Day: January 20, 2021

Free to choose: adult consumers should make their own decisions

We have created a public policy monster that lurks out from the backroom once we eye the cookie jar.

Not a day goes by without a public health campaigner knocking on your door (though currently it’s probably an email) to explain to your which product should be banned or taxed out of existence. It used to be just tobacco, due to the unique health risks associated with smoking — but with an increasing amount of consumers switching to healthier alternatives such as vaping, other products have become the focus. Whether it is alcohol, sugar, fat, or gambling, no vice goes left unchecked in the eternal strive to punish consumers for the things they like.

That is not to say that all of them come without their downsides, they clearly do. It is hardly recent wisdom that all consumption should be about moderation, and that moderation is a subjective standard that each individual has to make out for themselves.

‘54,000 obese schoolchildren’ was the slogan by which Irish politicians lobbied for a new sugar tax back in 2017. Quite evidently, the implication is all those who disagree with the measure must not be concerned about the children – despite the possibility that child obesity might not be stopped by an increase in the price of a Coke, but that it has far-reaching roots that need to be sorted out first.

The Irish measure is aligned with the recent French increase on their existing tax on soda. Then president Nicolas Sarkozy had introduced the measure, which then continued to be exploited for revenue increases. The initial tax constituted €7.53 on 100 litres of soda, or 2.51 cents for a can of 33 centilitres.

One might suggest that this is steeped in irony, considering that through parts of the European Union’s common agricultural policy, France is also subsidising sugar. Being asked to pay twice, once for the subsidisation of sugar, and then its consumption, is probably hard to swallow for the French consumer.

In a panel at the International Monetary Fund last year, Bloomberg addressed the question of regressive sin taxes. ‘Some people say, well, taxes are regressive’, he said. ‘But in this case, yes they are. That’s the good thing about them because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money.’

IMF managing director and chair Christine Lagarde chipped in at the end of the clip: ‘So it’s regressive, it is good. There are lots of tax experts in the room… And they all say that two things in life which are absolutely certain. One is death, the other one is tax. So you use one to defer the other one.’

‘That’s correct. That is exactly right. Well said’, adds Bloomberg.

The premise of this patronising politics is this: that the consumer is basically too inept to make decisions about his or her own life. Blinded by the irrationality of his own mind and instinct-lead urges, it can only be the benevolence of modern-day public policy that can lift him out of his distress. That, at least, seems to be the assumption of today’s regulators.

The truth, however, is of a very different kind. Despite not being particularly vocal about their opposition to sin taxes, consumers speak clearly when it comes to their market decisions. This is a line I’ve used before, but it remains as true as it’s ever been: people want to smoke, eat fatty foods and drink soda, and politicians need to start to come to grips with it. These are all products we should consume in moderation and with transparent information about its health concerns, but we should stop criticising the innate desire to have them in the first place.

We have created a public policy monster that lurks out from the backroom once we eye the cookie jar, when we should actually be completely unapologetic about the fact that we like candy, we lust after soda and that we love chocolate.

Originally published here.

COVID-19 in Europe: Is the EU losing the vaccine race?

When it comes to Covid vaccinations, Germany stands accused of buying up extra doses, while other EU countries simply aren’t taking all the doses they’re allowed.

Is the financial muscle of Germany at play here as the country is said to be looking after its own interests at the expense of others?

The Consumer Choice Center Managing Director Fred Roeder joined the Roundtable show at TRT World to discuss #COVID19 and #vaccines in #Europe.

Apakah Melarang Vape pada Masa Pandemi Merupakan Kebijakan yang Tepat?

Pandemi COVID-19 hingga saat ini masih menjadi permasalahan besar yang harus dihadapi oleh berbagai negara di seluruh dunia. Salah satu dampak dari hal tersebut adalah, perayaan tahun baru 2021 kemarin terasa sangat berbeda di berbagai kota-kota besar di banyak negara.

Tidak ada perayaan besar-besaran, pesta meriah, hingga kembang api yang mewarnai langit malam. Jutaan orang di seluruh dunia terpaksa harus tinggal di kediaman mereka, atau merayakan tahun baru di tempat yang tertutup, bersama orang-orang dekat mereka dalam jumlah yang kecil.

