Month: March 2024

Nebraska: Don’t Penalize Consumers and Online Users on Ad Taxes

Dear Nebraska Senators,

As a consumer advocacy group that champions the benefits of freedom of choice, innovation, and abundance in everyday life, we write you to express concern over recent amendments to the property tax relief proposal found in LB388, specifically sections 8-12 known as the “Advertising Services Tax Act”.

The levying of a 7.5% tax on a digital advertising platform – no matter its size – will ultimately have an impact on small businesses that use such platforms, as well as consumers and users who rely on legitimate advertising to be better informed about products and services they enjoy.

The broader goal of property tax relief is a very worthwhile endeavor, and one we support, but including a separate punitive tax in the same bill on those who use digital advertising services would likely do more harm than good. Startups, small businesses, and advocacy groups use digital advertising to reach consumers and citizens alike, and we believe that placing additional burdens would raise the cost and ultimately favor larger businesses that can afford it.

As a consumer advocacy organization that aims to reach and inform consumers on public policy matters, we often use digital advertising tools to spread our message, as we did in Nebraska around the issue of bans on direct-to-consumer auto sales, disproportionally high vehicle registration fees, and the persistence of corporate welfare that harms consumers and taxpayers.

With a levy on digital advertising, those costs will ultimately be passed on to groups like ours, and will stifle and limit information that consumers can receive about goods and services they prefer, as well as important public policy considerations.

We would urge reconsideration of the amendments in question, and hope you can return to the business of providing a stable and competitive legal environment for the benefit of all Nebraska consumers.

Sincerely yours,

Yaël Ossowski

Deputy Director

Consumer Choice Center

KJ’s vape specialty store idea will disadvantage rural consumers, says NGO

PETALING JAYA: The Consumer Choice Centre (CCC) has shot down former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s suggestion for the government to restrict sales of vape and e-cigarettes to specialty stores.

Its Malaysian associate, Tarmizi Anuwar, said this would put those in rural or semi-urban areas at a disadvantage when it comes to accessibility.

PETALING JAYA: The Consumer Choice Centre (CCC) has shot down former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s suggestion for the government to restrict sales of vape and e-cigarettes to specialty stores.

Its Malaysian associate, Tarmizi Anuwar, said this would put those in rural or semi-urban areas at a disadvantage when it comes to accessibility.

Read the full text here

Biden Backs TikTok Ban, but Still Uses It to Campaign

President Joe Biden wants voters to know he supports a bipartisan bill that would ban TikTok if Bytedance, the Chinese company that owns the app, doesn’t sell to a U.S. owner.

In fact, Biden might even tell voters that — using TikTok.

For years, critics have warned TikTok is an unusually aggressive app when it comes to accessing user data. Because the company is based in China, all that information is theoretically accessible by the Chinese Communist Party. As tensions between Washington and Beijing grew, legislation was proposed to protect American consumers from the potential risks.

But that didn’t stop the Biden campaign from joining TikTok in February, part of its attempt to energize younger voters.

It was a different story last summer when campaign officials suggested joining TikTok was off the table because of national security concerns.

But now, the bidenhq TikTok regularly includes clips from Biden speeches, images of likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and short videos calling a sunglasses-wearing Biden ‘Dark Brandon.’ Both the president and Vice President Kamala Harris have delivered campaign-style videos to users promoting their reelection campaign.

One enthusiastic fan of the Biden campaign TikTok account: The Chinese Communist Party.

Read the full text here

Climate lawyers could control the future of American energy, not consumers

When we think of American energy, we conjure up images of oil drillers, refineries, pipelines, and end products we put into our cars or the plastic products we use daily. There are millions of jobs and billions of products sourced from energy production that make our society abundant and wealthy. That’s especially true today under President Joe Biden, as production of both oil and gas for domestic use and exports has soared to record levels, making the US the premier global energy powerhouse. And that’s despite Biden’s recent temporary pause on exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Those who invest in, supply, and direct that industry are the hundreds of oil and gas firms, independent refineries, plastic manufacturers, and transportation companies. American consumers are in on it as well, supporting the industry either by providing their labor, investing their retirement funds, or being frequent customers. It is how we power the American economy, and increasingly, the world.

