Month: November 2020

Vape shop operators: A tax on our products amid Covid-19 pandemic will kill business

Vaping has become a lifestyle in Malaysia. ― Pictures by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 ― The vape culture in Malaysia has seen tremendous growth since its introduction here about nine years ago. It has been reported that the value of the vaping market here is estimated at RM2 billion.

An estimated one million people smoke e-cigarettes or vapes in Malaysia and most rely on their neighbourhood vape shop for their “juice” or vape liquids. There are a myriad of choices of brands and flavours as Malaysia is one of the leading producers of vape liquids worldwide.

Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz, in his maiden Budget speech on November 6, proposed imposing excise duty on electronic, non-electronic cigarette devices and vape liquids beginning January 2021.

He said the government will impose excise duty at a rate of 10 per cent on all types of electronic and non-electronic cigarette devices, as well as 40 sen per ml (millimetre) when it comes to the sale of vape liquids. 

Mohd Hiekal bin Rosli, 39, owner of Molek Vape says the proposed tax on vape liquids is too steep.
Mohd Hiekal bin Rosli, 39, owner of Molek Vape says the proposed tax on vape liquids is too steep.

Malay Mail spoke to several e-cigarette and vape shop operators to find out what they think about this new vape tax. The consensus seems to be that the timing is wrong as everybody is still reeling from the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They suggested that the government postpone the imposition of the tax to a later date.

Mohd Hiekal bin Rosli, owner of Molek Vape Store on Jalan Ipoh, said that while he welcomes the tax as it will help regulate the industry, the government skipped a few steps when tabling this ruling.

“An Act should be put in place first and they should streamline the issuing of licences for vapes and all its related products. Right now, the health ministry doesn’t even issue licenses.

“How can you impose tax for something that people cannot get a licence to sell in the first place?” he questioned.

Vape users have a choice of different brands of liquids in different flavours.
Vape users have a choice of different brands of liquids in different flavours.

All nicotine products fall under the purview of the Poisons Act 1952, and no licence has been issued by the health ministry for vaping products in the country.

Hiekal added that while the 10 per cent excise duty on e-cigarettes and vaping devices is fair, the 40 sen per ml on vape liquids is a bit much, sharing that the price hike after the tax for liquids would be a deterrent.

“Forty sen per ml is actually quite high. Most vape juices I sell come either in 10ml, 30ml or 60ml boxes; imagine one 60ml bottle costs an average RM40, and at 40 sen per ml, that brings the total price to an additional RM24 on top of the price of the juice itself.

“We are afraid that the tax may chase away what remains of my customers ― some who face rough conditions because of the economy right now during Covid-19. Push it back until the coast is clear, then implement it by all means,” he said.

Although Hiekal thinks the 40 sen per ml tax on vape liquids is quite high, checks on a similar tax on vape liquids in other countries shows this is actually quite low.

Lokman Hakim bin Mohd Yusof, 25, runs Puppetborn Vape in Kampung Baru worries that his customers will return to smoking cigarettes.
Lokman Hakim bin Mohd Yusof, 25, runs Puppetborn Vape in Kampung Baru worries that his customers will return to smoking cigarettes.

At the corner of Jalan Raja Abdullah and Jalan Raja Muda Musa in Kampung Baru is Puppetborn Vape Store. Run by 25-year-old Lokman Hakim bin Mohd Yusof, this little vape store supplies Kampung Baru and its close neighbours with their e-cigarette and vaping needs.

Lokman shared that vaping is a lifestyle, just like smoking. And like cigarettes, no matter how high the tax, there will always be a demand.

“A lot of my customers switched over to vapes because one, it’s healthier than smoking cigarettes, and two, it’s cheaper! What’s going to stop those who switched from cigarettes to vapes to switch back, because it’s going to be almost the same price!,” he exclaimed as two of his customers nearby chuckled on hearing the dismay in his voice.

He added that while he agrees the implementation of a tax is a good thing for the country’s economy, the government should consider waiting until after the Covid-19 pandemic is over to impose the tax.

“Right now, I still have demand for vapes and its products but I know if they implement it before Covid-19 is over, we’re going to have a hard time surviving. Those big chains will nonetheless survive, but us small shops who serve a small neighbourhood… we won’t,” he added.

Amir Abdullah, store manager of NCIG Hartamas, says the business is still trying to recover after the many lockdowns.
Amir Abdullah, store manager of NCIG Hartamas, says the business is still trying to recover after the many lockdowns.

