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Anti-prohibition news from over the world

Collected live from our allies' blogs.
Note: All opinions expressed below are those of the authors only, not necessarily TICAP's.

The lockdown debate with Toby Young

Published on 2021-02-26 13:00:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

I had an hour long debate about lockdown policy with Toby Young on TalkRadio yesterday. You can watch the whole thing below. Apologies for the sound quality a times. Skype didn't seem to work as well Zoom for me in this.

Much of what was discussed has appeared in more detail on this blog before - and also on the Quillette article that started all of this. I expected a disproportionate number of smileys in the online audience so I started off with the basics. SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that spreads from human to human. If humans don't interact with others, it can't spread. The claim that lockdowns don't reduce the number of infections therefore requires extraordinary evidence.

Full article

Zero tolerance for Zero Covid

Published on 2021-02-24 17:48:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Years ago I debated Gabriel Scally on the issue of plain packaging. He was wrong then and he's wrong now. He thinks the UK should pursue 'Zero Covid'. I explain why I disagree in this New Statesman article

There is a belief among some people that the first lockdown could have achieved total suppression of the virus if it had only been kept in place a little longer. This is delusional. Lockdowns do not have a universal definition, but mine is the period between pubs being closed and pubs being open (along with the rest of the hospitality industry and it no longer being illegal to meet friends and family indoors). By this measure, the first lockdown in England lasted three and a half agonising months. Throughout this period, the case rate fell, but with diminishing returns. We never really got below 500 positive tests a day (and you can double that number because half the infections were not reported). The lowest number of total infections in England estimated by the Office for National Statistics was 14,000 on 9 July. 

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The Experts are No Experts

Published on 2021-02-23 17:26:35.
Website: Frank Davis

Will they win the War on Smoking? Will we all stop smoking? Will tobacco become a distant memory? I doubt it. Is there anything else they’ve ever managed to stamp out? Cocaine? Cannabis? Opium? Alcohol? Nope. Of course political and … Continue reading →

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Nicotine pouches

Published on 2021-02-23 11:00:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

The Observer has noticed nicotine pouches and it isn't happy. 

Flashing an ice-white smile for her 50,000 followers on TikTok, a fresh-faced young woman pops a flavoured nicotine pouch into her mouth, as one of Pakistan’s most popular love songs plays in the background.

More than 3,000 miles away, in Sweden, another social media starlet lip-syncs for the camera, to a different pop tune. The same little pouches, made by British American Tobacco, appear in shot.

Full article

Exiting lockdown at a snail's pace

Published on 2021-02-22 17:31:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

The government promised that its strategy for exiting lockdown would be based on data not dates. Instead, it has produced a rigid and anally-retentive plan focused on arbitrary dates which acts as if we haven't learned anything from previous lockdowns and assumes that we don't know anything about the vaccines coursing through 18 million people's veins.

We're going to look ridiculous when we've vaccinated all the priority groups before the rest of Europe and are still hanging out in parks while the rest of Europe has reopened. I fear the quack modellers at Imperial and Warwick have had too much influence again.

Full article

Cry Wolf

Published on 2021-02-20 15:33:41.
Website: Frank Davis

Independent 31 people dead from plague outbreak in DRC, say health officials At last, a real plague. Not this faux-plague of Covid-19. Maybe this time we can look forward to horse-drawn carts telling us to Bring Out Your Dead, and … Continue reading →

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A debate with Terence Kealey about intellectual property

Published on 2021-02-19 11:05:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

I recently took part in an IEA head-to-head debate with Terence Kealey about intellectual property. I am broadly in favour, he is broadly against. Check it out.

Full article

Revisiting Barcelona

Published on 2021-02-16 21:18:42.
Website: Frank Davis

About 10 years ago I spent a few days in Barcelona. It was just before a draconian new smoking ban was going to be imposed. I spent much of my time wandering from bar to bar in the district of … Continue reading →

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Anti-alcohol academic wants pub booze ban

Published on 2021-02-16 15:48:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Last May, the Scottish government gave £500,000 of taxpayers money to Niamh Fitzgerald to do some research into how pubs could safely reopen. Fitzgerald is no stranger to taxpayers money. In October, she was given £1.1 million by the National Institute for Health Research to study the effects of pub opening hours on ambulance call outs. She has also had money from the Scottish government to study minimum pricing.

