Friday, 29 April 2016

Meanwhile in Brussels...

So the Royal College of Physicians have put out a non-prohibitionist report on e-cigarettes, which was nice. It would have been nicer if they'd said something along the same lines when the EU was plotting the destruction of the vaping industry, but it's better than nothing.

And yet the fact remains that the EU's regulations on e-cigarettes (and tobacco) will come into force in three weeks time and there's nothing anybody can do about it. Nor is there much anybody can do to stop the European Commission meddling in our private lives in other ways. Events of the last fortnight have demonstrated once again that the EU has an unquenchable thirst for lifestyle regulation. 

Last week, I mentioned that the EU's latest Health Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, has decided it is his job to make people drink less, whether they want to or not.

'I am in favor of reducing the use of alcohol in the EU; not only alcohol-related harm, but also use.'

This week, Andriukaitis upped the ante on his control freakery when he expressed his desire to stamp out e-cigarettes...

'I personally believe that electronic cigarettes must be regulated as strong as possible because from my point of view it is a danger for public health.' 

And then on Wednesday, he attended an EU debate on tobacco lobbying at which nobody from the tobacco industry - nor any of its customers - were invited to speak. Politico's report gives a good flavour of the censorious paranoia of the public health racket in Brussels.  There is a full video of the 'debate' online which is pretty hard to stomach since it involves tax-sponging prohibitionists taking soft ball questions from puppet NGOs like the European Public Health Alliance, but it is a valuable reminder of the cult-like echo chamber in which these people live.

The topic under discussion was Article 5.3 of the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which 'public health' scoundrels like to pretend prohibits tobacco industry employees from talking to politicians. They want this extended and strengthened so that the only voices heard in the debate are their own.

I've said before that I would prefer politicians to listen to consumers than to lobbyists, but that idea never seems to occur to EU officials, let alone to anti-smoking fanatics. Lobbying is nevertheless a necessary evil and if you are obsessed with using the law to stop one side sharing their evidence and opinions it strongly suggests that you are not very confident in your own evidence and opinions.

Furthermore, if you are a special interest group with an extreme agenda - in this instance, ending all tobacco use on planet Earth - it is important for democracy that other perspectives to be heard, even if they are financially motivated.

The anti-tobacco elite does not see it this way, of course. They do not see themselves as a special interest group at all. At one point during the debate Pascal Diethelm made an unintentionally amusing attempt to distinguish 'bad' lobbyists from (his own) 'good' lobbyists, saying...

'If you defend the public interest, you are not a lobbyist. You are someone who defends the public interest.'

No, Pascal. You are someone lobbying for a special interest, like every other lobbyist.

Students of the slippery slope will not be surprised to hear that the 'public health' racket wants the principle of Article 5.3 extended to everybody who disagrees with them. At 1 hour 17 minutes, Roberto Bertollini says...

'The FCTC is a sort of model, in my view, for other areas where we do not have an international treaty of the same value but we have interference of vested interests in "public health" policies. I'm thinking about sugar and nutrition and alcohol and other areas. [The FCTC is] a model - a first case - which could become, hopefully, a practice more extensively used for all the other issues of concern for "public health".

So there you have it. Silencing your opponents, crushing e-cigarettes and forcing down alcohol consumption. All in a day's work for the lifestyle regulators. And with unelected bodies like the WHO and the European Commission onside, they've found just the way to do it without having to bother with all that pesky democracy stuff.

Monday, 25 April 2016

On processed foods

I've been waiting for someone to write a post like this about 'processed' food and the Angry Chef has stepped up to the plate in style. Read it. Read it all.

On convenience foods and pasta sauces in particular...