Amir Abdulah, store manager of NCiG’s flagship store in Desa Sri Hartamas, said that the company’s vision of helping people quit cigarettes may be impaired as the taxes may drive away customers.

“Here at NCiG, our motto is to improve the quality of life for smokers and their families by putting an end to cigarette addiction forever, by encouraging the use of e-cigarettes which have less toxins and chemicals compared to cigarettes, and are less harmful overall.

“The implementation of the tax may chase away some of our clients who have been trying to live a healthier life,”he shared.

Amir fears the implementation of the tax will just push people back to smoking cigarettes, as the pricing will be almost equivalent.

A 2020 report by an American advocacy group, the Consumer Choice Center, recently debunked the common belief that “vaping is the gateway to smoking for adults and adolescents” but instead is designed to offer smokers a safer way to consume nicotine and divert them from traditional and harmful tobacco consumption.

Amir added that he fears that it is too soon for such a tax as most operators are barely hanging on due to the devastating effects of the pandemic, and that the market needs more time to recover first.

“We need time to recover, we were closed for a month before this because of Covid-19, and have yet to recover from that lost time,” he said.

Customers buying vaping products inside a vape shop in Kuala Lumpur.

Originally published here.

Report: Vaping is a gateway out of smoking

Contrary to what many detractors say, vaping is less harmful than smoking. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — A 2020 report by an American advocacy group, the Consumer Choice Center, debunks the common belief that “vaping is the gateway to smoking for adults and adolescents.”

Titled “Vaping and the Gateway Myth”, the report highlighted findings that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.

It also presents a viewpoint that vaping actually helps conventional smokers “divert from traditional and harmful tobacco consumption.”

The report also emphasises that vaping products were designed to offer smokers a safer way to consume nicotine, with the target being adult smokers.

The British National Health Service has already said nicotine, on its own, is relatively harmless and adds that “almost all of the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic.”

The Consumer Choice Center report also cites a study conducted by University College London in 2019 which analysed data from over 50,000 smokers from 2006 to 2017.

It was found that vaping products were positively associated with the quit success rate; every one per cent rise in the use of vaping products associated with a 0.06 per cent increase in the quit success rate.

In a speech at the European Parliament in February this year, Joachim Schüz, head of Environment and Radiation at WHO’s cancer research agency said vaping is “no way as harmful” as smoking cigarettes and could even help heavy smokers quit.

What’s more, the Malaysian tobacco industry sees the new “vaping tax” to be introduced in 2021 on all electronic cigarette devices including vape and vaping liquids as a positive one as this means vaping products will be regulated.

In Malaysia, the number of smokers has dropped by 1.5 percentage points in 2019 according to the Ministry of Health’s National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019.

While it is unclear if this can be attributed to a switch to vaping, the same report shows five per cent of Malaysians use vaping products.

The effectiveness of vaping as a smoking cessation tool seems to be encouraging and efforts to frame vaping as a gateway to smoking do not seem to stand up to close scrutiny.

Originally published here.

Dampak Kebijakan Kontrol Harga Terhadap Inovasi di Bidang Medis

Dampak Kebijakan Kontrol Harga Terhadap Inovasi di Bidang Medis

Pandemi COVID-19 saat ini masih menjadi salah satu permasalahan terbesar yang dihadapi oleh berbagai masyarakat di seluruh dunia. Setidaknya, sampai tanggal 24 November 2020, pandemi COVID-19 telah memakan korban jiwa hingga 1,4 juta orang di seluruh dunia, dan merupakan pandemi terburuk yang pernah dialami dunia pasca Flu Spanyol pada tahun 1919 – 1920 (worldometers.info, 24/11/2020).

Pandemi ini juga telah membuat miliaran orang di seluruh dunia menjadi tidak bisa menjalankan aktivitas kesehariannya. Berbagai perkantoran dan lembaga pendidikan tutup, dan memaksa jutaan pekerja dan pelajar untuk beraktivitas secara jarak jauh. Berbagai layanan jasa, seperti rumah makan, salon kecantikan, dan sarana hiburan juga dipaksa tutup oleh pemerintah di berbagai negara.

Oleh karena itu, pandemi ini bukan hanya mengambil korban jiwa, namun juga korban ekonomi. Miliaran pekerja, terutama yang bekerja di bidang jasa yang tidak bisa bekerja dari jarak jauh, harus menerima mereka diberhentikan karena tempat mereka bekerja tidak bisa lagi beroperasi. Berbagai pertokoan juga dipaksa tutup karena para konsumen cenderung untuk menyimpan uangnya demi persediaan di masa pandemi.

