Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Policy-Based Evidence-Making - A Video Guide

An item from July popped up on one of my Twitter search streams yesterday which is quite revealing about the methods of the tobacco control industry and how they are applied to the pursuit of plain packs legislation.

You see, when it comes to smoking, tobacco controllers have descended into a comfort zone whereby they feel confident in saying just about anything amongst themselves, while politicians are being fed something completely different.

Note, for example, Debs Arnott's comments in the video below:
"At least 13, 14 times a day [an average smoker] gets their pack out; they put it on the table; and the pack symbolises something. It's really important, it's about the smoker's identity"
Smokers can't be allowed to enjoy an identity, now can they? This is the whole point of plain packaging which tobacco control will make sure politicians hear little of. Instead the entire campaign has said nothing else but children, children, children. But when boasting amongst themselves on the ESRC YouTube channel (comments banned, natch), and elsewhere (see a preening rundown of dirty tricks prior to the smoking ban here) we get something more truthful.
"At the time that the last government - Labour government - was in power, and they were consulting on the next steps in tobacco control, at that time there was a big fightback from the industry and so the government sort of said "well, we're interested in this but we want more evidence". And that's where research like Olivia's became so crucial, because they needed the evidence to take that next step"
While it's very kind of Arnott to admit what we all know, that plain packs was a rent-seeking policy promoted to government before evidence had been produced to justify it, do you - for even a twinkling moment - believe that this 'evidence'-gathering exercise was ever going to come back to government and say, "you know what, we've found that plain packs isn't useful at all, so forget we ever mentioned it".

Of course not.


It doesn't even matter to tobacco control that the study being lauded in the video is not very good. A dedicated expert in eye-tracking technology describes here and here why he thinks that Maynard's 'science' has failings, this part being the most damning.
Well, I'm not the first to research this topic, and given the results I will be presenting, I could have chosen to go directly to some high profile publication relating to marketing and packaging, health psychology or tobacco control, where the research would almost certainly not have been reviewed by those with any expertise in eye-movements and visual attention.  And here’s the point, submitting research to peer review, when you know that the “peers” reviewing are not equipped to detect errors or omissions from the submission is, in my opinion, second only to the falsification of data
But not only is Maynard's research held up as the pinnacle of integrity and scrupulous scientific standards in tobacco control circles, it also gets a gong. The true eye-tracking expert however - who came to a different conclusion to Maynard - will, of course, be entirely ignored and get nothing.

This is how tobacco control works. They put their heads together to think up some pointless idea which will gain them taxpayer funds for another couple of years, then go about lobbying politicians for it with your money and using institutions paid for by you. In the meantime they will carry out 'research' which has only one purpose - to make the conclusion fit the policy they are pursuing. Then, when the legislation is passed by woodentop MPs, the same tobacco control industry trousers even more of our cash to 'prove' that it works. And guess what? It always does. Fancy that!

Then it's back to square one and the whole process starts again.

Now, if you can see where democracy, fairness, objectivity, integrity, transparency, or public engagement fits into any of this, do let us know.


Monday, 15 September 2014

Aghast From The Past

It's been a tough old day at Puddlecote Inc and in Puddlecote Towers. Had our HR consultants in for a very long chat - and will soon be having their monthly direct debit out of our bank account for good (long story) - before being on the road for the rest of the day due to staff shortages. Whilst back home I've spent the evening setting up our new wireless printer - vital for the little Ps' homework in years 9 & 10 - to replace the one which had decided to be as reliable a piece of electronics as Yul Brynner in Westworld, only to find that the boy's PC has since come out on strike too. Only rains when it pours, eh?

So I'm grateful to Snowdon for helping me get another airing for one of my personal favourite pieces of surreal prodnosery from these pages.

If you haven't seen the news at the weekend about a Barnsley school's decision to ban the 'filth' that is the school packed lunch, do so now before reading his well-argued article at the Telegraph by way of response.

This part in particular.
None of this concerns the head of Milefield Primary School, who self-righteously proclaims that "We have got to work towards what's best for our children". The clear implication is that parents have not got their children’s best interests at heart, that they are unfit to feed their own offspring, and that schools exist to protect kids from their parents. Her use of the proprietorial term "our children" – rather than "the children" or "our pupils" – is telling. She uses the term to imply ownership by her institution, perhaps even by the nation, but when Adam and Claire Martin, who have moved their three kids to a different school as a result of the ban, say that they "don't need somebody to tell us what our children should be eating", the word "our" is literal, meaningful and should be deserving of respect.
It is strongly reminiscent of this shrill and unhinged performance by Sonia Poulton - broadcast to the nation in the summer of 2012 on Radio 5 Live - as she laid down her plans for requisitioning the nation's children to justify why she is entitled to interfere in the lives of other parents.



