Guest Post: Terry Barnes The TGA and nanny staters just can’t help themselves

February’s not turning out to be a great month for the cause of true harm reduction and trusting people to make wise decisions in looking after their own health.

First, schools in New South Wales are banning – believe it or not – birthday cakes.  According to media reports, school authorities consider them a “distraction”, and raise fears about allergies and the so-called obesity epidemic to justify why these Trojan horses of unspeakable evil shouldn’t be allowed through schoolyard gates.

Put aside the fact that birthday cakes, as well as the chocolate crackles and fairy bread, are part and parcel of the kids’ birthday rite of passage, once-a-year treats. To the zealots and puritans who run our schools and determine public education policy, they are merely calorie machines that turn kiddie cuties into unspeakable, voracious lard tubs.

What rubbish.  Like all yummy food, birthday cakes are a source of fun, pleasure and joy.  They mark a big occasion in a kid’s life – and at that age, and in our wonderful Western culture, any birthday is a big occasion worthy celebrating.

Life is, as Thomas Hobbes put it so well, nasty, brutish and short.  A birthday is the one day of the year a kid can truly call theirs, and the fun police and the NSW Teachers Federation want to take it away from them?  A kid’s birthday being considered a distraction, for goodness’ sake: birthdays are part of the socialising experience.  Scoffing birthday cake and other treats may be self-indulgent one-off, but spacing their calorie consumption sensibly (with parental not bureaucratic guidance!) over a year kiddies can still enjoy cakes and sweets without turning into Augustus Gloop.

Pan metron ariston – everything in moderation – as some ancient Greek bloke once said.

And as for the fear of teacher liability from allergies, those self-righteous ninnies who come up with these brainwaves should cast their minds back to the days before 1980 when Aussie kids were fit, healthy and fearless, and food allergies almost unknown. And why? Because parents weren’t afraid of letting their kids try new experiences, and enjoy experimenting with all manner of foods (including, in my case, mud pies).

Now, largely thanks to the nanny-staters, little Johnny and Mary with their gluten-free, macrobiotic, sugarless dietary requirements making diet-observant ultra-Orthodox Jews look like slackers, are breaking out in hives by merely looking at a birthday cake or a bowl of salted peanuts.

Stupid.

Second, there are yet more calls for a sugar tax, especially on the demon soft drink.

Sydney University professor Tom Colaguiri has just published his research that found none out of ten kids aged nine to 18, have sugar intakes exceeding World Health Organisation recommendations.  His solution, of course, is to make a sugar tax a top political priority.

Not that the good professor questioned the sense of the WHO recommendations: as we who have followed the vaping debate know, WHO is never wrong, and writes the gospel of public health.  Anybody who questions WHO’s received wisdom is a heretic in the pay of Big Whatever.  So the nanny staters cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of public health war with their weapon of behavioural choice, taxing the bejesus out of the most convenient consumable scapegoat.

The parliamentary secretary responsible for public health policy, National party MP and gastroenterologist, David Gillespie, is quoted by Fairfax as saying:

Cut to the chase: the thing with all of the proponents of sugar taxes, fat taxes, whatever tax, is taxes will make people angry and it won’t change what they eat.

This is a day-to-day survival, personal choice issue which transcends economics. People buy what they like and we as a government aren’t going to moralise and tell them that we feel better for putting taxes on certain products.

This sounds positive, and it would be reassuring if Dr Gillespie could be taken at face value. But, frankly, he’s an insignificant player in the policy game.

Let’s be honest: the greatest Australian addiction of all is his government’s addiction to revenue.  If there’s a feeling in Treasury that a sugar tax might collect a lazy few hundred million to waste on profligate spending that it and the populist Senate refuse to rein in, then consider it to be on the table.

Think I’m overblowing it?  Then look at one undeniable fact.  Before the last federal Budget, the Turnbull government condemned the Labor plan to raise more revenue by accelerating and extending the phased increases in tobacco excise so that by 2020 a packet is smokes will cost over $40.  Yet, come Budget day, that same government not only endorsed Labor’s plan made it a centrepiece of its Budget sell.

Sin taxes work by assuming sinners keep sinning.  Drinkers, gamblers, smokers, and maybe soon soft drink consumers are taxed because they can be relied on to keep up their habits whatever the price. These are not public health or harm reduction measures.  They are revenue gouges, feeding the reckless and feckless spending addiction of politicians and bureaucrats too self-righteous or gutless to bring their profligacy for wasting other people’s money under control.

