Monday 30 June 2014

Heads The Public Sector Wins, Tails The Public Loses

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will be aware, I was out of the country on Thursday when the government finally announced its latest pretence at listening to the public over plain packaging two months late.

The previous one showed that a significant majority think the idea to be pretty silly [pdf pg 31] ...

... but since when were the public listened to in a public consultation, eh?

What happened after the original consultation was that the Department of Health ignored all those hundreds of thousands of rejections and only focussed on what they called "detailed responses" for their big announcement.
Many thousands of responses to the consultation were received, and the views expressed were highly polarised, with strong views put forward on both sides of the debate and a range of organisations generating campaigns and petitions. Of those who provided detailed feedback, some 53% were in favour of standardised packaging while 43% thought the Government should do nothing about tobacco packaging.
Lo and behold, a majority in favour! It's almost like magic, isn't it?

Of course, if you were to download the full report, the true view of the public - which was ignored in the official statement, and about which Anna Soubry claimed ignorance - is crystal clear.
In total, 665,989 campaign responses were received from 24 separate campaigns. Around two-thirds of campaign responses received were from people who are opposed to the introduction of standardised packaging (total of 427,888 responses) and one-third of campaign responses received were from people who are in support (238,101 responses) as shown in figure 5.1 (that's that pretty pie chart above - DP)
Hence the gerrymandering by only quoting the detailed responses in official communications.

However, by way of contrast, let's look at what happened when the government 'consulted the public' about banning tobacco displays in 2008.
Over 96,000 responses were received ... the largest ever response to a consultation of this kind. Responses overwhelmingly supported removing tobacco displays in shops, and tough action to restrict access to vending machines. Since the ban on tobacco advertising, retail displays in shops are the main way in which tobacco products are marketed to children
No mention of "detailed responses" back then, because the result went the 'correct' way. Or, as the Filthy Smoker observed at the time.
Of the 96,000 responses, only a handful came from private individuals. The rest came from block-voting by state-funded pressure groups and charities. 
Sure enough, SmokeFree NorthWest - with 49,507 votes - is entirely funded by the DoH. Direct Movement by the Youth Smokefree Team - with 10,757 votes - is entirely funded by SmokeFree Liverpool who are entirely funded by the DoH). SmokeFree NorthEast - with 8,128 votes - is entirely funded by...yes, the DoH. 
Weighing in with a further 1,562 votes were SmokeFree Action. 
Not so much a public consultation as a public sector consulation.
And that's not even mentioning the fact that the DoH airbrushed out 35,000 responses that they didn't like, as admirably reported by Medical News

So, what we can gather from what modern politicians laughably call public consultations is that if a postcard or quick click response is in favour of what they and their pet powerful vested interests want to do anyway, they'll shout it from the rooftops. But if it's not, it's time for plan B and to only look at the "detailed responses" which - of course - are mostly submitted by organisations whose only job is to do so on state-supplied wages. 

It stinks, as I'm sure you'll agree, and not something restricted to just this issue - this kind of abuse of democracy is happening every day in any number of different government departments, most of it beneath the radar of anyone but those who are paid to lobby Westminster. This is why, as well as adding your name to the No Prime Minister campaign if you haven't already, you should also consider adding a "detailed response" to this new second consultation. Regular readers of this blog will remember that many of us did exactly this for the original consultation back in 2012, which I'm sure had an impact in restricting the biased farce to only a narrow 53%/43% split.

Just like last time out, when I'm less busy I'll be drafting a consultation response on this site for anyone who wants to crib, or you can just go ahead and submit your own. You have a few weeks to mull over exactly how you want to word it as the process runs until August 7th, but do make sure you seriously consider doing so. The alternative is that, yet again, the state-funded public sector gets to dictate terms to the rest of us without fear of being challenged, and politicians get to find yet another way of lying to us ... as they repeatedly illustrate with their sham ploy of public consultations.

Full details are here (in many languages), with the online submission form available at this link. Do go have a look. 

Friday 27 June 2014

Bury, Boxes, Beer and Bubblegum

I briefly mentioned two weeks ago that Mrs P and I had taken a couple of days off for a long weekend away. This was primarily to meet up with good friend of this blog and dedicated jewel robber, Steve W, and to take him up on his 2012 offer of a cuppa in his vape shop in Bury.

Here's Steve sitting pretty (if that's the word) in his domain.

After Mrs P had wandered behind the counter and chucked a load of cash his way for some flavours from the shelves, we were also afforded an interesting tour of the Totally Wicked operation just up the road in Blackburn.

We were met by Sales and Marketing Manager Alain Rowlands who explained a bit about the company and how it has expanded from an operation in the owner's bedroom in 2008 to the plush and profitable outfit it is now, currently employing 104 people. 

Obviously, while in his exquisitely air-conditioned office, the subject of the EU TPD came up but Rowlands was dismissive of its effect on Totally Wicked's business. "So they'll ban 20ml bottles, So what? We'll just sell two 10ml ones instead", he explained, along with other get-arounds for various aspects of the directive planned for 2016, "at worst, it will mean that we'll have to stop selling the mixing kits, but we've just invested in a new bottling plant down the road so we're still anticipating growth". 

The news of JTI buying out E-Lites had just been announced, so I had to ask if TW had received approaches from tobacco industry interests themselves. "We've bounced a couple of people out the front door, yes", claimed Rowlands, before noting that the firms being swallowed up are mostly those with large publicity and distribution networks whereas Totally Wicked - whose sales are almost exclusively conducted online - operate on a shoestring marketing budget. A boardroom with framed Burnley FC and St Helens rugby league shirts are the only evidence that the company's advertising reaches outside of the internet. 

