Thursday, 29 June 2017

Myths and realities of the smoking ban - 10 years on

In July 2007, a smoking ban was introduced in all enclosed 'public' places - bars, restaurants, railway platforms and workplaces - in England. Three months later, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) issued a fact sheet titled 'As the Smoke Clears: Myths and Reality of Smokefree England'. Before the ban, ASH consistently dismissed evidence from Ireland and the US that smoke-free legislation damages the hospitality trade. In this document, they asserted that it was all a lie.

When the ASH fact sheet was released, the smoking ban had barely been in force for 100 days and pub chains and bingo operators had not yet announced their end-of-year accounts. Nor had the cold winter months arrived. There was, however, mounting anecdotal evidence of pubs and bingo halls suffering immediate hardship.

Looking back on it with ten years of hindsight, much of 'Myths and Reality' is genuinely laughable. It uses selective data to paint a rosy picture of life after the smoking ban and led the public to believe that reports of economic damage were propagated by vested interests within what they called 'pro smoking organisations' and the 'hospitality organisations' (it was never explained why the hospitality industry would want to lie about the ban if it was not being damaged by it).

ASH's document listed ten 'myths' about the smoking ban and then gave what ASH called the 'reality' to debunk them. With the tenth anniversary of the ban coming up on Saturday, it is worth comparing what they said at the time to what we now know happened.

'Myth': It will be bad for pubs

What ASH said in 2007: 'Pro smoking groups claimed that the smokefree legislation would be bad for business and we would lead to many pubs closing down. The evidence to date from notable pub groups is that the smoking ban has had 'little impact' upon their sales. Capital Pubs announced profits and that the 'smoking ban has had no material impact on business'. Greene King said like-for-like sales were up by 2% in managed houses and 1% in tenanted pubs. Punch Tavern shares rose by 2.3% and announced the smoking ban as having 'little impact upon sales'. Mitchells & Butler announced that the smoking ban has not affected UK sales with like-for-like sales increasing by 2.6 per cent. Furthermore a recent YouGov survey commissioned by ASH found that 20% of non-smokers reported that they visited pubs more often since the smoking ban.'

This was palpable nonsense at the time and it is truly risible today. ASH named four pub chains, all of which were putting on a brave face in the immediate wake of the smoking ban. Let's take each of them in turn:

When interviewed in November 2007, the Chief Executive of Capital Pubs expressed confidence about trade 'despite the smoking ban'. At that time, the company's share price was £1.60 but once winter kicked in and the smokers disappeared en masse, the share price fell by 33%. It was sold to Greene King in 2011.

Speaking of Greene King, stories such as 'Greene King sales rise allays smoking ban fears' and 'Greene King absorbs smoking ban' painted a rosy picture for the Suffolk brewery in the weeks following the ban. Greene King was one of the great recent success stories in the pub industry and it had more reason to be more optimistic than some of its rivals since 90% of its pubs were able to offer outdoor smoking areas. Like the other pub giants, the company expected a spate of pub closures elsewhere which would allow them to snap up some nice properties cheaply. Shareholders were less confident. After quadrupling in value between 2003 and February 2007, the company's share price peaked at over £10 before the smoking ban and then plummeted, dropping to a low of barely £3 in October 2008. It gradually rallied thereafter but has never reached its pre-ban peak and is still a third lower than it was in June 2007. It has been selling off pubs left, right and centre.

Things were even worse for Punch Taverns, whose share price peaked in June 2007. They reduced their financial projections by 2-3% due to poor trading in a 'soggy summer' and insisted that 'the trading lull was a 'one-off blip' that had nothing to do with the impact of the smoking ban.' It remained buoyant about sales in the longer term - hence the quote ASH used above. Two months later, the rain was gone but trade was still flat and for the first time the company expressed concerns about the smoking ban. 'Cautious is the word we are using for how we think 2008 will turn out,' said Giles Thorley, the managing director, 'We cannot say more than that because of the uncertainties surrounding the slowdown in consumer confidence and the long-term effects of the smoking ban.'

