Thursday 28 February 2013

It's Official: Ministers Are Crazy

One of the best political blogs of all time - and most definitely the sanest Labour one - used to be written by Tom Harris MP. Entitled "And another thing" his blog - and, by extension, his writing mind - possessed all of the qualities politicians mostly lack ... common sense; logic; sense of humour; and an understanding of how those outside of politics live and think.

Sadly, he deleted the blog a while ago, presumably because his superiors told him he was buggering things up for the rest of the wooden-topped clowns in SW1.

However, a few paras of his political optimism still survives from 2008.

Being fed up with commenters stating that the smoking ban was the thin end of a very nasty wedge, his response is historic testament to how low dictatorial and brain-washed politicians have since sunk.
But the Department of Health recently held a consultation on whether the smoking ban should be extended into people’s private vehicles and homes. Now, I know this caused a great deal of perfectly understandable outrage among a lot of people. So let me make this clear: the government will not, under any circumstances, legislate to stop people smoking in private. It would be a crazy move and, believe it or not, ministers are not crazy people - they’re politicians and they recognise political realities. 
And if they did attempt to legislate in this direction, I would risk the wrath of those who don’t believe Scottish MPs should vote on English matters by voting against it. 
But as I say, I won’t need to, because it’s not going to happen.
Fast forward to 2013 and ...
Smoking should be banned in cars carrying children, says England's public health minister
At the Local Government Association's annual public health conference, Ms Soubry said: "I think it is something we should at least consider as government."
Meanwhile, at PMQs yesterday, no less ...
At Prime Minister's Questions Mr Cameron was urged by Labour's Ian Mearns to go 'a significant step further and introduce a ban on smoking when children are present in vehicles'. 
Mr Cameron replied: 'We should look carefully at what the you and others have said. 
'We are looking across the piece at all the issues, including whether we should follow the Australians with the ban on packaging and what more we can to do to restrict smoking in public places. 
'There has been a real health advance from some of the measures that have been taken. 
'We must consider each one and work out whether there is a real public health benefit, but you make a good point.'
So there you have it. The Prime Minister, and another minister, talking about plans by government to legislate against people smoking in private.

Yup, ticks all the boxes. Therefore, Harris's Law proves that ministers are - indeed - crazy people.


Wednesday 27 February 2013

Nick Clegg Vaguely Aware Of That Thing In Brussels

You'd expect, wouldn't you, that a Europhile Deputy Prime Minister would be acutely knowledgeable about directives being passed at the EU and how they will impact on citizens of the UK? Well, you'd be wrong. This is Nick Clegg on LBC last week. Prepare to be staggered.

As I've observed many times before on these pages, a delightful feature of e-cigs is how they comprehensively disrupt the smug, cosy consensus on tobacco use and cessation. This is yet another example.

Faced with a 'former smoker', Clegg was probably anticipating a gentle lob of a question to be followed by his trotting out the usual anti-tobacco alarmism, hence the interjections "were you a heavy smoker?" and "do you feel better for it now?". But when the caller hit him with the news that the cessation aid wasn't patches, gum or cold turkey, he was flummoxed.

Before his sound bite-packed brain had scrambled to find a vapid reply in its library of non-answers, his mouth had already revealed that he didn't know what e-cigs were called, and admitted that he had little clue about what goes on at the EU!
"I certainly haven't heard of this new EU directive"
Let's make this clear, we're not talking about some minor EU amendment here. The EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) has been in the making since September 2010 and is the first major directive on all aspects of manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products since 2001. The consultation received 85,000 responses, the most for any piece of proposed EU legislation ever. The Commissioner who drafted the TPD resigned in October in a blaze of publicity surrounding allegations of soliciting bribes - the first resignation within Commissioner ranks since 1999.

At the time Clegg was speaking, the one and only public hearing for this major directive was due to take place just five days later.

His party is proudly anti-tobacco; his MPs pronounce their knowledge of intricate details of tobacco policy regularly; and his MEPs have received hundreds of letters from e-cig users worried about the sections in the TPD mentioned by the radio caller, after an excellent awareness campaign by users' groups such as ECCA UK.

Yet Clegg - the Deputy bloody Prime Minister - still didn't know of its existence!

On the plus side, though, he did concede that the EU are utterly daft to be taking this course of action (I agree with Nick!) and promised to "look into it". Well sunshine, might I suggest you talk to Rebecca Taylor MEP who - as I understand it - is the Lib Dem in the EU tasked with researching this extremely dangerous and irresponsible de facto ban on e-cigs?

And if anyone else would care to send Rebecca their own anecdotal evidence and/or links to the many studies citing effectiveness of e-cigs and their complete lack of harm - to help her along, like - who am I to dissuade you? Her contact details are here.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Earl Howe Held 'Inappropriate' Meeting During Plain Packs Consultation

The pratfalls and dodgy practices surrounding the plain packaging consultation just keep on coming, don't they? So numerous are the instances of connivance, abuse of process and incompetence that it's increasingly difficult to keep track of them all.

Last week, I revealed that Anne Milton had held a meeting - which was initially hidden from her official ministerial record - with ASH and the APPG on Smoking and Health, the aim of which seemed to be to discount half a million signatures objecting to the policy.

What made this approach even more grubby was the fact that meetings of this nature shouldn't take place during a consultation process, as Andrew Lansley quite rightly communicated to Cancer Research UK when they attempted to meet with him on June 27th to lobby for plain packaging.
As I am sure you will understand, there are many groups with interest in this issue and it would not be possible, or appropriate, for me to try to meet with everyone who has an interest while the consultation is underway.
Well, it seems that this didn't satisfy CRUK.

Instead, they approached Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Earl Howe - according to DoH transparency documents released just over a week ago - and succeeded in arranging a meeting in July [page 7]. The brief description in Earl Howe's register couldn't be more clear.
Purpose of meeting: "To discuss the environment of health research and plain packaging of tobacco products"
So, in the month after Lansley had refused a meeting with CRUK on the grounds that it would be 'inappropriate' while a consultation is ongoing, Earl Howe did exactly the opposite.

And, you know, it's got me thinking. I wonder what was said?

H/T Jay

Monday 25 February 2013

A Bad Day For Democracy And Scrupulous Government

It's been an irritatingly busy day, or else I'd have been watching the EU's Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) kangaroo court like Snowdon. Or, the 'it's not about health show' as it could be better described.

Y'see, I'd drafted an article for lunchtime describing how today was a momentous day for this blog as the EU coverage would prove - conclusively and live on the internet - the mantra oft-emphasised here that tobacco control has never been about health. As things panned out, I was too busy battling impenetrable bureaucracy over VAT on vehicle disposals to Zimbabwe to be able to tidy it up and publish it.