We were then taken through to the warehouse which revealed a surprisingly machine-free business method. I wish I'd thought to get a picture (from behind glass) of the state-of-the-art sterile pharma-standard e-liquid preparation room - complete with scientific-looking types mixing batches of liquids in medical garb to the hum of air filtration equipment surrounding their isolated box - but the rest was good old-fashioned manufacturing procedures. 

Four rooms of kits, liquids and accessories piled on shelves waiting to be picked to satisfy 1,200 orders per day according to Rowlands. Considering TW offer free postage for orders of £50 plus, so I suspect an average order would be something shy of that, you can do the maths yourself to work out how much they are taking in such a short space of time since being established.

I had expected bottles being labelled by machinery but there was none of that; the fiddly labels are all applied by hand, while the boxes are made up manually and the bottles placed in those boxes by fingers and thumbs too. Labour intensive, yes, but the staff didn't seem bothered - "I'm really good at packing up boxes quickly" said one in a regional lilt as she displayed lightning dexterity in front of a whiteboard showing she'd made up around 4,500 since the Monday.

After the tour - and a quick look at a new TW product, the E-Shisha pipe which looks more like a bright red tomahawk and just as big - we were encouraged to go to see "Mitch", a man so mysterious many at TW have never seen him.

Mitch appears to be a throwback to the early days of the company when the image of the devilish Mr Wicked marketing tool was all important. Now, however, softly-spoken Mitch is left to his own devices to do, well, just about whatever takes his fancy. Squirrelled away in a nondescript small industrial unit with no indication that anything noteworthy is going on behind an anonymous door, Mitch just lets his imagination decide what to do on any particular day.

I kid you not, this is the entrance to his office.

Well, I say 'entrance', but it's more like the way in to a labyrinth really. Behind the curtain is a series of rooms containing things that move, twist, spin, dangle, wobble, and - in the case of the mad scientist waxwork in his lab - bubble and pump out clouds from a concealed smoke machine. 

All that just to lead into a windowless room where Mitch spends his day doodling and generally doing arty stuff.

Whether TW take up any of this depends on if they see anything they like, but we got the impression that this mostly amounts to Christmas cards, the odd website graphic and an upcoming calendar. Not that Mitch doesn't have big plans though, his surreal grotto - complete with mask moulds for just about every horror movie monster you can think of - is currently being, ahem, enhanced by a part-built graveyard which will comprise a ghoul rising up from the dead. Surprising, until you hear that in Mitch's spare time he likes to make up coffins for sale to the public and had four in his basement at the time of our visit ... he says his wife and children are very understanding.

All in all an interesting day, rounded off with a trip to a local pub. Steve, obviously recognising my transport geekiness, chose this place, which for someone of my tastes was a bit of a dream.

I mean, how could anyone not enjoy a pub beer garden (complete with nostalgia decor) like this?


It was a great trip, and I can heartily recommend Steve's shop if you're in the area, but I have to leave you with an occurrence while we were in there the next day just before returning which goes straight to the heart of the entire e-cig debate, and will resonate with any vaper who is irritated by tobacco controllers insisting that flavoured e-liquids are solely designed to entrap children into a lifetime of nicotine addiction. 

While sitting on one of those red sofas pictured above, a male customer of around 30-ish wandered in off the street wearing a Superman T-shirt and said he'd like to buy some e-liquid. "Sure", replied Steve, "what flavour and strength?". I had to bite my lip to stop myself from laughing when the guy replied "bubblegum please, 10mg". Unlike me though, Steve was unmoved because he reckons it's one of his biggest sellers. 

Tobacco control out of touch with real life? Surely not.

Thursday 26 June 2014

E-Cig? Or Weapon?

Thanks to occasional contributor Bear Tripper for pointing out this rather bizarrely-termed e-cig policy from a US theme park's website which betrays a high level of ignorance about them.
Electronic Cigarettes?  No electronic cigarettes, period.  There is no way whatsoever for the Park to determine actually what is in such devices, nor whether such a device is actually for “smoking” and not a weapon or some other sort of device.  Minimally, electronic cigarettes are annoying and/or a concern to the majority of our customers who do not wish to be subjected to whatever substance people may be “smoking.”
A weapon? And I'm also curious as to what "some other sort of device" could mean. Considering that this was buried in a huge list of equally authoritarian rules which appear to have been written by curmudgeonly Aunt Griselda on a day when her arthritis has been giving her gyp, perhaps it's a way of ensuring no-one sneaks a piccolo or nose-trimmer past the watch towers under false pretences.

Have some sympathy for Bear Tripper, won't you? They have to visit this charmless 'fun' centre soon.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

More Plain Packs Propaganda

There are only two conclusions anyone can come to after reading anti-smoker tweets this week. They are either incredibly dense or are simply happy to spread misinformation.

The Sydney Morning Herald published a graph on Sunday as ultimate proof that plain packaging has worked, here's their take on it.
Plain packaging pushes cigarette sales down
Added to the Health Department's website quietly last week amid debate over the effectiveness of plain packaging, the Treasury data shows 3.4 per cent fewer cigarettes were sold last year than 2012.
Well, actually, no they didn't unless the SMH is redefining the term "last year" or don't know yet that we're in 2014. Because the decline, as their graph clearly shows, is entirely in this year.

Seriously, it's interactive, so go play with it yourself. But if you're short on time or all finger and thumbs, here's what it looks like.

And, as the SMH kindly tells us, there was a big hike in duty a year after plain packaging which - unless you're a dunce - would quite obviously explain the big downturn immediately following it.

Not being Australian, on this evidence I can only assume the Sydney Morning Herald is up there in trustworthiness alongside such august organs as The Sunday Sport and The National Enquirer.

Still, it satisfied the usual muppets anyway.

Monday 23 June 2014

The WHO Attempts To Censor Websites

As well as being entirely unelected, it appears that the World Health Organisation also doesn't care much for openness and transparency.