By January, things were looking more desperate. With its share price in free-fall, Punch Taverns announced that the first six months of the ban had seen sales slip for the first time in years. In the six months since ASH had cited the 2.3% rise in Punch's share price, the company's stock had nearly halved, from £11.00 to £6.00. A company spokesman finally had to admit the obvious: 'The smoking ban has impacted trading,' he said.

By 2011, Punch was a trainwreck and the truth could be told...

'The dynamics in the market changed and that really started with the smoking ban,' says Roger Whiteside, managing director of Punch's tenanted pubs division. 'There's been a long-term decline for decades in volume sales of beer. What used to be copeable with – a 2% or 3% drop a year – became 7% or 8%.'

Shares in Punch are currently available for £1.79.

Finally, there is Mitchells & Butler, owners of the Harvester chain. Once again, its share price tells the story, peaking in June 2007 before losing 75 per cent of its value in the first year of the ban. Today, it is still 75 per cent down on its pre-ban value.

And what of the pub chains ASH didn't mention?

The country's second-biggest pub company, Enterprise Inns, sold all its pubs in Scotland within months of the smoking ban coming into effect north of the border. In November 2007, it announced its first drop in profits for five years and its CEO warned that the smoking ban would lead to further pub closures. You can probably guess the rest. Enterprise's share price peaked in the weeks before the smoking ban came into effect in England and halved in value over the next twelve months (from £7.80 to £3.90). Its shares bottomed out at 36p in 2009 and can be bought for £1.30 today.

Regent Inns issued a profit warning in December 2007 and announced that trading had deteriorated as winter set in. Its shares immediately fell by 34 per cent and by the end of 2009 was in administration.

Nothing dramatic happened to the British economy in July 2007 - the banking crisis and recession did not happen until the following year - and yet it was in this month that the rot set in for all the pub companies. Around one in five pubs have closed since the smoking ban came into effect, and nearly half of all nightclubs have shut down. (NB. For reference, the FTSE 100 is currently 9% higher than it was in June 2007.)

This trend was already obvious within months of the ban coming into force. The headlines in the financial pages of the newspapers told their own story:

'Pubs giant slumps as smoke ban saps sales' - Evening Standard (November 2007)

'Pub beer flattened by smoking ban' - Guardian (January 2008)

'Smoking ban begins to bite into brewers' profits' - LDP Business (February 2008)

'Wetherspoon chokes on smoking ban' -  Herald (March 2008)

The financial analysts Goldman Sachs - hardly a 'pro smoking organisation'' - announced in 2008 that the smoking ban had reduced average pub profits by 10%. Scottish & Newcastle, the UK's largest brewery estimated a 8% fall in beer sales in January 2008 and beers sales in the UK fell to their lowest level since the Great Depression soon afterwards. But most devastating to the ASH version of events are the statistics for pub closures which accelerated dramatically in 2007. The trade journal the Morning Advertiser blamed this squarely on 'the savage impact of the smoking ban and spiralling costs'. The figures require little comment:

2005: 2 a week

2006: 4 a week

2007: 27 a week

2008: 39 a week

2009: 52 a week

This increase in pub closures is unprecedented in recent British history and although the smoking ban was not the sole cause, the evidence that it has been severely damaged by the smoke-free legislation is now indisputable.

Myth: It will be bad for bingo

What ASH said then: 'In the lead up to the smoking ban, pro smoking groups argued that the smokefree legislation was going to be particularly detrimental for both the profitability and long term outcomes of Bingo, with smokers more likely to stay home and use online gaming sites.

Reality: Gaming group Rank, which has 86 clubs in England said it was encouraged by performance at its Mecca bingo, with company shares up by 8.75%.'

Of all the hostages to fortunes ASH left in their 'fact sheet', the claim that bingo would thrive under the smokefree legislation was the most vulnerable to reality. What ASH did not mention in their rebuttal of this 'myth' is that Rank were 'encouraged' because bingo revenues in England had fallen by a mere 4.4% since the ban despite revenues having risen 2.3% in the six months before it. It says much about the devastating effect of the smoking ban in Scotland that Rank declared themselves pleased with a 4.4% fall in revenue in England; they had seen a 15% fall in revenue in Scotland after the ban was introduced there in February 2016. Still, it was only August and things were about to get a good deal worse.