If you listen carefully, you can just make out Nicky Campbell suppressing his laughter as her extremist ranting is calmly dismantled by Sean Gabb.

As I said at the time:
We used to have a few of these prodnoses dotted around, but they're everywhere now. Self-aggrandising, aloof, condescending of others, and entirely dismissive of choices different from their own. 
Put this latest over-wrought moral panic to one side for a minute. Let's instead try to investigate why we have an army of shrieking curtain-twitchers who insist on getting involved in everyone else's life as well as their own. 
Now that's something that government should be doing if it cared for society, instead of encouraging the most objectionable to forcibly dictate their own personal gripes on the rest of us ... as they seem to do at every turn nowadays.
The same can safely be said of the lunatics at Milefield Primary School in Barnsley, and I reckon my illustration from back then works very well for their nasty policy too.


Or, as Snowdon puts it.
The fact remains that a ham sandwich at lunchtime is not, and never will be, a child protection issue.
Quite.


Friday, 12 September 2014

An Investigation Into Whom?

So here we are, 6 days after Professor John Ashton's bout of Saturday night Twitter rage (see here, here and here for background), and the Faculty of Public Health has today posted a statement on their website.

Click to enlarge
Interesting to see that they're continuing to describe it as a Twitter "exchange" rather than a sinister trawling of vaper Twitter timelines followed by a series of insulting stand-alone tweets. The exchange of words only happened well after Ashton had begun his spiteful tirade. Still, at least they are taking it seriously.

But by "investigation", I'm wondering who exactly is being investigated. You see, one of the many vapers to have complained to the FPH is good friend of this blog Dr Steve W, who runs a sole trader e-cig shop in Bury.

Shortly after he sent off his complaint - and well before the FPH announced their investigation - his LinkedIn account had an unusual visitor.


Now, why do you reckon the Media and PR Officer at the FPH would be looking up Dr Steve on the internet, eh? I do hope it's not an attempt to dig dirt on their detractors and dismiss the whole thing as a conspiracy by big bad 'industry', because that would be a trifle naughty.

Unfortunately, it can't be ruled out owing to the nature of modern public health activists, as I described earlier in the week.
Additionally, there is the widespread public health annoyance that anyone is allowed to be anonymous online and that - as such - they must surely be paid shills. This not only further emphasises that they really don't understand how this internet thing has naturally developed since the 90s but also reveals the underlying tyrannical modern public health mindset. 
It's a facet of the tyrant for centuries that anonymity unnerves the dictatorial. If you have a solid case that can be backed up with unshakeable evidence, anonymity is nothing to be scared of, but public health haven't enjoyed that position for over a decade now. 
Instead, as Ashton has shown, the modus operandum for public health now solely consists of attacking the man not the ball. How on Earth can they do that if those opposing them can't be investigated and intimidated, eh?
And, indeed, dismissed as complainants thus avoiding the need to address the matter properly. It is a tactic that has always helped them avoid debate, so why not to deflect attention from a PR disaster too? Why should it matter to the FPH who is complaining? Surely the only thing that they should be addressing is the content of the complaint.

If you complained too, I'm sure you'll be thrilled that FPH Liz wants to get to know you better.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Gratitude, WHO Style

As mentioned before, the documents being place online by the World Health Organisation in advance of their working holiday in Putin's Russia are very revealing.
51. The budget approved by the COP at its fourth session was US$ 14 902 000 (of which VAC accounted for US$ 9 107 000). This amount, however, should be adjusted by US$ 1 188 000, the amount that was identified as the extrabudgetary component of funds necessary  or convening the fifth session of the INB4 and which was met by the in-kind contribution of  the European Union (by covering the travel and conference service costs of the session). 
That's $1.188 million of your taxes being spent to prop up a movement which - as I've mentioned before - is incapable of living within its means.

Were they grateful? Of course not! Instead, after leeching that $1.188 million, they proceeded to accuse the EU of showing a "lack of respect" - at the very conference the EU had spent a lot of our money to facilitate - and 'thanked' the EU with their 'Dirty Ashtray Award'.

Meanwhile, in today's news.
New EU sanctions against Russia will take effect on Friday, blocking loans for five big state banks and curbing EU business with oil and defence firms. 
The aim is to keep pressure on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.
Pah! What do the massed ranks of the tobacco control industry care about that, eh? It pales into insignificance when there's an exciting and free sightseeing tour of Moscow on offer for delegates.

Banning e-cigs and demanding the world listen to the unelected WHO's tantrums is far more important than some irrelevant sideshow in Ukraine, eh?


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Truth Will Set You Free!