All of that is being put to the test in the wake of a growing legal movement to sever consumers’ connections to energy firms for their alleged role in advancing anthropogenic climate change.

In left-leaning cities like Honolulu, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, judges are being asked to litigate massive lawsuits brought by top-tier climate lawyers against oil and gas companies like Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and others, with claims that energy firms used “deceptive marketing” to advertise their oil and gas products without significant warnings about the climate impact.

The looming question that has so far slowed these claims is whether local courts are the appropriate venue to decide whether the energy industry will be saddled with the blame for climate change, or if the issue is consequential enough that it deserves a fair trial in federal court.

The Supreme Court has thus far booted similar cases back to district courts and denied any from reaching its docket, but one recent filing may change the game.

In the case filed by the city of Honolulu against Sunoco and other firms, the Supreme Court last month was asked for the first time to assess the merits of whether the case should even proceed, rather than just its court jurisdiction. If and when the Supreme Court issues an opinion, it would also either boost or sink the other major case brought by California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta last fall, currently awaiting further action in San Francisco.

How courts in San Francisco and Hawaii would decide on climate change litigation is predictable, but the Supreme Court’s evaluation would be a toss-up. The ramifications for American energy, especially for the consumers who depend on it, can’t be overstated.

While most American people are optimistic about renewable energy from solar and wind, over 68% of them still believe that progress should happen in tandem with fossil fuels, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. And these cases could determine whether that status quo continues.

As such, the future of the American energy industry is not in the hands of shareholders, consumers, or even politicians, but rather a tiny group of well-funded and overstaffed legal firms supporting environmental groups that manifest these lawsuits across the country in friendly jurisdictions.

Many of the legal theories underpinning these cases are being shepherded through law schools, such as the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia or the Environment and Energy State Impact Center at NYU. Each of these programs train law students in how to advance climate change litigation and generate briefs for state attorneys general. No surprise, the effort has been buoyed by philanthropist support from billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Allied environmental nonprofits  take that work even further, lobbying state attorneys general and even providing high-dollar grants and awards to those offices that embark on climate change litigation.

As Americans, we’re very familiar with lawsuits, lawyers, and cases we’re all supposed to care about. What makes the latest spat of climate change lawsuits so consequential, however, is that any ruling would have an immediate effect on how we power and fuel our lives.

Without affordable or ready climate solutions, many of us would be left shouldering extra costs based on the whims of a few judges and activist lawyers in small, left-leaning districts. That price is too high.

We desperately need technological innovation to solve climate change, and that won’t be found in a California or Hawaii courtroom. We can only hope that some sharp judicial minds will feel the same way.

Originally published here

Consumer Group Says No to PMTA Registries

U.S. states must recognize the unintended consequences of passing laws requiring premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) registries for alternative nicotine products such as vaping devices, heaters, and nicotine pouches, according to the Consumer Choice Center, an organization claiming to represent consumers in more than 100 countries.

In the first months of 2024, more than a dozen bills have been introduced in U.S. states calling for a state-based registry for alternative nicotine products. Such legislation has already been passed in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alabama.

“While the intention behind these bills is to manage consumer access to unregulated nicotine products on the illicit market, the reality is that the FDA is not approving enough new devices and products to create a competitive, regulated marketplace that meets consumer demand,” said Elizabeth Hicks, U.S. affairs analyst at the Consumer Choice Center.

Read the full text here

Légalisation du cannabis : où en est-on ?

Un marché commercial va-t-il enfin émerger ?

Lors d’un vote au parlement, les législateurs allemands ont récemment adopté un projet de loi visant à légaliser le cannabis. Cette réforme, attendue depuis des années, est l’une des principales promesses de l’actuelle coalition gouvernementale dirigée par le chancelier social-démocrate Olaf Scholz.

Toutefois, malgré l’enthousiasme de nombreux militants pro-cannabis, nous sommes loin de voir des coffee shopss’ouvrir dans tout Berlin ou Munich, car la légalisation n’autorise pas une véritable commercialisation du produit. Selon la nouvelle loi, tout citoyen allemand âgé de 18 ans pourra posséder 25 grammes de cannabis pour son usage personnel. Les résidents seront autorisés à cultiver leur propre cannabis ou à rejoindre des « associations de culture » où le cannabis est cultivé et partagé collectivement entre les membres.