In October, Rank issued a profit warning and announced that its Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casinos businesses had 'experienced a significant deterioration in revenue in recent weeks'. This was just the beginning. In England and Wales, bingo revenues fell by 20% after the ban came into effect. Initial predictions that the smoking ban would cost the company £1 million were shown to be ridiculously optimistic. By spring 2008, Rank were losing £1m in revenue every fortnight from the gaming machines alone.

As for the 8.75% upturn in Rank's share price which ASH used as evidence that the smoking ban was not 'bad for bingo', it would have brought a hollow laugh from the company's accountants. It was a tiny blip in an unremitting downward cycle for the stock. Since trading at a high of £4.40 in the weeks before the Scottish smoking ban began, nearly 70% was wiped off the company's share price in the months that followed. In February 2006 the stock was trading at well over £3.00. Two years later their shares were valued at 50p.

Then there was Rank's main rival, Gala Bingo. If ASH were looking for a quote they could have come to Gala's chief executive Neil Goulden. In 2006 he was told by Scottish anti-smoking groups that the ban would reinvigorate his business but a year after it came into force he told the BBC:

'The effect of the smoking ban in Scotland's been a lot worse than we thought it was going to be. We've actually now lost 8% of our customer base who have stopped coming altogether. We could have 200 bingo clubs closing.'

By the end of the year, Gala's bingo revenues had fallen by 11% but the company promised not to close any bingo halls. Alas, there was no sign of a revival over Christmas and the New Year and the first English closures were announced a few weeks later.

Myth: There will be large scale non-compliance

What ASH said then: 'Critics argued that a total ban on smoking in public places would not be possible to police and there would be large scale non- compliance.

Reality: However two independent surveys tell a different story. The first by the Department of Health, released in August, found that 97% of businesses are complying with the new smoking legislation. Secondly a YouGov survey recently released by ASH, Asthma UK and the British Thoracic Society found similar results with 97% of pub goers saying they had not smoked in a pub or enclosed space since the ban came into force, while 86% of pub goers said that they had not seen anyone smoking in a pub. The evidence dismisses the arguments by critics surrounding large scale non-compliance.'

This is a bit of a straw man. The claim that 'there will be large scale non-compliance' was never made by 'pro-smoking organisations'. In fact, FOREST always maintained that widespread civil disobedience was unlikely. By fining landlords, rather than smokers, the law was cleverly designed to get publicans to police the ban themselves. For the most part, it worked.

The ASH fact-sheet only references an article from the Daily Telegraph which had the headline '100s of pubs to flout smoking ban' but which did not quote anyone from a 'pro smoking organisation' promising 'large scale non-compliance'.

Myth: There will be heavy handed enforcement with undercover officers and covert filming

What ASH said then: 'Pro smoking organisations and landlords reasoned that the smoking ban would result in heavy handed enforcement, covert filming and armies of undercover enforcement officers. Simon Clark, a FOREST spokesperson, argued that it will be like a 'sledgehammer cracking a nut' and the British Beer and Pub Association believed that enforcement would be too heavy handed.

Reality: What has happened in practice is that council officials have approached the situation as they said they would, in a reasonable manner applying a 'softly softly' approach with relatively few being issued. Further, Lambeth council have recently reported that they issued their first fine while Staffordshire have yet to issue a single fine, providing further evidence that these claims were unsubstantiated.'

There is an element of misrepresentation in ASH's comments here. Their opponents' argument about enforcement was more about disproportionate resources and unnecessary powers than about fear of thuggery and repression. Groups like FOREST acknowledged from the outset that the smoking ban would take little enforcing and that it was therefore excessive to devote £30 million and 1,200 officials to the task of policing it.

Besides, although 1,200 people may not quite constitute an 'army', it is a sizeable regiment and it is a lot of people to employ for the purpose of giving out the handful of tickets ASH describe above. The analogy of the sledgehammer and the nut does not seem entirely out of place.