Rumours have reached Puddlecote Towers that the WHO is spitting blood about a leaked document from a November 2013 meeting being widely discussed, and is busily putting the frighteners on those who are discussing it. They are not happy with minutes which mention that the WHO views e-cigarettes as a threat - and which prompted a much-reported recent letter to the WHO by over 50 health professionals - reaching the internet, so are doing their best to make the document disappear.

It was leaked to the Financial Times in April and has been quoted on a number of sites including Clive Bates's blog a few days later. Now, however, I understand the WHO are issuing legal letters demanding the minutes be removed and ordering the site owners not to make any reference to the minutes or to quote from them.

In case you're curious, this is the document in question, with paragraphs 11, 23 and 69-75 the parts that the WHO would prefer you didn't know about until they pursue classifying e-cigs as tobacco products in Moscow in November.

Even for a tobacco control industry known for its many dubious and borderline corrupt practices, I find this arrogant, sinister and soviet-like harassment absolutely staggering.

Still, I suppose it proves that the ideas discussed were not just idle chit-chat, and that the WHO are deadly serious about doing their damnedest to eradicate e-cigs, eh? As such, I'd urge you to have a good read of the relevant paragraphs for a glimpse of what these unelected supranational bureaucrats have planned for later this year.

Friday 20 June 2014

Labour: The Nanny State Has "Run Its Course" But We'll Carry On Regardless

That Andy Burnham is a card, ain't he? A bona fide, oleaginous, proper politician, and no mistake.
Mr Burnham said a Labour government would act ‘unapologetically, firmly and decisively’ on children’s diet, smoking and access to cheap alcohol.
Same old nanny state Labour. But hold on, what's this?
But for adults, he said the ‘finger-wagging nanny state message does turn people off’. ‘You know “don’t do this, don’t do that”. That’s run its course,’ he said. 
‘We’re saying, where is it right for the government to act and where is it right to let people make their own choices?'
An enlightenment maybe? A recognition that the incessant social engineering we are bombarded with by the political class and their tax-funded sock puppets is reaching Soviet levels, and that it's about time it stopped? You know, the same thing we've heard before from Cameron?

Because it is always right for adults to make their own choices Andy, especially since we pay your wages. This is why the "finger-wagging nanny state message" is pissing us all off (and sending a lot of your voters to UKIP), d'you see?

Well no he doesn't, because cheap alcohol and smoking are things that millions of adults freely choose to indulge in on a daily basis. So why is Andy's finger still wagging then? Well, because having got that false sympathy out of the way, off the little gobshite goes again.
We’re saying it’s absolutely right for the state to intervene, and probably do so even more decisively than we did when we were in government, to protect children. 
‘Because children don’t control the situations they’re exposed to, the environment they’re exposed to or the food that’s put down to them. Therefore I do think the state has an absolutely clear moral and intellectual basis for saying “we will act to protect all children”.
Now, can you think of a single 'public health' nanny state policy or proposal in the past decade which didn't involve - as the Free Society put it yesterday - using children as "tools or agents of the state"? No. Neither can I.

A perfect example is contained in Cyril Chantler's report on plain packaging.
I have heard no coherent argument as to how this purported separation occurs in practice and in my opinion a ‘spillover effect’ is highly plausible whereby packages that are designed to appeal to a young adult, also, albeit inadvertently, appeal to children. It seems to me that children and non-smokers are not, and cannot be, quarantined from seeing tobacco packaging and in my view once they are exposed to this packaging, they are susceptible to its appeal whether it is intended to target them or not.
Under those ridiculous rules, there is no real life scenario where the state can imagine a complete absence of people under 25 (the definition of young person has been changed, didn't you get the memo?); and therefore no area of human activity which affords adults freedom of choice without Labour deciding that they are entitled to interfere.

However, Burnham put out a limp message that Labour don't like the nanny state; even that they have decided it has "run its course", while at the same time installing a regime whereby just about any abuse of liberty is justified by politicians apologetically smiling, shrugging their shoulders, and imploring us to think of the children.

Clever, huh?
[Andy Burnham] also revealed he was ‘looking at’ curbs on e-cigarette advertising
You know, those new devices which are freely chosen by adults and where there is no evidence whatsoever that children are being harmed in the process ... but where kids are nonetheless being employed as a crutch for crushing objections to regulation regardless.
‘It’s trying to deal with the nanny state charge that gets thrown all the time whenever you try to do something on health.’
I think you've just dealt with it, Andy. Just say that you are not part of a nanny state - perish the thought! - but are actually in favour of adult free choice ... while doing the complete opposite.

That's how lying politicians operate, sadly.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

And We're Supposed To Trust Cancer Research UK?

At a time when Cancer Research UK's most compelling argument against objections to plain packaging is to say that tobacco companies lied 50 years ago so therefore they can't be trusted, shall we look at how trustworthy Cancer Research UK are, eh?