Dengan demikian, pengentasan pandemi COVID-19 merupakan hal yang sangat krusial dan harus bisa dicapai dengan secepat mungkin. Bila tidak, maka dampaknya bukan hanya jutaan orang kehilangan nyawa, namun puluhan juta lainnya akan terancam kehilangan mata pencaharian yang menghidupi keluarga mereka.

Satu-satunya cara yang paling ampuh untuk mengatasi pandemi tersebut tentu adalah dengan menemukan vaksin yang dapat mencegah penyebaran virus Corona. Tanpa adanya vaksin, segala usaha yang dilakukan pemerintah dalam upaya pencegahan, seperti social distancing, penggunaan masker, hingga lockdown secara nasional, tentu tidak akan optimal.

Akhir-akhir ini, beberapa perusahaan farmasi besar membuat klaim bahwa mereka telah berhasil menemukan vaksin yang terbukti efektif untuk mencegah penyebaran virus Corona. Perusahaan farmasi asal Amerika Serikat, Pfizer, pada bulan lalu mengabarkan bahwa mereka berhasil menemukan vaksin yang sudah teruji efektivitasnya hingga 95%. Selain itu, perusahaan AstraZeneca yang bekerja sama dengan Universitas Oxford juga mengabarkan bahwa mereka berhasil membuat vaksin yang teruji efektivitasnya hingga 90% (Zeenews.india.com, 23/11/2020).

Hal ini tentu merupakan perkembangan yang patut diapresiasi. Dengan adanya vaksin tersebut, diharapkan kita dapat menyelesaikan pandemi ini, sehingga ekonomi bisa berjalan kembali seperti sedia kala, dan kita semua bisa kembali beraktivitas seperti tahun-tahun sebelumnya.

Namun, beberapa kelompok kepentingan menginginkan pemerintah untuk mengatur secara ketat mengenai produksi dan distribusi dari vaksin tersebut. Di Eropa misalnya, beberapa kelompok kepentingan menginginkan adanya kebijakan seperti kontrol harga terhadap vaksin tersebut, salah satunya adalah dari organisasi Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), atau yang juga dikenal dengan nama Doctor Without Borders (lek.com, 14/10/2020).

Diharapkan, melalui kebijakan kontrol harga tersebut, perusahaan farmasi tidak bisa menerapkan harga sekehendak diri mereka sendiri. Dengan demikian akses terhadap vaksin tersebut bisa semakin luas di masyarakat. Lantas, apakah kebijakan tersebut adalah sesuatu yang tepat.

Untuk menjawab pertanyaan tersebut, nyatanya, kebijakan kontrol harga atau price controls adalah kebijakan yang pernah dilakukan oleh beberapa negara Eropa beberapa dekade lalu. Pada dekade 1980-an, banyak negara Eropa yang menerapkan kontrol harga terhadap obat-obatan medis.

Hasilnya, inovasi obat-obatan medis di Eropa menjadi berkurang drastis. Pada tahun 1970-an, negara-negara Eropa memproduksi lebih dari 50% obat-obatan medis terbarukan. Namun, saat ini, setelah kebijakan kontrol harga terhadap obat-obatan medis, produksi tersebut menjadi menurun hingga 33% (mcall.com, 19/05/2020).

Berbeda dengan negara-negara Eropa, Amerika Serikat justru tidak menerapkan kebijakan kontrol harga terhadap obat-obatan medis.

Akibatnya, perusahaan-perusahaan farmasi memiliki insentif yang sangat tinggi untuk pindah, dan memproduksi obat-obatan baru di negeri Paman Sam tersebut. Saat ini, Amerika Serikat adalah negara yang menjadi pemimpin inovasi di bidang medis dan obat-obatan terbarukan (mcall.com, 19/05/2020).

Hal ini tentu adalah sesuatu yang berbahaya, terutama ketika dunia sangat membutuhkan produksi vaksin yang sangat berlimpah di masa pandemi sekarang ini. Kebijakan kontrol harga di Eropa telah terbukti mengurangi insentif para inovator untuk berinovasi memproduksi obat-obatan medis baru yang sangat dibutuhkan oleh dunia.

Pandemi COVID-19 saat ini merupakan tantangan kesehatan publik yang terbesar yang dialami oleh dunia. Untuk itu, para pembuat kebijakan harus sangat berhati-hati dalam menerapkan kebijakan terkait dengan vaksin dan obat-obatan medis yang sangat dibutuhkan untuk mengakhiri pandemi tersebut. Jangan sampai, kebijakan yang bertujuan untuk membuka akses seluas-luasnya terhadap obat-obatan dan produk-produk medis, justru berakhr pada berkurangnya insentif bagi para inovator untuk berinovasi dan berlomba-lomba untuk menyelesaikan pandemi ini.