I am not going to defend every aspect of food manufacturing and I fully admit that there are many manufactured products that are nutritionally poor, but I will staunchly defend jars of tomato based pasta sauce. They are cooked in pretty much the same way a decent cook would make a tomato sauce at home, with pretty much the same ingredients. They are simple, convenient, have loads of tomatoes in them and are a really useful in helping a lot of people make a decent, cheap and balanced meal for their family. They are packed full of nutrients. They have no need for preservatives, no need for artificial colours, no need for artificial flavourings. The tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil and herbs have plenty of flavour already and the heat processing preserves them perfectly. That ‘processing’ is simply the addition of heat. This is a process, but if you did it at home, you would call it cooking. You do not say ‘I’m just processing this chicken for dinner', you say that you are cooking it.

I would challenge anyone who advocates with the demonization of processed foods to argue with me over this. There is nothing wrong with manufactured pasta sauce. There is also nothing wrong with a tin of soup. It is made, filled into a can and heated. Homemade soup may be nicer, but tinned soups are not bad for you because they are processed. The process they undergo is heating, or to use another term, cooking. Just because something comes out of a factory does not make it bad. And just because something is homemade does not sprinkle it with some magic fairy dust that makes it good for you.

On food snobs...

People need convenience food. People need shortcuts that can get a satisfying meal on the table when they are so tired and stressed they can’t think. We do not all live in middle class Nigella-land where the most you have to worry about is putting together a vegetarian gluten free spread when friends drop round unannounced. Real people worry about not having enough for rent, electric and food this month. Tell them that they will save money if they buy real ingredients from their local farmers’ market and they will rightly tell you to fuck off because it isn’t true. Telling people that if they cook with real ingredients they will save enough to buy organic if absurd, unrealistic and stupid. People need cheap simple stuff they know the kids will eat. They buy brands because they know that they will not be wasting money and they do not have the time or energy to experiment. Real people do not want to be lectured about your fucking food philosophy. They do not give two shits about farm to fork. They do not need to be brought in touch with the land to develop a good relationship with produce. They do not want to be publically shamed into rejecting the convenience products they love. They do not care how quinoa is pronounced because they are never going to buy it.

Obesity happens because people make poor food choices. If you took away convenience foods, they would still make poor food choices. People would make chips from scratch or buy them from the chippy and that would be a lot less healthy than the oven chips they use today. They would also be pissed off, because you would have taken away the time they saved using the convenient option and even more pissed off because they would have to think about cooking tonight when they are tired and the kids want some attention.

Bravo. Do read the whole thing.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Water, water everywhere

The fussbuckets are running out of things to complain about if this, from the Telegraph, is any indication...

Restaurants have been accused of fuelling the nation’s obesity crisis by failing to put tap water on tables.

Restaurant owners should “take responsibility” and give families tap water before they ask for it, instead of relying on them to choose it over soft drinks and alcohol, the Local Government Association has said.

Note who has to 'take responsibility' here. Not the individual. Never the individual.

Fizzy drinks are now the biggest source of dietary sugars for all age groups in the UK, and the National Hydration Council has found children only get a quarter of the daily water they need.

There is no such thing as the National Hydration Council. Presumably the Telegraph means the Natural Hydration Council which is a trade association for bottled water companies and perhaps not the most objective source of information. 

Obesity annually costs the NHS £47bn - half its total budget.

How can anyone be dumb enough to believe this factoid? The £47 billion estimate - bollocks though it may be - never claimed to be the cost to the NHS. The Telegraph keeps making this mistake. Its health reporting really is among the worst in the world.

Only a third of diners drink tap water when eating out, found a survey by the LGA, which represents all English and Welsh councils but four.

To be frank, a third is more than I would have expected. When you go out to eat you want to treat yourself, not drink tap water. The LGA seems to be suggesting that a third isn't enough. If so, what is the right proportion? A half? Three-quarters? Should everybody be compelled to drink tap water in restaurants? Alas, they do not say, but what they do say is absurd...

Izzi Seccombe, the LGA’s community wellbeing spokeswoman, said: “While most restaurants will happily provide a glass of tap water on request, we’re saying it shouldn’t be something you have to ask for. Some people may be too embarrassed. Others may simply forget it’s an option."

