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Orban’s Populism Is Limiting Access for Consumers

From the beginning of this week, the Hungarian Oil Company (MOL) has been unable to provide around 500 independent petrol stations with price-capped fuel. Entire municipalities will be without fuel due to this decision. Another worrying sign is that Shell has already announced a limit on petrol at the stations, where a complete fuel shortage has already become standard. Commenting on the latest developments of Hungarian price caps, Consumer Choice Center’s Government Affairs Manager, Zoltán Kész:

“Consumer Choice Center has already given out warnings regarding the possible effects of the price caps introduced by the Hungarian government. We are now experiencing these effects when we go to fill up our car and find that either there is a limit or, in the worst scenario, we find that you can’t even buy the fuel you want.”

“Not only is it disadvantageous for consumers, but it also has a backlash on distributors forced to take action to limit their losses. Some are closing down, some limit the amount consumers can buy, and some run out of fuel, and you realize it at the pump,” says Kész.

“A year ago, when this measure was introduced, it was clear that the motive behind it was purely political, as the country was about to elect the next government. However, Hungary has seen record-high inflation and rising prices in the past months. For the same political reasons, the government is not changing its price-cap policies, even if the results are clearly seen now. As we predicted at the Consumer Choice Center, shortages and the lack of available services are already happening,” concludes Kész.

The Real Consequences the Proposed Vaping Flavor Ban in Columbus

Columbus is considering putting an end to the sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored vapes. Although official legislation hasn’t been formally introduced, tobacco-control advocates who are drafting the proposal are claiming a ban would help decrease smoking rates amongst Black people, other groups of color, women, and LGBTQ populations.

Sadly, over 20,000 Ohioans lose their lives to cigarette smoking-related illnesses every year. Considering that studies have shown vaping to be 95% less harmful than smoking and that adults who used flavored vaping products were 2.3 times more likely to quit smoking cigarettes, ensuring that adult consumers in Columbus have access to the vaping products they prefer will ultimately lead to fewer cigarette smoking-related deaths in Ohio. 

It’s estimated that more than 5% of Ohio’s adult population uses vaping products, accounting for over 634,000 Ohioans who have switched to a healthier alternative to combustible tobacco. Banning flavored vaping products will encourage these former smokers to switch back to smoking cigarettes, and will ultimately lead to increases in smoking-related healthcare costs, which are already costing Ohioan taxpayers $1.85 billion annually.

Advocates for the ban claim that it wouldn’t outlaw flavored vaping products or menthol cigarettes within Columbus, just the sale of said products and that consumers wouldn’t be punished for buying products elsewhere and bringing them into the city. Not only would this plan greatly harm small businesses who sell vaping products, but it would also effectively set up a dangerous illicit market within Columbus where bad actors could easily take advantage of consumers by selling them unregulated faulty products which could cause serious health concerns. 

Additionally, although the flavor ban intends to help minority groups of color, the reality of setting up an illicit market is that it will further exacerbate interactions between law enforcement and consumers of these products. One of the most infamous examples of this is the tragic death of Eric Garner, who was killed by police in New York after being approached on suspicion of selling untaxed individual cigarettes. 

Implementing a ban on flavored vaping products and menthol cigarettes within Columbus will have serious unintended consequences. Instead of a ban, more tobacco harm reduction efforts must first be explored such as increasing educational outreach to specific communities as well as encouraging vapes and smoke-free tobacco products as a tool for cessation. 

Elizabeth Hicks is the U.S. Affairs Analyst and David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center. 

Orban’s Price Caps on Food and Fuel will lead to shortages

Budapest, HU: This week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling party announced that the third wave of price caps would be introduced by having a fixed price on potatoes and eggs. Commenting on this move, Consumer Choice Center’s Government Affairs Manager Zoltán Kész:

“Hungarians experienced state-controlled price caps under communism, and we don’t have good memories of that. It leads to shortages that we already see emerging again, the rise of black markets and poverty.”

“In the past year, we have seen petrol stations close down, empty supermarket shelves, and soaring prices of other products. It is very bad for consumers to experience an increase of close to 50% in food prices and to be faced with one of the worst devaluations of the Hungarian currency”, says Kész.

