Friday, 24 April 2015

A Freedom-Loving Fantasy Frontbench

A new website and app designed, according to its creators, to "empower voters by providing political information in an engaging and accessible format" has been launched today. Fantasy Frontbench carries information on general election candidates' stance on 75 policy issues from which you are invited to create your own fantasy cabinet.

So I've used it to select a dream team of 22 ministers who are sound on lifestyle issues we jewel robbers discuss on these pages.


I've gone for the genial David Davis as Prime Minister, which isn't so far-fetched because he would be if the Tories hadn't had a collective meltdown in 2005 in choosing a bedwetter as their party leader. He'd need an able sidekick, so consummate libertarian Doug Carswell fills the Deputy PM role.

Two ministers stay where they are in my reshuffle, Eric Pickles for having the courage to clamp down on sock puppets in local government, and Chris Grayling for being the most prominent MP to vote against plain packs.

Two Labour MPs are included, in the form of Kate Hoey who has always been uncharacteristically liberal for her party, and Simon Danczuk is Justice Secretary for his dogged work on child abuse. In the regions, ex-Labour brawler Eric Joyce is responsible for slapping some sense into Scotland, while Guto Bebb takes on the Welsh job and Ian Paisley can start work on getting back the 900 jobs lost recently in Northern Ireland thanks to stupid government interference.

At health, I have Mark Pawsey to be a firm hand over the NHS and to ensure e-cigs are kept out of overweening regulation, while Nigel Farage takes Culture Media and Sport to oversee a renaissance for pubs with an amendment to the smoking ban, amongst other fun tasks.

Sound as a pound Steve Baker is my Chancellor for his experience in the City, and last but not least, our esteemed mascot is, of course, Leader of the House.

You can see my choices for all 22 positions by clicking here - it's interesting to note that more than three quarters of these liberal types were not educated at Oxbridge institutions. Perhaps that's where the paternalist streak gets injected, who knows?

You can view all the candidates' voting records and make your own choices for top jobs at http://www.fantasyfrontbench.com/. Do consider sharing your line-ups in the comments, I'm curious to learn if I've overlooked anyone.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