Where to begin? People forget that they can drink water? Seriously?

In the unlikely even that someone is too 'embarrassed' to order tap water, they should buy bottled water. If you're in a restaurant, you're going to have to communicate your desires to the staff using a system known as 'ordering'. Here's my suggestion. Order your food and then say '...and a jug of tap water please.' If that sounds simple, it's because it really, really is. It's a system that's worked for years. It's a lot better than telepathy or compulsion or whatever the LGA has in mind.

What has any of this got to do with the Local Government Association anyway? Perhaps they have been awarded a particularly large grant for 2016/17 and want to start the financial year as they mean to go on (you may recall they were clutching their pearls over tooth decay earlier this month). Or perhaps they just wanted to give everybody a laugh over the weekend.    

Either way, they are not the only ones spouting drivel...

Russ Ladwa, chairman of the British Dental Association’s health and science committee, said: “Diners deserve a choice, but shouldn't feel they have to ask for the one option that doesn't come bundled with sugars, acids or calories."

They have to ask for every other option, Russ. That's how it works. Tap water is already free. If that isn't sufficient incentive for people to order it then we can probably assume they don't really want it. And if people don't want it, it's a waste of time and labour to give it to people as a matter of course.

Meanwhile, as Timmy points out, in the USA every diner is given a glass of water whether they want one or not (although it is not the law). Not only does America have one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, but there is a campaign to ban the practice on environmental grounds. In California, where nearly everything is illegal, there is already a ban in place.

Regular readers will know that I do not wish to emulate California, but there is a third way between compulsion and prohibition called the free market. Let's stick with that, shall we?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

No, the EU won't be changing

Like an abusive husband, EU officials occasionally claim that they can change. Yesterday, Jean-Claude Juncker said:
"I think that one of the reasons why European citizens are stepping away from the European project is due to the fact that we are interfering in too many domains of their private lives."

In many of those areas, individual states were "better placed to take action and to pass through legislation."

Today, however, business returned to normal, with the EU's Health Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, saying this:

“I am in favor of reducing the use of alcohol in the EU; not only alcohol-related harm, but also use,” he told Laure Alexandre, director of spirits and society at SpiritsEurope, during a conference on chronic diseases, speaking emphatically.

Get that? Not just reducing alcohol-related harm but reducing alcohol consumption. Proof once again that it's not about health.

Is it the EU's business how much we drink? No. Is it their business how much our alcohol taxes are? No. And sadly for this unelected apparatchik, there isn't a lot the EU can do about alcohol consumption, so instead he attempts to, er, interfere in the affairs of sovereign nations...

Further taxation would be a good instrument to fight alcohol abuse, Andriukaitis said, and he asked the European Public Health Alliance to lobby national governments to increase excise duties on alcohol.

“Please send letters to prime ministers of countries which have the lowest level of excise duties, please send letters to presidents, please encourage member states together with me to introduce taxation instruments at home,” he said.

As the European Public Health Alliance is mostly funded by the European Union, this is sock-puppetry at its most blatant.

It seems that when Juncker said that member states were "better placed to take action and to pass through legislation" he meant that they were better placed to take action if the EU was legally prevented from doing so and only after taxpayers' money had been spent on astroturf lobbyists to tell them what to do.

See Euro Puppets for more on the EU's endemic funding on cheerleaders and fake charities.

The nanny state we're in

This, from the New Zealand Institute, is very good. It is a serious and very readable discussion of lifestyle regulation underpinned by sound economic reasoning. Nearly all of it applies to the UK (and elsewhere).

Read it.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Smoking licences rear their ugly head again

More health fascism from the Emerald Isle...

Health authorities in developed countries, where the most headway against smoking has been made, now talk about playing the “endgame” with tobacco, that is, reducing the percentage of smokers in the overall population, currently about 20 per cent, to 1 or 2 per cent.

