Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Get Real Tobacco Control

News reports have revealed that online streaming service - NetFlix - has got itself into hot water for the portrayal of smoking almost three times that of broadcast TV, on its programmes. The complainant according to article is The Truth Initiative - an organisation which should be sued for using a misleading name as most vapers and smokers will know that this organisation is 'liberal' with facts, evidence, science and truth, to say the least.

The complaint is not just against Netflix, other streaming services have also come in for flak. But Netflix seems to have borne the brunt of the latest criticism.

Apparently, the Netflix show that has been singled out as particularly bad for portraying smoking is the hugely popular and successful ' Stranger Things'. I have actually watched Stranger Things so for those unfamiliar with it I shall give a bit of background.

Stranger Things is a supernatural series set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. According to The Truth Initiative, it is supposed to be a children's TV series. This is something I seriously doubt. Most children I know would be scared to death by this programme and its portrayal of monsters invading from an alternate universe. Whilst it is true that the show itself centres around a group of kids, I would in no way class this series as a kids TV programme.

Anyway, back to main thrust of this article. As stated above, Stranger Things is set in the year 1983. I remember the 1980's very well. I may have lived in the UK, rather than the USA, but I have clear memories of the 1980's (I was 20 years old in 1983). One thing I do remember of the 1980's is how prevalent smoking was. Whilst it is true that smoking had declined since the previous decade, smoking was still a very commonly witnessed activity. In the 1980's, you could still smoke just about anywhere you wished. I can remember going on holiday in 1980's and being able to light up on an aeroplane (smoking one side of the plane, non-smoking the other). I can still remember watching films in the cinema through a fug of cigarette smoke. You could smoke in your workplace, in resturants, and of course in pubs. Formula One racing was still sponsored by tobacco companies, as were tournaments in sports such as Rugby League, Darts, Snooker, Cricket, Golf. The list was endless. In Snooker and Darts, players would commonly be seen toking hard on a cigarette whilst awaiting their turn. I remember Dart-boards in particular being covered by ash that had been shaken off the darts being thrown by the smoking players. However, the universal truth of the 1980's was that smoking was ubiquitous. Yes, the rate of smoking was declining, but the fact remains was that it was to be seen everywhere.

So, given that Stranger Things is set in the year 1983, then why should it not portray smoking as it actually was in those days ?

The problem with TV these days is that they are too frightened to upset the permanently offended. People like the The Truth Initiative who, if they had their way, would airbrush the act of smoking out of every TV show and movie that has ever been made.

The whole point of making TV shows and movies is that they should be reflecting what real life is like. Even in 2018, there are still plenty of people who smoke (10 million in the UK according to ASH's latest figures). The smokers, while they may be a minority these days, still make up a large proportion of the population. Airbrushing such people out of TV programmes because they are 'undesirable' is not a true reflection of life.

If you went back to watch TV programmes that were made in the 1980's, you will find that the majority of them still featured smoking heavily. In the UK, even soap operas such Coronation Street and Eastenders featured smoking heavily (Elsie Tanner & Dot Cotton anybody ?). I can remember watching many guests on Parkinson (for example) openly smoking on TV whilst they were being interviewed..

The improvisation comedy program 'Whose Line Is It Anyway' often featured Peter Cook as one of its participants - and Cook was rarely seen on screen without his trademark cigarette. Many other comedy programmes of the day, whether sitcoms or Live performances, featured smoking. The Irish comedian Dave Allen's trademark was a cigarette and a glass of whiskey. There were plenty more like him. The USA in the 1980's was no different.

Admittedly, I have not seen the other programs mentioned in the article. But that article chose to focus on Stranger Things and the fact that there was so much smoking on screen, and I have watched Stranger Things..

