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Health Secretary shows dash of common sense shock!

By Editor
December 20th, 2011 at 10:00 am | Comments Off on Health Secretary shows dash of common sense shock! | Posted in health, Nannying, Nudge Dredd

Common sense from Lib Dem Members… now common sense from the Health Secretary… What is the world coming to? A beady-eyed reader of the Independent On Sunday brings us word that the Health Secretary has come out loud and proud stating that minimum pricing on alcohol  is not the answer. Some of you will have noticed last week that a group of leading doctors and academics were publicly calling  for the Government to bring in a minimum price on our drinks. But this has apparently failed to impress Mr Lansley!

Talking about the impact of minimum pricing, Lansley said whilst higher prices for drink can reduce consumption “It is more likely to have a bigger proportionate impact on responsible drinkers who happen to be low-income households“. Yes sir. Exactly right. Why penalise the responsible hard-up drinkers for the actions of the irresponsible minority. But wait.. there’s more……He also is quoted as saying….

Are we really saying that because a bottle of vodka isn’t £8 but £12.50 they are not going to preload with a bottle of vodka for a night out when they are in clubs where they pay £5 for a drink? That is absurd. They are still going to do this binge drinking because that is a behaviour issue. We have got to do much more to focus on what this means.

Of course this does not per se mean that the Coalition has finally embraced it’s much-flaunted “liberal-self”. We do still await next years “alcohol strategy” – though quite what any Government thinks it is doing having an “alcohol strategy” is beyond us.

And who knows what the academics will come up with next to justify their tax-funded jobs.. I guess we can depend on them not to give up that easily.

After all, it was way back in 2003 that the British Medical Association first proposed levying a 17.5 per cent fat tax on high-fat foods. It was rejected back then on the grounds that the population would reject a ‘nanny state’. (Those were the days) . And whilst Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson has gone on the record recently saying that a fat tax is “not likely”  – the sheer pressure being applied by health lobby groups means that there remains the distinct possibility that tighter restrictions on advertising and promotion of food and drink will be introduced.

But that is for another day. Today we applaud the Health Secretary for NOT automatically reaching for the legislative route just because the academics demand it – recognising the complexity of the issues involved and, perhaps, the danger of unintended consequences of Government intervention.

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What hope is there for liberty if truth becomes a plaything of militant lobbyists?

By Guest
November 29th, 2011 at 10:26 am | 4 Comments | Posted in Government, health, Spin

Tobacco was unfortunately very much in the news again recently with the BMA launching a campaign to ban smoking in cars probably as a prelude to what will then seem a more reasonable move to get it banned when children are present. I want to focus here not on the ban but on the methods being used by its advocates.

On Radio 4s Today programme Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA was questioned about her evidence:

Nathanson: Well, the evidence is, in fact, that the levels of toxins that can build up in a car do reach 23 times the levels in a smoky bar…

Interviewer: And that is—sorry to interrupt you—but that is peer-reviewed?

Nathanson: Yes, absolutely.

Interviewer: Everyone in the scientific community accepts that it’s true?

Nathanson: Absolutely.

The BMA has since issued a major correction and apology with the explanation that the mistake was caused by human error.  These things happen but as Head of Science and Ethics, Nathanson has a duty to check. I find her glib assertions regarding peer review and scientific consensus indefensible. It is hard to see how they could be made in error.

The same day over on Radio 5, a phone in caller queried the general evidence base for passive smoke harm and Deborah Arnott of ASH countered by emphasizing claims that heart attacks have been reduced by smoking bans:

“There’s very good evidence supported by the BMA, the Royal College of Physicians, the World Health Organisation, the Standing Committee on Tobacco & Health which reported to the Department of Health. The Coalition Government very recently conducted a review of smokefree legislation, and what we’ve seen is a significant decline in heart attacks following the implementation of the legislation. The evidence is incontrovertible.”

In response to criticism that a fall in heart attacks in England post the 2006 Health Act was part of an existing trend, she said:

“Yes, but the decline is greater than trend. And that’s in a peer-reviewed article published in a very reputable journal, and it’s been found not just in England, Scotland, but everywhere that smokefree legislation in public places has been brought in.”

The statistics on heart attack hospital admissions in the UK are freely available to all on line. Here is a link to the NHS data for Scotland.

Using the measure preferred by the tobacco control industry and the hospital admissions data from NHS statisticians (table AC5) we can calculate emergency admissions for heart attacks as follows:

12 months pre ban:             7905
0-12 months post ban:        7250        (-8.29%)
12-24 months post ban:      8913        (+12.75%)
24-36 months post ban:      7707        (-2.50%)

() = % change from pre ban baseline

The word Arnott used was incontrovertible, the claim is a 17% reduction and the intervention was presented by some supporters as certain to have an immediate major impact on public health. Taking all that into account we should see a consistent, trend independent effect in the public record but whichever table or measure we use it is impossible to objectively claim that such an effect exists.

I value sober analysis of NHS statistics more than I do articles authored by tobacco control activists, peer reviewed or otherwise. I am not alone in this view and it is unlikely that Arnott is unaware of the serious credibility issues facing all the studies that support her claim or indeed of the existence of other work that contradicts it. The evidence is very far from incontrovertible.

Arnott is a skilled professional propagandist who is all too aware that, whatever the actual truth; provided that she sounds convincing her version will be believed by enough otherwise ill-informed people to achieve her objective. An article here gives some insight into her personality and the nature of her campaign.

