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The Counterfactual: Are e-cigarettes dangerous?

Republished from Clivebates.com with the consent of the author

The World Health Organisation continues to present misleading information about e-cigarettes that spreads doubt and confusion among the public, media and policymakers. This post reviews its latest Q & A and finds multiple errors of analysis, misleading statements, and obvious biases.

The World Health Organisation maintains a Q & A on e-cigarettes. It was updated on 25 May 2022. 

This has been updated several times (see history below). In each of its incarnations, this web page has presented a profoundly misleading account of the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes. It ignores the fact that eight million people are dying annually from smoking (around the same order as COVID-19) and that hundreds of millions of smokers could benefit from switching to low-risk alternatives to smoking. The Q & A is primarily a vehicle for promoting prohibition and generating hostility to the pragmatic public health strategy of tobacco harm reduction. It is anti-scientific, its information is misleading, and its effect or purpose is to sow confusion and doubt rather than to candidly explain e-cigarettes.

I have set out the main sections of the latest Q & A below with a short general commentary on each section followed by the main claims in each section drawn out in block quotes followed by comments.

The table of contents below follows the structure of the WHO’s Q & A. I have highlighted each statement in the WHO Q & A in a box quote and followed by a short commentary on each.

The very framing of the question reveals the problem. The real question is “how dangerous?” This question should be asked in two ways: 

(1) how dangerous compared to the product that dominates the market, that is cigarettes? 

(2) how dangerous compared to some sort of benchmark of acceptable risk, for example, occupational exposure standards or other comparable behaviours? 

If vaping is much less risky than smoking, then there is a large health benefit for people who switch from smoking to vaping. If the use of a product is at a level of risk that is within our normal tolerance of risk, then there is not much reason to mount a big public health response to it – as with caffeine and coffee or moderate alcohol consumption.

In the following paragraphs, WHO never addresses the “how dangerous?” questions. But without addressing them, it has no basis for informing or advising anyone or for suggesting appropriate policy responses.

Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) are the most common form of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) but there are others, such as e-cigars and e-pipes. ENDS contain varying amounts of nicotine and harmful emissions. 

E-cigarette emissions typically contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users, and non-users who are exposed to the aerosols second-hand. Some products claiming to be nicotine-free (ENNDS) have been found to contain nicotine.

Nicotine is the main reason why people smoke or vape. It is a relatively mild psychoactive drug that has several effects – such as helping to control stress and anxiety and improving concentration. That is why people use it. It is dependence-forming, but nicotine is not very harmful in itself. It is not a cause of intoxication, oblivion, violence or, over the long term, serious disease. 

The harm to health is mainly done by the smoke: the toxic gases and sticky particles inhaled into the lungs along with the nicotine (sometimes called ‘tar’). The hazardous chemicals in tobacco smoke that are the main cause of cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease are mainly products of combustion formed in the tip of the burning cigarette and as the smoke cools. In contrast, e-cigarettes heat a flavoured nicotine liquid to form an aerosol of tiny droplets, which contain nicotine. But because the liquid is heated but not burnt, there is no combustion and therefore no products of combustion. So the harmful agents in cigarette smoke are either present at much lower levels or not detectable or measurable at all. 

Biomarkers show much lower toxic exposures. This can be seen experimentally by measuring hazardous agents found in the blood, saliva and urine, so-called biomarkers of exposure. These measurements show dramatically reduced exposures to the main hazardous substance of concern compared to smoking. Experts commissioned by Public Health England reviewed the available biomarker literature in 2018 and concluded

Vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits over continued smoking. Based on current knowledge, stating that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking remains a good way to communicate the large difference in relative risk unambiguously so that more smokers are encouraged to make the switch from smoking to vaping. It should be noted that this does not mean e-cigarettes are safe. [link]

The consumption of nicotine in children and adolescents has deleterious impacts on brain development, leading to long-term consequences for brain development and potentially leading to learning and anxiety disorders.

WHO draws on speculative theories that are based largely on rodent studies and large doses of nicotine to make this claim. The key point is that despite many generations of adolescent nicotine users growing up as smokers since the 1950s, no one has so far identified any lasting cognitive impairments in those adults who started using nicotine as adolescent smokers over this long period. It is a difficult area to study, and it is possible there are some ill effects, but this is far from established and definitely not with the unequivocal confidence conveyed by WHO in this answer. 