Originally published here.

Vape penyelesaian bagi penghisap rokok?

“SAYA seorang perokok lebih daripada 20 tahun. Saya cuba pelbagai cara untuk berhenti merokok tetapi tidak berjaya sehingga saya cuba menghisap vape. Dalam tempoh tiga minggu, ini saya berjaya berhenti merokok,” kata Fairuz yang merupakan pengguna vape atau rokok elektronik.

Daripada pengalamannya itu, Fairuz yakin bahawa dengan menghisap vape boleh membantu perokok mengatasi sindrom ketagihan nikotin dalam tubuh mereka.

Katanya, sebotol cecair perisa (flavour) iaitu bahan utama yang digunakan dalam dalam rokok elektronik itu boleh bertahan selama tiga minggu dengan harga RM24, berbanding rokok berjenama terkenal berharga RM17 yang hanya mampu bertahan selama dua hari.

Menteri Kewangan, Senator Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz pada Belanjawan 2021 mengumumkan duti eksais akan dikenakan terhadap semua jenis peranti rokok elektronik dan bukan eletronik termasuk vape sebanyak 10 peratus mulai 1 Januari 2021.

Cecair perisa juga akan dikenakan duti eksais sebanyak 40 sen per milimeter. Bagi banyak pihak, pengumuman itu adalah satu langkah positif bagi industri tembakau tempatan kerana pengenalan cukai itu bermakna produk vape akan dikawal selia. Di Malaysia, jumlah perokok sedia ada telah merosot sedikit iaitu sebanyak 1.5 peratus kepada 21.3 peratus pada tahun 2019, menurut Tinjauan Kebangsaan Kesihatan dan Morbiditi (NHMS) 2019 anjuran Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia (KKM).

Tidak jelas sama ada pengurangan bilangan perokok tembakau disebabkan oleh pertukaran kepada vape, memandangkan laporan sama menunjukkan sebanyak lima peratus rakyat Malaysia menggunakan produk vape termasuk Fairuz.

Bagaimanapun, kajian mendapati ada hubung kait positif antara pengurangan bilangan perokok tembakau dan penggunaan vape sejak ia diperkenalkan.

Dalam laporan bertajuk Vaping and the Gateway Myth oleh Consumer Choice Center, satu kajian telah dilaksanakan untuk menentukan sama ada penggunaan vape membantu perokok bertukar daripada produk tembakau.

Laporan tersebut mendapati penggunaan vape terbukti 95 peratus kurang berbahaya daripada merokok, malah produk vape diiktiraf oleh pelbagai badan kesihatan antarabangsa sebagai alternatif yang lebih selamat.

Laporan yang sama menambah bahawa produk vape telah direka untuk menawarkan cara yang lebih selamat kepada perokok untuk menggunakan nikotin, dengan perokok dewasa sebagai pasaran sasaran.

Menurut Perkhidmatan Kesihatan British, nikotin secara tersendiri tidak berbahaya. Menurutnya lagi, “Hampir semua kemudaratan merokok berpunca daripada beribu-ribu bahan kimia lain dalam asap tembakau, yang kebanyakannya toksik.”

Laporan tersebut juga menyebut satu kajian kendalian University College London pada tahun 2019 yang menganalisis data lebih daripada 50,000 perokok dari tahun 2006 hingga 2017.

Positif

Kajian mendapati bahawa penggunaan produk vape untuk berhenti merokok dikaitkan secara positif dengan kadar kejayaan berhenti merokok, dengan peningkatan 1 peratus penggunaan produk vape menghasilkan peningkatan 0.06 peratus dalam kejayaan berhenti merokok.

Penggunaan vape juga diiktiraf oleh Joachim Schüz, Ketua Alam Sekitar dan Radiasi di agensi penyelidikan kanser WHO, International Agency for Research on Cancer dalam ucapannya di Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Parlimen Eropah pada Februari 2020.

Dalam laporannya, Joachim Schüz berkata, vape ‘sama sekali tidak’ sebahaya rokok tembakau dan boleh membantu perokok tegar berhenti merokok.

Keberkesanan vape sebagai alat berhenti merokok tidak boleh dinafikan kerana yang disasarkan adalah perokok dan bukan golongan yang tidak merokok.

Sebarang dakwaan yang menggambarkan penggunaan vape sebagai pembuka laluan kepada merokok adalah tidak berasas.

