Saturday 13 November 2010

ASH Scotland's 11+ Maths And The Futility Of Tobacco Tax Hikes

I haven't yet passed comment on this week's laughable 'study' by ASH Scotland claiming that smoking costs the Scottish economy £1.1bn, for three reasons.

1) Because it's been a busy week.
2) Because others tackled it admirably, and ...
3) Because I've kinda rubbished it once already.

Not following me? OK, let me explain with reference to the handy list of 'costs' broken down by Simon Clark.

- £271m in direct NHS costs of treating smoking-attributable disease
- £692m in productivity losses due to excess absenteeism, smoking breaks and lost output due to premature death
- £60m in lost output to premature deaths due to second-hand smoke in the home
- £34m in cleaning cigarette litter from the streets
- £12m in fires caused by smoking in commercial properties
Now let's look at the dog's dinner collated by Henry Featherstone - ASH's useful idiot at Policy Exchange** - earlier this year.

Research conducted by Policy Exchange found that while tax on tobacco raised £10 billion a year for the Treasury, the annual cost of healthcare and other consequences of smoking totalled £13.74 billion.

That total includes £2.7 billion of NHS care, £2.9 billion lost in productivity during smoking breaks, the £342 million cost of cleaning up butts and £507 million spent putting out fires.

Lost productivity due to the deaths of smokers and passive smoking victims costs £4.8 billion and £2.9 billion is lost in increased absenteeism, their report - Cough Up - concluded.
You may have noticed that the two sets of figures bear something of a relationship. That's right, ASH Scotland's figures are simply Featherstone's poppycock divided by ten. I presumed from this that Scotland's population was probably roughly a tenth of that of the UK, and lo and behold, on googling it, yes it is! (England, Wales and NI total 55m, Scotland 5.2m)

ASH Scotland's litter clearance and NHS costs figures are exactly 10% of Featherstone's nonsense, while productivity losses are 10% of those Featherstone came up with less his £713m attributed to passive smoking (treated differently by ASH), and the passive smoking figure itself 10% less a bit for residual 'passive' exposure outside the home.

The only stat that differed from this golden rule was for fires, perhaps due to domestic ones being omitted. No doubt because such claimed costs are too easily shot down, as Mark Littlewood at the IEA unerringly did in the Spring.

With regard to house fires, buildings insurance companies – just like life insurance companies – are certainly entitled to charge higher premiums to smokers if they wish. The fact that they do not suggests that the risk is too trivial – why should the government step in and over-rule them by collecting extra taxes on cigarette smokers to cover the costs of extra house fires.
In short, ASH Scotland's 'study' was a simple case of thinking of a number based on Featherstone's garbage from March. And it wasn't too difficult to find the (deliberate?) over-stating of costs and childlike mathematics in that when I looked into it at the time.

So, armed with a calculator to divide everything by ten, and a copy of Featherstone's pdf, ASH's report could have been drafted in about an hour. In fact, Featherstone could have brought the copy himself, as he was acknowledged for his help on page 2.

And for back-of-a-nicotine-patch-packet stuff like this, ASH Scotland have been funded by taxpayers to the tune of at least £1.42m in the past two years. Quite a racket, doncha think?

So, what of the resultant demands of this report from ASH Scotland's tax-scrounger-in-chief, Sheila Duffy?

The Ash Scotland chief executive called for cash to be put into services to help smokers quit and also said tobacco duty should be increased.
Past experience should have told 'handout' Duffy that such taxes simply don't yield the increase in receipts she claims her squealing is designed to facilitate.

In fact, the very day after her report was released, concrete proof of its failure as a tax-raising measure was being reported in New York.

Sales of taxed cigarettes have plummeted a staggering 27 percent statewide since the highest cigarette tax in the nation took hold in July, a Post analysis has found.

[experts say] sales have simply shifted to nearby tax havens that allow New Yorkers to stockpile cut-rate smokes at the expense of the state treasury.

Both Pennsylvania and Vermont, which each have significantly lower cigarette taxes, have seen tobacco sales rise since New York's hike, [...] as well as tax-free Indian reservations in western New York and on Long Island.

The increase has brought in only $13.8 million a month, according state sales figures, which means the plan could be as much as $136 million in the red by March 31.

"That's what we warned would happen, and obviously it has come to fruition," said James Calvin, of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

"Every tax increase drives more smokers to that dark, shadowy, unregulated, unlicensed, untaxed side of the street. The whole policy is self-defeating."
How Duffy thinks Scotland is going to be any different, only the sugar plum fairy she obviously discusses economics with every night knows.