NHS Scotland Is Rolling In It

Two weeks on from NHS Scotland being thoroughly frustrated that "seeing smokers is a part of life" and trying to change their policies so that the idea that "all smokers are welcome" on NHS grounds is a thing of the past, the agonising continues.
New rules designed to turn hospitals into completely smoke-free places are being openly flouted across Tayside and Fife, The Courier can reveal.
Good. People can spot a stupid rule when they see one, and banning smoking outdoors in windswept Scotland is certainly that.
NHS Fife recently launched its A Place to Be Smoke-free campaign encouraging smokers to refrain from lighting up on hospital grounds. 
Signs were set up across all hospital sites to remind smokers they are not permitted to light up on hospital premises across the region.
They are permitted, because the Health Act 2006 was installed on indoor premises to protect bystanders - like those poor bar workers who everyone has now forgotten about - from a cleverly-created myth. Not outdoor ones where there is no threat whatsoever to anyone except those that have freely chosen to risk it.
But with some people choosing just to ignore the messages, Edward Coyle, NHS Fife’s director of public health, conceded that bringing about the culture change needed to ensure fully smoke-free hospitals is a challenge.
Hospitals are smoke-free already Ed, only the grounds and car parks - yes, car parks, for crying out loud - aren't. Because it's a ridiculous demand. That's why people are ignoring the messages, d'you see?
“Our smoking policy states that smoking is not permitted at any time for staff, patients, visitors, contractors or the general public within NHS Fife premises or on our grounds."
Erm, whose grounds, Ed? I think you'll find they are owned by the taxpayer, of which smokers are an inordinately generous group when it comes to paying their way. They also employ your sorry arse.
“Our A Place to be Smoke-free campaign, which launched on No Smoking Day, saw eye-catching new signage installed at all hospital sites across Fife, as well as on our vehicles and in bus shelters across the kingdom. The campaign was also promoted widely in the local press and on our social media channels."
Must have cost a pretty penny, matey. Didn't someone say the NHS is teetering on the brink and starved of cash?
"Furthermore, we employ a member of staff at the main entrance of our largest hospital, the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, specifically to further promote our no-smoking message."
Eh? You actually took on a member of staff on full time pay - from the vanishing cash the NHS keeps complaining about - to nag smokers for no valid reason, on premises they co-own? Good grief.
[Andrew Radley, consultant in public health pharmacy with NHS Tayside, said] “In NHS Tayside there are several measures in place to ensure our existing policy is followed which includes the use of clear signage around all sites informing patients, visitors and staff that NHS Tayside grounds are smoke-free areas and a pre-recorded loud speaker message is played at Ninewells Hospital to reinforce this,” 
“As a health promoting organisation, NHS Tayside takes breach of the policy very seriously and regularly communicates reminders of the smoking policy to patients, staff and visitors through both internal and external communications."
Jeez, they love spending rivers of cash on pointless causes in the NHS, don't they? Perhaps why they keep finding PCTs are in debt, just saying.
“NHS Tayside Smoke Free Services provides smoking cessation services and support to NHS staff, patients and members of the public, including the availability of Nicotine Replacement Therapy, stop smoking classes and drop-in sessions.”
All of it, of course, free to those who take it up but at vast cost to the NHS who have to pay pharma companies for it. No mention whatsoever of e-cigs which people buy voluntarily and cost the NHS the princely sum of bugger all.
All hospital grounds in Scotland were supposed to be smoke-free from April 1
A perfect choice of date for such a daft policy.
Every NHS board was asked to sign up to the edict at the request of the Scottish Government, which is consulting on whether or not to make it a statutory offence to smoke in hospital grounds. 
If the measure is included in the forthcoming Public Health Bill, ministers are said to be largely in favour of voting it through.
It was never about peer-reviewed (pfft) studies on the harms from secondhand smoke, was it? Bar staff? What are they?
Guidance was issued to NHS Scotland and local authorities in 2005 encouraging them to “demonstrate leadership” by implementing smoking policies and promoting smoke-free lifestyles.
Ah, of course. "Demonstrating leadership", this is the public sector term for doing something that no-one asked for, no-one really wants, and precious few even give a stuff about.
The five-year plan said smoke-free status should be achieved by the end of March this year, and would mean the removal of any designated smoking areas in NHS board buildings or grounds.
You mean the designated smoking areas which used to be the best way of making sure the precious flowers who are upset by wisps of smoke in a car park knew where to avoid? Cracking idea.
A number of readers have complained to The Courier that their visits to hospital, either as patients or as relatives of those being treated inside, are regularly being spoiled by having to enter through a plume of smoke.
Perhaps they should ask for the designated smoking areas back then, or is that too complicated? It would certainly go some way to stop their joyous day out at the hospital being 'spoiled', wouldn't it?
[Bob Smart, from Arbroath] said: “At all entrances, particularly the main one, hardened smokers totally ignore the warnings. The sight of patients on drips and oxygen puffing away is disgusting."
I'd say it is revolting and inhumane that they should not be afforded a place inside the hospital somewhere rather than being deliberately paraded by public health fascists, but each to their own Bob.
“If the powers that be were as ruthless as the parking attendants, the grounds really would be a no smoking area.”
Fine the bastards! Then clamp their ankles in chains until they cough up! And if they still don't pay, put them in the crusher! That what you mean, Bob?

Looks like this issue will run and run, which is interesting because it illustrates that:

a) The NHS isn't as strapped for cash as they like to claim
b) The NHS is stuffed full of managers thinking up policies they can 'liaise' with expensive ad agencies and publicists about.
c) Many of the public have lost the faculty of risk evaluation, along with empathy and common sense.
d) It has never been about science, health or secondhand smoke.
e) If you live in Scotland, I pity you.


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Youth Non-Drinking Epidemic

More news today on this 'binge-drinking epidemic' amongst young people that we keep hearing about.
The study says the proportion of teenagers and young adults drinking on five or more days a week has more than halved since 2005. Binge drinking – which is defined as more than eight units for men and six units for women - has gone down by nearly a third to 18% among this age group over the same period.
Perhaps this might, erm, educate the drones at the National Union of Students into not unfairly painting their peers as a collection of violent, shit-faced, destructive savages by calling for urgent measures to whack up the price of drinks and even ban alcohol in student bars.