Ce modèle de légalisation semble être la quintessence d’un gouvernement allemand de gauche, car s’il accroît les droits des citoyens à décider de ce qu’ils font de leur propre corps, il ne leur permet pas de gagner de l’argent avec. La culture à domicile et les associations de culture dans des squats d’étudiants berlinois délabrés ne sont pas exactement ce à quoi ressemblera le consommateur de cannabis du futur. Les produits contenant du THC sont devenus courants, et ces consommateurs n’investissent pas d’efforts dans la culture de leurs propres plantes.

Dans certains Etats américains, une légalisation en bonne et due forme signifie que des entreprises de différentes tailles professionnalisent la culture, l’exploitation, la commercialisation et la vente de la plante de cannabis. Leurs produits s’améliorent au fur et à mesure qu’elles réalisent des bénéfices. L’Allemagne poursuit un modèle qui n’est pas très différent de celui des vendeurs de rue – le cannabis sera certainement de qualité équivalente.

Imaginez qu’à la fin de la prohibition de l’alcool, le gouvernement américain ait dit : « Oui, vous pouvez avoir de l’alcool sur vous, et vous pouvez le faire vous-même et avec vos amis, mais Dieu vous garde de le faire pour gagner de l’argent. » On peut soutenir que cette proposition aurait été plus dangereuse, car des erreurs dans la distillation de l’alcool peuvent entraîner la mort, alors que le processus de production du cannabis n’implique actuellement pas ces risques élevés, à l’exception de la drogue qui est mélangée à des stupéfiants plus puissants sur le marché noir. Mais d’une manière générale, cela aurait été tout aussi ridicule.

Une manière mature de traiter les produits qui peuvent nous mettre sous influence n’est pas de poursuivre ce type de semi-légalisation, mais de fournir un marché commercial responsable et professionnel.

L’Allemagne est l’un des nombreux pays qui ont déçu à cet égard. Malte, le Luxembourg et d’autres pays européens ont également fait des promesses plus importantes qu’ils ne peuvent tenir sur cette question, parce qu’ils ne veulent pas rompre les accords internationaux.

Les conventions de l’ONU qui interdisent la légalité du cannabis ont vu le jour dans les années 1960 et, selon la législation européenne, aucun Etat membre de l’UE ne doit enfreindre les conventions de l’ONU. Pourtant, c’est ce qu’ils font. Dans le cas des traitements assistés à l’héroïne, certains Etats membres de l’UE enfreignent déjà les conventions de l’ONU. Les Pays-Bas, la République tchèque et le Portugal, qui ont dépénalisé le cannabis, n’ont peut-être pas enfreint les conventions de l’ONU en tant que telles, mais ils ne font certainement pas grand-chose pour lutter contre la prolifération des stupéfiants, notamment parce que Lisbonne et Prague ont même dépénalisé toutes les drogues dans leur pays.

Le Canada a choisi d’ignorer les conventions des Nations unies et de légaliser le cannabis. Malgré un parcours semé d’embûches et la surréglementation mise en place par le gouvernement fédéral canadien, avec des restrictions sur la présentation des produits ou sur la quantité autorisée à être cultivée, le Canada dispose toujours d’un meilleur modèle juridique que les pays européens qui, à ce jour, n’en ont toujours pas. Pourquoi sommes-nous si mauvais dans ce domaine ?

L’une des raisons est qu’il reste de nombreuses personnes qui s’opposent à la légalité du cannabis. Elles invoquent des raisons de santé publique ou des convictions religieuses ou morales qui s’opposent à l’autorisation d’une drogue psychoactive. Mais il y a aussi ceux qui, dans le monde politique, sont d’accord en principe avec l’idée d’autoriser le cannabis, mais qui n’ont ni le courage ni les connaissances nécessaires pour créer un véritable marché commercial.