Newsflash Tobacco Control. If programmes are set in a historical context then we expect them to respect that particular context. Smoking was a common sight for the majority of us in the 20th Century. In the 1980's it was still a very common sight. Stranger Things is just reflecting that reality. Just because Tobacco Control does not like that reality does not mean it did not exist. Stop trying to re-write history. That is a battle you are NEVER going to win.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Smell Of Fear

It has been a strange old week. We have seen reports coming out day after day reporting more and more bad news for the Public Health racket.

It all started out at the Public Health jolly at the so-called World Conference on Tobacco and Health (WCTOH) which took place in Cape Town, South Africa last week. I am not going to go into much detail about this as it was amply covered by Dick Puddlecote and Chris Snowdon in their respective blogs. However, the main theme of that conference was their almost non-stop attacks on Derek Yach's Foundation For a Smoke-free World (FSFW). It seems that the Public Health racket are scared stiff of FSFW because they recognise that it may well achieve the Public Health vision of a smoke-free world without any input from Public Health itself. The tweets and reports that came out of that conference whizzed past the threshold of the 'scream test'. Showing that what FSFW is doing is certainly making its mark. Public Health delegates (which included the usual UK tax-draining tobacco control spongers) were in absolute apoplexy at this new threat to their livelihoods because FSFW could conceivably make these people completely redundant. 

Unable to come up with any decent argument against FSFW other than they are funded by PMI, the delegates were reduced to drooling epithets screaming for another prohibition era a la the 1920's USA on alcohol, and immediately claiming that it would not be the same with tobacco. They tried endlessly to claim credit for the falling rates of smoking, neatly sidestepping the fact that the majority of this drop in smoking rates can be directly correlated with the rise of the ecigarette. Of course they threw everything into the claim that higher taxation was working (conveniently ignoring the rising levels of poverty caused by this action), and of course the success of plain-packaging.

Problem is, just a few days later came the news that Australia - that has had plain-packaging of tobacco for several years now - has seen a rise in the rate of smoking for the first time in a decade (oops). Of course, you will not see any report of this from Public Health circles. Australia, after all, is one of the bright shining beacons of Public Health success - except that it isn't. Australia remains one of those countries that steadfastly refuses to embrace ecigarettes, despite all of the worldwide evidence of their efficacy, and Public Health refuse to acknowledge anything that deviates from their message. I also found it interesting to note how quiet the Syndey pensioner has been since this news in Australia broke. Plain-packaging remains the tobacco controller's wet dream, despite the fact that it has failed wherever it has been tried. Only last year, we had reports of how France's smoking rate rose after the introduction of plain-packaging. Of course, it is far too early to get any indications of whether the measure has fared any better in the UK as plain packaging has only just been introduced here. But judging by the number of non-plain packaged tobacco I still see discarded everywhere, I know where my money would go if I were a betting man.

Then, a few days ago, Australian Doctor Attila Danko tweeted this beaut

In a brutal takedown of the absolute lies and rubbish that we have come to expect from the so-called science relied on by tobacco controllers, he is quoting one of the responses written by Professor Peter Hayek who used their own figures and calculations against them to show how their predictions would result in a number of smokers that is precisely TWICE the entire UK population.

Of course, I have just concentrated on the tobacco-control stories that have emanated from the Public Health bodies during the last week. There have also been numerous scare-stories on an obesity epidemic that exists only in the minds of Public Health. Actual real-life figures tell a quite different story as Christopher Snowdon has elucidated on many occasions both in his blogs, writing for The Spectator, and on many TV appearances (he was even quoted in his absence on BBC Breakfast recently). Not content with that, Public Health have also been bleating on about more sugar taxes, salt taxes (if companies do not voluntarily reduce the salt in their food) and even the banning (or restriction) of fast-food outlets - and then they wonder why the public does not take them seriously ?

It's been an interesting week for sure. There is a definite aroma emanating from Public Health of late as they realise that wheels are coming off their tax-payer funded wagon, that their whole world is slowly unravelling before the eyes.


A wonderful aroma is it not ?