In case you were wondering how your taxes were being spent lately, you might be thrilled to know that you're currently financing a trip to Brussels for people who want to make your beer cost more.
Speaking at a conference, organised by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) on Friday (5 September) Peter Rice, chair of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), argued for the MUP [minimum alcohol pricing] policy, which sets a 'floor price' below which alcohol cannot be sold, based on the amount of alcohol contained in the product. MUP will particularly benefit harmful drinkers on low incomes in terms of improved health and well-being, he said.
For "benefit", read "impose a form of price prohibition on".
"Tackling price is the most effective and cost-effective way of tackling the issue. It will affect the whole population" ... the chair of SHAAP added.
Hold on, say that again?
"It will affect the whole population"
But, but, this is not what we have been told before. It was supposedly brilliantly targeted to just those who abuse alcohol (only if they're poor, that is), not the rest of us!

No, seriously, this was a prime selling point.
90% of population 'would be unaffected' by minimum alcohol price
Lead author Professor Nick Sheron said: ‘Setting a minimum unit price for alcohol is an almost perfect alcohol policy because it targets cheap booze bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers completely unaffected.’
So what is the truth? Will no-one be affected or everyone be affected. That's quite a large margin of error, isn't it? It's almost as if - I dunno - they're making it up as they go along.

More to the point, though, what the hell are they doing wasting our taxes over there when there is no 'urgent' problem to solve? The BBPA recently reported that alcohol consumption has declined for the tenth consecutive year - an 18% reduction since 2004 - and alcohol-related crime is down 47% since 1995.

So even if we must all be punished for the sins of the few - which minimum alcohol pricing certainly will do, especially for the less well off - the sins are decreasing at the same time that bansturbators want our punishment to increase.

If the ECJ doesn't tell them to go boil their heads, even the left should start thinking seriously about why we bother with Europe.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Some Perspective, Please?

By way of a brief update, on Thursday I said I was unsure of David Davies MP's stance after his parliamentary question winkling out the fact that the WHO's FCTC shouldn't even be discussing e-cigs, let alone tabling bans on their use in public. I now think his motives are more clear.

For anyone not familiar with written questions, an MP is allowed to ask as many as he/she likes and they are slated well in advance in order for civil servants to compile a response for the minister concerned so have to be well-worded to avoid an uninformative reply. However, they are also limited to a certain number per day so - although an MP may want to ask dozens of questions on a single subject - the responses themselves are often released on a staggered basis. A good example is Steve Baker questioning each government department on their policies toward granting taxpayer funds to charities, as reported here in 2012.

Well, since Davies's first published response last week, others have been trickling through, and I suspect he is subtlely supportive of e-cigs.

Today's releases asked Jane Ellison if she could estimate savings to the NHS of e-cig use, and whether she has bothered to confirm or deny that passive vaping is a thing. She couldn't do either, of course, because the Department of Health outsources all its research to the tobacco control industry's domestic (ASH, Bath, Stirling, UKCTAS) and supra-national (EU, WHO), unelected ban-hunters. The way these things work, there may perhaps be more questions she hasn't a scooby about in the pipeline too, so keep 'em peeled.

There was, however, one of Davies's questions that she could answer:
David Davies (Monmouth, Conservative) 
To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many serious health events have been recorded per thousand (a) e-cigarette users, (b) users of nicotine replacement therapies and (c) users of the Champix form of varenicline in the last year.
Apparently, this is covered by the MHRA who, as we know, have studied e-cigs so closely that they're certain that all models currently on the market must be banned in 2016.

They're not so great at comparing the harms of e-cigs per capita with other nicotine products, though, so Ellison could only provide absolute figures.
Jane Ellison (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health; Battersea, Conservative) 
The following table shows the total number of serious UK spontaneous ‘suspected’ ADR reports received by the MHRA between 23 July 2013 and 22 July 2014 broken down for E-Cigarettes, Nicotine Replacement Therapies (excluding E-Cigarettes) and Varenicline: 
Total Serious Reports
Varenicline 297
Nicotine Replacement therapy 75
E-Cigarettes 5
Five. That's it. Just five.

All that bluster about "we don't know what's in them" and "they must undergo medical regulation to ensure there is no harm". For just five - count 'em; one, two, three, four, five - recorded cases. So few they'd all fit in a London black cab.

Whereas the medically licensed - and therefore perfectly safe and ubiquitously-prescribed - NRT and Champix have contributed 75 times that many incidents in the same space of time.

Now, the latest estimate is that there are 2.1 million e-cig users in the UK, and I'll bet that there are nowhere near that many using patches or gum, and a vanishingly small number using Champix by comparison. So the increased relative risk from using pharma products over e-cigs is almost certainly well in excess of the 7,500% we can ascertain from absolute numbers.

Why, then, the huge furore over e-cigs? Where is the outrage from furrow-browed public health officials about the dangers of Champix and the irresponsible "wild west" attitude of those profiteers at Pfizer et al? Where are the demands for an immediate ban pending further intensive research?

Hello? Anyone?