After its backflip with pike on tobacco excise this Coalition government, supposedly the intellectual heir of Burke and Mill, cannot be relied upon to resist determined and self-righteous nanny staters and public health fruit loops.  Sad but true.

But third, and most seriously, earlier this month the Therapeutic Goods Administration rejected a measured, evidence-based application from the pro-vaping New Nicotine Alliance to amend the Poisons Schedule to allow nicotine to be legally available in vaping solutions, and give smokers an openly-available alternative to the deadly weed and the toxic contents of cigarette vapour.

The TGA’s interim decision – it will be finalised at the end of the March after a token follow-up consultation involving only those who made submissions on the NNA application – was detailed, referenced and elegantly-written.  But when all was said and done, it simply accepted and repeated the nostrums of the usual vociferous, McCarthy-like public health suspects and the bureaucrats who treat their words as gospel.

The TGA’s reasons for rejecting the application are consistent with the standard orthodoxy of the more prominent public health and harm reduction advocates in Australia, especially the hackneyed claims that not enough is known about the nature and long-term effects of e-cigarettes and vaping on users and bystanders; the concern about “renormalisation” of smoking behaviours; and the claimed “gateway effect” of vaping take-up by young people leading to deadly tobacco smoking.

The quality of the evidence supporting these bog-standard claims was not questioned by the TGA, nor does it seem the steadily-increasing weight of evidence against them, including a comprehensive submission signed but a staggering 40 Australian and international scientific and clinical experts, was even taken seriously by the TGA advisory committee, or by the decision-makers.

What’s more, the TGA released public submissions so heavily redacted that they were meaningless.  Many submitters, including the 40 authors of that major expert submission, and me, agreed in writing that our submissions could be published in full.  Yet, reprehensibly, they were published with not only our names blocked out, but with big chunks of our arguments, and especially any references to specific studies and other evidence cited in the body of submissions, redacted to the point of the documents being unrecognisable, even to the authors.

And, as I pointed out in comments to the TGA on the interim decision, the patent lack of due process and procedural fairness – not just the wholesale redaction but the selective use of evidence, and the commissioning on specially-selected but un-named and taxpayer-funded consultants to critique the NNA application and torpedo it – highlighted a serious flawed and inherently biased consideration of an application that used ideology to answer the simple scientific question at the heart of the application: whether a vaping solution containing nicotine at the proposed concentration is safe for human consumption.

Usually, if it’s choice between a cock-up and a conspiracy, it’s a cock-up.  But in this case, I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy.  As the NNA well knew when they submitted their application, the fix was in from the start, and they should be commended for forcing into the open the ingrained this official hostility to vaping as a harm-reducing disruptive technology.   The TGA decision and how it was arrived at simply has proven the point.

The Senate is starting its next round of estimates hearings later this month, an opportunity to scrutinise government administration and put officials on the spot.  Our senators could do something useful for a change and shine a light on the darkness that is the TGA’s consideration of the NNA nicotine application.  There are certainly lots of curly questions they can, and should, ask.

If these tribunes of the people do ask some of those questions, and force the TGA and Health department to explain themselves, maybe this month won’t be as bad for sensible harm reduction and sensible personal choices as it’s been so far.

Terry Barnes is a part-time Australian fellow of the UK Institute of Economic Affairs, with a special policy interest in sensible harm reduction

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40 Responses to Guest Post: Terry Barnes The TGA and nanny staters just can’t help themselves

  1. Cynic of Ayr

    Could someone explain to me why, so many idiotic and inane suggestions, comments, advice and caterwauling come from those with the title “Professor.”
    Onetime, long ago, a Professor was rare, and indeed worthy of the title, if not deference.
    Nowadays, it seems, anyone with ten minutes at University gets to be a Professor.
    Have they loosened the exams?
    The list seems to expand every day. Now we have Professor Colaguiri, who, “has just published his research that found none out of ten kids aged nine to 18, have sugar intakes exceeding World Health Organisation recommendations. His solution, of course, is to make a sugar tax a top political priority.”
    I mean, this is just nonsense.

  2. PrettyPowerful

    What would you expect of Mark Scott (Head of NSW Education Dept and well known leftist) – what did you idiot Lib/Nats expect when you appointed him?

    And you wonder why Pauline Hanson is gaining traction.