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Losing Interest In The Game Of Rugby

Before I start, I am going to put this into context. I love the game of Rugby (Union). I was brought up on the game. My father (RIP) was a prop forward of some repute during the 50's/60’s/70’s. He played the game mostly for local sides, but was good enough that he also played representative rugby. There is a veritable who’s who of International rugby players that he has propped down against during his career (he played against the Barbarians several times). He was that good that he also played games for a few of Wales premier rugby clubs during the 60’s/70’s. So you can say I was brought up on Rugby. I can still remember many an occasion during the late 60’s and (vividly) throughout the 70’s standing on the touchline watching him play rugby.

Of course, with such an influential father, it was natural that I would also play rugby. Unlike my Father, I played in the back row. I was never big enough to ever be considered for the front row (though I did play 2 seasons as a hooker when my club was struggling for front row players). So, I played and, in the earlier years of my fledgling career, I did play some representative rugby (alongside several players who would later go on to play for Wales in the 80’s/90’s).

Rugby, as I experienced it in the 70’s/80’s/90’s, was a brutal game. You asked no quarter and you were given none. Punch-ups and foul play were the name of the game and you knew it, and accepted it. It was rare for me to play a game of rugby that did not find me still struggling to shake off the bumps and bruises accrued during a game (whether by fair means or foul) the following day. Sometimes even days later I would still be suffering from the knocks I had taken – not that it stopped me from taking part in training. In those days, a ‘minor niggle’ was no excuse for not participating in training. Missing training meant you would not be considered for selection for the game on Saturday – no matter how good you were.

Scrums, mauls, rucks, nowhere were you safe from an act of skullduggery. Tackles ? Fuck me, I have seen tackles throughout the years that even made me wince. Hell, I was the perpetrator of several such tackles. Shoulder-charges, spear tackles, high, low, you name it, I have seen it and probably even did such a tackle myself. It was  the days when you could legitimately ruck somebody who was lying ‘where they should not’ by means of your boots and studs. We did not have any need of the sin-bin. If you chose to put your body in an offside position you could expect to be rucked out of the way, forcibly if necessary. It certainly made the less ‘sturdy’ think twice before transgressing at a ruck. Myself, I just took it as part of the game. Why ?  Because I was what is now a rare breed in rugby union. I was a SPOILER.

I was valued by any team I played for because I was a bloody nuisance. You would always find me in a ruck or maul precisely where I was not supposed to be. My attitude when I played and went into a ruck or maul was that if my side was not going to get the ball, then I would make damn sure the opposition was not going to get it either. This meant that I was frequently rucked, punched, headbutted, kicked and even bitten by opposition players to get me out of the way. As a result, after each game my body would be riddled with cuts, bruises, stamp marks and rucking marks. In short, my body would hurt, restricting my movements for several days. But I did not care. If I came off the pitch without these bruises/cuts/marks, then I had not done my job and would not expect to be selected for the team for the following weekend.

So, what protection did we have ?

For my part, I never played a game without boots that covered my ankles. I could tolerate most things, but a bang on the ankles was seriously painful so I always wore boots that protected my ankles – sacrificing some speed, but saving me (at least some) pain. The front row boys often wore shin pads (though being kicked in the shin was usually the least of their problems) and many of the boys wore gumshields. I was not one of these people as, following a clash of heads on a school rugby tour to Wakefield in the mid-70’s, my front teeth had been loosened. The family I was billeted with in Wakefield just happened to be ‘headed’ by a dentist. He had examined my teeth after that game and advised me never to wear a gumshield. You see, my front teeth had been loosened by the blow and he told me that wearing a gumshield increased the likelihood of my losing all my front teeth if I were to take a heavy blow to the mouth again. Whereas NOT wearing a gumshield meant that if I were to take blow to my mouth, then I might lose an individual tooth, but not all of them. Consequently, I never wore a gumshield again from the age of 14 right through to the age I retired (which was 34). Before you ask, Yes I still have all of my front teeth. In fact throughout my years of playing rugby, I broke bones in my hands, arms, legs, cheekbones (and even cracked two vertebrae in my back – which was what caused my retirement from the game at age 34), but my nose, jaw and teeth remained intact despite the various efforts of many an opponent.