Untuk itu, penanganan dan pengentasan pandemi COVID-19, yang sudah memakan korban jiwa hingga lebih dari 2 juta orang di seluruh dunia, menjadi prioritas utama banyak pemerintahan di dunia. Berbagai pemerintahan di seluruh dunia mengambil berbagai langkah yang dianggap mampu untuk memitigasi dampak virus yang penyebarannya sangat mudah tersebut.Beragam kebijakan dilakukan oleh banyak pemerintahan di seluruh dunia untuk mengatasi dan memitigasi pandemi tersebut. Beberpaa kebijakan yang umum diambil oleh berbagai pemerintahan di dunia diantaranya adalah lockdown nasional untuk menutup seluruh fasilitas umum, sarana pendidikan, dan gedung perkantoran, menutup perbatasan, dan mewajibkan seluruh warga yang keluar rumah untuk mengenakan masker.

Selain itu, lockdown, menutup perbatasan, dan mewajibkan semua orang menggunakan masker bukan hanya kebijakan yang diambil oleh berbagai pemerintahan di dunia untuk memitigasi dampak dari pandemi COVID-19. Kebijakan lain yang juga dilakukan adalah melarang berbagai produk yang dianggap berpotensi meningkatkan dampak dari pandemi COVID-19. Salah produk yang menjadi sasaran dari kebijakan tersebut adalah rokok elektronik tertentu, yang juga dikenal dengan nama vape.

Di Amerika Serikat misalnya, pelarangan vape sebagai untuk memitigasi pandemi COVID-19 merupakan kebijakan yang dilakukan oleh beberapa pemerintahan di negara bagian dan juga kota memberlakukan pelarangan terhadap vape berperasa (salud-america.org, 18/09/2020). Lantas, apakah kebijakan tersebut merupakan sesuatu yang tepat? Berdasarkan penelitian yang dilakukan oleh berbagai lembaga kesehatan di seluruh dunia, rokok elektronik, atau vape, merupakan produk yang jauh lebih aman daripada rokok elektronik yang dibakar. Hasil penelitian yang dilakukan oleh lembaga kesehatan Pemerintah Inggris misalnya, Public Health England, menunjukkan bahwa vape atau rokok elektronik jauh lebih aman 95% dari rokok konvensional yang dibakar (Public Health England, 19/07/2015).

Tidak hanya itu, vape atau rokok elektronik juga terbukti dapat membantu jutaan perokok untuk berhenti merokok. Lembaga kesehatan Inggris, National Health Service misalnya, menyatakan bahwa rokok elektronik atau vape merupakan produk yang efektif untuk membantu seseorang berhenti dari kebiasaan merokoknya (National Health Service, 29/03/2019).

Hal ini tentu merupakan hal yang sangat positif. Adanya produk yang jauh lebih aman, yang dapat membantu seorang perokok untuk menghentikan kebiasaan merokoknya tentu adalah hal yang harus kita dukung dan apresiasi. Selain itu, pihak yang paling dirugikan apabila pelarangan vape diberlakukan adalah para perokok, di mana mereka tidak lagi bisa mendapatkan akses terhadap produk yang dapat membantu mereka berhenti merokok. Kebijakan tersebut membuat lebih banyak keburukan daripada manfaat (reason.org, 22/06/2020).

Selain itu, dampak unintended consequences yang dapat terjadi bila kebijakan tersebut diberlakukan adalah, bila vape dilarang, maka akan lebih banyak produk-produk vape ilegal yang sangat berbahaya bagi konsumen, karena tidak melalui proses regulasi oleh pemerintah. Hal ini tentu merupakan sesuatu yang sangat berbahaya. Bila produk ilegal vape membanjiri pasar, terlebih lagi pada masa pandemi seperti sekarang, maka akan lebih banyak orang-orang sakit, dan rumah sakit serta sarana kesehatan akan semakin sulit menampung mereka, karena sudah dipenuhi oleh para pasien COVID-19 (Newsday.com, 04/05/2020).

Dampak dari beredarnya vape ilegal terhadap kesehatan publik bukan sesuatu yang dapat kita abaikan begitu saja, dan sudah pernah terjadi di beberapa tempat, salah satunya di Amerika Serikat. Di negeri Paman Sam, pada tahun 2019, terjadi kasus orang-orang yang terkena penyakit dan gangguan pernafasan yang disebabkan oleh konsumsi produk-produk vape ilegal. Setidaknya ada 35 orang yang meninggal disebabkan karena konsumsi produk ilegal tersebut (The Washington Post, 26/10/2019).