Souvent, la raison en est qu’ils sont des ennemis du commerce, des anticapitalistes. Ils ne comprennent pas que le capitalisme enrichit à la fois les producteurs et les consommateurs, et que chaque produit et service mis à disposition sur un marché libre améliore son prix et sa qualité. Ainsi, s’il est bon qu’un nombre croissant de décideurs politiques pensent que le cannabis devrait être légal, le problème est qu’ils sont ceux qui contribueront à créer une véritable industrie du cannabis en Europe.

Originally published here

Experts Agree: ByteDance is Beholden to the CCP and Cannot Be Allowed to Exploit Americans’ Data

H.R. 7521, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, is bipartisan legislation that will protect Americans by preventing foreign adversaries, such as China, from targeting, surveilling, and manipulating the American people through online applications like TikTok.  

Here’s what experts and top voices are saying about the bill: 

Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson:

“I support the bill being marked up by the Energy & Commerce committee. It’s an important bipartisan measure to take on China, our largest geopolitical foe, which is actively undermining our economy and security.”

Americans for Prosperity Chief Government Affairs Officer Brent Gardner: 

“The fact is that we live in a world where Americans’ phones are being weaponized against them by a foreign adversary, and we cannot sit back and let that happen. We would never want the U.S. federal government to have the power to censor, surveil, and manipulate Americans—we absolutely should not permit that abuse of power by the Chinese government through TikTok.” 

Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center Yaël Ossowski:

“Considering the CCP’s unique hold on TikTok and ByteDance, and the data privacy threats to US consumers, a forced divestiture is a balanced and reasonable solution.” 

Read the full text here

Vape tax a ‘deeply cynical cash grab’: think tank

The proposal to tax vape liquid is a ‘deeply cynical cash grab’ from the chancellor, a think tank has said.

In his budget speech on Wednesday, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has confirmed the introduction of an excise dutyon liquids used in vaping products from October 2026.

“Forget sin taxes, this is a saint tax. Vapers did what the government wanted and gave up smoking. They are now being punished for it,” Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, said.

Terming the proposal ‘scientifically and economically illiterate’, Snowdon said the government seems to be intent on keeping people smoking, combined with the ban on disposable vapes.

“Not only will the tax close the price gap between vapes and cigarettes, it will send a message to the public that the health risks are similar. Since most people in Britain already wrongly believe that vaping is at least as dangerous as smoking, the government’s reckless greed will cost lives. As a former health minister, Mr Hunt should be ashamed,” Snowdon said.

Responding to the budget speech, the Consumer Choice Center (CCC) said the “unjustified” introduction of a vape tax and increasing tobacco levy will harm consumers by raising prices.

“The vape tax will not raise a substantial amount for the Treasury and will hurt many smokers who are trying to quit, as well as creating a divide between rich and poor smokers,” Mike Salem, the UK country associate at the CCC, said.

Read the full text here

Regulating ‘Junk’ Fees Is Not the Way to Help Bank Customers

Payment services are a prevalent and necessary part of the U.S. economy. Statistics show that 83 percent of Americans carry at least one credit card, with the average American having up to three. Roughly 93 percent of consumers have a debit card. The cashless methods imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic solidified credit and debit purchases as standard practice, and buy-now buttons and tap-to-pay point-of-sale systems have enabled frictionless payments for daily transactions.

In addition to improvements in purchase options, making payments on bills has also become easier with automatic withdrawals, electronic transfers, and overdraft protection services. Banks and creditors are also more likely than ever to send notifications and reminders to ensure consumers don’t overlook a payment or incur penalty fees.

Yet, despite such advancements in payment and consumer engagement capabilities, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is aiming to intervene in credit dealings, and the Biden Administration has made it clear that banks should be viewed as bullies at odds with their members. The President has claimed that banks engage in “exploitation” via their service and that their fees for overdrafts and late payments should be reined in. And, given the CFPB’s track record for interfering with fee-related charges, the agency is eager to engage.