  3. Diogenes

    Sydney University professor Tom Colaguiri has just published his research that found none out of ten kids aged nine to 18, have sugar intakes exceeding World Health Organisation recommendations. His solution, of course, is to make a sugar tax a top political priority.

    A lot of kids shoplift “V” and other energy drinks, chocolates and other sweets.They could put a 10000% tax on them & there would be little change in consumption.

  4. Michael Muscat

    Modern education is child abuse.

  5. Dr Fred Lenin

    We cant have people enjoying themselves , this is a very serious globalist communist one world government business,, we communusts are not noted for a sense of humour. Look at ulyanov ,dzhugashvilli,breznyev ,mao. Hitler pol pot ,castro Etc etc . Never cracked a smile in their miserable lives . Our own here are just as bad ,muppets one and all .

  6. Havelok

    Add one more to the list. From 2018 any painkiller containing codeine will require a prescription, despite being available over the pharmacy counter for many decades. I use Mersyndol judiciously for severe arthritis pain. Soon I, and thousands of others, will have to pay for an unnecessary consultation to obtain a product the great majority have used responsibly for years, all because Nanny has decided there is an abuse problem.
    Please. You can still buy Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) in small quantities if you produce a drivers licence. The pharmacist simply records it on the computer system. Why not have a similar system for painkillers?

    I get the feeling that Nanny has been taking steroids on the quiet lately. Peanuts, codeine, vaping, birthday cakes….crikey, we’ll soon need a medical certificate to go to the pub at this rate.

  7. Habib

    One would think it difficult if not impossible, but this dump manages to get worse every day. It’s like the collective national IQ sheds a few points every couple of hours, and I’d say we’re past the point of recovery.

  8. Qley

    So will a sugar tax apply to things like Pepsi max and Coke Zero? This seems like they’ll just be shifting consumption from full sugar coke to diet and zero alternatives. I’d bet that they slap the tax on it anyway, sugar content be damned

  9. Tim Neilson

    this Coalition government, supposedly the intellectual heir of Burke and Mill
    but actually the competency heirs of Burke and Wills.

  10. Zyconoclast

    And as for the fear of teacher liability from allergies, those self-righteous ninnies who come up with these brainwaves should cast their minds back to the days before 1980 when Aussie kids were fit, healthy and fearless, and food allergies almost unknown. And why? Because parents weren’t afraid of letting their kids try new experiences, and enjoy experimenting with all manner of foods (including, in my case, mud pies).

    Now, largely thanks to the nanny-staters, little Johnny and Mary with their gluten-free, macrobiotic, sugarless dietary requirements making diet-observant ultra-Orthodox Jews look like slackers, are breaking out in hives by merely looking at a birthday cake or a bowl of salted peanuts.

    Sadly, not that easy.
    First hand knowledge (not me) where allergies just happened with no obvious explanation.
    Child ate eggs with runny yolks from age of one. By two years of age became allergic/anaphylactic to such eggs and quiche.

    Pasteurised egg in manufactured baked cakes and biscuits are still ok.

  11. Zyconoclast

    Always has to carry an Epi-pen

  12. Pete of Perth

    ARPANSA are also on the war path.

  13. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    but actually the competency heirs of Burke and Wills.

    Burke and Hare?

  14. Interested observer

    I do point out that every time I peek into the teachers room around 10:30 a.m. there seems to be a plentiful supply of cake and goodies as they celebrate birthdays and any other achievement they can lay claim to. Is the ban on cakes etc. to be extended to the guardians of the dietary restrictions?

  15. Philippa Martyr

    Gee Terry your government could have put a stop to this, I bet.

  16. Dan Phillips

    Government nutritionists are weirdo ascetic types who want to suck the joy out of everything. I am convinced that their ascetic impulses are guiding their science. Sugar, salt, saturated fat, and caffeine are enjoyable, so they must be bad according to them.

    But not everyone agrees. And likewise not everyone agrees also that the rancid polyunsaturated vegetable oils that they push on us are good. There are many different opinions in nutrition, and everyone seems to bolster their positions by referencing the scientific literature. The picture is not clear enough for the government to claim that they alone hold the truth.

  17. Dan Phillips

    I notice that governments have quietly dropped their guideline against eating cholesterol. That proscription was never grounded in science or even in common sense. Lucky for us they didn’t put a tax on it.