Cuma yang menjadi kebimbangan pengguna vape seperti Fairuz ialah kos yang semakin meningkat mulai tahun hadapan.

Originally published here.

Consumer Group Suggests Ways to Lower Youth Vaping

The Consumer Choice Center has released a new report that considers existing age restrictions on the sale of vaping products and then suggests several policies to reverse low enforcement rates of current rules.

To reduce the rate of vaping by youth, the Consumer Choice Center report recommends four actions:

  • Enforce strict age restrictions on vaping devices and liquids at the point of sale.
  • Use modern age-verification technology for online sales.
  • Learn from other industries such as alcohol and fireworks on how to improve compliance rates.
  • Retail and industry should be encouraged to be more proactive with the enforcement of rules.
  • Don’t punish legal adult vapers for the lack of enforcement of age restrictions.

Fred Roeder, health economist and author of the report, stated in an email that most countries have already drawn a line of when it is legal to vape (enacted age-to-purchase laws).

“We don’t face a lack of legislation but a lack of compliance with existing rules and regulations. We looked at similarly regulated industries such as alcohol and gambling and found that these tend to have smarter enforcement mechanisms,” he wrote “There are many innovative tools out there to ensure only adult customers can buy vaping products. Digital ID checks and industry initiatives to ID customers that look young are better ways to solve the problem than additional laws such as flavor bans.”

Originally published here.

Stopping targeted advertising cuts off industries and dumbs down tech

The European Parliament’s vote to phase out the practice threatens to reduce consumer choice and stifle what is one of Europe’s most innovative sectors, writes the Consumer Choice Center’s Yaël Ossowski.

hen we hear gripes about social media, one of the top concerns is targeted advertising.

On any given day, this type of segmented advertising is used by the local hair salon searching for new clients, an environmental group asking for signatures on a petition, and a political candidate seeking your vote. These are all important and vital for our civil societies in Europe.

These groups pay to get your attention on social media because it achieves something essential: to generate business, to advocate for social causes, or win elections. This is facilitated by the unique platforms where we post and share information.

And because social media is usually free, accepting this advertising allows platforms to grow and scale to continue providing value to users. That is the balance that most of us understand. Some people are mildly annoyed, but others prefer advertising that caters to their interests.

Unfortunately, that distinction has given fodder to activists and politicians who want to ban this style of advertising to limit the ability to spread information on social media.

In October, MEPs in the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of severely restricting and eventually phasing out targeted ads. The proposal was an amendment to the annual competition report, aimed at overhauling the Digital Services Act. It remains non-binding until such regulation is issued by the European Commission.

Using his Twitter account, Dutch MEP Paul Tang categorised the vote as a “win” against large tech companies, further adding that “We see that big tech continues to expand their market power by considering personal data as a commodity. In addition to interfering with our privacy, such a revenue model is unhealthy and sickening for the internet.”

In this case, politicians in Brussels get it wrong. These policy remedies would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the greatly innovative tech sector that provides value to users across Europe.

Social media platforms have grown to be popular because they empower users to speak their minds and profitable because they enable small businesses and groups to find current and future customers. That is a win-win for our societies.

If targeted advertising is dismantled online as some hope, it would severely restrict the options for entrepreneurs and social groups to find supporters and clients. That may sound good in theory, but in practice, it means stopping advertising options for environmental groups, restaurants hoping to deliver food during continued lockdowns, and more.

Regulating innovative technology because of serious legal and health concerns is warranted but stopping information and unique algorithms that give us what we want is a step too far.

We must face the fact that social media has become the new marketplace where we seek information. If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries. This harms everyone.

“If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries. This harms everyone”

More than harmful, it is also based on the false assumption that adults are not intelligent enough to understand or interpret advertising. This is both paternalistic and wrong.

Of course, ads are annoying for those who do not want them. And, luckily, the same technology that created targeted micro-advertising has also spawned ad-blocking browser plugins, Virtual Private Networks, and private browsing modes that are simple and easy to use for those who want them.

Thanks to technology, everything we do online has gotten more efficient, more effective, and less costly. It has empowered non-profits like mine, given a voice to millions of entrepreneurs, and offered untold value to users around the world.

As advocates for a free and open Internet, we must continue to uphold innovation and ensure it is protected from those that wish to limit its potential. The European Union needs to find ways to foster, rather than choke off, the innovation that every citizen on the continent deserves.

Originally published here.

Halting targeted advertising kills industries and dumbs down tech

When we hear gripes about social media, one of the top concerns is targeted advertising.