As part of the Federal Reserve, the CFPB purports to protect consumers from unfair or anticompetitive practices within the financial sector, but its efficacy here is debatable. For instance, the Federal Reserve recently sought to impose price caps on interchange fees, claiming that it would encourage competition and lower costs for both merchants and consumers. History proves the opposite to be true when the government gets involved. A case in point is the Durbin Amendment, which went into effect in October 2011 and set a cap on interchange fees at a flat rate of $0.22 per transaction. Although the price cap lowered marginal costs for merchants, the cost for banks was significant, with an annual loss of $6.5 billion. As a result, banks sought to offset the difference, and, according to a study published by the University of Pennsylvania, the share of free basic checking accounts requiring $0 monthly minimums decreased from 60 percent to 20 percent. Checking account fees increased from an average of $4.34 monthly to $7.44 monthly, and the monthly minimums for avoiding such fees went up by roughly 25 percent. Finally, monthly interest fees on checking accounts jumped to around 13 percent while any special offers banks had previously associated with opening an account were rolled back.

Read the full text here

California’s plastic bag ban has been a failed experiment

We can now add plastic bag bans to the list of  “well-meaning but failed experiments” being run in California.

Two devastating pieces in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times reveal how the environmentalist fervor to rid California of thin, single-use plastic bags resulted in a 47 percent increase in plastic waste statewide. Before the ban, California produced 314 million pounds of plasticwaste. By 2022, plastic waste in pounds was closer to 462 million.

Both outlets pin the blame on special interests lobbying for exemptions to the ban, which resulted in the now common 10-cent plastic bag so many shoppers encounter in checkout lines both in and out of California, and now lawmakers are moving to pass new legislation that would take plastic bags of all kinds out of circulation. If reducing environmental impact is the goal, California should brace for another failure.

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan has made her disdain for plastic bags quite clear in saying, “Ten years ago, California attempted to ban plastic bags to stem pollution. Yet, these insidious relics persist, choking our waterways, imperiling wildlife, and despoiling our ecosystems.”

Insidious is a dramatic word choice. Consumers know that plastic bags do not belong in waterways, oceans, and blowing across playgrounds. What is actually insidious —meaning to cause gradual, subtle harm — is the impact of plastic alternatives such as woven bags and paper.

Denmark’s environmental ministry found paper bags need to be re-used 43 times to bring their per-use impact on the environment down to the level of single-use plastic bags, meaning what it takes to produce those bags. Any consumer who has set foot inside a grocery store and hauled food back into their home knows that reusing a paper bag 43 times is near impossible. Paper bags are also 2.6 times as expensive for the consumer, which the government of Canada found in their research after similarly dropping the hammer on single-use plastic bags.

Paper requires trees, energy, and water to produce. For a state that is constantly running into issues with energy shortages, electricity blackouts, as well as water shortages, the plan to curb pollution by increasing the burden of other strained systems is the definition of offsetting costs.

Environmental policy tends to work this way. One state or country will crack down on their emissions output, with no care for what happens on the other side of the globe, and the result is no net improvement in overall emissions. There are significant costs to paper products both for the environment and the consumer.

Cloth bags also are not made from thin air. Your standard cotton tote or grocery bag blows paper products out of the water on the cost-benefit. It takes 7,100 uses of the cloth bag to meet the impact of one single-use plastic bag. A consumer would need to use the bag for 136 years of weekly grocery store visits to be as environmentally friendly as single-use plastic is.

“Environmentally friendly” will always require air quotes of some kind when you’re talking about products being produced from raw materials. A cost always exists whether Californians can see them or not.

For example, polypropylene packaging and woven bags are a 100% byproduct of natural gas and petroleum refinement. These are of course great bags and can be bought at a higher price point in most grocery stores and kept in your trunk the next time you go shopping. They do better on electricity, water, and emissions required to make them, but have you ever heard a major California politician champion natural gas and fossil fuels?

The NYT says California “remains at the forefront of efforts to curb plastic waste,” which is a curious way to frame stubborn failure. Consumers prefer single-use plastic bags because they are cheap, efficient, and convenient when they arrive to shop at the store or pick up food for takeout.

What California can’t seem to get a grip on is the infrastructure required to run a modern waste management system, as well as the will to enforce laws that keep the state clean. Take a walk in downtown San Francisco or Los Angeles and look around. What you’ll see is not a problem being created by plastics.

Originally published here

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