Having now read back on Snowdon's live tweets, and having caught the last half hour myself, the smug self-interested clique of one track mind lobbyists posing as 'experts' in Brussels didn't disappoint. They seemed intent on stubbornly pushing plain packaging - for which there is no credible evidence that it will 'help' anyone quit - while studiously ignoring harm reduction avenues such as snus and e-cigs ... for which there is overwhelming, concrete, real-life evidence of success.

Former ASH Director Clive Bates this morning produced an excellent, evidence-based article on why the EU should be looking at lifting the ban on snus. Despite featuring pleas from cornerstones of European tobacco control in the past few decades such as Martin Jarvis and Karl Fagerström, they will be ignored - there is a blinkered agenda to adhere to.

It's never been about health.

On e-cigs, the vaping community has - as it has done before - mounted a valiant defence of the method which helped many thousands in this country to quit smoking. According to Deborah Arnott of ASH, 20% of  those who try e-cigs give up tobacco for good which - using recent figures quoted by the BBC of a million UK users - equates to 200,000 people.

At today's proceedings in Brussels, there was little said about them though. Certainly not from the assembled tobacco continuation 'experts' who simply lined up to present their policy-based propaganda. The presentations were posted online here ... not one of them even mentioned snus or e-cigs at all despite important sections of the TPD containing dangerous regulation which will have a disastrous effect on harm reduction options. They did, however, all bang on about plain packaging which isn't included as a proposal in the TPD.

It's never been about health, you see.

Part of the campaign by vapers has been to furnish constituency MEPs with letters explaining personal experiences of e-cigs, along with links to evidence that proves their efficacy. The Ashtray Blog has been keeping an eye on replies and reporting on the current attitudes of MEPs.

It's only fair to comment that MEPs will probably have been very under-informed on e-cigs before reading these letters, but they definitely won't have been any more wise after today since tobacco controllers avoided the subject as much as possible. One tobacco control industry dinosaur for example, from Germany, could only stupidly offer the query "what if you put [e-liquid] in the fridge and it goes in your food?". Yes, she is apparently regarded as an 'expert' by the EU.

However, vapers' efforts have made sure that MEPs are at least aware of the salient points. Or, we'd like to think so anyway. Dozens of vapers will have received a reply stating that only certain MEPs were entitled to attend and ask questions today. One of them was Labour's Glenis Willmott, who also completely ignored all of them and was congratulated by a colleague for  - you guessed it - talking about plain packaging.

It would seem that, no matter how many communications Willmott received from fellow Labour MEPs (or should have done anyway, we will never know), she just carried on with her own ill-judged rhetoric regardless.

Because, as we know, it's never been about health.

Meanwhile, in the US, the FDA - which is tasked with finding some regulatory niche for massively successful e-cigs - has just come under the control of a guy who unashamedly works for the patch and gum peddling pharmaceutical industry. You know, those in direct competition with e-cigs?

Nope. It's never been about health, you're better off just following the money for the real motivation behind these disgusting people.

Sunday 24 February 2013

The Big Society In Action

Finding myself with some time on my hands on a lazy Sunday, I've finally managed to catch up on my RSS backlog.

I've enjoyed it immensely, but this comment at Anna Raccoon's place last week stands out as exceptionally joyous and needs sharing more widely, I reckon.
A few years ago I was at a small social gathering of fellow smokers and drinkers. I discovered that I was not the only reader of Leg-Iron’s blog
From a chance mention, the idea of having a ‘smokey-drinky’ spot of our own grew. Friends contacted like-minded friends and eventually the use of a large shed/small barn was given, it’s about 30′ by 18′ or so, with what used to be a disused out-door privy close by. Ample parking was available for a number of cars but careful arranging was required. 
Our motley crew includes builders, plumbers, electricians and some remarkably skilled handymen. It was not very long before a rather pleasant room evolved, a couple of old but working fridges, some chairs and stools (some ‘reclaimed’ from the local tip!) and some slightly threadbare carpeting made for a great place to have a few drinks, only the stuff you’d brought along yourself, mind. 
Two winters ago our room was unusable because of the cold. One of our more skilled ‘members’ mentioned rocket stove mass heaters. Google it, we all had to. We all chipped in a few pounds and in due course not one but two rocket stove mass heaters were installed, with the bonus of two nice big sofa-style seats for the ladies to warm their parts on! Our Smokey-Drinky is getting better all the time. Three layers of carpet off-cuts behind plywood panels make great insulation. 
We all drink only our own booze; beers are name-labelled and are in the one of the fridges, my whisky bottle sits atop my own optic with other people’s bottles arrayed alongside. It looks like a pub, it smells like a pub (smokers and non-smokers alike are in the room, no complaints) and, most of all, it functions like a pub. People gather there because it’s a friendly place to be in, we even have music which we select by ourselves. When was the last time you sat in a warm, smoky pub with a dram of single malt whisky, listening to some Mozart chamber music whilst sitting on a heated sofa? 
Everyone, likes it.What one might call ‘membership’ of our group started to grow. The landlord of one of our local pubs came along as a guest one week-day and was astounded at the number of people there. He said we had more people there in one evening than he could expect in an entire week-end! The growing ‘membership’ and our space constraints have resulted in one more ‘Smokey-Drinky’ starting up in someone’s (a widower) converted double garage and it, too, is improving and growing in popularity. 
Yes, we have had the vinegar-drinking, lemon-sucking Council ‘Inspectors’ sniffing around. 
We are on private premises, no alcohol is being sold, we are not a club or any other sort of association, we are just a group of friends. The ‘Inspectors’ are not permitted beyond the threshold. It’s a delight to witness their frustration. And, yes, we have had the local Plod along at the behest of the Council. Both Sergeant XXX and PC XXX now have their own booze in the fridges and/or on their own optics! 
We have side-stepped the desire of TPTB to destroy places of social intercourse, we have devised our own place which is outside any of their pernicious rules, regulations and laws. They hate it but can do nothing about it. 
Valentine’s Day evening was marvellous, couples, including Herself and me, had a beautiful time. 
Start your own Smokey-Drinky, you’ll not regret it and you’ll pay the Government nothing at all and there’s no landlord to be penalised!
Bravo! Sir, I salute you.

I do believe that could be classed as 'Big Society' getting things done without state interference, don't you? What's not to like?