As for 'undercover officers and covert filming', there is no question that those charged with policing the ban were given powers to go undercover and carry out secret filming. It is not as if they ever pretended otherwise. ASH correctly noted that 'council officials have approached the situation as they said they would, in a reasonable manner applying a 'softly softly' approach with relatively few fines being issued.' This is precisely what the man in charge of training the enforcement officers told the BBC (ASH used the BBC's report as a reference for this section of their document) but ASH did not report his next sentence which was:

'But there will be some occasions where action has to be taken and I am sure the compliance officers will not shy away from that. These officers do not have to identify themselves when they go into premises and they can even film and photograph people to gather evidence.'

That is clearly 'covert filming', and the 'softly softly approach' was always going to be a temporary tactic. Liverpool City Council official Andy Hull made this explicit in the same news report:

'We want to make our presence felt from the start,' he said, 'and while we will probably just issue warnings on the first day, we won't be afraid of making an example of people or businesses if they try to make a stand.'

As these quotes illustrate, it was not the 'pro smoking organisations' who were warning of 'heavy-handed' enforcement and 'covert filming'. It was the very people charged with policing the ban. They were given £30 million and 1,200 officials who were given permission to secretly film in pubs and elsewhere.

One of the people who 'tried to make a stand' was Nick Hogan who was ordered to pay £10,000 for breaching the law and was ultimately imprisoned. Another was Tony Blows who was ordered to pay £12,000. Hamish Howett had his pub licence revoked. Hundreds of taxi drivers have been fined for smoking in their own vehicles. One cabbie was fined £200 for merely failing to display a No Smoking sign. It all sounds a bit heavy-handed and disproportionate to me.

Myth: Working men's clubs and shisha bars will close

What ASH said then: 'Claims and protests that the smoking ban would result in mass closures of shisha bars and working men's clubs, threatening the livelihood of the owners were unfounded. Working men's clubs feared that the smoking ban would see one in five of its clubs closing down following the smoking ban whilst shisha bars argued that they would be unable to operate if smoking was banned in enclosed places.

Reality: There have yet to be any reported closures as a result of the ban.'


If it was not clear in October 2007, it is certainly clear now that there is nothing mythical about the working men's clubs that have shut their doors since the smoking ban came into force. Within months of the ban coming into force, working men's clubs were closing at three times the rate they were before the ban and their management have regularly identified the smoking ban as a major factor in the collapse of their businesses. Although I have been unable to get any reliable figures, the original prediction of one in five WMCs closing does not seem far-fetched. After all, one in five pubs have closed.

There is less evidence of shisha bars closing but this is likely due to widespread noncompliance. A great many shisha bars have been fined for breaching the smoking ban (eg. here and here).

Myth: People won't really quit

What ASH said then: 'The survey by ASH, Asthma UK and the British Thoracic Society found that 12% of smokers have attempted to quit since the 1st July. Primary Care Trusts in Lancashire, Brighton and Hove, and Barking and Dagenham have all reported a 100% increase in people using stop smoking services.'

Before the ban came into force, ASH and the other anti-smoking groups insisted that the legislation was designed to protect the health of nonsmokers, but once it was in place they felt able to admit to its true purpose: coercing smokers into quitting.

Perhaps surprisingly, the ban was not accompanied by a fall in the smoking rate. On the contrary, the long-term decline in smoking prevalence came to an end in 2007 and did not resume until 2013 when e-cigarettes became popular.



Myth: Smoking is a victimless crime/ Claims about the health impact are flawed

What ASH said then: 'Pro smoking groups continue to dispute credible medical evidence regarding the dangers of secondhand smoke and the health consequences of smoking. 

Reality: Numerous international reports from bodies such as the WHO, IARC and the UK's Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health found that exposure to secondhand smoke was responsible for an increase in heart disease, lung cancer and reduced lung function.
 
Recently released research from Scotland shows that admissions to hospital for heart attacks have declined by 17 per cent since the introduction of the smoking ban in public places.

Independent tests and research have also been carried out on bar staff. A BBC investigation tested bar staff prior to the ban and found they had cotinine levels which were the equivalent of smoking 300 cigarettes a year. A study in Leicestershire of carbon monoxide levels in non-smoking bar staff found that prior to the ban they had readings between 10 -15 molecules per million air particles, the equivalent to 3 to 5 cigarettes a day. After the ban they had between 0-1 molecules per million air particles, which is the equivalent to that of a non smoker. A study by The Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre in Warwick visited 59 pubs, cafes and bingo halls and found staff exposure to harmful secondhand smoke has fallen by 95 per cent since the introduction of smokefree legislation.'