“Fixing the prices of fuel, chicken, or mortgage rates will not help tackle inflation, which is expected to reach 25% by the end of the year. We have the world’s highest VAT with a rate of 27%, but our government still manages to blame everyone else for skyrocketing consumer prices. Before freezing prices at the expense of availability and business closures, we should first bring down our sales taxes by a third. This would massively reduce the burden on consumers”, concludes Kész.

9 Recommendations to the Malaysian Government on Consumer Policy

Following the recent dissolution of the Malaysian Parliament, an official administration will be formed following the 15th General Election to be held on 19 November 2022. The Consumer Choice Center argues that any new government elected should focus on pro-consumer policies, especially in allowing choices.  

The Consumer Choice Center lists 9 recommendations to the new government to be researched and implemented according to the best method.

Consumer data protection – Over 25 million sets of personal data have been stolen so far this year alone, 2022. To prevent this from happening again, the Personal Data Protection Department and the commission must be placed under the responsibility of Parliament instead of the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia.

A mechanism needs to be established to manage compensation or damages to all victims of personal data theft crimes. Victims need to be notified that their personal data has been leaked. In addition, we also recommend personal liability of company directors who fail to address data protection risks. 

Make cars more affordable! – Excise duty in Malaysia starts from 60 to 105 percent calculated based on the type of vehicle and engine capacity. Manakala import duty can reach up to 30 percent depending on the country of origin of the vehicle. CCC encourages the lowering of taxes to allow cars to be imported and exported easily – less cost and can be enjoyed by a wider market. This taxation puts consumers at a disadvantage while having to pay more for a better-quality car.

Reduce barriers to research in medical marijuana – More clinical studies on the use of medical cannabis should be done. Until today, there remains a lack of research on its effects for Malaysian patients. Globally, over 40 countries have legalized medical use of cannabis, including Thailand and Sri Lanka. One study in Denmark finds that medical cannabis is frequently used as a substitute for prescription drugs, particularly pain relievers, antidepressants and arthritis medication. 

Recently, local researchers from public universities have failed to study cannabis due to legal restrictions imposed by the government on “civil servants” and not “public officers” by the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) 1952. Besides, Malaysia’s Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 only uses the term “cannabis” and does not make the distinction between hemp and marijuana.

Cryptocurrency and innovation – Regulation needs to be developed without stifling innovation, with a careful balance required between weighing the need to protect consumers with the benefits of a new technology with huge long-term potential. Regulation is a vital part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem, as it lifts global and local standards, sets barriers to entry for operators and provides consumer protection. Regulatory standards in a country are critical because it provides consumers with a good indication that they can trust that company with their funds. Overregulation of the industry may also deter innovation.

Adopt harm reduction approach – Adopt the harm reduction method as a concept in reducing the number of smokers. Harm reduction laws must be based on scientific-backed solutions and every consumer has the right to receive accurate information in making a decision for himself. For instance, Public Health England stated that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and the government needs to ensure that the information can be reached by the public.

Aviation – Enforce existing consumer protection laws by making it easier to get refunds of canceled flights. In addition, when the plane is canceled, the consumers should have the option of receiving either a cash refund or a travel voucher to rebook a new flight in the future.

Food chain – Empower genetic engineering efforts in Malaysia to diversify food sources, adapt to climate conditions and reduce import dependency. The production of food commodities from within the country is important to ensure sufficient food supply in the country. Incentives for food production projects should continue with tax exemptions for the producing industry. 

Brands matter – Maintain intellectual property protection and brand protection in order to help consumers to distinguish between fake products that might be harmful for them and original products. Esports – Maintain the plan on policy or incentive of income tax exemption on winning prizes they receive in any competition starting in 2023. In addition, any company that in any form of winning while representing the country through official games such as the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or SEA Games can apply for tax exemption in the country.

Where is the FTC’s privacy report?

Data privacy is a fundamental liberal democratic principle for citizens + consumers.

In December 2020, the Federal Trade Commission ordered security and privacy data from Big Tech firms to inform potential future rules that would impact all consumers.