Saturday 23 February 2013

Nicotine Isn't Dangerous When Pharma And The State Supply It ... To Kids

I thought I'd read this story once before, but it seems it is brand new.
Sixteen elementary school students were taken to the hospital after they ate nicotine lozenges they thought were candy.
The 9- and 10-year-olds were taken from the South Side Wendell Green Elementary School in ambulances this morning after some children became ill with nausea and upset stomachs. “The children had taken them when they were distributed to the classroom,’’ Police News Affairs Officer John Mirabelli said. "They thought they were candy.’’
Oh, silly me, it's from the wrong country. I was thinking of this.
Nicotine patches are being handed out to schoolchildren as young as 12 on the NHS without their parents' knowledge, it has emerged. 
Nurses employed by NHS South West Essex have been distributing patches to young pupils during fortnightly visits to schools, where they speak to children confidentially. 
One mother said parents should have been consulted on the decision to hand out the powerful substitute patches.
Andy White, headteacher at Woodlands School, admitted NHS nurses visited the school, but denied the school was involved in dishing out the patches. 
'I know nothing about this and as a school we are not giving out nicotine patches, it is not our policy, but it might be NHS policy,' he said.
Or it could have been this, I dunno.
A boy of 14 collapsed after chewing 45 sticks of nicotine gum - equivalent to 180 Marlboro Light cigarettes - in just 25 minutes. 
Aiden Williams overdosed on the Nicorette gum, designed to help smokers quit the habit, after it was handed out by counsellors at his school. 
DECCA Service manager Margaret Storrie defended the council's policy of handing out Nicorette gum to children without telling parents. 
She said: 'DECCA is a confidential service engaging with young people and we do offer nicotine replacement gum to help young smokers quit. 
'We always encourage young people to speak to their parents and we often organise meetings with family members so young people get the support they need. 
'Aiden overdosing on gum like this is the first time such an incident has happened and we are disappointed to hear about it. 
'Aiden's friend who was originally given the gum would have been told very clearly how often to use it by the worker who gave it to him. 
'We always make sure clients understand not to give out their gum to anyone else.
Stand down, parents, the state has it covered. You didn't really think they were your kids, did you? And kids, don't worry about that growing a spine and telling your parents thing either. You're too precious to see a blue pack of cigarettes - they have to plain packed as you're all stupid - but incredibly grown up enough from anywhere between nine and fourteen to make balanced decisions on pharmaceutical products.

How bizarre is it that state bodies in supposedly intelligent nations are handing out pharmaceutical products to kids in schools without consulting parents, while at the same time panicking about the remote possibility of under 18s getting hold of an e-cig with that 'deadly' nicotine in it. Time to stop the laughable hypocrisy, methinks.

There are so many clichés can be nailed by this. Big tobacco pharma looking to hook kids; drug dealers hanging around playgrounds; evil business making their products look like candy; nasty bastards using flavours to ensnare our young. Take your pick.

I expect anti-smoking groups have dozens of press releases condemning such appalling practices, no?

Link Tank 23/02

Hewn from the rock-face of human chaos ...

Fat taxes are like "shooting rabbits with nuclear weapons"

Someone spent 6 months studying 10,000 porn stars ... and he's a Brit

Being stupid

Tory MP Iain Stewart argues against minimum alcohol pricing

A 10 point plan to tackle the epidemic of meddling medics

Who would be classed as a smoker under Obamacare?

China set to ban "barbecue-related activities"

One of last week's links now explained via the medium of YouTube

Burger King Twitter hacked to look like McDonald's

Russian MPs propose ban and fines for use of foreign words

A dolphin called Wanda?

Friday 22 February 2013

What About Lord Rennard's Other Jobs?

You'll have read the news by now, I expect, about Lord Rennard.
Channel 4 News aired allegations by a number of women of sexual impropriety over several years by Lord Rennard, the party's former chief executive. 
The women told the news programme he abused his position for years by inappropriately touching and propositioning them.
Channel 4's report can be viewed here.
[A statement issued on behalf of Lord Rennard] said he would "stand aside" from the Lib Dem group in the House of Lords "to seek to avoid any embarrassment to the party" and withdraw from the Liberal Democrats' federal policy committee, which is responsible for producing policies to be debated at the party conference.
One wonders if he will similarly "seek to avoid embarrassment" to ASH by stepping down from their Board of Trustees? Or, indeed, if he will also be looking to spare the blushes of the APPG on Smoking and Health by removing himself from his role as Vice-Chair?

Just sayin'.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Another Blow For Minimum Pricing - Alcohol 'Availability Theory' Debunked

This study, published last week, is very interesting. Investigating the effects of the Licensing Act 2003 - you know, the one where '24 hour drinking' was set to plunge Britain into a drunken version of Mad Max according to the more excitable press - the authors investigated Manchester Police records to see if the many popular myths about its link with drink-fuelled violence had any basis in fact (emphasis mine, it crops up later).
We treated the removal of trading hour restrictions that resulted from the Act as a natural experiment in order to test two competing hypotheses: first, that flexible trading hours would lead to a reduction in levels of violence (as predicted by the Labour Government); and secondly, that flexible trading hours would increase levels of violence (as predicted by availability theory [8]).
Study and micro-study Manchester Police statistics as they might (the lead author was from Cambridge's Institute of Public Health) they just couldn't find any increase in violence attributable to so-called "24 hour" sales under the Licensing Act 2003.
This study found no evidence that a national policy increasing the physical availability of alcohol affected the overall volume of violence.
In case you suffer one of those Daily Mail believing relatives (as I do) who attribute town centre Armageddon to Blair's loosening of licensing restrictions, try showing them this (click to enlarge).

Violence (a), robbery (b) and total crime (c)  against weeks after legislation (2004-2008)
There is nothing in those graphs to justify moral panicking from certain sections of the media. In fact, some might claim a decline at the end there, doncha think?

Which kinda agrees with something I posted up in December 2010 following a FOI request.
So, although consumption is most definitely decreasing, the behaviour of those out on the razzle must be appalling. After all, there wouldn't be the great call for minimum alcohol pricing to stop all those youths 'pre-loading' otherwise, right? 
To find out, it's best to ask the experts. And this is where the Freedom of Information Act can be so very useful. For example, if you asked a large police force - the Metropolitan Police is a good one - how many people have been arrested for 'drunk and disorderly' since 2001, what do you think the response would be?

Not altogether dissimilar, I think you'll agree.

This puts another spoke into Cameron's justification for minimum alcohol pricing. Remember that it is being pitched as tackling binge-drinking and public order on the 'evidence' of low priced availability - because they haven't a cat in hell's chance of getting it past the EU on health grounds, of course.

