Friday, 25 May 2018

In praise of non-communicable diseases

The WHO has been holding yet another conference this week. Apparently there's an epidemic going on. No, not that outbreak of Ebola in Africa, but an epidemic of 'non-communicable diseases' (NCDs) and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he is going to put a stop to it.

Tedros hasn't outlined what people will die of when non-communicable diseases are wiped out, but then it's never going to happen. The campaign against NCDs will be endless, thereby giving the 'public health' lobby endless opportunities to regulate people's lifestyles.

I have written about this for Spectator Health. Do have a read.


In the article, I show a few tweets from the conference in which western do-gooders fret about first world problems in third world countries. The tweet below was sent too late for me to include it, but it deserves a mention. Affluent people 'succumbing' to McDonalds in Africa. The horror!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

E-cigarettes to be re-classified as tobacco?

In March, a question was asked of the European Commission which suggested that the World Customs Organisation (WCO) was looking to reclassify e-cigarettes as tobacco products:

In November 2016 the Member States unanimously decided to classify e-liquids as Chemical Products in the Harmonised System of tariff nomenclature (HS).

The World Customs Organisation Review Sub-Committee (WCO RSC) has recently started to discuss potential changes to the HS for implementation in 2022 (HS 2022). Among the options discussed was classification under the heading ‘Tobacco and manufactured tobacco substitutes’.

The main criterion for customs classification is consideration of the physical characteristics of the product concerned.

1. Why does the Commission intend to support the WCO RSC proposal to reclassify e-liquids under the Tobacco chapter?

2. How does it justify the classification of e-liquids not containing any tobacco as tobacco products?

I can find no record of an answer but on 16th May the World Customs Organisation published a document in which it discusses shifting e-cigarettes and vape fluid out of the chemicals category (Chapter 38) and into the tobacco category (Chapter 24). The document isn't freely available online yet, although it has been published on the WCO's member website and has been distributed by the International Chamber of Commerce to its members. I quote the most relevant sections below.

It seems that the WCO has been prompted by the vape-hating Australian government and the World Health Organisation. US health agencies already classify e-cigarettes as tobacco for propaganda purposes and the EU implicitly does the same by regulating them under the Tobacco Products Directive. But they are not defined as such for the purposes of international trade and if the World Customs Organisation changed the classification, it would have several far-reaching repercussions.

Firstly, some countries use the WCO's classification as the legal basis for applying excise on tobacco products. In all Gulf Cooperation Council states, for example, goods in Chapter 24 are subject to a 100 per cent selective (excise) tax in addition to their import tariff.

Secondly, Chapter 24 is normally left out of trade deals, because the 'public health' lobby has successfully lobbied for a tobacco carve out. This means no cuts to tariffs on tobacco and, if e-cigarettes are included, it will mean no cuts to tariffs on vape products - and no protection from such tariffs in future trade deals.

Thirdly, Chapter 24 is excluded from investor protection under most new trade deals. So if you want to start an e-cigarette business in Spain, for example, don't expect any protection when the government suddenly moves the goal posts, cracks down on vaping, confiscates your stock and forces your shop to close.

Finally, it will send a negative message to governments about e-cigarettes. There is already more than enough orchestrated confusion about the health effects of vaping without a major international organisation lumping them in with cigarettes.

The current system works fine. Technically, e-cigarette products are classified in Chapter 38 as:

3824.90: 'chemical products and preparations of the chemical or allied industries (including those consisting of mixtures of natural products), not elsewhere specified or included'.

The EU has two further categories to make it more specific:

3824.99.5600: 'Cartridges and refills, filled, for electronic cigarettes; preparations for use in cartridges and refills for electronic cigarettes … containing products of subheading 2939791000'

3824.99.5700: 'Cartridges and refills, filled, for electronic cigarettes; preparations for use in cartridges and refills for electronic cigarettes'.

The USA uses the following:

3824.99.92.80: 'Mixtures of a kind containing nicotine used in personal electric or electronic vaporizing devices.'

Last May, Australia proposed that the WCO create a new category (24.04) in Chapter 24 for 'nicotine products for human consumption, not containing tobacco but containing nicotine.' The Aussie government admitted that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products but said that 'they are closely related to tobacco in that they are used as substitutes for tobacco products'(!).

The WCO Secretariat seems to be sympathetic to this proposal. It appears to wrongly believe that e-cigarettes were developed by the tobacco industry and wants to put all 'new products developed by the tobacco industry as an alternative to traditional cigarettes' in the tobacco category, including those that don't contain tobacco and even those that don't contain nicotine.

Last week's document includes a letter from the WHO, thanking the WCO for the invitation to comment and supporting the reclassification. It also includes a recommendation from the Mali government to put heat-not-burn products in the tobacco category and keep vape products in the chemical chapter under two categories (one for those that contain nicotine and one for those that do not).