Writing in the American Journal of Public Health in 2021, fifteen former presidents of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco summarised the state of knowledge as follows:

Balfour, D. J. K., Benowitz, N. L., Colby, S. M., (2021). Balancing Consideration of the Risks and Benefits of E-Cigarettes. American Journal of Public Health111(9), 1661–1672.

Nicotine is highly addictive …

It is wrong to make the general claim that “nicotine is highly addictive”, although this statement is common. It depends on what is meant by addiction and how the nicotine is taken. I have addressed the question about nicotine addiction under the question heading “Are ENDS addictive?” below.

…and some evidence suggest that never-smoker minors who use ENDS can double their chance of starting to smoke tobacco cigarettes later in life.

WHO falsely asserts the operation of a so-called gateway effect. These claims are often repeated as if there is some evidence that the prior vaping caused the subsequent smoking. There is no evidence to support a causal gateway effect and much to suggest the opposite, notably the dramatic decline in youth smoking in the United States that coincided with a rapid rise in youth vaping, sometimes referred to as the “youth vaping epidemic”. 

The decline in the adolescent use of combustibles (i.e. smoking) accelerated after 2018 – coinciding with the so-called “youth vaping epidemic” 

Common liability is the far more plausible explanation. There is a completely different and much more likely explanation for the observed association: that the same sort of things that incline people to vape also incline them to smoke. These would be things like genetics, parental smoking, mental health status, school performance and delinquency, rebelliousness, and aspects of the family and community context. This is known as confounding by common risk factors, or sometimes as “common liability”. The evidence strongly supports this explanation, not the gateway theory. It means that e-cigarette use is more likely to be concentrated in people who have smoked or would otherwise smoke – offering a significant health benefit concentrated within the population most at risk. 

Evidence reveals that these products are harmful to health and are not safe. However, it is too early to provide a clear answer on the long-term impact of using them or being exposed to them. Some recent studies suggest that ENDS use can increase the risk of heart disease and lung disorders. Nicotine exposure in pregnant women can have similar consequences for the brain development of the fetus.

There is no convincing evidence that ENDS are seriously harmful to health. Once again we see the use of “harmful to health” and “not safe”, without asking the “how harmful?” or “how unsafe?” questions. The (unstated) studies that supposedly show that ENDS increases the risks of lung or heart disease are highly problematic. Almost all ENDS users old enough to experience significant disease have been long-term smokers. It is impossible to separate the effects of their smoking history from the marginal effects of their time as vapers. Some studies even count heart or lung disease episodes that occurred before the vaping started in their calculations of vaping risk. There are many studies that show that ENDS have an observable effect on the body, but there is little to show that these effects amount to a clinically significant risk. 

This is how the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine summarised the risks in its 2018 report: 

National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine NASEM (US).  The Public Health Consequences of E-cigarettes. Washington DC. January 2018. [link]  Launch presentation summary (slide 44)  [link][link]

The long term effects may be negligible. The statement about the long-term is really a statement of the obvious – we do not have the luxury of time travel to observe with certainty what the long term effects will turn out to be. The health effects of long term use may well turn out to be trivial. We do know the toxic exposures involved with vaping are much lower than for smoking (the second point) and therefore we should default to expecting health burdens to be much lower too. Also, it is worth bearing in mind that people can smoke for two decades (from say age 15 to 35) or more and not suffer any noticeable loss of life expectancy. It takes a lot to get sick, even from smoking.

ENDS use can also expose non-smokers and bystanders to nicotine and other harmful chemicals.

There is no evidence of material risk to bystanders. WHO continues with its unquantified approach to risk. The framing “can also expose” is wholly misleading in this context. What matters is how much exposure and to what sort of hazard? I have responded to this assertion under WHO’s question 5. Are secondhand ENDS emissions dangerous?

Electronic delivery systems have also been linked to a number of physical injuries, including burns from explosions or malfunctions, when the products are not of the expected standard or are tampered with by users.