But according to the above study, availability of alcohol is pretty inconsequential. If you're planning to get shit-faced and cause trouble, you're going to get shit-faced and cause trouble. If you're not intending to, you won't.

Widening the hours that alcohol is available didn't change that, nor will the addition of a couple of quid on a bottle of cheap vodka. People generally know what they want from life and have always been more resourceful than politicians take them for. To think that the public will suddenly behave to match what a shonky computer model - created by inept researchers from Sheffield University - says they will, is absurd.

That seems to have put paid to this 'availability theory', then. And so it should, because the reference points us in the direction of this from 2004.

Oh look, the world's authority on 'availability theory' is apparently our old friend Tim "Cyclops" Stockwell, the same clown who accepts evidence he agrees with and discards anything he doesn't, and is responsible for conning the BBC into publishing demonstrable garbage about, you guessed it, minimum alcohol pricing.

The forensic search for any credible real life benefit to minimum pricing continues, then.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Shoot-Out At The Chemist

Mrs P earlier sent me a picture of a scene which would give a pharma marketing exec nightmares if they were to see it.

Once the sole domain of patches, gum and other profitable - but expensive and useless - cessation products, her chemist counter now sells "20 cigarettes for £2"! (click to enlarge)

Note the smartly presented e-cigs prominently displayed on the counter at eye level, while NiQuitIn's battered empty box is relegated to the floor.

E-cigs are in your backyard, pharma. It's a turf war!

What The Minister Should Have Said

Following on from Monday's news that ASH and the APPG on Smoking and Health had held a private meeting with Anne Milton; that it was hidden from public record until The Times discovered it; and that it appears that the delegation attempted to persuade the Minister to ignore objections to the plain packaging consultation. Additionally, considering that it looks like they may have done exactly the same thing during (or after) the consultation prior to the tobacco display ban, I think it's a good time to view again this illustration of what Milton should have said.

Here, from 1990, is how lobbyists used to be treated by politicians if they even dared to solicit private meetings and/or attempt to subvert democratic process.


Sadly, the modern political class is bereft of such integrity. All we have governing us now are a collection of arrogant, posturing liars, thieves and fraudsters led by a snake oil salesman.

In other news, election turnouts have never been lower. Go figure.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

That Explains A Lot

Well, yesterday's revelation seems to have gone down as smoothly as a cheeky Sancerre, thousands of souls popped by to read about ASH and APPG dirty tricks. For the sake of archiving, here's a snippet.
So, tying it all together, we seem to have a meeting which was 'inappropriate' during a public consultation; which was hidden from public record until a journalist found it had taken place; and which featured MPs and ASH arguably attempting to hijack a public consultation with a view to excluding dissent.
But, guys and gals, might we have seen this corrupting of a government public consultation before?

You see, it does kinda explain what could have happened behind the scenes prior to the tobacco display ban  back in 2008.
"We are not listed as one of the respondents although our response was submitted by email and also sent by post, so we can be certain it was received. For some reason the views of 25,000 shopkeepers just seem to have been air-brushed out of the consultation report." 
"Part of our response included a very detailed econometric study into the impact a display ban would have on small shops. None of that data was included in the report. Yet this should have been a transparent process where the views of all interested parties were represented - particularly those who will be directly affected by these proposals." 
It all makes sense now, doesn't it? And this is without mentioning the wilful misleading of politicians when it came time to the vote, which you can read all about here or, if you have more time, here

Expect more of the same if government decides to ignore the biggest objection to a public consultation in our country's history and moves to legislate. There'll be so much bullshit being spouted in the back rooms of Westminster that the Environment Agency might have to be called in.

Monday 18 February 2013

++ Exclusive ++ An Attempt To Kill Plain Packaging Objections

At the start of the year, Simon Clark commented on a meeting which took place within the shadowy confines of Westminster. Do go have a read for background if you're not familiar with the story.
Hats off to The Times for exposing the insidious relationship between a minister, the DH, the APPG on Smoking and Health, and ASH.
It piqued my interest as I was rather intrigued as to what had been discussed at this meeting, so I submitted a freedom of information request. The response was a brief note which you can read in Scribd here, but this is the part which I found most interesting (click to enlarge).

And with my emphasis added.
"On plain packaging, the APPG expressed concerns that results of any consultation could be skewed if consumer/retail groups were used to inflate responses. They also wanted to know when decisions were likely to be made."
Now, I don't know about you, but that does seem to suggest that the delegation of MPs Stephen Williams, Kevin Barron and Bob Blackman (not Paul as in the document) - along with Deborah Arnott their ASH secretary - were urging Anne Milton to ignore responses from groups such as Hands Off Our Packs, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, The Association of Convenience Stores etc. In fact, any organised group who are opposed to plain packaging.

Note that they were not concerned about organised groups of any stripe collecting signatures which, of course, would have ruled out CRUK responses as well as SmokeFree South West's government-funded campaign. No, they were only addressing campaigns organised in opposition. 

In short, these MPs appear to have wanted this public consultation to be conducted in such a way that members of the public who disagree with them are excluded, and lobbied Anne Milton with this in mind.

I suppose we'll find out in due course if the half a million objections have all been counted despite APPG and ASH pressure - shocking as that already is - but there's more.

It would appear that the Department of Health may have attempted to hide this meeting from public record until it was reported in The Times at the turn of the year. An appalling abuse of parliamentary process, if true.

The Department publishes records of ministerial meetings on its website and the file for this particular period's entry says that it was amended in January 2013. However, Google still carries the previous draft which seems to omit the three MPs' meeting with Anne Milton.

Here is a comparison of page 7 from both documents put into a gif file. Look what was added to the April record in the January amendment, presumably after The Times had revealed that the meeting had taken place (click to enlarge).

You might ask why the need for such cloak and dagger tactics? Well, it could be because the meeting probably shouldn't have occurred at all according to other documents revealed on the DoH website.

Cancer Research UK had suggested a meeting with Andrew Lansley in May, and they were open about what CEO Harpal Kumar wanted to talk about.
In advance of Cancer Research UK's parliament day on 27th June, I am writing to request a meeting with you on the day. 
We are delighted that the consultation has been published. You are well aware of our position and you will of course already be familiar with our desire to see plain packaging introduced as soon as possible. We would be happy to update you on the campaign
Lansley was less than enthusiastic, for good reason.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to set up a meeting on the issue of tobacco packaging at this time ...
For why?
As I am sure you will understand, there are many groups with interest in this issue and it would not be possible, or appropriate, for me to try to meet with everyone who has an interest while the consultation is underway.
So, tying it all together, we seem to have a meeting which was 'inappropriate' during a public consultation; which was hidden from public record until a journalist found it had taken place; and which featured MPs and ASH arguably attempting to hijack a public consultation with a view to excluding dissent.