On any given day, this type of segmented advertising is used by the local hair salon searching for new clients, an environmental group asking for signatures on a petition and a city council candidate seeking your vote. These are all important and vital for our civil society.

These groups pay to get your attention on social media because it achieves something essential: to generate business, to advocate for social causes or win elections. This is facilitated by the unique platforms where we post and share information.

And because social media is usually free, accepting this advertising allows platforms to grow and scale to continue providing value to users. That is the balance that most of us understand. Some people are mildly annoyed, but others prefer advertising that caters to their interests.

Unfortunately, that distinction has given fodder to activists and politicians who want to ban this style of advertising to limit the ability to spread information on social media.

The latest scandal du jour, as one can guess, revolves around the 2020 elections and how political forces targeted would-be voters on social media.

Using Twitter and Facebook proved effective for both the Biden and Trump campaigns, up until both platforms halted political advertising. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent and tens of millions of voters were reached.

In a hearing on Tuesday, senators on the Judiciary Committee excoriated Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for their proprietary algorithms that drive engagement and sell ads.

Senators took turns grinding their axes, lodging complaints about content moderation, targeted advertising and market power.

The policy remedies discussed have so far been two-pronged, either using antitrust laws to break up the social media firms or rewriting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that currently treats online outlets as platforms rather than publishers, not making them liable for the content shared on their pages.

In either case, politicians in Washington get it wrong.

Action in either direction would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the great innovative tech sector that is the world’s envy.

Social media platforms have grown to be popular because they empower users to speak their minds and be profitable because they enable small businesses and groups to find current and future customers. That is a win-win for society.

If targeted advertising is dismantled online as some hope, it would severely restrict the options for entrepreneurs and social groups to find supporters and clients.

That may sound good in theory, but in practice it means stopping advertising options for environmental groups, restaurants hoping to deliver food during continued lockdowns and more.

Regulating innovative technology because of serious legal and health concerns is warranted but stopping information and unique algorithms that give us what we want is a step too far.

We must face the fact that social media has become the new marketplace where we seek information. If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries.

This harms everyone.

More than harmful, it is also based on the false assumption that adults are not intelligent enough to understand or interpret advertising. This is both paternalistic and wrong.

Of course, ads are annoying for those who do not want them. And, luckily, the same technology that created targeted micro-advertising has also spawned ad-blocking browser plugins, Virtual Private Networks, and private browsing modes that are simple and easy to use for those who want them.

Thanks to technology, everything we do online has gotten more efficient, more effective and less costly. It has empowered nonprofits like mine, given a voice to millions of entrepreneurs and offered untold value to users around the world.

As advocates for a free and open internet, we must continue to uphold innovation and ensure it is protected from those who wish to limit its potential.

Originally published here.

[EU] Survey on the Pharmaceutical Strategy – Timely patient access to affordable medicines​

Introduction

The EU strives to be a frontrunner in ensuring universal health coverage. In addition, it is a global leader in healthcare research and development and a major trading partner in pharmaceuticals and medical technologies. People across the EU expect to benefit from equal access to safe, state-of-the-art and affordable new and established therapies. Medicines play an important role in this regard, as they offer therapeutic options for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases.
The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) clearly demonstrates the need to modernise the way the EU ensures that its citizens get the medicines they need. Although this has been thrown into sharp relief by the coronavirus pandemic, it is not a new problem: even prior to the pandemic we witnessed shortages of essential medicines, such as cancer treatments, vaccines and antimicrobials. This calls for a thorough examination of how the supply chain – from the importing of active ingredients, raw materials, and medicines from third countries to internal EU production and distribution – can be made more secure and reliable.

Securing the supply of medicines is not only about existing therapies. There is also a need to ensure that the European pharmaceutical industry remains an innovator and world leader. Innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence as well as data collected from clinical experience (“real world data”) have the potential to transform therapeutic approaches and the way medicines are developed, produced, authorised and placed on the market and used. Innovation needs to be focused on areas of most need.

At the same time, more must be done to ensure that innovative and promising therapies reach all patients who need them: at present, this is not the case, with patients in smaller markets being particularly affected. Health systems, which are also seeking to ensure their financial and fiscal sustainability, need new therapies that are clinically better than existing alternatives as well as cost effective.

Finally, we are more aware than ever of the need to reduce the environmental footprint of medicines. All these challenges will be addressed in the forthcoming EU Pharmaceutical Strategy, which should cover the whole life-cycle of pharmaceutical products from scientific discovery to authorisation and patient access.