So, in summation, what we have here is a shonky study a 10 year old could produce, referencing discredited data from a policy wonk who struggles to hold a calculator the right way up, to bring about a tax rise which won't bring in extra revenue, but will harm scottish business and increase smuggling and cross-border sales.

Congratulations Holyrood and the Lottery, that was £1.42m well spent, wasn't it?

** Well, he used to be at Policy Exchange but now seems to have been replaced - was it something he wrote?


timbone said...

Your blog yesterday about PETA, and this one, both jogged my memory of what Stephen Fry said on QI last night. Apparently, if you get rid of your dog, you reduce your carbon footprint to the equivalent of two family cars.

The same tactics are used. Mainly to do with the amount of meat your dog eats. I will let you work out the rest.

Curmudgeon said...

I thought it was the amount of farts the dog did ;-)

Junican said...

I assume that Timbone meant to say, ".....reduce your carbon footprint BY the equivalent of two family cars".

Here is an interesting idea.

I read somewhere that the whole human population of the world could be stood on the Isle of Whight. I did the calculation (allowing, say, one square foot per person). It did not quite work out, but I did not take into account the possibility that, say, three or four children could be squeezed into one square foot. The importance of the thought, however, does not lie in the detail. The importance lies in the insignificance of the human population in terms of space occupied by human beings.

But one could say that OUR ACTIVITIES are disproportionate to the physical size of the population.

Let us examine that thought.

We build buildings. Prior to the invention of ‘the brick’, people built buildings using stones. They may have worked on these stones to give them particular shapes, but, essentially, the process of building buildings was a process of simply moving stones from one place to another. Essentially, making bricks is the same thing – clay is reformed and moved from one place to another. The same principle applies to our constructions made of iron and steel (including the manufacture of vehicles) – essentially, we are simply reforming iron and moving it from one place to another. The same could also be said about the animal population of the world. We humans may well have killed off a lot of animal species, but so what? In macro terms, these animals have a minuscule mass and a minuscule presence. And in anycase, the less of them there are, the lower their carbon footprint.

But, what about the destruction of the forests? Well, that does not make much sense either since we replaced the forests with grass. A plant is a plant. It absorbs CO2. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more plants thrive – all plants.

What is the missing ingredient? The answer is ENERGY.

But Energy is simply MOTION. We humans have discovered (and this is the most important thing of all) how to use the resources which are available to us to move things very rapidly. Electricity, for example, is merely the very rapid oscillation of electrons. So let us consider the average nuclear installation. In terms of size, it is the merest blip on the surface of the Earth, Its height might be 100 meters at best. It is hardly a monstrous construction, say, 20 miles high. And so we can ask the question, “How can a ‘body’ (meaning the whole human population), which can fit onto the Isle of Whight, do more than merely scratch the surface of the ENERGY which is available to us in the Earth as a whole? And how can it be contemplated that our puny efforts can affect the Earth in any significant way at all?

It really amazes me that thousands of REAL scientists (physicists) have not come out of retirement to say, on the internet, that the so-called science being emitted by the statisticians is bullshit. Absolute bullshit, and that the people are being misled.

As regards the enjoyment of tobacco, the same sort of principles apply. If grown-ups smoke, the do so of their own FREE WILL. Second hand smoke is virtually harmless. The new idea that ASH has (sending a letter to all employers stating that they are at risk of being sued) is nonsense – or, rather, it would be if the Government woke up and realised that the Health Act has opened up a can of worms by accepting the word of a few health fanatics.

Surely, someone with clout politically can be found to bring these facts to the attention of the Government?

Mark Wadsworth said...

DP, well spotted.

That comment by Junican is quite intriguing.

Snakey said...

Those "reports" really annoy me lol.

Productivity losses due to smoking breaks? They are taken in the worker's own time so they can shove off with the idea that they aren't.

Also, "lost output due to premature death" - putting out the idea that we are just here to be workers and that dying early is a loss to the economy. I don't recall signing a contract with the State saying I will live as long as I can so they can squeeze more tax money out of me before I pop off.

Seeing people as merely an economic commodity is sociopathic.

Anonymous said...

the "date of guilty knowledge" has now passed"

ASH and Thompsons' Tell Employers: Don't Say You Weren't Warned Over Secondhand Smoke
Monday 12th January 2004

"The hospitality trade faces a rising threat of legal action from employees whose health is damaged by secondhand smoke, after a new tie-up between health campaigning charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the UK's largest personal injury and trade union law firm Thompsons was announced today.

ASH has sent a registered letter to all the UK's leading hospitality trade employers, warning them that the "date of guilty knowledge" under the Health and Safety at Work Act is now past, and that employers should therefore know of the risks of exposing their staff to secondhand smoke.