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Changing Moral Sensibilities

Published on 2021-02-14 16:10:49.
Website: Frank Davis

These days statues of formerly illustrious figures are being toppled because they were slave owners or slave traders. Slavery is seen as something terrible, and anyone involved with it is regarded as morally corrupt. And yet slavery has existed throughout … Continue reading →

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The COVID modellers have jumped the shark

Published on 2021-02-12 13:49:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Academics from Warwick have modelled the effects of vaccinating the population and removing 'non-pharmaceutical interventions' in England over the next eighteen months. The study was produced, I think, on 13 January. The findings are certainly eye-catching. 
In their best case scenario, lockdown reduces R to 0.8 and 3 million vaccines are delivered each week from February (with 1 million a week delivered in January). Lockdown ends on 22 February and all NPIs are dropped by July.  This means that everybody who wants a vaccine has had one (or, indeed, two) by the summer. The authors nevertheless predict that England will see 2,000 deaths per day in August. If the vaccines don't work as well as expected, this rises to nearly 5,000 per day.
I am only an interested amateur and am happy to be put straight, but WTF?!? Last August, when there was no vaccine and minimal NPIs, England had about eight deaths a day. At the height of the winter second wave, it had 1,238 deaths (January 19th).  5,000 deaths per day is more than 70 per million. Even the worst hit countries such as Belgium and Czechia never got above 30 per million at the height of their epidemics. And yet these guys think that it could far exceed than that in Britain in the summer after the vaccines have been fully rolled out. Even in their best case scenario, there would still be 1,000 deaths a day.
When your model gives you such an implausible result, you have to question your assumptions. So what are they?

According to the brief text, the authors expect all these deaths to come about because some people will refuse to take the vaccine and some people who take the vaccine won't be protected. 

Full article

Getting Ugly

Published on 2021-02-11 16:41:01.
Website: Frank Davis

I don’t know about anyone else, but what’s happening in the USA these days seems very ugly. Firstly the election was stolen from Donald Trump, And now his impeachment has started. Whatever next? Is it possible to impeach an ex-president? … Continue reading →

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COVID-19 and vaping

Published on 2021-02-08 13:18:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

In my fifteen years reading and writing about junk science, I have occasionally wondered if the day would come when a relative risk of 1% would be considered newsworthy. That day has finally arrived thanks to the Telegraph... Vapers with Covid-19 up to 20 per cent more likely to transmit it than infected non-smoker, study finds 

Vapers who have Covid-19 are up to 20 per cent more likely to transmit the virus, spreading it in clouds of smoke, a study has found.

Full article

The lockdown debate - a further reply to Toby Young

Published on 2021-02-07 16:04:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

 Toby Young has replied to my reply, so let's have one more go at this.  

Christopher Snowdon has now done what he failed to do in his original attack on lockdown sceptics in Quillette: he has engaged with the main plank of the sceptics’ case.

Full article

Do lockdowns work?

Published on 2021-02-05 16:30:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist


Toby Young has responded to my Quillette article about COVID cranks. He says he 'won’t bother responding to [my] detailed criticisms of Ivor Cummins and Michael Yeadon because I don’t think the case against the lockdown policy stands or falls on whether their analysis is correct.'

Full article

COVID-19 mythbusters

Published on 2021-02-03 15:38:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Once the number of COVID-19 deaths in Britain reached over 1,000 a day, I naively thought that the people promoting the "casedemic" theory would shut up and go away. Instead, they have resorted to increasingly desperate and tenuous arguments to maintain their belief that there is nothing particularly unusual or threatening about this virus. 

Because the same dumb objections are raised repeatedly on Twitter, I started writing up prepared responses. Some people have told me they find them useful, so I am posting the whole lot below, with links to the sources. 

A few of them are, fortunately, getting past their sell by date because the denialists have moved on to new turf. At this stage in the second wave, pretty much all they have left is arguing against germ theory. 

Full article

Drinking in the lockdown

Published on 2021-02-03 11:13:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

The Office for National Statistics put out two sets of data yesterday which shine a bit of light on a couple of natural experiments, both involving The Drink.