Moving heat-not-burn into Chapter 24 would not be great from a harm reduction perspective but at least it follows some kind of logic. Moving vape products into Chapter 24 follows no logic at all. And yet it seems that the WCO is minded to shift all vape products into the tobacco category and - bizarrely - move heat-not-burn products out of the tobacco category. Moreover, it proposes moving nicotine replacement products into the tobacco category.


This is a seemingly boring, technical matter but it could have profound implications for vapers in the years ahead. I'm sure the pharmaceutical industry will be lobbying the national customs administrations like crazy between now and 11th June when the WCO's Review Sub-Committee will meet to take this further. Vapers and the e-cigarette industry should do likewise.

We tried to warn you (part 94)

From Australia...

Those lollies and chocolates invitingly on display at the supermarket checkout are entirely strategic.

Junk food has little to recommend it to the smarter parts of our brains, but to our impulsive side, taste is all that matters. We might strategically avoid the confectionary [sic] aisle, but we all have to pass through the checkout where our impulses can be overwhelmed by the lure of the sugar fix.

Decision psychology researcher Dr Stefan Bode says the checkout trick is just one of a multitude of “environmental cues” that food companies use to market their products, from packaging to lifestyle messages and popular culture.

But how alluring would that chocolate be if the packaging was slapped with a picture of decaying teeth or a diseased heart?

 I think you can guess where this is going.

New research by the University of Melbourne and Cancer Council Victoria, published in both NeuroImage: Clinical, and Appetite, suggests that just like warnings on cigarette packaging, when it comes to junk food - the more graphic and negative the message the better.

Here's one of the food labels under consideration:

We libertarians tried to warn nonsmokers that this would happen, but we were treated like Cassandra as usual. And it will happen somewhere sooner or later once a public health minister is persuaded that he or she will look "bold" and "brave" and will get a trinket from the WHO. You know it's true.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Action on Sugar's latest demands

Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health - as Action on Sugar is now known - is a microscopic pressure group that basically consists of Graham 'Mad Dog' MacGregor and a couple of nutritionists. In 2016, they described the government's childhood obesity plan as 'pathetic' which was rather ungrateful given that the government had capitulated to many of their loony demands. Let's cast our minds back for a moment...

Action on Sugar's first manifesto, published in 2014, demanded a sugar reduction programme which is now underway, albeit with an unrealistic 20 per cent target rather than the totally insane target of 40 per cent suggested by MacGregor et al.

They also demanded a fat reduction target of 15 per cent (a strange request from an organisation that is concerned about sugar and salt, but never mind). Public Health England have confirmed that this will be going ahead, although no figure has been set yet. In addition, PHE have gone above and beyond Action on Sugar's demands by setting a 20 per cent target for calorie reduction, because the world's gone mad.

Their manifesto told the government to 'discourage drinking of soft drinks by planning to introduce a sugar tax'. They suggested a 20p per litre tax. The so-called Conservatives introduced a 24p per litre tax last month.

Oh, and they also called for portion size reduction which is also happening thanks to the sugar reduction programme.

Not a bad return on a few years of campaigning by a lobby group that could fit in a phone-box. But it was nowhere near enough for MacGregor, who responded in his usual batshit way:

Professor MacGregor, an expert in cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University, said: “The report is missing a key element of obesity: fat. This is meant to be a plan for reducing obesity and all it does is talk about sugar."

Yesterday, as if to prove that fanatics can never be appeased, Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health returned with a new set of demands. The way things are going, the Tories will have adopted them all by the end of the year so pay attention. Their new policy proposals include...

1. A '50% reduction in sugar content across all products'!

2. 'Incremental reformulation' to bring per capita salt intake below six grams per day. (It is currently 8 grams a day so this is pie in the sky stuff).

3. Slowly reduce the sugar threshold at which soft drinks are taxed and 'slowly escalate' the size of the tax. (MacGregor makes no secret of his desire to make a can of Coke cost the same as a pack of cigarettes.)

4. A tax on confectionery.

5. A total ban on HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) food advertising and a total ban on HFSS price discounts.

They also say that reformulation must ensure that 'sugar, and sweetness, are reduced across the board'. It's not just about sugar (or fat, or salt) for these puritans. As I discovered when I attended the Sugar Summit, they want to rid humanity of its taste for sweetness. 'To encourage a gradual lower preference for sweetness across the population over time,' says the manifesto, 'the artificial sweeteners used to replace sugar in drinks should not match the same level of sweetness.'

These people are as mad as Nero and no less despotic. Some of the other gems from the manifesto include the following (these are direct quotes):

Where companies are replacing salt with sodium alternatives, the overall saltiness should still be reduced.

Sugar-free drinks (including use of sugar free syrups) should be the default option, in all settings including restaurants and cafes.