The one protection we were definitely NOT allowed during my time playing the game was body armour. It is commonplace in the game these days. It is indeed rare to see a game of rugby where the players are not wearing body armour (under their jerseys). In my day, you were only allowed body armour on production of a medical note from your GP which you had to show to the Referee before a game. Otherwise, it was not permitted.

The acceptance of body armour is the point at which I believe the game of Rugby Union started to go downhill. The moment that body armour was allowed in rugby can be traced to the first instances of reckless tackling (IMHO). Before that time, you made damn sure you had lined up an opponent properly before you tackled him. Otherwise, it hurt. From the moment body armour was allowed in rugby, the injury rate started rising because players now suddenly felt invincible and made reckless collisions with the opposition. The more advanced the body armour, the bigger the collisions, the bigger the rate of serious injury.
Then the rulemakers started tampering with the rules of the game to make rugby ‘safer’. FFS, rugby is a contact sport. Everybody who plays the game of rugby knows the risks and accepts them. But the efforts to make the game of rugby has, IMHO, actually made the game worse and less safe.

Rugby relies too much on the referee and, in top class or international rugby, the video ref. They have removed ‘real’ rucking from the game, meaning that it is a paradise for the spoilers. Yes, they can get sin-binned for their transgression (sin-binning is another thing that did not exist when I played), but most players will accept a sin-binning for 10 minutes in exchange for stopping a try. Those same players would think twice about doing it if they knew that 8 bulky (and heavy) forwards were about to stamp all over them for daring to spoil an opportunity at a ruck.

The same goes for the scrum. The scrum was, at one time, not a place for the faint hearted. If yoiu played in the scrum (as I did), but especially if you played in the front row (which I also did for a while), then you knew you were in for a torrid time. There was nothing that did not go on in the front row, and even the rows further back knew that and also often got involved. In my day, a scrum was a keen contest. Regardless of whose put-in it was, you had a chance of winning the ball. Nowadays, the scrum is almost non-contestable. Regardless of the fact that the scrum-half puts the ball into the second row (again, not allowed in my day), there is no competition in the scrum at all. The only way you will ever get a win ‘against the head’ in a scrum these days is by pushing the opposition off the ball (and that is rare). Hookers are pretty much unnecessary in a scrum these days. Scrums have been neutered to such an extent that they are as pointless an act as they are in Rugby League. But at least League makes no pretentions that the scrum is anything other than a means to get the game flowing again. In Union, we simply end up with an endless stream of reset scrums, or sin-binnings. Put the scrums back to what they were FFS. Yes, there was skulduggery involved in the scrum in days past, but at least it was a genuine contest, not the farce it is today (and it helped the game flow far better than what we currently have).

The same can be said of the line-outs. All this ‘lifting’ shit is pointless. Just get the fucking ball back in play. Let the players compete for the ball on their own merits. Forget this lifting shit. So what if there is skulduggery involved, that will happen regardless. The whole point is to restart the game and get the play flowing. Rugby these days is far too much standing around doing fuck-all and it is BORING.

Finally, there is the tackling. For the love of god, can Rugby Union possibly castrate itself more than in the tackle area ?

Rugby is a physical game. Yes, sometimes players will get it wrong. More often than not, the person who gets it wrong is the tackler and he hurts himself doing it. Sometimes the tackler mis-times a tackle and it looks bad. But please, quit this penalisation of a player for making a genuine mistake. When a player lines  the opposition up for a tackle, it is next to impossible to pull yourself out of the commitment to tackle. In that time, the player to be tackled can do a whole host of things like slip, duck, go to ground etc. But the tackler is already committed and cannot pull out of that commitment or he knows he is going to hurt himself. I agree that dangerous tackles (such as spear tackles – which incidentally were also allowed in my day) or tackles that have obvious malicious intent should be punished. But this constant analysing of tackles MUST stop.