The first is minimum pricing, which we have discussed many times. As previously reported, there was a fall in alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland in 2019 following a slight rise in 2018 (minimum pricing was introduced in May 2018). The new ONS data show that in England, where minimum pricing was not in place, there was a slight fall in 2018 and a slight rise in 2019. 

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Taxing Sin - an interview with Michael Thom

Published on 2021-02-01 11:18:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

I recently came across a new book called Taxing Sin by Michael Thom, an academic at the University of Southern California. Dr Thom seems to be a man after my own heart and I'll be talking to him tomorrow at an IEA book club event. Tune in on YouTube at 6pm. 

Full article

Gambling sponsorship and sport

Published on 2021-02-01 11:08:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

The main headline on the front page of the Sunday Times yesterday claimed that the government is going to ban gambling sponsorship in sport. The article itself made it clear that this is only a possibility and that no decision has been made, but it quoted three anti-gambling activists saying what a jolly good idea it would be.

Perhaps the idea is to make the public think the government is committed to the policy so campaigners can kick up a stink and accuse it of doing a 'U-turn' in the future (a tactic that has served activists well in the past).

Full article

Policing the COPs

Published on 2021-01-29 14:14:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Vaping is holding an inquiry into the Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings held by the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. If you hurry, you can send a submission (it closes on 1 February).

The meetings are notoriously secretive and undemocratic. The photo above shows me as close as I've ever got to one. I have written before about the shenanigans at COP6 (in Moscow), COP7 (in Delhi) and COP8 (in Geneva)

Full article

New Last Orders episode

Published on 2021-01-28 11:30:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

There's a new episode of Last Orders with Timandra Harkness back as our guest. We discussed Big Tech, internet censorship, lockdowns, vaccines and sin taxes. Listen here.

Speaking of sin taxes, I'll be on a panel for the Austrian Economics Center tonight at 5pm (UK time) talking about the war on sugar, salt and fat. It'll be on Zoom and you can join it here.

Full article

Prohibition still doesn't work

Published on 2021-01-22 10:10:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

I see that Australia's policy of charging the thick end of £20 for a pack of cigarettes is going as well as ever... 

The founder of Border Force's illegal tobacco squad says one in five cigarettes smoked in Australia is illegal and demand has spawned a smuggling trade worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year, with a recent record-breaking case in Western Australia.

This week two cousins, Omar and Khaled Hussein, were jailed for four years and 10 months each, with parole, by a Perth District Court after trying to smuggle $8.5 million worth of illegal cigarettes into Fremantle Port on October 31, 2018.

Full article

Lockdown science, social science and anti-science

Published on 2021-01-19 11:05:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

I've written a little something for the Spectator about happiness research and the effect of COVID-19 and lockdowns on wellbeing. Have a read. 

I've also written something longer about the crackpots on the fringes of the lockdown debate who have decided that it's better to pretend that there is no problem than to handle painful trade offs. At Quillette here.

Full article

The World Health Organisation gets tough... on alcohol

Published on 2021-01-14 16:17:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

There might be pandemic but that's not going to stop the World Health Organisation getting down to what it sees as the real business of lifestyle regulation. 

Late last year, the WHO launched a public consultation on its draft Global Alcohol Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol. It is not obvious that the WHO needs to have an alcohol strategy at all, let alone that it should be focusing on one in the middle of a pandemic. National governments are quite capable of deciding how alcoholic drinks are taxed and regulated without pressure from a UN agency. Some countries allow you to buy a beer at any time day or night. Others have total prohibition. The enormous differences in the way governments around the world treat alcohol make it an unlikely candidate for global regulation, but the World Health Organisation wants to have a go anyway.

The WHO has had a Global Alcohol Strategy since 2010. This is the updated version and there is a striking change in tone that reveals a shift towards a temperance mentality. Although the strategy is supposed to be about reducing alcohol-related harm, the approach is more about reducing alcohol consumption per se, with total abstinence portrayed as the ideal.

This should concern the world’s drinkers. The WHO has no regulatory power as such, but its alcohol strategy will eventually be formally endorsed by member states and anti-alcohol activists will use it to pressure governments into honouring their ‘commitments’.

