with Nigerian law and that they were not intended for export. The judge didn't accept this and suggested that the drinks were not 'fit for human consumption' even though they would be legal in many countries, including her own.

However, the main thing that interested me in the article was how much benzene people breathe in day-to-day life, presumably safely.

The WHO, as stated above, estimates that the average person is exposed to 250-400 micrograms of benzene per day. You will inhale 32 micrograms when you fill up your car, and 40 micrograms from driving for one hour. Smokers inhale 2-7 thousand micrograms a day, and passive exposure to smoke contributes an estimated 50 micrograms per day.

This suggests that amount of benzene you inhale from breathing secondhand smoke is well within the limit of what you would expect in a normal day.

But hang on, I thought that benzene in secondhand smoke was a mortal threat? I remember a TV advert put out by the Department of Health in 2006 as part of its campaign to prepare people for the smoking ban which featured someone who purported to be a scientist talking about how toxic benzene is and how awful it would be if benzene fumes got in the air. She even put on a gas mask.

She was then told that cigarette smoke contains benzene and, rather than asking a scientific question like 'How much?', she screwed her face up and said 'that's horrible'. The advert ended with the message: 'Where there's smoke, there's poison.'



You don't suppose the government was trying to deceive us in some way, do you?