Today we saw Liam Williams sin-binned for a perfectly legitimate tackle. Yes, he caught the Italian player in the face. But there was no obvious intent by Liam Williams to do that. He had committed himself to the tackle and had no idea that the Italian player would try to go to ground and had no way to readjust. The very same thing happened to Anthony Watson, for England, in yesterday’s game against France. Watson did what any player would do in his position. He was beaten by the France’s Fall and simply threw out a desperate last-gasp arm to try and stop him. It was purely instinctive and there was no sinister motive or malice behind it. Yes, I agree it was a penalty try because the Fall would have scored if Watson had not done what he did. But a yellow card ? No way

As stated in the title of this blog, I am fast losing interest in Rugby Union. The constant tinkering of the rules of the game is castrating the game I know and love. They did the same to Soccer. I loved the game of Soccer as it was played in the 1970’s/80’s. It was a genuinely physical game that everybody could get behind. Now you cannot barely breathe on a player without giving away a free-kick or a penalty and I have lost interest in it and completely stopped watching it. Rugby Union is fast going the same way and I am fast losing interest in it the same way I lost interest in Soccer.

Give Rugby Union its soul back. It is a hard physical game and should be played in a hard, physical manner. The way we are going will soon see rugby played by a bunch of hairdressers whose idea of a tackle is blowing a kiss or tapping somebody on the shoulder.

Nobody wants to watch that shit !!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Public (Health) Image Limited

My post yesterday about why we need to fight to defund Public Health seems to have generated quite some discussion. I have seen several exchanges about it on Twitter (which I was not involved with), and also had some feedback directly to me. What has surprised me was to find that some people in Public Health have apparently read what I wrote.

A theme that seems common is the claim that I do not understand what Public Health and what public health does. This is a misnoma. I understand perfectly well what Public Health is SUPPOSED to be and it bears no resemblance whatsoever with Public Health actually is. 

I am not alone in this. If Public Health actually spoke to the people (that would be the ‘PUBLIC’ in their title), then they would soon realise that they are viewed very differently by the public than how Public Health actually view themselves. This is because Public Health exist in their own closed ‘bubbles’. Anyone from outside that bubble who dares to question the veracity of Public Health is instantly excluded. Shut-down, blocked (on Twitter or Farcebook), ignored or simply excluded (e.g. the public cannot comment on articles that Public Health publish in their various journals, or even read those articles as more often than not they are behind paywalls).

Try challenging a Public Health viewpoint (as I have done) and you are instantly blocked. You do not even get the courtesy of a response or explanation. You are simply blocked because you are not ‘inside their bubble’ and therefore you are not considered worthy of conversing with – regardless of whether or not you have raised a valid point. 

Therein lies the problem. Public Health appear on our screens on a very regular schedule. Most weeks you will have one Public Health ‘grandee’ or another being given prime-time air-time on TV or Radio, or prime space in a newspaper to spout off on whatever it is they want taxed (or banned), but extremely rarely will you ever see a dissenting voice allowed, unless that dissenting voice comes from within their own Public Health bubble (and that is rarer than Dodo eggs)..

Public Health’s real image problem (and the reason that so few people take anything they say seriously), is that they use these regular appearances to cry ‘wolf’ far too often. We have all seen the headlines. ‘Red meat causes Cancer’, ‘too much sugar causes obesity’, ‘too much salt causes diseases’ etc. The list goes on and on. FFS, if all these were true then how on earth has the human race not gone extinct ?

Man has eaten red-meat since the stone-age. Sugar is a naturally occurring substance to be found in most fruit and veg (which we have also ate since the first hunter-gatherers), our bodies are made up of a huge proportion of salt and, before fridges and freezers, was the only way to preserve food. It never did us any harm before, so why would it now ?