It’s nearly November 2022 but we still have NO report. Why?

We know that our interactions with companies and government involve privacy trade-offs that we must weigh individually. That’s what informed consumer choice is all about, and why we fight for smart data and privacy rules

Enough with data leaks/hacks!

We need smart data and privacy rules that can:
💡Champion Innovation
🛡Defend Portability
📲Allow Interoperability
👨‍💻Embrace Technological Neutrality
👩‍⚖️Avoid patchwork legislation
🔒Promote strong encryption

Learn more! 👇

Originally tweeted by Consumer Choice Center (@ConsumerChoiceC) on April 21, 2021.

The FTC began its 2020 investigation into data practices from major tech companies to try to understand their algorithms, data collection, and monetization. Tech firms provided this within 45 days.

But still no FTC report.

In August 2022, FTC called for public comments on commercial data practices and surveillance by tech firms, presumably informed by the data they collected and analyzed in their report.

But still no FTC report.

Maybe that’s why the deadline was pushed from October 20 to November 21, the week of Thanksgiving…

By then, will American consumers and citizens have access to the FCC report?

The FTC is asking for citizen comments on the data practices of tech firms, we deserve to know what’s in the report they’ve been cooking up for nearly 2 years.

As Joel Thayer writes, it’s an absolute failure that a major agency has fallen behind on this task, especially considering their ream of lawsuits and actions against these same tech companies.

If the FTC wants to empower consumers and provide a framework that we can debate, it needs to prove it. While data and consumer privacy are vital for consumers and innovators, we know this FTC chair has an agenda that will have sweeping ramifications.

FTC Chair Lina Khan has aimed to stop mergers and acquisitions and issued record fines on tech companies against the advice of her own staff. If FTC wants to invoke consumer privacy as another regulatory hammer, consumers deserve a say.

In our view, consumer and data privacy rules must provide balance and protection:

  • Champion Innovation
  • Defend Portability
  • Allow Interoperability
  • Embrace Technological Neutrality
  • Avoid patchwork legislation
  • Promote and allow strong encryption

Anyone who wants to submit a comment to the FTC on their “Trade Regulation Rule on Commercial Surveillance and Data Security” — even without the report — should submit one here.

Nobody needs a car trade war

Brussels, BE: In recent comments, French president Emmanuel Macron has suggested that the European Union should use protectionist measures to defend Europe’s electric car industry. Macron pointed to the fact that rental car companies are buying Chinese electric vehicles and voiced the view that Europe does not have adequate means to protect its manufacturers. Commenting on the statements by the French president, Consumer Choice Center’s Senior Policy Analyst Bill Wirtz says that protectionism is ill-advised:

“If countries such as the United States or China are suspected of unfairly favouring their industries, then France needs to take this up at the WTO level, not trying to emulate their policies within the European Union”, says Wirtz.

“Protectionism is often sold to us as a duty to protect our industries when in reality, it hurts consumers on all sides alike. Consumers need choices on the marketplace to make informed decisions for their own comfort and their pocketbooks. Reducing the number of competitors will only make things worse.”

“Emmanuel Macron’s notion of European sovereignty ought to be about creating a business environment that favours innovation, not the stepping stone for another trade war”, concludes Wirtz.

Europe’s comprehensive crypto legislation is being adopted. Here’s what you need to know.

The European Union’s Markets in Crypto Assets Regulation (MiCA), a legislation that aims to “harmonize the European framework for the issuance and trading of various types of crypto tokens as part of Europe’s Digital Finance Strategy,” which has been in the works for years, is finally ready. It has caused plenty of discussions, some controversy and has been feared — but also welcomed — by the crypto industry. Let us look into the process that led us here, what is still to come, and why this piece of legislation might be one of the most significant and comprehensive that we have seen in crypto yet.

MiCA, which will be applicable across all the member states in the European Union as well as with all businesses operating in the EU, has been in the works since early 2018. It first came into discussion following the bull market of 2017, a heady time where Bitcoin was making its new highs, a thousand tokens started flourishing amid Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) out of which more than half failed less than 4 months after the offering. 