I'm not sure if 'pro smoking groups' disputed the health consequences of smoking, but they were right to dispute the claims made about passive smoking. I have discussed secondhand smoke epidemiology many times on this blog and in my book Velvet Glove, Iron Fist so I won't go into it again here. I have also discussed the junk study from Scotland that ASH refer to (see here and here, for example). Suffice to say, I don't consider it to be 'credible medical evidence'.

Regarding the claim about shisha being the equivalent to 300 cigarettes, it is also junk science that has been debunked by this expert.

The rest of ASH's rebuttal merely explains that people breathed less secondhand smoke after the ban than they did before, which is obvious. The question is whether they were any healthier. Despite a slew of dodgy claims, such as the recent nonsense in the Guardian, I have seen nothing to indicate any measurable health benefit. 

Myth: House fires will increase as people will stay at home to smoke

What ASH said then: 'Preceding the smoking ban, claims were made that the legislation was going to cause people to stay at home and smoke instead of going out to a pub or club and this would result in a greater number of house fires.

Reality: There have not been any reports to suggest that smoking related fires have increased. Further evidence that like-for-like sales in pubs have not been affected suggests that smokers have continued to visit pubs. Source of the claim: Direct line http://www.directlineinsurance.com/ about_us/news_180407.htm'

This is another straw man argument. I can find no record of any opponent of the ban making such a claim and nor, it seems, could ASH since they resort to citing a press release from the insurance company Direct Line as the sole reference.

However, it almost goes without saying that, contrary to ASH's assertion, there has been a big rise in people drinking at home since the ban came into effect, thereby leading to a fall in pub sales (see above).

Myth: There will be an increase in exposure of secondhand smoke in the home, affecting children

What ASH said then: 'Pro smoking groups argued that we would see an increasing number of people buying alcohol from supermarkets and off licences and drinking and smoking at home instead of pubs, which would result in exposing children to greater levels of secondhand smoke.

Reality: The YouGov survey by ASH, Asthma UK and The British Thoracic Society asked those who were exposed to smoke before and after the smoking legislation about their levels of exposure to secondhand smoke at home. The results found that exposure had significantly decreased as the law encouraged people to make homes smokefree. Below is a chart of the results which shows that 41 per cent of respondents said exposure to secondhand smoke was 'a great deal less' than prior to the smoking ban.



There can't be many people in Britain today who deny that the last decade has seen an 'increasing number of people buying alcohol from supermarkets and off licences and drinking and smoking at home instead of pubs'. The shift from the on-trade to the off-trade has been well documented.

Whether this has led to more secondhand smoke 'exposure' in the home depends on the household. There is evidence that the smoking ban has denormalised indoor smoking in some homes, so this could be the one 'myth' about which ASH were largely correct.

Myth: The public do not want a smoking ban or any further tobacco control measures.

What ASH said then: 'Groups such as freedom2choose argue that the public are not only against the smokefree legislation but they also do not want further tobacco control measures.

Reality: However the survey commissioned by ASH, Asthma UK and the British Thoracic Society found that there was strong support for further tobacco control measures with 72 per cent supporting Reduced Ignition Propensity cigarettes (firesafer cigarettes), 63 per cent of people supporting picture warnings and 59 per cent supporting banning cigarette vending machines.'

There are two different issues at play here. The first is whether the public supported the smoking ban. The second is whether the public supports 'further measures'. In their rebuttal, ASH cite the results of a survey they commissioned which showed that the majority of people supported the banning of cigarette machines and the use of graphic warnings on cigarette packs. But these issues had nothing to do with the smoking ban and were not raised by 'the hospitality industry and pro smoking groups' at the time. This diversionary tactic takes the reader's mind off the real issue which is that the majority of the public did not want an outright ban on smoking in pubs.

And they still don't. Almost every survey conducted in England has shown that a clear majority of people would - if given the choice - prefer to see designated smoking sections rather than an outright ban (eg. the ComRes lifestyle survey).