Unlike the current Global Strategy, the working document makes very few references to informal and illicit alcohol, and there is little acknowledgement of the dangers of excessive taxation and regulation in fostering their production. By the WHO’s own estimate, 25 per cent of the world’s alcohol is sourced illicitly or informally. In countries such as Mexico and Russia, more than a third of all alcohol consumed is illicit, and the proportion exceeds 50 per cent in many African countries. This is a major source of criminality and tax evasion, as well as being hazardous to health. Unregulated ‘moonshine’ and surrogate alcohol causes many preventable deaths each year. In Iran, over 700 people died after drinking methanol between February and April 2020. In Punjab, India, 86 people died in July after drinking bootleg alcohol from illegal distilleries. Spates of alcohol poisonings are now commonplace, particularly in India.

By any measure, global consumption of contraband and counterfeit alcohol is unacceptably high. A key aim of policy should be to bring it down to the trivial levels seen in many western countries. Although the WHO claims that there is an ‘inherent contradiction between the interests of alcohol producers and public health’, many parts of the world would benefit from having greater access to regulated alcohol products. Rather than treating the legitimate drinks industry as the enemy, the WHO should want it to increase its market share at the expense of unregulated producers.

The key drivers of illicit alcohol consumption are state corruption, lack of availability (including prohibition) and lack of affordability (typically driven by taxation). Black markets tend to be more common in poorer countries. Supply side measures aimed at raising prices, banning advertising and restricting availability can, by their nature, only hope to deter consumption of legal, regulated alcohol which, in turn, stimulates demand for illegal substitutes.

It is therefore unfortunate that the WHO document contains the crude recommendation that member states ‘raise prices on alcohol through excise taxes and other pricing policies’. Differentials in price between licit and illicit products are among the key drivers of black market activity, and governments will be understandably reluctant to introduce taxes which lose them revenue. Taxes on alcohol should reflect the external costs associated with consumption and no more.

The working paper even raises the spectre of a global alcohol tax, saying: ‘Consideration should be given to an intergovernmental commitment to a global tax on alcohol to support this effort, with the use of the money raised to be governed internationally.’ It is difficult to imagine an inter-governmental organisation being better placed to spend alcohol duty revenues than member states. Alcohol taxes are raised, in part, to meet costs to public services created by excess alcohol consumption. Healthcare, prevention, rehabilitation and other such public services can only be provided at the local or national level. An inter-governmental body would not have the reach or infrastructure to spend tax revenues on the appropriate services.

Blurring the distinction between use and harmful use, the WHO complains that ‘no tangible progress was made in reducing total global alcohol consumption per capita’ between 2010 and 2018, as if that were the relevant metric. The draft strategy includes a target of reducing per capita alcohol consumption by a certain percentage (yet to be decided) by 2025 and 2030. Tellingly, there is no such target for alcohol-related deaths and disease, nor for heavy episodic drinking.

Per capita consumption is irrelevant if harm declines and there is no reason to assume that a reduction in per capita consumption will necessarily lead to a reduction in alcohol-related harm. The WHO should recognise that alcohol can be consumed safely and that moderate consumption has health benefits. The focus should be on alcohol-related harm, not alcohol consumption per se.

Implicit in the suggestion of launching a ‘World No Alcohol Day’ is the idea that zero alcohol consumption is the ideal. The similarity to World No Tobacco Day is probably no coincidence and is one of several examples of the working document conflating the risks of smoking with the risks of drinking. Elsewhere, it raises the prospect of ‘a global normative law on alcohol at the intergovernmental level, modelled on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’. The next draft of the document should make it clear that alcohol is not tobacco and the two should not be regulated in the same way. The WHO has got enough on its plate without becoming a cheerleader for prohibition.

Full article

It's time to go Israeli on the virus

Published on 2021-01-11 16:26:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

I wrote for the Sunday Telegraph about how to roll out the vaccine and end the nightmare. 

We cannot afford for the sclerotic NHS and the hopeless Public Health England (PHE) to screw up again. We give 15 million people a flu jab every year. Israel has already vaccinated 60 per cent of its priority groups, despite administering its first jab 11 days after we did. We are not talking about the D-Day landings here, but we should treat it as a military operation none the less.

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Looking forward to 2021?

Published on 2021-01-08 15:31:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Light blogging this week as things are quiet on the nanny state front. That's unusual as early January is normally when they go hell for leather. Be thankful for small mercies.