The European Commission published its Fintech Action Plan in March 2018 and gave the mandate to the European Banking Authority (EBA) and European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) to review if the existing EU financial services regulatory framework applied to crypto assets. After deciding that most crypto assets are outside of the scope of current financial regulations, regulators began working on a new framework under the Digital Finance Package which eventually became MiCA. Since its initial inception, the crypto market went through a bear market, reaching its bottom in the early days of the pandemic followed by another bull market before taking a downward trend again in late 2021. New regulatory fears were ignited in the first two quarters of 2022 followed by events such as the Terra Luna stablecoin collapse and Three Arrows Capital and Celsisus bankruptcies. 

In such a fast-paced environment, it is not difficult to understand that MiCA’s scope had to evolve from its original conception. NFTs barely existed when the legislation was first being conceived, DeFi summer was nowhere in sight and Meta was still called Facebook and working on its much scorned Libra project (remember that one?). Creating a legal framework that would provide legal certainty for both investors and issuers in that sort of fast pace environment was not easy, and the regulators have been back to the drawing board a few times. What we have in front of us now will be the largest piece of legislation around crypto thus far. 

One of the major rules that will affect the industry is the requirements set for Crypto Asset Service Providers (CASPs) and investment firms and anyone providing custodial services. They will be liable for any loss of customer funds unless they are able to prove it was a result of events beyond their control. A number of measures deal with preventing insider trading and market manipulation. 

In the process of formulating MiCA, a number of heated discussions were held on proof-of-work, so called ‘mining’, and potential environmental effects of this practice. Even with significant pressure coming from certain groups, the legislators rightfully steered away from any potential bans on proof-of-work. However, actors in the crypto market will be required to declare information on their climate footprint. 

When it comes to decentralized financial protocols, they are not in the scope of MiCA and the European Commission will be publishing a separate report on them in 2023.

A large concern and a great deal of debate during the process of writing MiCA was focused on stablecoins. Following concerns expressed by the Council, additional restrictions on the issuance and use of stablecoins have been added to the legislation. Notably, MiCA has expressed the view that stablecoins could pose a threat to monetary sovereignty and opined that “central banks should be able to request the competent authority to withdraw the authorisation to issue asset-referenced tokens in the case of serious threats”. 

Asset referenced tokens (ARTs) as noted in the legislation should be redeemable at purchased price at all times, which more or less makes any non-fiat denominated stablecoins not viable to launch, making it almost impossible for innovation in that field to take place and stripping away European consumers from participating in such potential investments. Together with issuance caps and limits on large scale payments for non-euro denominated stablecoins, this creates a confusing and not consumer-friendly environment when it comes to these tokens.

Even with all the updates and desire to keep up with the developments in the crypto industry, MiCA does not cover some very important parts of the crypto economy today. NFTs are mostly outside of the scope of this legislation. However, EU parliament members argued that many NFTs are actually used as financial instruments and could be subject to different standards. Fractionalized NFTs on the other hand, as well as “non-fungible tokens in a large series

or collection should be considered as an indicator of their fungibility” and will be treated not as unique crypto assets similar to digital art or collectibles. 

The assets or rights represented by the NFT should also be unique and non-fungible for the asset to be considered as such. The fact that national enforcers could take inconsistent views on whether an asset can be considered non-fungible or not, if it requires a whitepaper or how exactly will it be regulated is something that should be of concern as it could potentially create many inconsistencies and concerns both for issuers and consumers. The EU is expected to publish another report on NFTs bringing more clarity to this area.

After the linguists are done with the final version of the text, the expectations are that MiCA will appear in the official journal sometime around April 2023, which would mean that stablecoin rules will start applying in April 2024 and CASP rules will be applied starting from October 2024. Considering the European Union is the third largest world economy, the effects of this legislation will have a broad impact on the industry, on retail consumers and investors, and definitely have some swway on other regulators around the world.

Having the European Union on the forefront of regulation of tech innovation is something that we have not seen much in the past. With MiCA being adopted, it will be up to the industry and consumers to make sure that the measures introduce certainty and allow for more innovation to flourish. Also, if those priorities stick, that these measures are copied and applied elsewhere. Either way, a long and exciting journey is ahead for everyone — regulators, investors and the broader crypto community.