E-cigarette use is likely to substantially reduce injuries. Again, some context is required. Yes, there are isolated incidents involving battery malfunctions or short circuits (e.g. through contact with coins in pockets). But this comes nowhere close to the carnage caused by smoking-related fires. The US National Fire Protection Association gives some perspective: 

  • During 2012-2016, an estimated annual average of 18,100 (5%) reported home structure fires started by smoking materials killed an average of 590 (23%) people annually, injured 1,130 (10%) per year, and caused $476 million in direct property damage (7%) per year.
  • One in 20 home (5%) home structure fires were started by smoking materials. These fires caused almost one in four (23%) home fire deaths, and one in 10 (10%) home fire injuries.
  • Smoking was the leading cause of home fire deaths for the five year period from 2012-2016. Overall, one of every 31 home smoking material fires resulted in death.

Has it occurred to WHO that mass switching from smoking to vaping would dramatically reduce the problem of fires and burns? This is because they do not involve an ignition source.

Accidental exposure of children to ENDS e-liquids pose serious risks as devices may leak, or children may swallow the poisonous e-liquid.

Nicotine e-liquids pose a minor risk to safety. Again, what matters is the scale of this problem and other problems that it offsets. There are accidents caused by almost everything – not least medicines, cleaning fluids, cosmetics and alcohol. Again what matters is the “how much harm?” question. A look at the reports of US Poison Control Centers data (Annual report 2020 – PDF) gives some perspective: 

Pediatric poison exposures and deaths by exposure substance 2020 data 
Table 17C & 17D

Tobacco, nicotine and e-cigarettes combined are ranked at 25 in pediatric exposure reports (17C) and don’t figure in the top 25 for deaths (17E). But this combines tobacco and e-liquid exposure. Table 22 in the report shows that tobacco products account for 72% of the combined total pediatric exposures for tobacco, nicotine and e-cigarettes. Not mentioned by WHO: nicotine medications accounted for 1,608 poison exposures in 2020.

Written by Clive Bates

UK is Right to Delay the Decision on China’s Semiconductor Takeover

The UK government has decided to delay its decision on whether China can take over the UK’s largest semiconductor company. In May, an inquiry into the state of UK chips was announced.

The Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group, welcomed the decision, arguing that at a time of great geopolitical turbulence and global chip shortages, the UK should indeed be extremely cautious about any dealings with China.

“China is well-known for building back-doors into its technologies, spying, and breaching users’ privacy. For that reason, the fact that China owns major chip firms in the UK and aspires to expand is concerning. To compensate for the once lenient approach towards Chinese expansion into the UK semiconductor sector, the government should now focus on enhancing domestic semiconductor production,” said Maria Chaplia, Research Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

“Regaining a competitive edge in the semiconductor industry is vital, but it is impossible without taking an evidence-based approach to PFAS, a grouping of 4000+ man-made chemicals, which are vital for the production of semiconductors. If the UK is serious about increasing domestic chip production, they have to also work to secure the key inputs involved in the production process, and PFAS are one of those key inputs.” said David Clement, North American Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

“British green groups have been fear mongering around PFAS, but the UK government should prioritise long-term national security and consumer welfare over populist claims,” added Chaplia.

“With the global chip shortage, the UK has a unique chance to become a semiconductor powerhouse if it doesn’t ban PFAS. Among other things, this will ensure the UK can effectively counter China’s increased chip manufacturing. The UK government shouldn’t succumb to Chinese influence and calls to ban all PFAS,” concluded Chaplia.

EU’s Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Surveillance Rules to Harm Consumers

The European Union’s final trialogue between Council, Commission, and Parliament has finished crafting the first part of legislation that makes up the new EU anti-money laundering package aligned with the Markets in Crypto-assets rules (MiCA).

These rules are drafted following recommendations from the so-called Travel Rule of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global treaty organization that combats money laundering. The aim of this rule is to effectively track financial assets, and included crypto assets like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies beginning in 2019,

The EU’s proposed rules introduce regulations that are far from technologically neutral, are detrimental to innovation, and will harm consumers who depend on cryptocurrency services.

Crypto asset service providers are obliged to keep records and provide traceability from the first euro compared to traditional finance where that requirement is set for transfers larger than 1000 EUR.