Nah, probably not. Because the 'binge-drinking epidemic' is just one of those moral panics that refuses to go away despite a decade of facts showing that it's bunkum. It's interesting too, that this dramatic decline is continuing at the same time as alcohol duty is being cut, booze is still advertised at sports events, in cinemas, at concerts and on the TV, and minimum alcohol pricing is still considered an entirely unwarranted proposal.

In fact, the only factor that this institutional decline can be attributed to is education, seeing as kids are harangued - on the national curriculum - from kindergarten to university about the evils of alcohol these days. Yet 'public health' still routinely insists that education is a poor driver of change and that we need armies of their kind to lobby for legislation with our taxes as well, or else we'll all soon be heading to Armageddon in a drug-infused tumbril.

But then, I suppose if teachers are doing all the work, there's not much scope for lobbyists, anti-business proselytisers, junk science researchers, global summits and the huge salaries and expense accounts that come with them, eh?


Monday, 20 April 2015

Mad Stan's Descent Into Parody

Since I first wrote about them back in 2008, I've always considered e-cigs to carry the potential to expose the cant and hypocrisy of the tobacco control industry. And they are delivering in spades of late.

It shows the laughable standards to which the World Health Organisation adheres, for example, that they class mad mechanic Stan Glantz as one of their go-to experts on vaping. His insane wibblings on the subject are - to the casual reader - indistinguishable from parody at times. Yesterday is a case in point.
[The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association] is actively trying to undermine the CDC's Tips for Former Smokers campaign by posting this ad, which looks exactly like the Tips ads, except that it endorses e-cigarettes as a cessation device. 
These kind of look-alike campaigns (as they are also running against California with this campaign) may seem funny, but, as explained in the film Merchants of Doubt, are used to confuse the public and public policy makers.
Confuse the public and policy makers? OK, let's have a look at one of these 'CDC Tips' ads which are being 'undermined', shall we?


The inference, of course, is that e-cigs contributed to this problem for Kristy. Except that the real story (which most Americans won't find) is significantly different.
"I tried e-cigarettes, but I just ended up using both the electronic kind and my regular brand," she said. Eventually, Kristy quit e-cigarettes and went back to just smoking cigarettes.
So the inclusion of e-cigs in that ad is entirely irrelevant. It is the very definition of a "campaign to confuse the public and public policy makers" which Stan condemns.

The copy may as well have read "I started using nicotine patches ... until my lung collapsed", or "I started using Champix ... until my lung collapsed", or "I started chewing a carrot ... until my lung collapsed". It is nothing but a cleverly worded smear against e-cigs, designed to put people off trying them.

It's not an accident, either, as CDC director Tom Frieden illustrates in a New York Times article from Friday.
What’s more, he feared that there was a “significant likelihood that a proportion of those who are using e-cigarettes will go on to use combustible cigarettes.” 
“That this is happening,” Frieden added, “is alarming.”
Except that study after study - in every jurisdiction in the world - is proving that this isn't happening at all. Most recently in Wales, but also in the whole of the UK, France and, yes, in Frieden's own USA.

There quite simply is no "likelihood" whatsoever, let alone a "significant" one. Again, this is just another tobacco control industry 'merchant of doubt' trying to pretend that there is a problem. One might even call Frieden's statement one designed to "confuse the public and public policy makers", eh?

Back in the real world, what Glantz is attempting - and what has been the modus operandi of tobacco controllers for the past couple of decades - is to pretend that the truth is whatever Glantz says it is, and that anyone opposing him should be ignored. The debate is over once aircraft engineer Glantz and his sociologist tobacco control chums have formed an opinion, and if you disagree you must be a tobacco industry shill or an 'astroturf' mouthpiece.

Sadly for Stan, no-one is buying his shit on e-cigs, however much the WHO pimp it out. His industry employed the same lies, misdirection and torturing of facts towards smoking, and was largely successful because there are a lot of vehemently anti-smoking people willing to believe any old crap if it condemns tobacco. The same doesn't apply to e-cigs, with only the most anti-social cretins and curtain-twitching prodnoses - you know, the type of utter bore you cross the road to avoid on the way back from the shops - being remotely bothered by vaping.