I suspect that ASH only included this section because they wanted to get the ball rolling on their next campaigns.

Conclusion

When ASH published 'Myths and Reality' there was already abundant evidence that the 'myths' were true and ASH's 'reality' was a fantasy. Whether measured in terms of revenue, profit, share price or closures, the hospitality, pub and bingo industries had suffered as a direct result of the implementation of England's smoking ban and continued to do so for years. Much of this damage was evident as early as September 2007. For those with eyes to see, it was evident on July 1st.

Documents like 'Myths and Reality' were aimed at persuading policy-makers and the media that the smoking ban had been a success on every level. After securing the legislation in 2006, ASH's Deborah Arnott famously described her campaign as a 'confidence trick', adding that 'the appearance of confidence both creates confidence and demoralises the opposition'. The purpose of 'Myths and Reality' was to display further confidence while implying that vested interests were spreading false stories of economic damage caused by the ban.

This has long been the tactic of anti-smoking groups in the United States where journalists and news editors think twice before covering any story that portrays anti-smoking policies in a bad light. The myth of a prosperous and happy smoke-free England obscured the reality of closures, bankruptcies and unemployment. It was an effective strategy. Reports of pub, club and bingo hall closures were largely confined to the regional press and trade journals in the first months of the ban. The sevenfold increase in pub closures barely created a ripple in the mainstream press in the early days of the ban, although by 2009 the rate of closures could no longer be ignored.

ASH and its coalition of 'public health' groups lied throughout the campaign for the smoking ban and they lied immediately afterwards. I expect them to lie in the next few days as this draconian legislation reaches it tenth birthday. It was indeed a confidence trick and England was conned.

Nothing changes

Sign outside a bar somewhere in the USA, circa 2008...


Sign outside a bar somewhere in the Czech Republic, June 2017 (a few weeks after the smoking ban began)...



It reads 'Nonsmokers, where are you?!?!'

(Via Ian Willoughby)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Loony doctors

The British Meddling Association has been demanding graphic warnings on alcohol since 2008 (ie. ever since they appeared on cigarette packs). Now they have had another brainwave that nobody could have possibly seen coming...

Doctors call for sweet packets to have cigarette-style health warnings

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/health/bma-conference-sweets-label-health-warning/

Doctors call for sweet packets to have cigarette-style health warnings

Sweet packets and other sugary food should carry warnings on them to try and improve the health of children’s teeth, doctors are suggesting.

A motion will will be discussed at the British Medical Association’s annual conference in Bournemouth this week expressing dismay at the rate of tooth decay pointing to the more than 34,000 children aged 9 and under who have had tooth extractions in the last two years.

As I have explained before, tooth decay among children (and adults) is at an all-time low. The number of 12-year-olds who exhibited clear signs of tooth decay fell from 81 per cent in 1983 to 28 per cent in 2013. One in three kids of this age had a cavity in 1983 but by 2013 this had fallen to one in nine.

The reason we have children having teeth extracted in hospital is because the government banned dentists from using general anaesthetic.

Putting stupid warnings on sweets is not going to stop kids eating them. All they need to do to prevent tooth decay - the one and only thing that is guaranteed to work regardless of their diet - is to brush their teeth.

Meanwhile...

In this year’s budget, chancellor Philip Hammond announced a sugar tax on all soft drinks, which is due to come into force from next year. Campaigners such as Action on Sugar want the levy extended to cover sweets and confectionary [sic] as well.

Its chairman, Graham McGregor [sic], who is professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The levy should be structured by the Treasury as per the soft drinks industry levy, whereby it is aimed at manufacturers to encourage them to reduce sugar in their overall product ranges.”


What does this spanner think sweets should be made from if not sugar? Disgusting artificial sweeteners, presumably.

Look, I understand that some people are stupid enough to think that there shouldn't be sugar in pasta sauces or tomato ketchup, but nobody buys confectionery thinking that its a health food. It's a treat and we don't need this raving lunatic MacGregor degrading its taste.

And if that weren't enough...

Doctors on the BMA’s Yorkshire Regional Council will also call for a tax on bags of sweets sold greater than 100g per unit bag or bar to combat childhood obesity rates and type 2 diabetes. They also believe the advertising of high sugar drinks should be prohibited on TV before a watershed to avoid influencing children.