Employers who continue to permit smoking in the workplace are therefore likely to be held liable by the courts for any health damage caused.

ASH and Thompsons intend to use the letters in any future court cases as evidence that employers have been fully informed of the issue.

ASH and Thompsons are also planning further steps to encourage employees who believe their health has been harmed by smoking in the workplace to seek legal advice on making a claim for compensation. These will be announced shortly."

Anonymous said...

GMB demonstrates for total ban
Thursday 24 November 2005 12:00

"Hospitality workers from the GMB union make a point about the dangers of second-hand smoke at a protest outside a Gala casino in London last week.

The protesters were marking National Lung Cancer Day (17 November) by donning gas masks and calling on the Government to introduce a total ban on smoking in public places that doesn't exempt private members' clubs and pubs that don't serve food.
About 100,000 workers in hospitality will still be exposed to second-hand smoke under the Government's plans."

MPs urged to vote for total smoking ban
"Unions and public health officers are urging MPs to back a total ban on smoking in public places, including pubs and clubs.

The calls come after the government's decision last week to allow Labour MPs a free vote on the smoking ban proposals in the health Bill (Risks 239).
The TUC has already called for a ban without exceptions.

And last week GMB organiser Mick Ainsley, whose union organises casino workers, said: 'We are writing to all GMB sponsored MPs to remind them that the issue here is not about a smoker's individual choice, it is about the right of workers not to breathe in secondhand smoke.'


Sam Duncan said...

Somebody should tell Ainsley that if his members wish to excercise their right to breathe clean air, they should get another job.

People don't seem to understand what rights are any more. They don't just happen. You have every right to clean air, but if you take a job in a smoky environment, you - you - have chosen not to excercise that right. Nobody put a gun to your members' heads, Mick. Stop acting like anyone did. If the employers knew the supposed dangers, there was no conspiracy to hide them from their employees. They knew as well, and they chose to stay. This isn't the 19th Century; nobody is holed up in a dingy factory by a cigar-chomping robber baron with bottom-knocking their only trade. If a barman or croupier doesn't like smoke, there are other opportunities open to him. I'm quite sure plenty of people took them for that very reason.

Curmudgeon said...

In my experience the vast majority of bar staff are smokers anyway. Before the ban, a common complaint from antismokers was bar staff smoking in the hatch between the bar and the public area.

Anonymous said...

I was quite happy to smoke herbal cigarettes, if they were so concerned about tobacco.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the TUC was so determined to chuck us all out in the cold that they wanted herbal cigarettes banned from the pub too.

Consultation on the Smokefree Elements of the Health Improvement and Protection Bill ( Trades Union Congress )

Question 1
"The TUC is concerned that the proposed definition will allow the smoking of herbal cigarettes.
This could lead to people mixing tobacco with herbal mixtures to disguise the fact they are smoking tobacco.
In addition the smoke from many herbal mixtures is just as likely to trigger asthma attacks.

While the evidence of harm relates only to tobacco at present, this is because no or little research has been done on the effects of herbal mixtures and we are surprised that the D of H is not taking a precautionary approach."

"The concern of the TUC is that because many people socialise in groups, if any pubs or clubs are allowed to continue to permit smoking, where there is one smoker in a group then the group will gravitate towards the smoking pub.
This could lead to unfair competition. There needs to be a “level playing field.”

The TUC seem to have deleted their copy for some reason, but it's still showing up on google.

Trades Union Congress - TUC response on workplace smoking

"The TUC is concerned that the proposed definition will allow the smoking of herbal cigarettes. This could lead to people mixing tobacco with ..."


Dick Puddlecote said...

Funny you should talk about clean air and employment, Sam Duncan, watch this space. ;)

Xopher said...

The bin men come tomorrow so I'll make sure my ash is in the bin with all the other refuse.

It's about time Government put ASH in their bin.

As a recent ex-smoker (on health grounds) I must congratulate my smoking friends for their fantastic support as well as those delightful whiffs of second-hand smoke BUT........ due to advice from the WHO I must suggest they refrain from all such activity since they are merely pawns of Big Tobacco and cannot be given any representation in their world of tobacco control.

NHS smoking cessation is my only way forward and, ignoring all medical limitations, they suggested NRT. Obviously my surgeon was wrong when he said I should avoid nicotine. A days instruction from the triple Fs (farma funded fanatics) is superior to 40 years in the operating theatre!

Anonymous said...


"Green tobacco sickness (GTS) is an illness resulting from dermal exposure to dissolved nicotine from wet tobacco leaves; it is characterized by nausea, vomiting, weakness, and dizziness and sometimes fluctuations in blood pressure or heart rate "

Nicotine patches may boost intensive care risk

He sounds like a very good surgeon.