For now, I'll leave you with a discussion between a few of us at the IEA about what 2021 holds. As always, I am the ray of sunshine.


Full article

'Public health' group sides with the virus

Published on 2021-01-04 13:07:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Brewdog recently announced that it would be allowing some of its bars to be turned into vaccination centres for free. A pretty helpful gesture during a public health crisis, I'm sure you'll agree. More than a gesture, in fact. A tangible and useful action.

However, state-funded legacy 'public health' groups disagree...

A wide range of venues for Covid-19 vaccination will be needed. Vaccination is a vital public health intervention. It’s not a marketing opportunity for alcohol producers. https://t.co/fdBfzLAWIV

— SPECTRUM Research Consortium (@SPECTRUMRes) January 2, 2021
They could have left it at the first two sentences or simply not commented at all, but they couldn't resist. They had to remind us that neo-puritans masquerading as public health experts are not only irrelevant to public health but are actively opposed to public health.
This will not come as news to regular readers, but it's nice of them to get the message out to a wider audience. 
I can't really improve on this response...

Hand sanitiser was a public health good & when there was a national shortage @BrewDogJames turned his distilleries to make it for the NHS instead of contributing sweet fuck-all & having a cheap pop at people who at least try, which appears to be your net contribution. You Twats

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Remember the economy?

Published on 2021-01-02 13:18:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

Happy new year!

I've written an article for the Spectator about the dreadful state of the economy in 2021 and what the government can do to avert total catastrophe.

Check it out.

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Last Orders with Simon Evans

Published on 2020-12-30 11:19:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

There's a new end-of-year edition of the Last Orders podcast out. We were delighted to welcome back the great comedian Simon Evans. Check it out. 

Full article

Still ruled by imbeciles

Published on 2020-12-29 11:15:00.
Website: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist

The government's first policy announcement since reaching a deal with the EU was to launch a string of regulations that would have been condemned as a petty, illiberal and anti-business if they had come from Brussels. From April 2022, we will restrict promotions on food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar in shops to make healthier choices easier.
Once upon a time, pathetic people complained about sweets and chocolates being displayed at supermarket checkouts. The danger, apparently, was that children would ask their parents to buy them and the parent would have to say no (or yes - it doesn't make much difference in the great scheme of things). Idiotic politicians took the threat of 'pester power' seriously and so did the supermarket owners who, seeing that it was unpopular with Mumsnet and the Daily Mail, stopped doing it.
The idea of banning it nevertheless remained. And it snowballed, as things do when fanatical activists and gullible politicians are involved. The result is an incredibly wide-ranging assault on how retailers will be allowed to do business.
 Supermarkets in England are to be barred from displaying unhealthy food and drinks at checkouts or using them in buy one, get one free offers, as part of a proposed government crackdown on obesity.

..The checkout restrictions will apply to other sales-boosting locations such as the entrances to stores or at the end of aisles. Similar rules will apply for websites, banning sales links to unhealthy foods on places such as homepages, or at checkout or payment pages. Restaurants will no longer be able to offer free refills of sugary drinks.

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The WHO Doubles Down On Its Incompetence

Published on 2020-05-29 17:13:00.
Website: Dick Puddlecote

You'd think, wouldn't you, that after the damning political and media criticism the World Health Organisation has rightly been subjected to over fucking up the health of every nation on Earth - with their pitiful and incompetent response to the Coronavirus - that they would have learned a lesson on getting their priorities right.

Well, it seems not. This week, they were celebrating the "defeat" of e-cigarettes in Finland, as if this is in any way a good thing.

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It's That Man Again!

Published on 2020-05-21 19:57:00.
Website: Dick Puddlecote

So, the menthol tobacco ban - mandated by the EU's Tobacco Products Directive from 2014 - came in this week and many smokers will have been completely unaware of it until Wednesday when they found that their usual smokes are never to be seen again.

However, one thing we did see again was the British tobacco control industry's only supporter amongst retail tobacconists. Not surprising since just about every anti-smoking initiative could have the potential - even if it is not designed, which is arguable - to put corner shops and newsagents out of business.

Meet - once again - John McClurey, an anti-smoking newsagent who has had years to stop selling cigarettes in his shop but seemingly without success.

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