This, from a tobacco control industry which casually accuses others of dirty tactics and corruption.

Stinks like a slurry pit, don't it? 

Sunday 17 February 2013

How Politicians Will Likely Scupper E-Cigs, No Matter How They Are Finally Regulated

This is quite sinister and could well be our future.
Two bills recently introduced in Congress would substantially increase federal excise taxes on tobacco products, and probably allow the imposition of new federal excise taxes on e-cigarettes.
Taxes on e-cigs? Why?
Senate Bill 194 would: 
Authorize the Treasury Department to impose federal excise taxes on e-cigarettes (also at a rate equivalent to cigarettes) if FDA deems e-cigarettes to be “tobacco products.”
OK, here's the state of play. Pharma smoking cessation products like patches and gum are close to useless, their success rate has been measured at around 1.6%.

We have to consider pharma's problem, though, as former ASH Director Clive Bates does very well. Here, in stupid, risk-terrified, statist detail are the hoops pharma has to jump through to market "medicinal products" which enable smokers to quit.

The explosion in e-cig usage shows conclusively that their efficacy is vastly in excess of anything big pharma could ever hope to achieve. They are bought freely - despite regular scare tactics from tobacco control, in fact - and are not available on prescription like NRT often is. Additionally, this has been without TV advertising until very recently and with no tax-funded campaigns/schemes/programs directing smokers towards them.

Those who aren't irretrievably insane understand this and would like to see light touch regulation rather than the kind of stuff pharma has to go through which - it has to be said - probably renders their products almost useless by government design. Regulating e-cigs along the same lines (as a medical product) - with all that that demands - would make them so expensive that vapers would be back on the baccy before you could say "you silly, silly sods".

As we see above, it looks like pharma have put their thinking caps on and lobbied for their Plan B. If e-cigs are not to be regulated as medicinal devices, they would be classed as "tobacco products". A small tweak in legislation via statutory instrument to make them taxable on the same terms as Silk Cut and the threat is neutralised.

If taxation means that vaping ends up costing the same as smoking tobacco, it would drive their success rate down considerably (though I doubt it would be quite as pathetic as 1.6%). So, despite spending millions of our taxes trying to get us to stop smoking, it looks like the state will destroy e-cigs by regulating them into obscurity or - if that fails - by taxing them out of existence.

It would not, of course, ever occur to the political class to reduce regulations for patches and gum to the same level as that for e-cigs and let the market fight it out.

D'you see why I've always said that it's never been about health? And, when it comes to e-cigs, why politicians are a dangerous disease in a category of their own.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Tesco Discovers That Appeasement Doesn't Work

I hope some of you caught this hilarious faux outrage on Twitter. It carried on for two days but seems to have abated for the weekend, at least..

His earth-shattering revelation has been flagged apparently, though we know not what for. Offside?

It didn't take long before another doctor (natch) couldn't help himself and seamlessly switched the subject to alcohol ... which was then followed by my tweet of the week.

Bravo! Tesco, you just earned my custom for this weekend's grocery shopping.

Unfortunately public health don't even recognise, let alone understand, the concept of free will. And considering the health community these days is a festering mass of ideological business-hating lefties, it was akin to hitting a hornet's nest like you would a piñata.

Don't Tesco know that these mostly tax-funded, shroud-waving, hyperbole-spouting con artists and fantasists are running the country now? All day they went at Tesco, tweeting their fellow tax-funded mates about the big evil supermarket which earns its own money by being popular instead of sponging off the state like 'decent' people.

Then, former professional tobacco controller and borderline communist Daniel Clayton - who really doesn't like being followed on Twitter, so don't do that - further displayed his arrested maturity by running to tell teacher. Or Alcohol Concern in this case.

So, we now have a complaint about tobacco display warnings - unreadable from the other side of a counter, hidden or not - turned into a case for Alcohol Concern's attention by a former employee of ASH Wales because it's all the same thing. Innit?

You know what I'm going to say here, I expect, seeing as I've had loads of fun with it before. Let's revisit Smokefree Action's Myth 7 about plain packaging, shall we?
Myth #7: It may be tobacco today but other consumer products will follow

FACT: Tobacco is not like any other product, it is the only legal consumer product on the market which is lethal when used as intended. [...] Plain packs for tobacco will not therefore set a precedent for other consumer products.
What fools we all are for believing that the public health industry would even dream about treating other products in the same condemnatory way as tobacco, eh? Well, apart from alcohol if sold by capitalist pig-dogs, perhaps.

But wait, what's this? Another doctor in response to Tesco complying with the law; displaying packs - in only some of their stores, not in large ones due to absurd regulation - so they don't fall off the shelves; with prices shown as per consumer info legislation; and bedecked with warnings placed where they are by government design which have bugger all effect on smoking rates anyway.

He spouts the same "people are all fucking stupid, except us" message the pompous parasites have underwritten their mortgage payments with for years.

Food now? That's a nice little slippery slope he has there, I wonder if he needs more vaseline to grease it up with.

Boy! I bet those guys at Tesco are overjoyed at having got in bed with these screwballs over minimum alcohol pricing, huh? They're feeling the lurve for such fawning appeasement now, and no mistake.

Link Tank 16/02

Top three are belters.

Repeal the seat belt law

Minimum alcohol pricing "will hurt students" and is the result of a "Victorian attitude"

In defence of fast food

Westminster is powerless over horse meat, having to defer to Brussels instead

Rum named after porn star Ron Jeremy is banned in Canada

How snus works

How pharma-funded research works

Harold Wilson's pipe airbrushed out of history

Ski instructor loses job for refusing CRB check

The arcade machine that rewards winners with beer

Quiet cheating monkeys

Thursday 14 February 2013

More Libertarian Magic

In January, I ventured up to Westminster for a panel discussion on the concept of shared space road schemes. A very pleasant evening it was too, not only due to unexpectedly bumping into - and later catching up over a beer with - Mark Wadsworth*.