  18. Perth Trader

    70% of aust. adult population is overweight. What is sad is seeing overweight children in preschool & primary school children with teeth decay. So what has caused this?…are we so affluent we can afford yummy foods that aren’t good for us ?..or is it a lifestyle change in general?. I’m not pointing fingers but there does seem to be a lot of fat bastards out there and its not pretty.

  19. Roger

    What would you expect of Mark Scott (Head of NSW Education Dept and well known leftist) – what did you idiot Lib/Nats expect when you appointed him?

    And you wonder why Pauline Hanson is gaining traction.

    +100!

  20. Dan Phillips

    So what has caused this?

    It’s caused by a huge web of interacting forces. It’s unlikely that tweaking one parameter of a complex system (the price of sugar in this case) will have the intended result. It will probably just as likely have the opposite result.

  21. Entropy

    One of the good things about the gluten free fad around at the moment is that if you are a poor sod with ceoliac disease there is actually half decent food options for you. Better than the old days.

  22. rickw

    Does anyone think it is possible to reform Australia?

    It has been transformed from one of the most wonderful countries in the world to a festering pile of shit in a few decades.

  23. A kid’s birthday being considered a distraction…

    …from climate change indoctrination, the history of the invasion of Australia, teaching the feelings of maths and science, and student centred exploration of the variety of truths about gender diversity.

  24. Art Vandelay

    70% of aust. adult population is overweight.

    I’ve seen critiques that suggest that this figure is highly exaggerated. Step 1 when it comes to Big Government is to lie, exaggerate and massage the data until you create the impression that there’s a problem.

    Step 2 is establishing a bureaucracy and range of vested interests to perpetuate the myth that there’s a problem and to argue the case for action.

    Step 3 is for the politicians to introduce higher taxes and more regulation (which grants more powers to the self-interested bureaucrats in Step 2) so they can appear to be seen to be ‘solving problems’.

  25. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    It has been transformed from one of the most wonderful countries in the world to a festering pile of shit in a few decades.

    Since December, 1972, and, no, I don’t think it can be reformed. Too many people,relaxed and comfortable on the public teat, to elect a Government that will slash and burn.

  26. Art Vandelay

    This is a good example of Big Government exploiting bad science to gain more power: We Used Terrible Science to Justify Smoking Bans

  27. Jannie

    As they used to say: “Candy is dandy, but sex don’t rot your teeth”.

  28. NewChum

    Get the criminals off the streets so parents feel safe letting the kids roam free a bit more.

    It’s not he sugar which is an issue, it’s all the sitting in the couch playing Xbox. Some kids spend their lives doing that. You could halve their sugar intake and they’d still be made arses.

    Mums: cook your kids a decent dinner
    Dads : get off your arse and go and kick the footy around with your kids
    Courts : start stretching the necks on the violent offenders and get the streets safe again

  29. PoliticoNT

    Mmmm, yeah, maybe.

    My kids are 8 & 10. Up until this year they were at a good Bayside public school in Melbourne. Nice suburb, nice kids, nice parents – although a lot of aspirational mums of which ‘competitive food provision’ is a manifestation. My son had 21 class mates. So 21 weeks of the year some little Matthew or Kiara would turn up with at the minimum a plate of 22 gigantic sugar encrusted cup cakes. Often a shit load more, including lolly bags for each child. Same for my daughter. And that’s before you get to each bloody end-of-term morning tea, welcome to the new year morning tea, teacher’s birthday morning tea yadda yadda yadda.

    To say our suburb was in the grip of sugar mania was a slight understatement. Yeah, sure, you can make it clear your kids aren’t to take part in the sugar-fest, but as a day care daddy you (and your kids) are already in social purgatory most of the time – no point making it any worse. At home I keep sugar to a minimum, and make sure they eat well and keep off screens.

    But banning birthday cakes – bring it on. I managed to survive primary school in the 70s without a single one. My kids can too.

  30. squawkbox

    I too experienced primary school in the 70s in a class size of 20-25. We didn’t have the cupcakes delivered to school, but we still experienced 20-25 birthday parties a year, although of course depending on one’s popularity one wouldn’t get invited to all of them. All of them involving coke, cake, crisps and a distinct shortage of tofu. Amazingly, most of us were still whippet-thin compared to the blobs one sees nowadays waddling out of the parental SUVs.

  31. .

    Shouldn’t we end sugar subsidies before we start taxing poor people for buying food?