Chefs and caterers should receive additional training in nutrition and the harmful effects of food high in fat, salt and sugar, and the benefits of increasing consumption of vegetables .

Cigarette advertising has been banned in the UK for many years because it causes cancer and cardiovascular disease, yet HFSS foods and drinks, which are now a bigger cause of death and disability, can be advertised without strong restrictions to vulnerable children, who have no understanding of the consequences of consuming these products.

Free refills on drinks in out-of-home sector should only be available for water.

The out-of-home, catering and the public sector providing food must commit to supporting people to eat two portions of vegetables at lunchtime at no extra charge.

This is truly bonkers stuff. It shows no understanding of how food manufacturing and retailing works and has no consideration for the basic freedom of people to eat what they want to eat. This organisation should a national laughing stock and yet they can stake a claim to be the most effective pressure group in the country.

And yet, no matter how many times the government caves into them, they will shout and scream and hurl abuse. They cannot possibly be appeased so why does the government try?

Helen Dale's review of Killjoys

I'm grateful to Helen Dale for writing a long and thoughtful review of my book Killjoys which she combined with the formidable David Leyonhelm's book Freedom's Salesman. Do have a read of it. Part one is here and part two is here.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Sugar Reduction Year One

Public Health England has just released its first report looking at the results of its madcap sugar reduction scheme. The idea is to reduce sugar content in most foods by 20 per cent by 2020. The first target was a five per cent reduction by 2017 but, as today's report shows, this has not happened.

It was never likely to happen. Instead, there has been a two per cent reduction across the eight categories that PHE is most interested in: biscuits, breakfast cereals, chocolate confectionery, ice cream/lollies, puddings, sweet spreads & sauces, sweet confectionery and yoghurts.

The sugar reduction scheme was introduced on the pretext of tackling the non-existent childhood obesity epidemic, but although PHE initially said they would be only targeting children's foods, they soon admitted that they would be targeting everything because, as they say in today's report...

As children eat a wide range of foods and not just those that are manufactured for or marketed to children, all foods in each category are included.

There was no reduction in sugar content for three of the eight categories and, in some cases, sugar reduction has been accompanied by calorie increases (see below). Great success!

The juicy stuff is tucked away in Appendix 4 of the report. That's where you can read the case studies sent in by the food companies. If you think your favourite snack has started to taste a bit funny, this is where you can find out what's been done to it in the name of 'public health'.

Similarly, if you suspect that your chocolate bar has been shrinking, head over to the appendix and find out. As I have said repeatedly, shrinkflation is all part of the Public Health England plan. Once they realised that you can't just take sugar our of chocolate and hope nobody notices, they actively encouraged the food industry to reduce portion sizes.

Here are some of the companies boasting about their miniaturisation work...

Shrinkflation has been variously blamed on Brexit, 'austerity' and the rising cost of raw ingredients. In fact, the price of sugar and cocoa have both fallen sharply since the referendum - the import sugar price reached a record low last year. The ONS noted that these prices had dropped when it looked at shrinkflation last year. It also noted that whilst shrinkflation can affect any product, sugary products seemed to be particularly heavily affected. It did not, alas, pick up on Public Health England's role in this.

Nor did the consumer organisation Which? realise that it was government policy to reduce product size when it complained two months ago about this apparent rip off:

Consumer group Which? accused manufacturers and supermarkets of misleading customers because they never announce the cut in pack sizes. 

Ratula Chakraborty, a senior lecturer in business management at the University of East Anglia, said watchdogs such as the Competition and Markets Authority should require firms to give customers clear information when sizes are reduced.

‘Regulatory intervention is needed to tackle shrinkflation,’ she said. ‘The CMA should require retailers to inform consumers when product sizes [are reduced] so they are not misled by these sneaky changes.’

A year earlier, the financial journalist Andreas Whittam Smith complained that reducing portion sizes without telling customers was a form of fraud:

There have been reports for some time that manufacturers of such household items as sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate and confectionery have been reducing the size of their products without making corresponding cuts in their prices. I say reports because this activity cannot easily be detected by the naked eye. Somebody has to tell us poor consumers that this shrinkage is going on because we cannot see it for ourselves. That is the nature of the fraud.

It is a fraud, isn’t it? If the manufacturer of, say, your favourite jar of strawberry jam raised the price, you would most likely notice and then make a rational decision whether to pay up or do without the jam. But if instead the manufacturer reduces the quantity of jam and maintains the price, you probably won’t be the least bit aware of what is going on – unless you study the small print on the label. In short, you have been had.

Indeed it is a form of fraud; a state-sanctioned fraud. The whole point of the 'health by stealth' approach is to not tell consumers what's going on. It would be amusing if, as Chakraborty suggested,  the government introduced a 'regulatory intervention' to deal with a problem that is being fuelled by government policy. 