Regular readers will know of my professional and personal interest in transport, but shared space also proves that trusting people works far better than over-reliance on state wisdom. Hence why I described a test scheme in Portishead as "libertarian magic" in 2010.
Firstly, it's quite clear that, whenever tested, projects such as Portishead's are not just mildly successful, they are almost faultlessly so. 
Secondly, prior to their implementation, most don't believe it possible. 
The former is proof that humans are very capable of interacting with each other with courtesy, the problems occur when a hierarchy - and with it, a superiority - is prescribed by a third party. The latter shows how deeply ingrained the figment of the state (and its delegated local administrators) as sole arbiters of our safety has now become. 
Libertarians believe that people are innately social, that they can interact harmoniously with minimal authority. Statists believe that no-one can be trusted to wipe their own nose without someone being paid to instruct them. Libertarians like people, statists fundamentally distrust them. 
'Shared space' schemes not only suggest that libertarians have a valid point, they also show that by taking the same line in other areas, society and behaviour may well be improved for the better. Which is a 'good thing', surely.
During the evening, I met Martin Cassini* who later presented this film showing the recent transformation of Poynton's town centre. It's more smile-inducing libertarian magic, so please prepare your favourite beverage and take 15 minutes to watch it..

Now, I know Mudgie isn't keen on this - as he was quick to point out on Twitter at the time - but there were many Poynton residents in attendance who had made the long journey down from Cheshire after having been won over by the beneficial effects on their town. They were full of nothing but praise and enthusiasm.

The local councillor also gave an insight into his battles to get the proposal through in the first place, including "three days of abuse" after inviting the public to visit the town hall and ask their questions. Such a shame since his motivation was hearing first hand refusal of outsiders to visit and shop in the town solely because of traffic problems. This does go to show, though, that the idea of the state allowing more autonomy is now so counter-intuitive to the public that it is very difficult to sell, no matter how successful the end result. 

I know that there is a village near me which could benefit greatly through shared space, and I expect anyone reading this with an open mind could think of somewhere nearby for which it could also be beneficial. It has cut accidents in Dutch towns, as well as in the UK such as Ashford in Kent, and famously in Central London's Exhibition Road. In all examples, traffic jams were also reduced.

What's not to like?

I was reminded to search for this film on YouTube after reading Jackart's excellent article yesterday on road usage and the abuse of statistics.
The driver has assumed he owned the road for too long. The roads must be taken from the driver and given back to people, whatever means of transport - shoe, bike, motorbike, horse or car, they choose for their journey.
Quite. And shared space does that very well. Hopefully we will see a lot more of it in the future.

* I also had a chat with Jeremy Irons and was delighted to finally meet John Adams, but they didn't come to the pub so Wadsworth gets the nod as MVP of the evening (his vitriolic swearing is a joy to behold).

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Dick Out And About: Filling In The Gaps

Over at the IBT, I thought it was worth pointing out what the BBC's Graham Satchell forgot to say in Monday's report on e-cigs.

To read the article, click here or on the screen-capped image below.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Who Will Be The First To Market Horse Meat Openly In The UK?

The horse meat scandal keeps rumbling on, I see.

There seems to be one aspect, though, which appears to have been mostly avoided in all the coverage I have read, seen or heard. That being the legality of horse meat being sold in the UK.

We've heard many a statement along the lines of "there is no safety issue" which could be translated as "it's OK, bovines, we've been scaring you about food for years but this isn't the apocalypse we've been priming you to panic about", but unless I missed it no-one is saying that horse meat sales in the UK are illegal. Considering it is freely available in France and Belgium, and we are part of this huge 27 nation conglomerate of homogenous legislation, I am guessing there is no bar on selling horse meat in this country.

What a business opportunity for one of our more risk-comfortable food entrepreneurs, then eh?

Being in business myself, our office did jovially kick around a hypothetical scenario whereby we could take the 350,000 horse meat lasagnes off of Findus's hands and make a quick profit on resale elsewhere but - transport problems aside as we are well sorted there - it was the doubtless endless other EU regulations which would make the deal impossible.

Business Week have asked the question "what's so bad about horse meat anyway?" only to be met with the most hysterical of answers.
People have such strong views on eating horses as an ethical issue.
Well, how about eating babies? 
But that’s so different.
There you go. You don’t think horses are like babies, but maybe some people do. How about dogs?
Dogs, you say? I remember writing about that once.

So is it merely repugnance which stops horse meat being sold in this country? Well, that should be far less of an obstruction now that horse meat has been debated to destruction in the media lately.

Even a BBC Radio 5 phone-in a week or so ago - where you'd expect much tear-soaked 'think of poor old Dobbin' kind of argument - was mostly populated by objections from those angry about intensive agriculture and packaging methods rather than an abhorrence for horses being sold for human consumption. Almost without exception, the (middle class and firmly righteous Labour) callers had all travelled the world and tasted horse meat themselves with no objection. Most even stated that it was very tasty, it was just the labelling from those nasty Big Food companies they despised.

It's also extremely good for health compared with our usual fare, which we are all told is the most important thing in the world nowadays.

Curiosity about horse meat has been cranked up to eleven by all this publicity. The advertising has been paid for by others, all that's needed now is for a business to step in, start selling horse meat nationally and reap the profits. Even if the first take-up is a small provincial butcher, the media attention will be huge and he/she is guaranteed to sell out.

Some opposed to the idea have been clever enough to sense a threat, with a Facebook group already set up to stop horse meat sales which aren't happening yet. They should do soon, though, or else I'd be getting worried about the British entrepreneurial spirit which has helped us to punch above our relative tiny size on the global markets for centuries.

A gastro-pub around five miles from Puddlecoteville lists kangaroo steak as a staple menu item. No-one appears too bothered as it has been consumed happily there for at least three years - apart from meerkat or penguin, there can't be too many more cutesy overseas animals. So I don't see too much of a problem with horse, merely an opportunity for the person or company brave enough to speculate to accumulate.

So who will be first to market horse? And, more importantly for me on a personal level, who will go on to sell prime Romanian donkey as I haven't tried that yet.

Monday 11 February 2013

Where Did That Come From?

I must admit to have been comprehensively blind-sided by the BBC today. An early morning smartphone sift of their stories pulled up an article on e-cigs, it wasn't half bad, either.

BBC Breakfast later featured a three minute video slot - unhelpfully not embeddable, as usual - followed by conversation between Susanna Reid and reporter Graham Satchell (I can't remember the other presenter's name for obvious reasons) during which he volunteered an interesting revelation.

Both articles did, sadly though, feature serial prohibitionist Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA spouting her usual nonsense ...
"I would either take them off the shelves or I would very heavily regulate them so that we know the contents of each e-cigarette were very fixed," says Dr Nathanson.
... which Jay has rightly called out as 'evil'. This, remember, from a woman who has already been caught out blatantly lying on the BBC in the past.