1 or 2 per cent is less than the prevalence of frequent illicit drug use in the UK and is considerably less than the prevalence of illicit drug use in the past month. Whatever euphemism you choose to use, it is obvious that the 'endgame' would have to involve prohibition to even attempt a smoking prevalence rate of 1-2%.

Some have suggested the licensing of cigarette smoking as a significant step towards achieving this end result.

Well, Julian Le Grand suggested it back in 2008 but backed down when people quite rightly pointed out that it was incompatible with a free society. Since then, the only person to have seriously mooted it is Simon Chapman, a narcissistic fanatic who is wrong about everything.

In a highly cited article in Plos Medicine (November 2012), Simon Chapman, Sydney University public health academic, outlined the case for a smoker’s licence, whereby smokers would apply for a smart swipe-card licence and retailers could sell cigarettes only to cardholders. Before receiving a licence, smokers would have to pass a test of smoking risk knowledge. 

Yes, that's the fellow. He's an idiot.

At this point, our intrepid neo-prohibitionist - one William Reville - embellishes this authoritarian nonsense with further sprinklings of prodnosery...

Three levels of licence would exist, corresponding to different levels of smoking: one to 10 cigarettes per day, 11-20 per day and 21-50 per day. Annual licensing fees of about €100, €150 and €200 respectively would apply to each of the three categories and smokers would precommit to a smoking category. This category could be changed later online or on annual licence renewal. 

Because Irish smokers aren't being taxed heavily enough already, obviously.

The licence fee in itself is a disincentive to smoking, but more significantly, smokers who stop smoking and surrender the licence would be refunded, with compound interest, all licence fees paid during their licence history. 

As if the government would ever do that in practice.

Licence surrender would be permanent and reapplication not permitted.


Let me get this straight. An adult smoker who chooses to stop smoking and later chooses to start smoking again is PERMANENTLY BANNED from ever buying cigarettes again?

Yes, folks, that is what he is saying.

Tobacco is a dangerous drug. We strictly license the use of all other drugs that are potentially dangerous if improperly used, for example pharmaceuticals. When your GP writes you a prescription to treat your ailment, he/she gives you a temporary licence to purchase a limited supply of pharmaceuticals from a licensed pharmacy. In contrast, tobacco, a drug that kills half of its long-term users, can be purchased by any adult in unlimited quantity in any shop.

Show me someone who's overdosed on a pack of cigarettes and we'll talk. The risks from smoking come from daily consumption of many cigarettes for decades. The difference between acute and chronic risks make any comparison with pharmaceuticals - some of which can be bought over the counter, by the way - invalid.

What about the “slippery slope” objection to a smoking licence? Would it not encourage the “nanny state” to call for a licensing system for alcohol drinkers, consumers of junk food and so on? However, Chapman argues that this slope is less slippery than we fear.

Chapman would argue that a horse in an ox if it furthered his prohibitionist agenda. His claim that there is no slippery slope is shown to be massively and hilariously wrong on an almost daily basis, not only in his native Australia but also in Ireland.

Drastic controls, greater than apply to any other consumer product, have already been introduced to regulate tobacco marketing, packaging and public consumption – cigarette ads are banned across all media, tobacco sponsorship of sport is banned, plain packaging of cigarettes with graphic printed warnings is required, smoke-free zones are widespread – without significant spillover of such controls to other consumer goods, for example alcohol.

Really? Perhaps you could tell this to your Health Committee because they want to see 'the introduction of health warnings on alcohol products "in a similar fashion to tobacco legislation... with an emphasis on visual graphic designs for maximum effect". And then you should tell the state-funded sockpuppet Alcohol Action Ireland because they want the government to 'legislate comprehensively to regulate the promotion of alcohol including a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport'.

When I first heard the idea of licensing cigarette smokers I dismissed it as a crude Orwellian instrument of state control. 

Your first impression was correct.

I am a nonsmoker but I don’t like the state curtailing citizens’ personal freedoms. 

Except when it involves banning people from buying cigarettes ever again.