Also, let’s not forget that it was public health that first pushed to have lead removed from petrol – which instantly reduced the power of the combustible engine. Then they found that this lead-free petrol produced massive amounts of carbons into the atmosphere because the underpowered vehicles had to work the unleaded petrol harder to achieve the desired performance, so we were pushed towards diesel. Now diesel has been found to be causing a problem with particulates in the air and we are being pushed towards electric vehicles. The problem is that the amount of electric required if we all converted to electric cars cannot be resolved by ‘clean energy’ because not enough is produced that way. So we will likely end up with larger electricity plants burning different forms of fossil fuels just so that all our cars can run on electric. Thus, they move the carbon problem from one area to another – and create a whole new industry around themselves securing a new source of funding.

This is the way that Public Health works in that they are continually chasing their own tails and giving out advice that contradicts previous advise they have given out.

Further examples (as if more were needed) are the ones around tobacco and alcohol. For years, we have had Public Health telling us that cutting down on cigarettes gives noticeable improvements in your health. Then recently, they changed that to say that only quitting cigarettes improves your health and that cutting down makes no difference. The next thing is that they are promoting ‘nicotine-free’ cigarettes as the way forward. So we have gone full circle from cutting-down, to quit completely, all the way to using nicotine-free cigarettes. The obvious irony being that all the harm from cigarettes comes from the chemicals created by combustion, not from nicotine.

The guidelines for drinking alcohol change on a regular basis (usually downward). We had Silly-Sally recently claiming that men should consume no more than 14 units per week. Meanwhile we have an ageing population that has traditionally drunk far more than 14 units a week proving that completely wrong (even Public Health recently admitted that the older population are the biggest drinkers). Furthermore, Silly-Sally even tried to tell us that it was best to quit alcohol altogether, despite numerous scientific studies and evidence pointing to the fact that moderate drinkers are actually healthier than non-drinkers.

The major problem that Public Health has is that it has lost the confidence of the very public they are supposed to be serving. They have lost that confidence because they have lost sight of what they are supposed to be doing. The public do not want Public Health constantly interfering in their everyday lives, or interfering in the choices made in those lives. The public want a public health that is answerable to the public they are meant to serve. Hiding away in ivory towers and refusing to engage in debate does not inspire trust or belief in Public Health. It does the complete opposite. Show us the evidence !!

In our modern society, it is not enough for Public Health to simply make pronouncements on whatever the latest fad they have in their heads to ensure a compliant public. The public are not as stupid as they think. With the advent of the information age, the public are perfectly capable of looking up the evidence for themselves. It is not difficult to find medical papers, studies and reports online. A simple Google search reveals many of them. The public is better informed that at any time in human history and is perfectly able to challenge ‘dodgy’ Public Health announcements (and we do). The public is perfectly capable of seeing through the scams coming out of Public Health, and we are ALL aware of who the charlatans are in your ranks.

The days of blinding us with science are long gone. If Public Health wants to gain the trust of the public, then I would suggest they start conversing with that public. Public Health need to get out of their ivory towers and reconnect with the real world. Yes, I know it will be hard for them. But it is something they have to do. They need to see for themselves how the world ACTUALLY works, not how they would like it to work. They need to understand how Businesses work, not sit reading theoretical business papers that bear no relation to the real world. Most of all, they need to talk to the public. The public do not trust secretive organisations that hide away behind paywalls, or hold conferences in dictator-run countries with local thugs employed to keep the ‘undesirables’ out.

If Public Health want our trust, then they have to learn to EARN it. Otherwise, the public will continue to view Public Health as an out-of-touch elite, rolling in Government funding, wasting public resources, and creating more and more ‘Jobs-for-the-boys’.

Basically, evolve or become irrelevant. The choice is yours Public Health.