However, despite the inclusion of Nathanson, the BBC deserve a rare pat on the back for raising the issue so prominently. Perhaps, since Mondays are generally slow for news, it will be swiftly forgotten tomorrow now they can get their salaried secularists onto the Pope resigning, but a pat on the back is still perfectly in order nonetheless.

What is baffling me, though, is why? Why did the BBC feel that this was an issue deserving of such coverage? What's the angle?

As we know, their standard for health articles is to pick a press release and paraphrase it. But there doesn't appear to have been one in this case.

If Satchell had linked it in to the appalling Tobacco Products Directive and the resignation of John Dalli, it would make more sense, but he didn't. There was not a mention of Dalli's absurd proposals or of what is promising to be a Europe-wide campaign against them.

Perhaps it was just an excellent - and far too rare - piece of observational health journalism from Graham Satchell, I dunno. The BBC is the stopped clock that is sometimes accurate when wound by the right people, after all.

But, sadly, I'm wondering if it all might be far more depressingly simple. It was only last month that ASH produced an updated press briefing on e-cigs [opens in pdf] which was largely positive, and its contents are uncannily similar to the points raised in the BBC's coverage, as well as the comments made by Satchell in BBC Breakfast's studio this morning.

While it is great that the BBC are reporting on e-cigs - and also commendable that ASH UK are not replicating the fuckwittery towards them exhibited by their counterparts in other nations - a marshalling of the state-funded media by state-funded anti-smokers would still seem to be the status quo.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Canadian Minimum Pricing Advocate Is A Serial Bullshitter

Dr Tim Stockwell is a Canadian with a bit of a beef about alcohol. You may remember that he was behind the BBC's heroic claims about minimum pricing earlier this week.

Snowdon described it as "lying with statistics".
It is a bald-faced lie to say that there have been any "significant changes in alcohol-related deaths observed in British Columbia".
Well, via Crampton, it appears this was no fluke. Stockwell turns out to be a serial abuser of evidence and data.

Despite the absurd contortions he was forced to perform in order to reach a pre-determined result on minimum pricing, he has gone on record criticising other researchers who found that moderate consumption of alcohol is largely beneficial.
[...] in a letter to Addiction, he keeps wondering if it's possible ever to derive any evidence of protective benefits from population epidemiological studies because of potential uncontrolled confounding.
His targets have responded by pointing out that Stockwell really should take that plank out of his eye before accusing others.
[...] we sense a desire by some in the field to apply tough standards on protective effects and more lenient standards on other effects, where sometimes the responses to very simple survey questions such as ‘Did your partner’s alcohol consumption contribute to your marriage problems?’ are accepted as causal evidence.
So, it appears he doesn't just lie with statistics. He also lies by emphasising research - however dubious - which agrees with his agenda, while dismissing other research - however strong - which doesn't.

Another dangerous, dishonest crank gets through the BBC's {cough} rigorous, {cough} world-respected health team, then.

Saturday 9 February 2013

E-Cigs: Follow The Money

With a tagline of "when caution can kill", former ASH Director Clive Bates has written another very intelligent - and important - article on e-cigs and the unintelligent EU's disgraceful plan to kill them off.
"E-cigarettes represent an amazing market-based, user-driven public health insurgency. From nowhere to €500m in Europe, the market is growing rapidly and already almost equals the market for NRT, according to the European Commission’s consultants (see chart and Matrix report p21)"
Little wonder, then, that big pharma are doing everything in their power to get them banned.
"Without anyone in the professional public health field doing anything and without spending any public money, smokers have been quitting, switching and cutting down using e-cigarettes."
And that is why the tobacco control industry are also doing their utmost to heavily regulate them or render them ineffective.

It's a simple follow the money exercise. Right there is all you need to know about the e-cigs debate. Remember it whenever you read or hear any of their rotten junk science.

It's never been about health, you know.

Do go read Clive's article in full here.

UPDATE: From the comments. "Cancer Research UK continues its remorseless promotion of cancer by pretending that nothing is known, when in fact we know that none of the toxins present in cigarette smoke is present in vapour in any meaningful concentration."

This is, of course, the CRUK with half a billion income and 30+ individuals pulling in a yearly salary of over £100k. I do believe they have some links with pharmaceutical companies. Just saying.

Link Tank 09/02

The weekly selection is now into a fourth year involving over 1,500 links.

E-cigarettes are not your father’s smokes

Some charitable institutions are a lot more interested in government hand-outs than our good

Pregnant women who smoke are easy targets for the morality police

Australian McDonald's offers waiter service, plates and cutlery

Hey NSPCC, when a parent smacks his child, it is not 'violence'

Using beer to generate electricity, and then using that electricity to brew more beer

"The anti-Big Food story suits the outlook of a certain kind of middle-class food campaigner"

It's finally legal for women to wear trousers in France

Watching porn boosts support for same-sex marriage

Drink diet mixers, get drunk quicker

Talking ants

Friday 8 February 2013

New Zealand Public Rejects Plain Packaging

So, we've seen half a million oppose plain packaging in the UK against just under 60% fewer in favour.

But, there has been a consultation on the same hideous policy in New Zealand too, if you remember. It was run on carbon copy lines to ours but there were early signs that things might not be going to plan there either.
A month after consultation on its plain packaging regime for cigarettes closed, the Ministry of Health will not say how many submissions it received. 
The government has agreed in principle to introduce plain packaging laws for tobacco products, subject to the outcome of a consultation process. 
Yet the October 5 deadline for submissions passed unannounced, suggesting the number received in opposition could be huge.
That was four months ago, but here's the latest news from government owned national broadcaster TV New Zealand.

Indeed, this is so. The NZ government has just revealed that - despite a state-funded campaign in favour - responses received on the spiteful idea were almost 60% against.

The TVNZ reporter seems to think we should be surprised by this. I mean, doesn't everyone know by now that if any policy bashes smokers it is a good thing?

He also mentions something else which is quite revealing.
"The association representing convenience retailers [claim] some of those submissions supporting plain packaging were made multiple times by the same person" 
Hmm, sounds familiar. I believe we saw the same principle with the UK consultation, didn't we?
"You can only vote once on each petition, but I would seriously doubt that there will be cross checking between charity petitions so it may be worth signing all of them to get your money's worth"
So, perhaps it wasn't only the UK template for campaigning they copied, then.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Minimum Alcohol Pricing Folly: Goodbye Clubcard And Nectar Points

The more one looks into the implications of minimum alcohol pricing - and I've only just started - the more of a sinister minefield it turns out to be.