Is it a full moon tonight or something?

And this is the kicker...

Medics in Yorkshire will also call for the minimum pricing for confectionery products and sweets.

Hardened though I am to moronic 'public health' proposals, even I am left speechless at this idea.

Will nobody rid us of these meddlesome quacks?

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The desperation of ASH


Action on Smoking and Health's Deborah Arnott has always believed in the power of repetition (see photo), but has become particularly robotic in the last 18 months.

For example, here she is commenting in the ridiculous Guardian article that I discussed at the weekend...

'We need an ambitious new government strategy to be put in place immediately if deaths from smoking are to decline as fast in the next decade as they have in the last.'

And here she is a couple of weeks ago when the new smoking prevalence figures were released:

'A new tobacco control plan was expected to be published last year. It is now well overdue, and must be a priority for the new Government.'

And here she is in December last year when another set of smoking prevalence figures came out...

'We have made great progress in reducing smoking, the leading cause of premature death and disability in this country. But we can’t rest on our laurels if we are to continue to drive down smoking rates.  We need the Government to implement the promised new tobacco control strategy without further delay.'
 
All we ever here from ASH at the moment is the 'urgent need' for a new tobacco control strategy.

They have been getting increasingly vocal about this since December 2015 when the previous plan expired. In January, they got a bunch of doctors and 'public health professionals' to write a letter to the BMJ pressing for a new plan and Arnott said 'we need the government to implement the promised new tobacco control strategy without further delay'.    

The following month, ASH got their puppet all-party group to ask the government to publish a new tobacco control plan ASAP. I can't remember seeing a quote from ASH in the last 18 months that hasn't included a call for a new strategy to be published 'urgently' or 'without delay'.

The strange thing is that ASH don't have many policies they want the government to introduce. Insofar as they have an agenda, it involves more funding for themselves and their fellow extremists. To that end, they are keen on the unworkable tobacco levy, but that is about the limit of their ambitions.

You'd think they would be lobbying for a raft of measures to be included in the new plan, rather than simply demanding that a new plan - any plan - be published. Why are they so concerned about the delay?

The answer is obvious when you consider what their government grants are supposedly earmarked for. Ever since people started noticing the scam of ASH being given unrestricted grants to lobby the government, the Department of Health has been careful to give them restricted grants for specific purposes.

In recent years, their grants have been for 'supporting the Tobacco Control Plan for England'. This is very vague and, as far as I can see, still amounts to taxpayer-funded campaigning (see this post for details), but it makes it look as if ASH are contractors of some sort.

In their latest set of accounts, ASH make this rather defensive statement about the £150,000 they have taken from unwitting taxpayers:


(The claim that they have never used their Section 64 grant for campaigning is untrue - in the past, they have admitted the money has been used for 'media advocacy and lobbying'.)

They further claim that their role in 'supporting' the plan involves providing 'factual information' (sic!), 'resources' and, er, 'support'.


As fig-leafs go, it's pretty feeble, but it seems to be enough to fool the authorities into thinking that the money is not being spent on advocacy.

But ASH are now in a quandary. There hasn't been a Tobacco Control Plan for England for a year and a half. If there's no plan, how can ASH support it? And if there's nothing to support, why is the government giving them so much of our money? What have they been doing with the £250,000 or so that they have been given by the state in the last year and a half?

It is only a matter of time before someone asks these questions. That, I suspect, is why ASH are getting so hot and bothered at the moment.


UPDATE

ASH's poodle Alex Cunningham of ASH's all party group is at it again today:




Monday, 26 June 2017

Virtuous divestments

I've written a short piece for City AM about the moral grandstanding of people who think they can change the world by selling their shares in companies they don't like.


Not content with the government prohibiting smoking in public places, various funds and companies have bought into the ludicrous divestment movement which seeks to bring down industries by trading their shares.

The Guardian started the divestment trend, with its apparent belief that if you get rid of your shares in fossil fuel companies, you will somehow help prevent climate change.

Now Aviva, the insurance company, has announced that it will be selling off its tobacco stock in order to “limit the damage tobacco can cause to health”.