In October 2012, CRUK press released this report accusing tobacco companies of lying about the level of illicit trade.
Rates of tobacco smuggling into the UK have fallen despite earlier claims from the tobacco industry that tax rises would prompt an increase in the illicit trade, official figures show. 
An estimated nine per cent of cigarettes consumed in the UK in 2010/11 were illicit, compared with 11 per cent in the previous year, according to HM Revenue & Customs. 
Robin Hewings, Cancer Research UK's tobacco policy manager, commented: "The tobacco industry claims that cigarette smuggling is 'booming', 'set to grow' and that the UK is becoming the European 'hotspot'." 
"Today's figures show the opposite. This is yet another instance of the tobacco industry making claims that turn out not to be true."
Deborah Arnott chipped in too.
She added: "Once again it is clear that there is no reason to believe tobacco industry propaganda about the relationship between illicit trade, tobacco taxes, plain packaging or other tobacco control measures."
As I mentioned at the time, they were all very aware that what they were saying was just ad hominem based on old data. One might even say they knew they were lying themselves ... unless I'm being harsh and they're merely stupid.
I think you can see the problem there, can't you? Yes, the figures are almost two years out of date. 
Since then, we have had two budgets. In 2011, duty was raised by 50p per pack and earlier this year, by a further 37p per pack
It looks like [the tobacco industry] were entirely correct, because the latest figures - you know, not two year old ones - show exactly that
THE trade in illicit cigarettes has exploded in the past year - with nearly 16.5 per cent of all fags now fake or counterfeit. 
Shock figures last night revealed the black market rise - and piled pressure on to ministers. The proportion of “illicit” cigarettes smoked in the UK has soared by almost a FIFTH over the last 12 months, up from 13.8 to 16.4 per cent. 
That looks like confirmation that the illicit market was 'set to grow' and that it is now 'booming', wouldn't you agree?
The senile Sydney stuff-up was especially cocky back then, of course.

Oh dear. Looks like the mathematical genius got his figures wrong again because UK tobacco tax rises were very definitely followed by rises in 'illegal' tobacco use in 2012. We know this because the government has now categorically admitted it.

From the BBC:
Tobacco smuggling: MPs criticise 'lack of action' 
The number of illicit cigarettes smoked in the UK rose by 49% to a billion in 2012
49%? That makes the figure of 16.5% a massive under-estimate, doesn't it? The only thing "untrue" - according to Cancer Research UK - about the tobacco industry's warnings is that they weren't alarming enough!

Naturally, politicians are very keen to blame anyone but themselves, they're hardly scrupulous types who will hold their hand up to making mistakes after all. So therefore they will never admit that smokers buying elsewhere in a free trade EU zone has anything whatsoever to do with sky high taxation imposed by them, but that's how this obscene anti-smoking circle jerk works.

Politicians lie; fake charities lie; anti-smoking lobbyists lie; and then they all say that the tobacco industry is dishonest.

So, since we now know the truth about 2012's illicit figures, and we know that CRUK were entirely wrong about them ... and the tobacco industry entirely correct, if anything, the tobacco control lobby should be retracting their 2012 comments and apologising (a million to one chance, I know).

And considering what we know about their previous baseless smears, why should anyone trust Cancer Research UK now?

Tuesday 17 June 2014

A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

While tobacco control in Australia desperately tortures statistics to pretend that their plain packaging experiment has been a game-changer - rather than the exercise in state-led mediocrity that it really is - a real expert begs to differ.

Judith Sloan, Honorary Professor for Economics at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, a proper number-cruncher - as opposed to professional tobacco haters posing as economists - has cast her practiced eye on the debate and called bullshit.
THE nannies are panicking. Why hasn’t the consumption of cigarettes collapsed after the introduction of mandatory plain packaging? How can we explain this one? Like kids who haven’t done their homework, the excuses are coming thick and fast. 
• We never expected the consumption of cigarettes to fall immediately. 
• The tobacco companies are making up the figures to suit their case. 
• A closer examination of the figures points to a fall in tobacco consumption this year. 
• Lower prices are driving up consumption; it has nothing to do with plain packaging 
I’m not sure Nanny Roxon and her band of fervent supporters had quite thought this one through, assuming there were any economists among them.
Please do go read her full reasoned debunking of the latest customary anti-smoking propaganda here, but if you're short on time this graphic tells the story of plain packaging failure better than a thousand words from either side.

Source: The Australian - as always, click to enlarge

Does any of the above scream urgent to you, as UK tobacco controllers claim plain packaging is? No, of course not. What a load of old pony.

Monday 16 June 2014

Mark Drakeford's Incompetence Exposed Yet Again

The bizarre and indefensible crusade by Labour's laughable Welsh Assembly Health Minister to dent the success of e-cigs in Wales took another blow this week as more of his carefully cherry-picked propaganda was blown out of the water.

You may remember that Mark Drakeford considers e-cigs to 'renormalise' smoking and wants them banned in public places (in itself showing the smoking ban up to be not about tackling passive smoke as his ilk always claim). However, his subsequent desperate propaganda offensive against the understandable backlash has turned out to be as inept and misinformed as the proposal itself.

His blathering performance in May tried to 'prove' that e-cigs were a gateway into smoking by quoting shonky research from France. It was just 24 hours later that real life evidence emerged showing an astonishing and unprecedented reduction in smoking amongst French youths thanks to e-cigs.

Unsurprisingly, his other Earth-shattering revelation to convince fellow politicians that e-cigs are "designed as a product for experimentation and initiation into cigarette use" (yes, those are his exact words) has now also been embarrassingly and ruthlessly exposed as cockwaffle.
"In the United States, scientists have found that nearly two-thirds of young people who have used e-cigarettes have never been established smokers"
So said Drakeford in May. Well, if this was a ploy to turn kids into smokers, it has failed spectacularly, according to the US state's Center for Disease Control.
Cigarette smoking among U.S. high school students at lowest level in 22 years

As the ACSH reports, this is a very significant decline.
We should also note that the teen smoking rates were quite stagnant from 2003’s 22 percent until 2011’s 18 percent: barely a decline at all. Now, all of a sudden, a 2.4 percent fall over 2 years, a decline not seen since 2001-2003.
Why, oh why, is the Welsh Health Minister so opposed to seeing the same dramatic decline in smoking prevalence amongst young people in Wales?

Just to recap, here's what Drakeford said about e-cig evidence last month.
"Do we want our successors to look back at the debates we are holding today and shake their heads at our inability to see where the evidence was leading"
Well, sunshine, the evidence is all dramatically leading in one very distinct direction, while you seem to lack any ability to notice it.