Arnott is correct in saying that there has been a peer reviewed publication in the BMJ that supports her claim.  It claims a 2.4% decrease in heart attacks due to the ban but fails to adequately explain how the result was arrived at. This approach is sadly increasingly common in medical journals. Bearing in mind Arnott’s comment on trends, it is notable that, according to the NHS, the overall decline in heart attacks for the 12 months post ban was 4.26% compared to a 5.19% decline 2 years before the ban. The post ban decline was in fact neither large nor significant. The BMJ paper was produced by a team led by Anna Gilmore.

Arnott is also correct in saying that there has been a review of the 2006 Health Act. It was written by Linda Bauld.

The authorship of both these papers throws up some very searching questions about ethics at the Department of Health. Surely in a society that allegedly values honesty and transparency we have a right to expect government to review policy and measure its efficacy using the most qualified, objective and unimpeachable resources available. Why then did the DH directly commission two not especially qualified people both of whom have a notable history of anti-tobacco activism? The results were hardly likely to be seen as either credible or objective.

ASH is largely funded by the Department of Health and appears to be in firm control of the government’s agenda.

How can we possibly have a free and liberal society if we allow the truth to become the property of pressure groups directly funded by government departments?  The principles at stake here radiate way beyond tobacco. We urgently need to reform the charity sector and I would suggest also the Department of Health.

Thanks to Chris Snowdon and Frank Davis for giving their time to transcribe the radio interviews.

Written by Chris Oakley.

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Australia’s new plain packaging law for cigarettes may have got Andrew Lansley off the hook

By Editor
November 21st, 2011 at 8:48 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in freedom, Government, health, Nannying, Nudge Dredd


HAT TIP : Mark Littlewood (formerly of this parish) has posted an interesting article over on the Daily Mail today. It concerns tobacco plain packaging – but considers it from an angle we’ve not seen elsewhere. In it he suggests that the Australian government may have got Andrew Lansley at the Department of Health off the hook. How ?

“Well, he is a Cabinet minister in a government which claims to support deregulation….Fortunately, the Health Secretary does not need to marshal a whole series of arguments to rebut the case for plain packaging of tobacco (which would, in any event, be quite hard to do – as it is difficult to rebut a case based on no credible evidence whatsoever). He can cancel his promised consultation on the subject (originally anticipated to be launched in the next few weeks), thereby saving everybody a lot of time and effort. He can then sit back and wait for a couple of years and see what independent evidence suggests the impact to be in Australia, if the legal challenge from tobacco companies fails to reverse this intrusion into free expression.”

Click on the link above to read the whole article. It’s an interesting thought. Just how committed is this government to deregulation?

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Health Experts – “pathetic and stupid”

By Angela Harbutt
October 14th, 2011 at 7:00 am | 4 Comments | Posted in health

Yep I know what you are thinking – why is Angela stating the bleeding obvious. Actually “pathetic and stupid” is how “health expert” Professor Philip James, from the delightfully named “International Association for the Study of Obesity” described the government’s health strategy, announced yesterday. Prof James went on to say that the junk food industry “manipulated” individuals into consuming their products and that was why legislation was needed.

Hmmm would the “International Association for the Study of Obesity” be the same group that has been accused of taking millions of pounds from drug companies who make …..oh….. anti-obesity drugs. You were saying something about industry and “manipulating” Professor James? I understand they refuted that allegation. But why is it, to this very day, the IASO does not publish full and frank details of its sources of funding on its own website? I will allow you to decide.

I am a bit tired of these so-called experts scaremongering their way from one “pandemic” to the next, whilst trousering cash behind the scenes from vested interests (both governmental and private). (Am I thinking of ASH and big pharma here too?)

So yesterday’s announcement is a win. “Personal Responsibility” seems to be at the heart of the government strategy to “tackle obesity” – how refreshing.

Well done Mr Lansley…

When asked about why the government was not more keen on legislation, he said by working in partnership, more could be achieved faster. Yep he is almost certainly right – and no “unintended consequences” (such as a fat tax driving fatties to keep their much-loved high cal food but spend even less on healthier options).

Interestingly he also said that officials would continue to monitor the international evidence where countries were trying tougher legislation. Excellent. Thoroughly sensible.

So on that basis I assume that the government will also abandon its costly and unnecessary consultation into the plain packaging of tobacco products? Surely as with obesity – we can simply sit back and watch what  happens once Australia’s plain packaging legislation becomes law and on  the basis of the evidence – rather than “big health” groups pharmaceutical funded spurious modelling – conclude whether it works or not and act accordingly?

(picture courtesy of

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Fat taxes are not just nannying – they don’t work.

By Angela Harbutt
October 11th, 2011 at 11:24 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in health


Here is a very interesting article by Patrick Basham and John Luic, providing a very thoughtful and well-researched piece arguing why fat taxes don’t work. Their conclusion, surprise surprise is that the answer is a simple economic one – demand for food tends to be largely insensitive to price and that there is considerable research on food prices that has demonstrated this inelasticity…

“The latest economic research strongly suggests that a fat tax may simply prove to be a futile instrument in influencing the behaviour and habits of the overweight and the obese. Those consumers ‘addicted’ (to use the obesity crusaders’ term) to unhealthy food will not be dissuaded from their eating habits and patterns by a tax. Those consumers who strongly prefer ‘unhealthy’ foods – those we term dietary ‘risk takers’ – continue to eat and drink according to their individual preferences until such time as it becomes prohibitively expensive to do so..”

It’s a must read. Here’s hoping that someone puts a copy into David Cameron’s in-tray.