Pandemievertrag: Geistiges Eigentum muss einbezogen werden

Die Weltgesundheitsorganisation (WHO) wird in Kürze Verhandlungen über einen so genannten Pandemievertrag aufnehmen, der im Rahmen der Verfassung der Weltgesundheitsorganisation die Pandemieprävention, -vorsorge und -reaktion stärken soll. Der Generaldirektor der WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, sieht die Entscheidung der Weltgesundheitsversammlung historisch, von entscheidender Bedeutung für ihren Auftrag und als eine einmalige Gelegenheit, die globale Gesundheitsarchitektur zu stärken, um das Wohl aller Menschen zu schützen und zu fördern.

“Die COVID-19-Pandemie hat die vielen Schwachstellen im globalen Pandemieschutzsystem aufgezeigt: die am stärksten gefährdeten Menschen werden nicht geimpft, das Gesundheitspersonal hat nicht die nötige Ausrüstung, um seine lebensrettende Arbeit zu verrichten, und der “Ich zuerst”-Ansatz verhindert die globale Solidarität, die zur Bewältigung einer Pandemie erforderlich ist”, so Dr. Tedros.

Zu seinen Ansichten kommt, dass einige NGOs und WHO-Mitgliedsländer der Meinung sind, dass Patente in diesem Vertrag nicht berücksichtigt werden sollen. Sie sind der Auffassung, dass das Recht das geistigen Eigentums die Zugänglichkeit von Medikamenten und lebenswichtigen Impfstoffen beeinträchtigen.

Das Rennen zu einer wirksamen COVID-Impfung hat einen privaten Wettbewerb zwischen den Impfstoffherstellern in einem noch nie dagewesenen Ausmaß und mit einer bisher ungesehenen Schnelligkeit ausgeöst. Obwohl alle Impfstoffe medizinische Bezeichnungen haben, kennt der normale Patient sie eher unter dem Namen eines Pharmaunternehmens; so weit geht die Assoziierung. Die Tatsache, dass zwei deutsche Wissenschaftler, Dr. Uğur Şahin und Dr. Özlem Türeci, maßgeblich an der Entwicklung des Pfizerimpfstoffs beteiligt waren, sollte Deutschland stolz auf seine Leistungen bei medizinischen Innovationen machen. 

Bei der pharmazeutischen Forschung und der Entwicklung von Impfstoffen spielen die Leidenschaft von Wissenschaftlern und die bürgerliche Pflicht von Unternehmen eine wichtige Rolle. Tatsächlich sollten wir diesen Effekt nicht schmälern, denn die meisten Pharmaunternehmen haben jahrzehntelang lebenswichtige Medikamente zum Selbstkostenpreis an Entwicklungsländer abgegeben. Allerdings müssen wir auch verstehen, dass Investoren und Unternehmensvorstände die Chance auf eine Rendite sehen müssen, um die immensen Kosten der medizinischen Forschung zu decken. Patente erfüllen diese Erwartung, indem sie einen rechtlichen Rahmen schaffen, der es Unternehmen ermöglicht, medizinische Innovationen zu schaffen, in der Gewissheit, dass diese nicht gestohlen werden können.

Während der Entwicklung der Impfstoffe gegen COVID-19 haben Pharmaunternehmen wichtige patentierte Informationen mit Wettbewerbern ausgetauscht, um schnellere Ergebnisse zu erzielen – ein Informationsaustausch, der durch einen umfassenden Rechtsschutz ermöglicht und organisiert wird. Ohne diesen Schutz würden die Unternehmen zögern, mit Konkurrenten zusammenzuarbeiten. Patente ermöglichten auch die Zusammenarbeit zwischen Regulierungsbehörden, einschließlich Vereinbarungen über den Vorabkauf, die sich als entscheidend für die Pandemievorsorge erwiesen haben.