Food companies need little incentive to shrink their products while keeping the price the same (if you look at Nestlé and Mars in the list above you'll see that they were frantically shrinking their products before the sugar reduction plan officially began - and before Brexit). But the government is now encouraging them to do it. Indeed, it is effectively compelling them to do it because that is the only realistic way of cutting sugar content in chocolate, confectionery and biscuits, which are the main sources of sugar (see below).

So that's two per cent down, eighteen per cent to go - and they've only got two years to do it. This bonkers idea needs to be knocked on the head before it does any more damage.

I put out a comment on this for the IEA earlier today:

“Public Health England issued their Soviet-style targets with no understanding of how food is made or what consumers want. A five per cent reduction in one year was always unrealistic because it takes longer than that to develop products, test them and create the manufacturing infrastructure. A 20 per cent reduction is unrealistic under any timeframe and leaves the manufacturers of many products with only one option: reduce the size of the product. We have started to see the rip-off of shrinkflation with chocolate bars and we will see much more of it in the years ahead.

Why is this quango systematically degrading the food supply? Consumers didn’t ask for it, the electorate didn’t vote for it and, when offered an artificially sweetened option, shoppers don’t buy it.”

"Strong and compelling evidence" that plain packaging failed

The UK's 'public health' racket is upset that the Tobacco Manufacturers Association has spotted that smoking rates have been rising since plain packaging was introduced. Awkwardly, the figures come from an unimpeachable 'public health' source curated by their own activists. At the very least, they show that the smoking rate has been flat-lining since plain packaging became mandatory and the Tobacco Products Directive came into full effect.

ASH's response has been predictably pathetic and can be summarised as 'muh, Big Tobacco'...

Governments need to apply the rule of thumb known as the ‘scream test’, if the industry is campaigning so hard to prevent it, clearly standardised ‘plain’ packaging does work, otherwise Big Tobacco wouldn’t care.

Because most industries would just love it if the government banned them from using their own logos and trademarks to appease a bunch of ignorant fanatics, wouldn't they? How dare the Tobacco Manufacturers Association assess public policy on the basis of real world outcomes?

When it comes to the evidence that the policy has been ineffective, the report JTI commissioned from Europe Economics ignores the fact that it was always known that plain standardised packaging would have the biggest impact on discouraging young people from taking up smoking rather than in helping addicted adult smokers quit. This is a much smaller group than existing adult smokers, so any such effect will be small, particularly in the early years.

In the first year or two of implementation most young people at the age of initiation will have been exposed throughout their life to the colourfully branded packaging as it was prior to the introduction of standardised plain packs. As with the advertising ban, it is in future years when young people grow up never having seen such packaging that we expect it to have greatest impact.

This effect will be cumulative as young people grow up into adulthood in cohorts with lower smoking rates, and older smokers die off. The Europe Economics report only includes data up to January 2018 so it simply cannot capture any of this.

So the story now is that we shouldn't have expected to see any effect on the smoking rates for years. It's a long term process and it would be naive to assume that there would be an immediate impact.

Strangely, that wasn't the story in 2014 when ASH described a bog standard decline in Australia's smoking rate as 'strong and compelling evidence' for plain packaging...

Huge drop in Australian smoking rates attributed to standardised packs

New figures released by the Australian government have shown adult smoking rates have fallen by a massive 15%. Before the measure was introduced in December 2012, daily smoking prevalence stood at 15.1% and has now fallen to 12.8%.

Standardised packaging is the only new policy intervention over this time period and is therefore the most likely reason for the significant fall in smoking prevalence. The survey was conducted before the Government’s major hike in tobacco tax of 12.5% in December 2013.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH said:

“The UK government is currently consulting on standardised packaging before deciding whether to proceed and has asked for new and emerging evidence. Well here it is and it demonstrates a massive decline in smoking prevalence in Australia following introduction of standardised packaging. This is exactly the strong and convincing evidence the tobacco industry said was needed.

This press release was characteristically dishonest. Although ASH claimed that 'Before the measure was introduced in December 2012, daily smoking prevalence stood at 15.1%', that figure actually comes from 2010, more than two years before plain packaging took effect. There is no way of nothing whether the smoking rate went up, down or stayed the same after December 2012 because the Aussies only measure national smoking prevalence every three years. What we do know, however, is that between 2013 and 2016 - the first full period under plain packaging - the smoking rate was flat.

Nevertheless, it is clear that ASH believed that plain packaging could and should be judged on the basis of what happened to the smoking rate in the early months. They expected it to have an immediate effect and they (falsely) claimed that it did.

Fortunately, the UK has much more detailed, monthly data so we can see that there has been no immediate drop in this country. On the contrary, the long-term decline has stopped and rates have started rising somewhat. Using the same criteria as ASH used a few years ago, but with much better data, we find 'strong and compelling evidence' that plain packaging not only fails but backfires.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.