However, the cumulative health effects of smoking are so grave they may well justify this extra step.

All they wanted was non-smoking sections in restaurants, remember?

Monday, 18 April 2016

Brexit and the nanny state

The Institute of Economic Affairs has today published a weighty tome entitled Breaking Up is Hard to Do. Over fifteen chapters, various commentators discuss what Brexit would mean for the UK in practice. This being the IEA, the focus is on whether things would be better or worse from the perspective of liberty and free markets.

I wrote the last chapter which - you will not be surprised to hear - is about lifestyle regulation/the nanny state/'public health'. I wanted to answer the question of whether life would be better or worse for an adult consumer who wants to eat, drink and smoke without being taxed, punished and stigmatised.

Looked at from this narrow perspective - and rather against my natural instinct - I had to conclude that the EU is not a bad thing. In fact, it is quite a good thing for three reasons:

Firstly, the common market allows British consumers to buy virtually unlimited quantities of alcohol and tobacco from the continent at prices that are almost invariably cheaper than they get at home.

Secondly, as a result of this price competition, there is a limit on how much the UK government can rip off consumers with sin taxes. As high as alcohol and tobacco duty is, it would probably be higher if we didn't have low duty markets on our doorstep.

Thirdly, the EU's free trade rules give consumers some sort of shield against their own venal, half-witted governments. For example, the EU has prevented minimum pricing legislation in the past and looks as if it will do so again in the case of alcohol.

Several caveats need to be added. This book has had an unusually long gestation. I originally wrote this chapter two years ago. At the time, it wasn't clear how the Tobacco Products Directive would pan out, in particular with regards to e-cigarettes. The ridiculous new rules on e-cigarettes (and normal cigarettes to some extent) are a major negative to balance against the positives.

The other issue is the possibility of the common market being undermined by a 'public health' carve out in which nanny state campaigners argue that free trade shouldn't apply when products carry a risk to health. This is the argument being used by minimum pricing advocates on the basis of Article 36 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2007) which allows exemptions 'on grounds of public morality, public policy or public security', ie. nearly everything.

As I say in the book...

If the lifestyle regulation agenda is to progress at EU level, perhaps the best hope for campaigners lies in the exemptions set out in Article 36 of the TFEU for ‘the protection of health’. If risky lifestyle products are considered to be special cases, they might be subject to a different set of rules. Minimum pricing will provide an important test case. If the ECJ (or a national court) rules in favour of the Scottish government on the basis of Article 36, British public health groups expect it to ‘set an important precedent that could encourage Member States to introduce further public health legislation’. It would be a groundbreaking victory for lifestyle regulation over the single market, with implications that extend far beyond the field of health (Article 36 also mentions ‘public morality’ and ‘public security’ as possible grounds for exemption). Theoretically, the internal market could become riddled with so many exemptions granted to special interest groups that it becomes like a Swiss cheese.

For the time being, this remains only a theoretical possibility. The reality is that over the course of the last fifteen years, the EU has been less keen on the nanny state than has the British government. Not only has it been less keen, it has afforded British consumers some protection from it. You only have to look at the Nanny State Index to see that the UK has an unusually strong appetite for micromanaging people's lives. As bad as the TPD is, most of its tobacco regulations were borrowed from the UK and its not as if our representative, Anna Soubry, put up a fight against the e-cigarette regulations - she was too busy making sure the UK would be able to go above and beyond the TPD by bringing in plain packaging.

The UK, Ireland and Scandinavia are in a league of their own when it comes to alcohol taxes. Scotland and Ireland are the only EU countries who are seriously contemplating minimum pricing. And while the European Commission is forcing Finland to drop its tax on confectionery, the UK is gearing up for a sugar levy.

There are many arguments for leaving the EU, but I'm afraid anyone who thinks Britain would be less of a nanny state if we left is kidding themselves.

Download Breaking Up is Hard to Do for free. My chapter starts on page 301.