There's only one person that Welsh history will record as being a political clown when it comes to e-cigs, and that's Mark Drakeford.

Sunday 15 June 2014

"Absolutely Critical" Evaluation Of Plain Pack Law Shows More Fail

The sparse content here recently is as a result of Mrs P and I having been away for a short late week break. We took in a couple of places during our trip which could interest you so I might share tomorrow if time permits.

In the meantime, an impassioned plea just under a year ago may have belatedly been answered.
Show us the data on tobacco sales
By Simon Chapman 
This year, for the first time, data on tobacco tax receipts and projections was missing from the budget papers, writes Simon Chapman. This data is absolutely critical to the evaluation of Australia’s plain packaging law. 
When Treasurer Wayne Swan delivered this year's federal budget in May, my colleagues and I sifted through the online budget papers for the data on tobacco tax receipts and projections. But this year, for the first time, the information was missing. 
In the table on revenue, the data on excise receipts from tobacco is buried in a line labelled "other excisable products" and customs duties on tobacco imports under "excise-like goods". A footnote explains that "tobacco estimates are not separately reported due to taxpayer confidentiality". 
Tobacco customs and excise data are absolutely critical to the evaluation of Australia's plain pack law and its total program of making smoking history.
Presumably to Mr Chapman's delight, then, Down Under blog Catallaxy Files can indeed now show him the data.
Despite the fact that the last Swan budget neglected to include tobacco excise data the subsequent PEFO, MYEFO and 2014-15 Budget Papers did include that data. How lucky is that?
First – actual excise collection exceeds budgeted collection in each year that we have data. Then there is a massive spike in budgeted excise revenue after plain packaging is introduced. Clearly Treasury (and by implication the government) does not expect to see a significant decline in tobacco consumption.
Oh dear. So it looks like what Chapman suspected might be a cleverly-concealed smoking gun to prove the brilliance of the plain packs folly has turned out to be quite the opposite.

Far from the assumption that it was the dark forces of the tobacco industry attempting to hide evidence which shows plain packs to be a success, it's more believable that the treasury might have tried to hide data suggesting that they knew the policy to be useless all along, and even a means of sucking in more cash for the state. Not much up there says it's anything to do with health, that's for sure.

In which case, if Cameron really is blocking the stupidity in the UK as reported by the Mail today, perhaps the opinions of two-thirds of the country have finally filtered through.

If you haven't already, why not give him another nudge by clicking here and sending him a letter.

Friday 13 June 2014

So Paddy Says To Mick ...

And they say we can't tell jokes about the Irish?
Ireland to follow Australia's lead on plain cigarette packaging
Announcing the decision, Irish health minister James Reilly said the change would mark a significant step forward towards the goal of making the country smoke free by 2025.
So let's get this straight. A policy which has tanked in the only place it has ever been attempted will be a 'significant step' for a country which has endorsed every daft tobacco control industry trouser-stuffer but is still a global laughing stock.

Despite being 38th in shitness of 41 OECD nations on smoking prevalence, Ireland's government truly seems to believe that a fantasist wet dream posing as serious policy will dramatically turn around their fortunes in a smidgeon over a decade. Oh well, there's one born every minute.

In other news, James Reilly just returned a pair of water skis because he couldn't find a lake with a slope.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Chantler's Plain Packaging Report Can't Be Trusted, Says MP

There was a cracking exchange on plain packaging in the HoC on Monday.

Thurrock Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price rose during a health debate and one could have been forgiven for expecting the usual prohibitionist crowd-pleasing rhetoric.
I wish to turn my attention to another issue that was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech but which is on the Government’s legislative timetable for the coming year: the plan to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products.
What a pleasant surprise, then, that she continued thus.
I have to say to the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Norman Lamb that it is a very bad idea.
Not just dubious, unproven or contentious, you notice. Nope, "very bad".
I have worries that this tool is not effective and that its unintended consequences may bring about worse health outcomes than doing nothing at all. Sir Cyril Chantler is said to have examined that as part of his review, but I am not persuaded of the evidence. In particular, I believe that introducing standardised packaging will worsen the public health outcomes if unregulated illicit tobacco products replace the regulated ones. 
I commend The Sun for the exposé it ran last week in which an illicit producer from Indonesia explained just how toxic some of his products are and how standardised packaging will help him make money by reducing the costs of production.
She's right of course. But in the commons, there is always a tobacco control industry stooge around when ASH and their tax-sponging friends need one.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North, Labour) 
The Government’s own inquiry showed that there would not be an increase in the amount of illicit tobacco traded in this country. Does the hon. Lady not trust her own Ministers and the report they commissioned?
Because incontrovertible testimony from the counterfeiters themselves is not good enough for inveterate anti-smoker Cunningham. That kind of thing is not concrete enough, oh no. Only shonky reports packed with pre-conceived conclusions and 'evidence' rigged to suit his personal opinion will do.

Doyle-Price wasn't having any of his crap though.
I was quoting that report and challenging its conclusions, which are based on a flawed analysis of the market - that is what I have been trying to explain. No, I do not trust that report. It is superficial and it has been put together with a particular agenda. As I say, it will lead to unintended consequences which will be very bad for public health.
Hey, Alex and Cyril, your bluff has been called and raised. Bravo Jackie!

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Why Not Demand Less Taxi Regulation, Not More?

Yes, this is one of DP's occasional transport geekery posts, so look away now if it's not your bag.

Being in transport myself, I just couldn't let the recent palaver surrounding Uber pass without comment as I've found it extremely interesting in the past few months. My transport news sources have been mentioning this growing dispute for a while now, and it's come up in Transport for London email bulletins too, but with London Taxi drivers planning a hissy fit on Wednesday, the BBC - especially - has gone to town on the story this week.