More information on the context of the initiative, on the challenges identified so far and on the objectives can be found in the roadmap (https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12421-Pharmaceutical-Strategy-Timely-patient-access-to-affordable-medicines). Whether you are a concerned citizen or a professional in the area of medicines we would like you to let us know if you share our 2 objectives, what actions we should focus on and whether there are any additional aspects that we should cover.

After some introductory questions about yourself, the questionnaire continues with questions on the Pharmaceutical strategy. When replying, please keep in mind that the questions in this survey were developed to address the long-standing issues identified in the EU pharmaceuticals system. These may be related to the problems arising from the coronavirus pandemic but are broader than that. The end of the survey includes dedicated questions on coronavirus related issues.

Please note that in this questionnaire, we do not intend to obtain data relating to identifiable persons. Therefore, in case you will describe a particular experience or situation, please do it in a way that will not allow linking to a particular individual, whether it is you or somebody else. We thank you in advance for your time and input.


Response

Biden Has an Opportunity to Improve Trade With Europe

The Europeans killed a potential deal during the Obama years, but the world is a different place now.

Trade relationships with Europe have been painstakingly petty for the last four years. In 2019, the U.S ended the WTO’s appellate body by refusing to appoint new members, which meant that the world’s arbiter on trade had had a more difficult time opposing new tariffs—and new tariffs there have been. The ongoing trade war has targeted a wide range of products on both sides, from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to French wine and Kentucky bourbon. Whenever Trump would target a new product, the EU would reciprocate with new tariff implementations or hikes.

What ended up targeting American blue jeans-lovers in Estonia and Bordeaux wine connoisseurs in New York began as a much less symbolic tariff on steel and aluminum. In Donald Trump’s protectionist mindset, he believed he was doing U.S manufacturing a favor, but in reality he punished those businesses that rely on imported industrial goods for their production. During his administration, many Republicans who had held dear the principle of free trade seem to have forgotten their own position. Perhaps his upcoming departure from the White House will allow them to remember it.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S had pushed for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The free trade agreement would have created one of the largest trade zones, with the (then) 28 member states of the European Union and the United States. The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, said that TTIP would boost the EU’s economy by $142 billion, the U.S economy by over $100 billion and the rest of the world by $118 billion.

Despite strong American advocacy in Europe for the agreement, the European Union itself stalled and then walked away. Environmentalists held massive demonstrations throughout the EU, claiming that TTIP would undermine European food standards and distort the marketplace by reducing prices. They made a safe bet on the skepticism of Europeans toward American food, and on consumer nationalism. The Anglo-Saxon approach to business does not play well in countries like France, where labor regulations thoroughly protect workers, and the flexibility and entrepreneurship of Americans is seen as obsessively commercial. This played right into the hands of those industries that considered American competition as a scourge.

When Barack Obama left office, TTIP negotiations were not just at a standstill—they were unofficially dead. The election of Donald Trump worsened trade relationships with Europe, but TTIP had been killed by Europeans, not Trump.

That said, political institutions in Europe currently have every reason to be warmer toward trade relations with the U.S. The trade war has been difficult for everyone, and Europe understands that it leads nowhere. After four years of Donald Trump, Joe Biden should present a real alternative based on free trade, not just case-by-case mini-agreements (such as a recently signed deal on free lobster trade). Crucially, if the U.S reaches a comprehensive trade agreement with the United Kingdom (which officially leaves the European Union’s single market at the end of this year), then the EU has no choice but to prevent a loss of its competitive edge. 

Unfortunately, Joe Biden has not quite grasped this window of opportunity but has supported the European Union on the issue of Brexit. Meddling in European affairs, Biden claims that he will not sign any FTA with the U.K. unless Boris Johnson’s government respects the withdrawal agreement’s so-called Northern Ireland protocol. In essence, if the U.K. reestablishes a border (or something resembling a border) between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, then the U.S will not be a willing trading partner. Both the U.K. and the EU have struggled to find an agreement that allows for the U.K. to leave the EU and make its own internal market decisions, while avoiding cross-border checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 ended most of the violence of the Troubles (between those loyal to the United Kingdom and those who wanted to unite the country with the Republic of Ireland), by promising not to establish hard border infrastructure. To separatists, this signaled a willingness to align the island more closely with the Republic, while loyalists remained under the laws of the United Kingdom. The UK’s exit from the EU might threaten this agreement, and Joe Biden has taken the side of the EU.