By minefield, I mean a legislative nightmare as well as unnecessary costs to small businesses (odd that; aren't Tories supposed to like them?). For example, signage will be required; stock may have to be removed from sale and renegotiated on price with suppliers (more on that another time); and many products will cease to be profitable, not only for the retailer, but for the producer too. This will inevitably lead to an increase in your shopping bill somewhere along the line, whether booze is bought or not.

Current advice from retail bodies is to err on the side of caution or face crippling fines. And that's where you come in because, if you buy drink responsibly, you will still lose out.

When you go to Tesco, Sainsbo, whatever, do you get loyalty card points on tobacco? No, course not, it's bad for you, right, so it's banned. Well, hey presto! With minimum alcohol pricing, this is exactly the result that is likely to happen for alcohol too.

Firstly, if you buy a minimum alcohol priced bottle of wine for around £4.20, those four Clubcard/Nectar points you earn will represent a subsequent value, however small. If you were then to redeem that value, the saving technically drops the cost of your bottle below the minimum price. It is most certainly the end of vouchers before Valentine's Day offering 50 bonus points if you buy a bottle of Baileys, that's for sure.

There is also the issue of saving vouchers or points up for other special occasions. If, like me, you hoard your rewards for a big blow out at Christmas, you could end up buying - say - £100 worth of alcohol and redeeming vouchers/points for £80, for example. That means you are buying alcohol - any alcohol - well beneath the minimum price.

It's a grey area, but retailer associations are advising that the best course is to not award loyalty bonuses to purchases of alcohol at all. Why devise an complicated system to get round the problem when it is easier just to exclude alcohol entirely, eh?

Tesco, of course, are 100% behind minimum pricing so will happily deprive you of your Clubcard points. Others will almost be, I dunno, "nudged" into it by people who have been asking for exactly that for a long time.
Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said stopping UK supermarkets offering loyalty points would at least send the "right message". 
"Most alcohol bought for consumption is from supermarkets. There is a need to send the right message on drinking behaviour by not allowing 'rewards' for buying alcohol."
Minimum alcohol pricing is touted as tackling irresponsible drinkers but - as a sage website bluntly asks - why should responsible drinkers pay more?

Of course, if the true plan is to move towards a policy of denormalisation of alcohol, it's just dandy.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Give Your MP A Nudge For A Change

MPs have been merrily nudging you into conforming to their idea of how you should live your life for over two years now. Here's your chance to nudge him/her back, and it'll only take a minute.

So, you signed up to the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, and maybe submitted a full response to the plain packs consultation, but civil servants will have read those and are not very keen on ditching authoritarian plans they have been paid out of our taxes to devise.

As a result, sadly, many MPs don't know that half a million responses were received by the Department of Health in opposition to plain packaging. Well, Nick Clegg certainly didn't, anyway.

So please do make sure your MP is aware by taking a few moments to write to him. As Simon Clark explains, it really couldn't be more simple.
To make it easy we have created a special standalone website, Say No To Plain Packs. All you have to do is: 
1. Visit
2. Enter your postcode

3. Click 'Next'
4. Enter your name and address
5. Click 'Submit' 
To make the letter as personal as possible we recommend that you add a comment in the relevant box (but it's not essential). 
Please do it NOW! It should take no more than a minute of your time.
You can also reach the website by clicking on the image below, or at the sidebar on the right.

A pic of your MP will pop up so you know you've got the right guy/gal/hermaphrodite, and if you receive a reply - on House of Commons headed paper, I expect - I'd be very interested as to what response you get.

If you have a website of your own, do consider adding the image above in order to spread the word. If not, share the site on the usual social media channels and with like-minded friends. It's about time they got the message that a joke's a joke but we're all pretty fed-up with their petty interfering by now.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Minimum Alcohol Pricing Folly: What Is Success?

To continue with an occasional series on David Cameron's daft minimum alcohol pricing idea, let's look at what can be considered as 'success' if it were to be implemented.

The Home Office have stated that they are predicting a "just over 3%" reduction in sales if a 45p unit price is adopted. Of course, this is based on shoddy policy-based evidence commissioned from Sheffield University specifically for the government's purposes, but let's ignore that for now.

Here is how alcohol consumption is trending according to statistics on alcohol sold per capita.

From 11.5 litres per head in 2004 to 10.0 litres per head in 2011, consumption is already falling by a thimbleful below 2% every year.

So, say minimum pricing was installed tomorrow and there was a 3% reduction in consumption for the following year, would the Home Office claim that it was a success? I think we know the answer, don't we? Cos they is lying bastards.

But wait! The government has also been trumpeting the success of their responsibility deal, which they announced as having taken one billion alcohol units out of the marketplace. What percentage does that represent? Coalition MP Norman Lamb has helpfully provided us with the answer.
"One of the consequences of the responsibility deal is that by 2015, 1 billion units of alcohol - about 2% - will be taken out of the market, and that will help some problem drinkers significantly."
That's, presumably, an extra 2% on top of the ongoing 2% trend, yes?

But then, as we are constantly told, there is this 'epidemic' of drunkenness which for some strange reason isn't borne out by official statistics. Perhaps there is an imminent increase in wild, crazy alcohol consumption to come.

Well no, apparently not. You see, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has predicted that consumption will continue to diminish right through to 2018 [opens in Excel, table 2.11]  An 'epidemic' that has been declining for best part of a decade and is predicted to carry on spiralling downwards for another five years is not particularly scary, I'd venture.

Still, let's crunch the figures anyway.

My little iPhone calculator here says that - based on average strengths of beer, wine and spirits - we're talking another reduction in consumption of about 2.4 billion units by five years time. If one billion is 2%, that's another 4.8% or a percentage point per year, give or take.

Therefore, to achieve the fabled 3% reduction solely through minimum alcohol pricing, there would have to be a reduction in consumption in excess of 8% - or thereabouts - in the year after it is made law if minimum pricing is to be hailed as a success.

No, of course it won't happen. The current decline - which has been evident for at least seven years now - will be held up as proof positive that minimum alcohol pricing has worked. The minority who favour it (mostly public-funded health lobbyists) may even throw in a heart attack miracle or two as well, they like that kind of junk stat.

We've seen it all before, haven't we?

But more importantly, what's the point? If alcohol consumption is already falling; if it is predicted to carry on falling by the OBR; and if the responsibility deal is working as intended (despite alarmists saying it wouldn't, by the way), why the need for a deeply divisive policy whose design will undoubtedly take money from the less well off and give it to the not-so less well off?

It does beg the question, doesn't it? Is this a class thing?