Various universities and local councils have also loudly proclaimed their intention to abandon their investments in “sindustries” such as alcohol, coal and weapons.

This virtue signalling is the emptiest of empty gestures, and, for those whose pensions rely on sound investments, it is an expensive one.

Do have a read.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

10 years of lying about the smoking ban

The smoking ban has always sat on a throne of lies. It was promoted on the basis of junk science and has been retrospectively justified on the basis of blatant quackery.

The tenth anniversary of England's smoking ban is coming up on Saturday and so we must brace ourselves for more lies as we 'celebrate' its anniversary.

The fat cats at Public Health England have got the ball rolling with some utter tosh, as reported in the Guardian...


UK heart disease deaths fall by over 20% since indoor smoking ban


That's right, folks. It's another heart miracle, but since it's been devised by the clots at Public Health England, it's particularly amateurish.

Deaths from heart disease and strokes caused by smoking have fallen dramatically since lighting up in pubs, restaurants and other enclosed public places in England was banned 10 years ago.

New figures have shown that the number of smokers aged 35 and over dying from heart attacks and other cardiac conditions has dropped by over 20% since 2007 while fatalities from a stroke are almost 14% down.

When I first read this, it wasn't clear what the statistics pertained to. The figures appear to be about the number of smokers dying of heart disease, but it would be odd if smokers were getting a health benefit from a reduction in secondhand smoke exposure.

And yet that does seem to be what the figures are for - more or less. The implication is that the smoking ban has made lots of smokers quit. We all know that was the real reason for the ban - although it didn't actually happen in practice - and it seems that PHE have just looked at their estimates of the number of smoking-related diseases - which are guesses piled upon guesses - and applied a bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning:

Figures collected by PHE’s Local Tobacco Control Profiles network show that while there were 32,548 deaths from heart disease attributable to smoking in 2007-09, there were 25,777 between 2013 and 2015 – a fall of 20.8%. Similarly, a total of 9,743 smokers died from a stroke in 2007-09, but fewer – 8,334 – between 2013 and 2015, a drop of 14.5%.

This would be a half-arsed way of claiming that correlation equals causation at the best of times, but since the ban started in 2007, it's unclear why they are comparing 2007-09 to 2013-15. Surely you should compare the pre-ban era to the post-ban era?

This useless statistic seems to be enough for the Guardian and is probably enough for the dirty buggers who like the smoking ban because they don't have to change their clothes from day to day (I hear this a lot). It is certainly enough for PHE boss Duncan Selbie (annual salary: £200,000) who says of the smoking ban...

'Its legacy has had a phenomenally positive impact on societal attitudes to smoking. Smokers have seized the opportunity by quitting in unprecedented numbers...'

As I showed in a recent post, smokers were quitting in large numbers before 2007 but that came to an end after the smoking ban was introduced. In 2003, the smoking rate was 26%. By 2007, it had fallen to 20.9%. But five years later - after what Selbie calls 'undoubtedly the single most important public health reform in generations' - it was still at 20.4%. Only after vaping came on the scene did smoking prevalence start falling again.


So what actually happened with heart disease before and after the smoking ban? Using data from the British Heart Foundation, we can see a steep and steady decline in cardiovascular disease mortality going back decades. Did the decline accelerate after 2007? No, not at all - although it did slow down a few years later. Great success!


You can expect more of this sort of bullshit over the course of the next week because...

The statistics, which Public Health England (PHE) has shared with the Guardian, come as medical, public health and anti-tobacco groups prepare to mark the 10th anniversary next Friday of smoking being prohibited in indoor public places by Tony Blair’s Labour government on 1 July 2007.

God help us.

Selbie says:

'The smokefree legislation has been extraordinary in the way we now experience and enjoy pubs, clubs, restaurants and so many other public places.'

The only thing that has been extraordinary is how many of these places have closed down since this 'important health reform' was inflicted on us. Twenty per cent of pubs have closed since 2007. Fifty per cent of nightclubs have closed. Bingo halls, snooker clubs and working men's clubs have all taken one hell of a beating.

There is nothing to celebrate in this act of cultural vandalism. We should be having a wake.

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.