I speak as someone who usually has some sympathy with black cabbies since a relative is one and I've written before about how they are hamstrung by regulations. My problem with their response to Uber, though, is that they are going about it in entirely the wrong way ... oh yeah, and being disingenuous to boot.

The whole story seems to be about a painful - but necessary and well overdue - readjustment of a failing market. The failure having been caused mostly by a) the black cab industry historically arguing for an uneven playing field, and b) by regulators indulging them before imposing additional regulations, both of which have conspired to ease Uber's entry into the market.

Black cab drivers are the only service in London to be able to be called a "taxi"; they are the only ones to be able to pick up fares from the street without a booking; only black cabs are allowed to carry advertising; minicab firms are not even allowed to advertise their own company in London except on the back window; black cabs can run vehicles for 15 years, minicabs only for 10; and only black cabs can carry a meter to calculate the fare.

All these privileges are enshrined in regulations which have been applauded by London Taxi drivers going back many decades. When minicabs as we know them first hit the streets in the 60s, they were unlicensed so the differentiation made sense. However in the 1990s - when minicabs began asking for a regulatory regime of their own to counteract perceived problems with safety of passengers - the taxi drivers' union were not keen and resisted because they knew it was the start of a long slippery slope which could result in, well, what is happening right now. Serious competition.

So it's incredibly rich to read this as an argument from a black taxi driver in a BBC article today.
From the comfort of his black cab, Lloyd Baldwin begs to differ. "We're not afraid of competition. We've faced competition from minicabs for 40 years." 
But in this case, Mr Baldwin believes the competition is not on a level playing field.
No, it's not. The competition has been handicapped over the years deliberately, with black taxis employing special pleading to demand regulators bow to their wishes. The competition has been stifled and held back while the market - that being what people want from a service - has long since shifted. With strict regulation of minicabs such as vehicle inspections, CRB checks, driver and operator licensing, and searchable online databases, there is no longer any safety angle for the black cab trade to cling to.

Not that they'll try, of course. An article in the Guardian reports an extraordinary - and incorrect - claim by the black cab trade.
Black cab and licensed taxi drivers in London claim Uber enables users to contact unlicensed drivers who haven't faced safety checks.
It isn't getting any sympathy from Guardian readers either, which is telling if you consider that they are usually the most welcoming of state regulations, but even they recognise that the game is up for a strange London anachronism propped up by out-of-date corporate protectionism.

This leaves black cab drivers with just two fig leaves to justify their plan to clog up London streets in protest tomorrow, and they don't make any sense either. In fact, they are so backward-thinking as to be laughable.
The issue at stake is whether Uber's use of the smartphone equates to a taximeter, a talismanic object for black cab drivers, which they feel only they have the right to use.
This is the meter that minicabs are not entitled to use because taxi drivers argued for years that they were the only ones with detailed knowledge of the capital.
Twenty years ago, he explains, when mobile phones were still uncommon objects, he invested three very tough years of his life learning to become a black-cab driver. He devoted long hours to learning The Knowledge, the fabled test of a driver's memory of London's sprawling streets
Twenty years ago, that was probably useful. But this is 2014, mobile phones are ubiquitous and we have GPS now. A tourist on his first ever visit to London can find his way around the city in a hire car, so it's a redundant skill. And if no knowledge is needed to find the quickest way through London's streets, there is no reason for meters to be the sole preserve of the black cab trade ... the customer can see the correct route on a mobile phone, calculate the fare for themselves, and even track it from a different location on the internet if they choose.

And this is my problem. If London Taxi drivers are truly not scared of competition and want to compete, instead of demanding further restrictions on their competitors, why not scream blue murder about the massive amount of regulation they are bound by and demand it be lessened? Or, as Crampton once put it.
It's like a bunch of folks on the scaffolds complaining that the other guy's noose isn't quite tight enough. Y'all might instead direct your attention to the hangman sometime and try helping each other cut those ropes.
A good start, perhaps, could be for black cabbies to insist that they get to choose their own vehicle instead of being restricted to a few approved suppliers where basic prices start at over £30k.

It will be a new experience for them after decades of banking on regulations for protected status, but it is surely better for all concerned than trying to stem the tide of progress by calling the unions in to demand bans and antiquated red tape to nobble their 21st century competitors.

Coincidentally, I'm up in London tomorrow for a trade association briefing about even more new regulations - the bane of our industry - being imposed by the government. The venue is only just over a mile from the tube station but usually costs about £8 in a black cab. I'd like to try comparing with an Uber taxi but seeing as the roads look likely to be gridlocked, I'll probably just walk it on this occasion.

Monday 9 June 2014

Drugs Are Only Cool If Sold By Criminals

Marijuana is so in fashion these days, but the mad mechanic is worried.
CONTEXT: In 2012, Washington State and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and Uruguay, beginning in 2014, will become the first country to legalize the sale and distribution of marijuana. The challenge facing policymakers and public health advocates is reducing the harms of an ineffective, costly, and discriminatory "war on drugs" while preventing another public health catastrophe similar to tobacco use, which kills 6 million people worldwide each year.
It seems even Stan regards the war on drugs as an utter failure. Drugs aren't bad, m'kay, except ...
FINDINGS: Since at least the 1970s, tobacco companies have been interested in marijuana and marijuana legalization as both a potential and a rival product. As public opinion shifted and governments began relaxing laws pertaining to marijuana criminalization, the tobacco companies modified their corporate planning strategies to prepare for future consumer demand. 
CONCLUSIONS: Policymakers and public health advocates must be aware that the tobacco industry or comparable multinational organizations (eg, food and beverage industries) are prepared to enter the marijuana market with the intention of increasing its already widespread use.
... except if they're made by businesses we don't like because they have lots of money already.

Why, any fule kno that drugs are only cool when they're produced and sold by criminals, don't they?