Outside of supporting an odd sense of Irish-American pride, how exactly does such a move benefit the United States? While it certainly upsets the British, it would be mistaken to believe that continental Europeans in Paris and Berlin will suddenly jump out of their seats to hand American businesses access to European consumers just because we’ve turned our backs on trade with the U.K.

TTIP would have allowed mutual access to public markets, slashed tariffs, and reduced bureaucratic regulations on everything from clothes to medicine and cosmetics. Many customs duties on products between the U.S and Europe are so high that it effectively kills any trading relationships. For Americans wanting to observe this phenomenon in real time: Follow a European entering an American supermarket for the first time. Choices!

There are also tariff differences depending on goods and destinations. For instance, EU tariffs on American cars are high, while American tariffs on European cars are relatively low. Meanwhile, certain types of peanut tariffs are so high (at a rate of 138 percent) that they never find their way on the European market. In essence, U.S-EU trade is a jungle of tariff distinctions that pile an avalanche of red tape on any type of producer. TTIP intended to scrap nearly all tariffs across the Atlantic, yet the will of the EU at the time was trumped by skepticism toward American agricultural products.

Many of the most political decisions in the European Union are taken because of a sense of urgent necessity. In the European Parliament, you will hear speakers claim that the EU needs to be more centralized, because despite being the largest single market in the world, it is also a declining market. If Joe Biden wanted to save Obama’s (and his own) trade policy legacy, he could do so on one hand by pressuring Europeans to understand that competition is at their doorstep, but also by showing them what the TTIP has to offer.

The more the U.S opens itself to free trade from all over the world, the more it will convince hesitant partners like the EU to drop subsidies to large industries, and allow small businesses not to put “Europe first” at a large price, but choose the best product, including from the United States.

Originally published here.

The Sun: Halting targeted advertising kills industries and dumbs down tech

When we hear gripes about social media, one of the top concerns is targeted advertising.

On any given day, this type of segmented advertising is used by the local hair salon searching for new clients, an environmental group asking for signatures on a petition and a city council candidate seeking your vote. These are all important and vital for our civil society.

These groups pay to get your attention on social media because it achieves something essential: to generate business, to advocate for social causes or win elections. This is facilitated by the unique platforms where we post and share information.

And because social media is usually free, accepting this advertising allows platforms to grow and scale to continue providing value to users. That is the balance that most of us understand. Some people are mildly annoyed, but others prefer advertising that caters to their interests.

Unfortunately, that distinction has given fodder to activists and politicians who want to ban this style of advertising to limit the ability to spread information on social media.

The latest scandal du jour, as one can guess, revolves around the 2020 elections and how political forces targeted would-be voters on social media.

Using Twitter and Facebook proved effective for both the Biden and Trump campaigns, up until both platforms halted political advertising. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent and tens of millions of voters were reached.

In a hearing on Tuesday, senators on the Judiciary Committee excoriated Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for their proprietary algorithms that drive engagement and sell ads.

Senators took turns grinding their axes, lodging complaints about content moderation, targeted advertising and market power.

The policy remedies discussed have so far been two-pronged, either using antitrust laws to break up the social media firms or rewriting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that currently treats online outlets as platforms rather than publishers, not making them liable for the content shared on their pages.

In either case, politicians in Washington get it wrong.

Action in either direction would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the great innovative tech sector that is the world’s envy.

Social media platforms have grown to be popular because they empower users to speak their minds and be profitable because they enable small businesses and groups to find current and future customers. That is a win-win for society.

If targeted advertising is dismantled online as some hope, it would severely restrict the options for entrepreneurs and social groups to find supporters and clients.

That may sound good in theory, but in practice it means stopping advertising options for environmental groups, restaurants hoping to deliver food during continued lockdowns and more.

Regulating innovative technology because of serious legal and health concerns is warranted but stopping information and unique algorithms that give us what we want is a step too far.

We must face the fact that social media has become the new marketplace where we seek information. If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries.

This harms everyone.

More than harmful, it is also based on the false assumption that adults are not intelligent enough to understand or interpret advertising. This is both paternalistic and wrong.

Of course, ads are annoying for those who do not want them. And, luckily, the same technology that created targeted micro-advertising has also spawned ad-blocking browser plugins, Virtual Private Networks, and private browsing modes that are simple and easy to use for those who want them.

Thanks to technology, everything we do online has gotten more efficient, more effective and less costly. It has empowered nonprofits like mine, given a voice to millions of entrepreneurs and offered untold value to users around the world.

As advocates for a free and open internet, we must continue to uphold innovation and ensure it is protected from those who wish to limit its potential.

Originally published here.

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