Die den Gegnern von Patenten zugrunde liegende Annahme, dass diese die Geschwindigkeit der Entwicklung und Verbreitung von Arzneimitteln verringern, ist falsch. Langsame Lieferketten und regulatorische Hürden sind ein unnötiger und tödlicher Aspekt der Impfstoffverteilung. Wir brauchen ein harmonisiertes Regulierungssystem für die Zulassung und den Vertrieb von Impfstoffen sowie einen deutlichen Abbau von Handelsschranken. Wenn sich die Unternehmen neben der komplexen Entwicklung von Impfstoffen auch noch durch den Regulierungsdschungel von 51 Notfallzulassungswegen in 24 Ländern kämpfen müssen (zu normalen Zeiten wären es 190 verschiedene Zulassungsverfahren gewesen), dann könnten viele Entwickler zu dem Schluss kommen, dass es sich einfach nicht lohnt, die Kosten für die Einhaltung der Vorschriften zu tragen, um eine medizinische Lösung zu finden. 

Spricht sich die WHO für die Notwendigkeit einer stärkeren globalen Zusammenarbeit zur Verbesserung der Pandemiebereitschaft aus? Auf jeden Fall. Bedeutet dies, dass die Länder das Konzept des geistigen Eigentums aufgeben sollten? Ganz und gar nicht. Die Schaffung einer Zukunft der medizinischen Innovation erfordert Garantien und Regeln, die gleichermaßen gelten. Die COVID-19-Pandemie hat gezeigt, dass die Forschung und Innovation vieler privater Akteure uns geholfen hat, die Krise zu überstehen. So sollte es auch bleiben.

Former Hungarian MP Zoltán Kész joins Consumer Choice Center Staff

Brussels, BE: The Consumer Choice Center (CCC), the global consumer advocacy group, has announced that Zoltán Kész has joined the organisation as a Government Affairs Manager.

Zoltán was the director of the Free Market Foundation when he entered Hungarian politics in 2015. He won a by-election as an independent, breaking the two-thirds majority of the governing Fidesz party in February, 2015. He was a member of the Hungarian Parliament and remained independent until 2018.

Commenting on his new role, Zoltán Kész said:

“I am really grateful for the opportunity to join the CCC. I have been familiar with the work of most of the individuals on the team, and I find their commitment to defending and promoting more choice and freedom for consumers all over the world very fascinating. I am looking forward to working for CCC and helping to broaden the political network in order to achieve more policy goals in the future.”

Fred Roeder, the Managing Director of the CCC said:

“We are thrilled to welcome Zoltán Kész as a Government Affairs Manager. He is an excellent addition to our growing team, and we’re confident that his immense experience and expertise will be instrumental in taking our work around Europe to the next level.”

THE COUNTERFACTUAL: What is WHO doing about ENDS?

Republished from Clivebates.com with the consent of the author

This section really reveals that WHO does very little other than publish prohibitionist propaganda. It is however worthwhile noting that its regrettable dependence on voluntary contributions leaves it exposed to major conflicts of interest. 

WHO does not pay attention to the evidence. If it did there would be much more discussion of trade-offs and possible benefits and a proportionate and more realistic approach to the risks. In fact, the report highlighted, the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, was “made possible” by the private foundation of the billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, who coincidentally figures prominently in the report despite the claim that it is independent. The report acknowledgements include several anti-vaping activists, some funded by Bloomberg, brought in to do the work.

The influence of anti-vaping outsiders on WHO’s finances. Bloomberg’s foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, campaigns for vaping prohibitions to the extent possible wherever it works via the work of its grantees. Take the major Bloomberg funding recipient, the Union, for example: and its prohibition policy, Why bans are best. Bloomberg’s approach to evidence and data on tobacco is discussed here: Michael Bloomberg loves data. Except when he doesn’t

WHO is conflicted by the funding it receives from pro-prohibition Bloomberg Philanthropies ($23m). Then there is also the much larger WHO donor, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($592m), which supports a range of organisations hostile to tobacco harm reduction. In addition, there are also pharmaceutical companies like GSK ($12.3m) that provide multi-million dollar donations to WHO but take a hostile stance toward e-cigarettes. 

Note that this money does not have to be spent on anti-vaping campaigns for the policy position of the donor and the donation to create a conflict. The point is that anti-vaping organisations play a significant role in WHO’s finances.

Written by Clive Bates

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