Friday 6 June 2014

Australia's Recipe For Failure

Just an aside to the news that plain packaging has led to an increase in tobacco consumption in Australia, I found this quite interesting.

Within a very good Storify presentation by ASH Wales on a conference they held about e-cigs yesterday, there was this quote from Deborah Arnott.
"If e-cigarettes were renormalising smoking, we would see an increase in smoking prevalence among the population. Smoking rates have actually continued to go down since the emergence of e-cigarettes."
Now, I could be picky and point out that she would have been more accurate to say "smoking rates have started to go down again after stalling since 2007 thanks to the emergence of e-cigarettes" but let's be generous and claim only that it's an unarguable fact that e-cigs are clearly not a threat to prevalence.

Compare that with Australia, then, where they consider pointless political posturing such as plain packaging as brilliant but where e-cig sellers are mercilessly hounded through the courts. The result being?
Eighteen months after the previous government’s laws came into force, new data, obtained by The Australian, shows that tobacco sales volumes increased by 59 million “sticks”, or individual cigarettes or their roll-your-own equivalents last year.
What blithering cob-webbed idiots must they have guiding their public health agenda down there, eh?

Thursday 5 June 2014

Plain Packaging Leads To RISE In Smoking Rates

Following on from yesterday's revelations in The Sun that criminal gangs are thrilled at the prospect of the extra profits they will be earning, any UK politician still in favour of plain packaging should be sent for immediate psychiatric evaluation after this from The Australian:
LABOR'S nanny state push to kill off the country’s addiction to cigarettes with plain packaging has backfired, with new sales figures showing tobacco consumption growing during the first full year of the new laws. 
Eighteen months after the previous government’s laws came into force, new data, obtained by The Australian, shows that tobacco sales volumes increased by 59 million “sticks”, or individual cigarettes or their roll-your-own equivalents last year.
Earth to the Westminster Bubble ... just quietly drop the idea and save yourself some embarrassment, eh?

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Yet Another "Myth" Confirmed As Reality By The Sun

The tobacco control industry's tactic of compiling lists of what they call 'myths' - but which everyone else call valid debating points - is turning out to be a great guide to how much lying they get up to incompetent they are.

The Smokefree Coalition's Myths and Realities of Smokefree England following the smoking ban is now a hilarious read, with almost all these so-called 'myths' since having turned out to be true, and now their myth-busting over plain packs looks to be heading in the same humiliating direction. 

We've had loads of fun here ridiculing myth #7 in their 'list' (really just a lobbying document) - no public health advocate can possibly now claim that plain packs are not already setting a precedent for other consumer products - but today saw the sad demise of myth #2 as well.
Myth#2: Tobacco smuggling will increase because plain packs are easily counterfeited 
FACT: Existing packs are no obstacle to counterfeiting. There is no evidence that plain packaging will lead to an increase in the illicit trade in tobacco, thereby reducing legal sales.Tobacco packs are already easily counterfeited which is why the industry is required to put covert markings on all tobacco packs to distinguish between authentic and counterfeit packs. Plain packs may not have tobacco brand logos and colours but they will have all the health warnings and other markings required on current packs – so they will be no easier to counterfeit
Considering tobacco controllers pretend to be the world's experts on everything from high economics, through package manufacture and onto global trade law, a Sun newspaper investigation published today (£) must come as a bit of an embarrassment to them.
Indonesian forger Faus Firdaus said his profits would soar when he no longer has to copy the complex packaging and embossing on popular makes like Marlboro and Regal. 
He even punched the air as he mocked PM David Cameron, cheering: "Plain packaging... I support the UK government!" 
Findaus said of the plain packaging move: "We will make more money. We can make it cheaper but sell for the same price. It's good for you, good for me." 
Another fake fag kingpin Djomaidi Oetomo told our undercover team he could design packets mimicking famous brands - but producing plain packaging would be cheaper. 
He wanted around £75 per case of 500 packets to produce Regal rip-offs. But that fell to £56.60 for plain packs. That would give him a staggering £214,800 more profit a year shipping in a single container a month. 
So we can now strike myth #2 off the Smokefree Coalition's list as not a myth but, instead, a cast-iron certainty. 

Not only will plain packaged cigarettes be easier to counterfeit, they will also be 25% cheaper for smugglers to buy; probably a bigger reduction in costs for counterfeiters to make; and will significantly increase profit margins for criminal gangs, thereby making the illicit trade even more attractive than sky high duty levels have already done. 

Any politician who still thinks plain packaging is worthwhile should ask themselves why on earth they think it clever to promote a policy of job creation and subsidies for criminal south east Asian gangs.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

The Pleasure Of Smoking, Vaping, Alcohol And Fast Food

A common 'public health' industry trick - as I'm sure you'll have noticed - is to emphasise only the negative aspects of whichever particular product they are paid to whinge about. Positives are always ignored entirely because to recognise them would often obliterate the case for regulations or restrictions.

Hence why this news hasn't gone down very well amongst the prohibitionist community in America (emphases mine).
(Reuters) - As U.S. health regulators consider what rules to impose on electronic cigarettes, in their tally of costs and benefits they have placed a value on the lost pleasure consumers may suffer if they used the products less or not at all.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says in a little-noticed document released alongside its proposals for regulations in April that the projected benefits of the new rules, which also apply to cigars, hookahs and other vapor products, should be cut by 70 percent to account for the deprivation consumers would suffer. 
That means if the agency puts a value of $100,000 on the longer and improved life that might be achieved by deterring someone from smoking, then it would cut that benefit assessment to $30,000 because of the pleasure they lost
In a paper published online this year in the journal Health Economics, [the FDA] argued that guilty pleasures like junk food and alcohol are so enjoyable the benefits of reducing their use through regulation should be discounted by up to 99 percent.
This is Kryptonite to the ban and denormalise brigade, since it destroys their long-constructed pretence that no-one actually enjoys what may be unhealthy for them. The historical way public health lobbyists have done this is to continually insist that everything you enjoy is addicting you, therefore there is no true enjoyment.