  32. .

    Get the criminals off the streets so parents feel safe letting the kids roam free a bit more.

    We’re living in an era of very low violent crime rates. Stop watching the news all of the time! It will make you paranoid and a lot of it is manufactured BS. Or, parents could actually keep an eye on their own kids?

  33. .

    Dan Phillips
    #2301734, posted on February 19, 2017 at 6:51 pm
    Government nutritionists are weirdo ascetic types who want to suck the joy out of everything. I am convinced that their ascetic impulses are guiding their science. Sugar, salt, saturated fat, and caffeine are enjoyable, so they must be bad according to them.

    They’re wrong about nearly everything too. Remember Ancel Keys?

  34. .

    Havelok
    #2301639, posted on February 19, 2017 at 4:11 pm
    Add one more to the list. From 2018 any painkiller containing codeine will require a prescription, despite being available over the pharmacy counter for many decades. I use Mersyndol judiciously for severe arthritis pain. Soon I, and thousands of others, will have to pay for an unnecessary consultation to obtain a product the great majority have used responsibly for years, all because Nanny has decided there is an abuse problem.
    Please. You can still buy Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) in small quantities if you produce a drivers licence. The pharmacist simply records it on the computer system. Why not have a similar system for painkillers?

    I get the feeling that Nanny has been taking steroids on the quiet lately. Peanuts, codeine, vaping, birthday cakes….crikey, we’ll soon need a medical certificate to go to the pub at this rate.

    You’re only half joking too. Tasmania wanted to ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after the year 2000. They were literally going to grandfather legal smoking out of existence!

    Now what is stopping alcohol consumption, caffeine being treated in the same way?

  35. squawkbox

    Get a dog and make it your kid’s job to walk it. Greyhound for preference.

  36. JohnA

    Pan metron ariston – everything in moderation – as some ancient Greek bloke once said.

    Well, actually I think that was gazzumped by:

    “Good things in moderation, and bad things not at all.”

  37. Second, there are yet more calls for a sugar tax, especially on the demon soft drink.

    And you know what comes next?
    Yep, you guessed it!
    Subsidies for sugar cane growers!!11!

  38. Lorikeet

    I think the fat, sugar and salt taxes are only designed to impose more taxes on the poor, as most of the supermarket’s leaner and more nutritious offerings are more expensive.

    Regarding the birthday cakes, I have a grandchild who is allergic to eggs, dairy, nuts, fish and sesame seeds. He was born that way, covered in eczema and looking very listless. I would say that the NSW government is reacting to threats of lawsuits coming from litigious parents and those who are quite reasonably afraid their children will become gravely ill, or have to miss out on all of the other kids’ birthday cakes.

    Dating back around 20 years, I can remember a Preschool teacher requesting that birthday cakes should preferably be a healthier type, or at least have only a little bit of hard icing, as thick layers of cream were much too messy and time consuming to cut up and clean up.

    Regarding e-cigarettes, it seems clear that the cigarette lobby has more clout than the health lobby. And we also know how interested the government ever is in the people’s needs when it can kowtow to Big Business or grab a buck from the poor.

  39. Lorikeet

    70% of aust. adult population is overweight. What is sad is seeing overweight children in preschool & primary school children with teeth decay. So what has caused this?…are we so affluent we can afford yummy foods that aren’t good for us ?..or is it a lifestyle change in general?. I’m not pointing fingers but there does seem to be a lot of fat bastards out there and its not pretty.

    The parents are too lazy to brush their own children’s teeth, let alone potty train them. The children are too spoilt, are “mini adults” at 4 so they don’t have to go to the naughty corner or receive a smack, and are as pure and innocent as the driven snow at 18, so they don’t have to go to jail.

    The kids are fat because they are overfed and under-exercised. Most do no household chores and can no longer make a trip to the corner store on their own.

    Yes the country has turned into a pile of dog droppings. This is because the UN and global banks have too much say, along with their lapdogs The Greens. They wish to create a dysfunctional homogeneous society, bring in harsh draconian laws and make us live in homes the size of a pill box.

  40. Lorikeet

    I did the NAPLAN Maths tests for Years 7 and 9 and received a perfect score for both. These tests are dead easy, but lots of children cannot pass them because they are exempt from receiving discipline and denied access to good curricula and intelligent teachers. And the birthday cake still gets the blame for cutting into the children’s learning time.

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