Up and down the UK (and, I suspect the US too) - most especially in working class areas in my experience - the presence of e-cigs is becoming ever more visibly prevalent if not ubiquitous in places. From burly bin men to latte-sipping credit controllers, e-cigs are becoming a normal part of everyday life and a respected alternative to smoking.

Even amongst the medical profession, little by little attitudes are changing, with individuals being won over every day, as described in this article at Clive Bates's blog today (do go read). Being an anti-vaper when you've been anti-smoking for a long time is fast being seen as an unsupportable position; ridiculous even. Which it is, hence why even members of Bristol's fiercely anti-smoking Tobacco Research Group are now producing articles criticising junk studies designed to produce headlines which "are used to confuse the public and public policy makers".

Glantz and his irrational hatred of e-cigs is fast isolating him in a corner he painted for himself.  The only way out for him now is a conversion of epiphanic proportion which turns him into advocate of e-cigs, or some hitherto undiscovered ailment which starts affecting vapers in huge numbers. But considering the most damning studies thus far, after a decade since e-cigs started becoming mainstream, tend to warn of such catastrophes as an itchy throat, I don't rate his chances much.

Like some crack addict clutching a lottery ticket and confidently predicting that better times are just around the corner, Stan's lunacy towards e-cigs is determining his future. It's a sad one of producing fantasy blog articles of diminishing interest to the serious medical community, whilst desperately craving the advent of a miracle e-cig-borne disease which will rescue his accelerating descent into scientific obscurity and irrelevance.

Hopefully taking the WHO's credibility down with him.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

Another Incompetent Chief Medical Officer

It would appear that the Welsh Chief Medical Officer, Ruth Hussey, is as incompetent as England's version when it comes to e-cigs.

From the BBC (complete with video):
E-cigarettes could normalise smoking among a generation which has grown up in a largely smoke-free society, according to the Welsh government's chief medical officer. 
Dr Ruth Hussey was responding to a Cardiff University study which found 6% of pupils aged under 11 said they had used e-cigarettes, compared to 2% who had tried tobacco. 
"This research demonstrates that e-cigarettes are being used by young people who have never smoked," she said.  
"We should be doing everything we can to prevent a new generation becoming addicted to nicotine," Dr Hussey added.
Really, Ruth? This is the information you are happy to spew out to our national broadcaster? Because I've read the study - it's here for anyone else interested - and it 'demonstrates' that Hussey is being economic with the truth.

It sampled 1,601 primary school kids and 9,055 secondary school students in Wales and found that a tiny 2.1% of the former had used an e-cig more than once ever, while only 1.5% of the latter used e-cigs more than once a month (125 of them). Of those, only a vanishing third of one per cent had never previously smoked. So, wouldn't her sentence have been more accurate if she had said.
"This research demonstrates that e-cigarettes are being used by 0.3% of young people who have never smoked"
At which point, we would all breathe a big sigh of relief and think, you know what, if they weren't using e-cigs they'd probably be experimenting with tobacco or cannabis anyway, so nothing to see here. It's hardly of epidemic proportion, is it?

Alternatively, perhaps Hussey could have called the study authors for guidance, because they make it quite clear that Hussey's message is definitely not the one they want to convey.
However, it is important to note the low prevalence of regular e-cigarette use, which suggests that e-cigarettes are unlikely to make a major direct contribution to adolescent nicotine addiction at present.
So wind your neck in, Hussey, you disingenuous troll. You're creating a scare story for purposes we can only guess at. Been talking to your pharma chums recently, have you?

We'll leave the last word to lead researcher Graham Moore, shall we, seeing as Wales's CMO doesn't seem capable of reading an academic paper with any degree of competence.
"There are some concerns at the moment that the growth of e-cigarettes may be helping to get a new generation of young people addicted to nicotine. At the moment, that doesn't seem to be the case. There doesn't seem to be too much reason to worry that that's actually happening."
Tell it to the Welsh CMO who thinks there is reason to be filmed by the BBC promoting exactly that non-existent worry.

I'm surprised that, during these times of austerity, we have such a duplication of highly-paid people spreading demonstrable nonsense. I mean, how many barking Chief Medical Officers does this country really need?