But here is the FDA actively recognising that there is a pleasure derived from smoking, vaping, drinking and fast food, and they've even put a percentage value on it.

Of course, it's only in prohibitionist circles where this is seen as something unusual. Economics tells us that even if professional prohibitionists gather up every conceivable fantasy 'cost' of any consumer product (many of which are not public costs at all) it still is often nowhere near the value we can put on the public's enjoyment as Timmy notes here with alcohol the example.
The value to the person purchasing the alcohol of purchasing the alcohol must be higher than the amount they spend on purchasing the alcohol. If it weren't, then they wouldn't purchase the alcohol now, would they?

Now yes, this might be diminished by the costs they also bear in cirrhosis, drunken fights and waking up to one of the Two Fat Slags on vomit stained pillows. And it would be right to take those costs into account as well. But as our first order estimate of the consumer benefit of alcohol our lower bound simply cannot be any lower than the amount that people are willing to spend on purchasing alcohol.

The BBC tells me that this number is £38 billion a year.
The UK alcohol market also enjoyed the biggest rise in value, with sales estimated at £38bn – up 15% since 1999.
That’s a fairly large number to put against that £2.7 billion a year cost to the NHS (however strangely calculated that was).
Nice to see, then, that the FDA are sticking to what happens in the real world - as opposed to the cloud cuckoo public health cabal one - and recognising that denying that consumer surplus exists is just a lame lobbying tactic.

The lame lobbiers, of course, are not at all happy.
Public health advocates are concerned about what will happen if agencies charged with protecting consumers also give considerable weight to the enjoyment people get from all kinds of things that have been a focus of regulation - from eating food containing trans fats to riding motorcycles without a helmet.
Well, what might happen - horror of horrors - is that governments may begin considering that the public choose to live the way they do for good reason, and that the public's loss of quiet enjoyment of life and the products we buy bloody well ought to be the prime consideration when weighing up restrictions and bans. Not the demands of a tiny minority of shrieking public health tax leeches.

Perhaps if British politicians were also to instruct their government agencies to take account of our curtailed enjoyment when they are sizing up potential legislation - instead of ignoring the public and binge-legislating regardless - they might not be so vehemently despised.

Just saying.

Sunday 1 June 2014

That BBC Plain Packaging Advert

One of the reasons we are coerced to pay for the BBC, at pain of hefty fines or (currently) imprisonment, is that the licence fee is its only revenue stream. It doesn't carry ads so Nanny Beeb's fingers are allowed to rifle our wallets with full backing of the clunking fist of government.

In return, we are promised that the BBC is fiercely independent, apolitical and scrupulously impartial. Imagine our surprise, then, on Thursday night to have been served up an hour long advert - far longer than the standard 30 seconds commercial channels derive income from - for plain packaging which was blatantly biased ... less than a week before the Queen's speech which Labour politicians are desperately hoping will include the policy.

We've seen some shit from the BBC on public health issues over the years (re-writing of an article on e-cigs overnight last week to add seven bells of prohibitionist toss was a particular doozy) but this tops it all.

Saving me the task, Snowdon has a comprehensive and accurate account here which I urge you to read if you haven't done so already. Of course, you can still watch the propaganda documentary yourself at this link for another 10 days if you're in the UK.

Incredibly, the first 5 minutes of the programme told us that:
"Smoking among 20 to 34 year olds has actually increased in the last few years"
Which suggests that the massive escalation of tobacco control industry activity in the past decade - as we fellow jewel robbers know very well - has been a disastrous failure.
"Everyone knows that smoking kills"
Yes, because as the programme-maker rightly says.
"Smokers can't fail to be aware of the health risks, they scream out from every packet"
So no need for plain packaging then, surely?

Yet the subsequent 55 minutes ignored all that and became, as Christopher Stevens in the Mail put it, "not a documentary but a polemic" and all in favour of ... plain packaging.

There's a reason for that, as Stevens also alluded to.
[Documentary veteran Peter Taylor] only knows one tune: The Evils Of Tobacco
Because, as he admits in his show, he's been playing this scratched record for 40 years now. How the BBC could not be aware that he would produce something so one-sided and contrary to their stated aims of fairness, impartiality and political independence is anyone's guess. Perhaps the BBC didn't give a stuff, I dunno.

However, they should very much care because Peter Taylor is one of the old school prohibitionists, the ones described so very well by George Ade in 1931 when America was finally waking up to the horror of alcohol prohibition.
The non-drinkers had been organising for fifty years and the drinkers had no organization whatsoever. They had been too busy drinking.
Taylor has been despising tobacco companies for nearly as long as I've been alive! While the rest of us have been enjoying life and having adventures, this man has dedicated himself to a particular sad hateful obsession. How can we blame him for taking advantage of the BBC's lax standards to produce a quite appalling piece of one-sided, timely political indoctrination on their mainstream highbrow channel?

After all, he makes it clear early on what his game is.
"Who finally wins the decisive battle over plain packaging has still to be decided"
This is true. The political debate is not yet over, especially considering those not consumed with hatred like Taylor are significantly opposed to plain packaging, despite the health lobby trying to ignore it. But Taylor seized his chance and used the BBC like a cheap whore to try to sway the "decisive battle" in favour of his corrupt tobacco control industry friends.

He was recently described as “honest, scrupulously fair and deeply insightful” but there was no sign of that in Thursday's offering, just snidey editing and policy-led advocacy which goes against everything the BBC claims to care about.

Perhaps someone should mention it to them.