Sebagai penutup, kebijakan pelarangan vape, apalagi di masa pandemi COVID-19, adalah sesuatu yang berbahaya. Kebijakan ini bukan hanya akan menghilangkan kesempatan bagi jutaan perokok untuk mengakses produk-produk yang dapat membantu mereka berhenti merokok, namun juga berpotensi akan meningkatkan produk-produk vape ilegal yang berbahaya bagi konsumen, yang akan semakin memberatkan sarana kesehatan yang sudah dibebani oleh banyaknya pasien COVID-19.

Originally published here.

Philadelphia should reverse its plastic bag ban

Philadelphia’s pending ban on disposable plastic bags won’t just annoy consumers — it will actually hurt the environment. Alternatives to plastics have a much bigger eco-footprint.

The city of Philadelphia has officially paused its plastic bag ban, which will now be phased in over the next year and enforced by city officials in April of 2022. While consumer advocates appreciate the delay, the prospect of a bag ban is misguided — and will ultimately do more harm than good, including for the environment.

Why is that the case? Well, it’s largely because alternatives to single-use plastic bags come with serious negative environmental externalities. That might sound far-fetched to some, but that was the conclusion of Denmark’s Environment Ministry when it evaluated plastic bags versus reusables. 

Danish government researchers using 15 environmental benchmarks (including climate change, toxicity, ozone depletion, resource depletion and ecosystem impact) concluded that single-use plastic bags are often superior when compared to paper or cotton alternatives. So much so that paper bags, a common plastic replacement, needed to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag. 

When it came to cotton alternatives, the numbers were even higher. A conventional cotton bag alternative needed to be used over seven thousand times to outpace a plastic bag in ecological effects, and an organic cotton bag had to be reused over twenty thousand times. Consumer usage patterns of those alternatives clearly show that they never get reused at the rate required for them to be environmentally advantageous, which means that in an effort to protect the environment, city officials are in fact passing a ban that will do more damage. The ban ends up being more environmental symbolism than environmental protection. 

And the Danes aren’t alone in their conclusions: The British government’s impact assessment on this very question drew the same conclusion.

Consumer usage patterns of those alternatives clearly show that they never get reused at the rate required for them to be environmentally advantageous.

Not only is the bag ban bad for the environment, it is bad policy for local retailers and their consumers. The pandemic has had an absolutely devastating impact on the food service sector, and the ban will ultimately make that impact worse by further inflating costs as retailers are forced to switch to higher-cost alternatives. After all, the reason plastic is so ubiquitous is that it’s easy to use, cheap and preferred by both consumers and retailers. When the full force of the ban takes effect in 2022, the inflated costs will be shouldered by consumers through higher prices.

Beyond the impact on the environment and the economy, the ban completely ignores viable methods to reclaim plastic waste to ensure it doesn’t end up as pollution or in landfills. As part of the city’s justification for banning plastics, it claimed that it takes ten thousand hours to sort the plastic bags out of waste piles, because the bags are not recyclable. That claim sidesteps the fact that once these bags are actually reclaimed, they can be repurposed through a process called chemical depolymerization, which for the layman, is the process of chemical recycling, where plastic is broken down into its original building blocks and repurposed into new products. 

Through recovery and chemical depolymerization, we can turn every piece of discarded plastic back into the same molecules it started from — and these transformations aren’t hypothetical. Across North America there are countless examples of plastics being repurposed into resin pellets, which extends the life of these plastics exponentially, and potentially, indefinitely. For single-use bags specifically, there are innovative projects underway where scientists take these items, alter their chemical bonds and bind them with bitumen to be used to pave roads. The end result is lighter asphalt made with recycled plastic that won’t leach into the soil or waterways. Giving plastic waste a second life in this way creates jobs and fosters innovation — the true solution to so many of our environmental ills. Just as importantly, it ensures that plastics remain in the economy rather than ending up in the environment. 

Simply put, plastic usage can be something we deal with and even benefit from, without having to resort to heavy-handed bans. Leaning on innovators to better deal with plastic waste is a solution that avoids high-impact alternatives, maximizes consumer choice, manages waste properly and actually benefits the environment.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

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