Crypto asset service providers will be required to collect information and apply enhanced due diligence measures with respect to all transfers involving non-custodial wallets. A number of risk-mitigation measures will be in place for cryptocurrency exchanges before establishing a business relationship with exchanges in third countries. 

Putting such stringent regulations on non-custodial wallets, together with introducing strict and complicated measures for cryptocurrency exchanges, will introduce unfavorable conditions for the growing industry and will cause a number of businesses to be forced and move their operations abroad – depriving consumers of their ability to safely and securely enjoy crypto services.

Putting these high regulatory costs in place is already influencing the decision-making of crypto asset service providers, now considering changing jurisdictions and moving to more favorable ones. These ham-handed regulations won’t only affect the industry, but many of the consumers who rely on them, pushing them to use non-EU exchanges. 

We have seen consumers voting with their feet in the past, choosing service providers in different countries to avoid similar measures, and this will be no exception.

With more Orwellian stipulations requiring that a consumer who sends or receives more than 1000 EUR to or from their own non-custodial wallet be verified by the crypto exchange, we will be seeing a number of issues arising both for the industry as well as for the consumers, putting additional costs to all transfers. 

The European Union has been criticized in the past for its overregulation especially when it comes to innovative technologies. Even though the EU has been relatively early in creating a comprehensive legal framework for cryptocurrencies, a number of the regulations agreed on will undoubtedly bring harm to both the industry and the retail consumer.

Surveillance of each consumer coupled with copious regulations aimed at crypto asset service providers will once again leave EU citizens looking for alternatives within jurisdictions more open to innovation, decentralization, and consumer-orientated regulatory frameworks.

The entire point of cryptocurrencies is to provide an alternative to the government-controlled fiat money system. These rules aim to disrupt that aim, principally by forcing industry players to comply with even stricter rules imposed on traditional finance institutions.

There is a better way to do this in order to promote innovation, protect consumers, and create a better ecosystem that will benefit all Europeans.

Our Principles for Smart Cryptocurrency Regulations policy primer is available to all regulators, and offers core principles to uphold in order to create regulatory guidance for the nascent industry without hurting innovation.

PRINCIPLES

  • Prevent Fraud
  • Technological Neutrality
  • Reasonable Taxation
  • Legal Certainty & Transparency

The temptation to regulate cryptocurrencies and the blockchain economy based on financial considerations alone, rather than the innovative potential, is an active threat to entrepreneurs and consumers in the crypto space.

Penalizing first-movers in crypto innovation or subjecting them to outdated laws will only serve to limit the unparalleled economic growth currently provided by the sector, or risk pushing all investment and entrepreneurship to less reliable and lawful jurisdictions.

The policy primer can be read in full here

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva, and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

If you would like to help us defeat harmful Bitcoin and cryptocurrency regulation, also using crypto, consider investing value in the Consumer Choice Center via our Donate page.

Preserve privacy by rejecting a ban on Bitcoin and crypto self-custody in Lithuania

Lithuania’s Finance Ministry has announced plans that would essentially outlaw non-custodial crypto wallets – the practice of self-custodying of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies on a wallet an individual controls – and impose stricter regulations on crypto exchanges in an attempt to combat money-laundering, terrorist financing, and sanctions evasion. 

The prepared draft law heads to the Seimas and, if passed, would impose stricter regulations on individuals as well as cryptocurrency exchanges in the country.

This bill mirrors a proposed European Commission regulation that has passed various EU Parliament committees but has yet to adopt continent-wide, aiming to restrict cryptocurrency services and institutions.

“Banning non-custodial wallets, together with introducing strict and complicated measures for cryptocurrency exchanges will introduce unfavorable conditions for the growing industry and will cause a number of businesses to be forced and move their operations abroad – not to mention the harm this does to consumers who want to safely and securely enjoy crypto services,” said Aleksandar Kokotovic, crypto fellow at the Consumer Choice Center, a consumer advocacy group. 

“A measure that aims to prevent money laundering will have very little effect in doing so but will definitely hurt the privacy of Lithuanian citizens and force them to use services based outside of the country, leaving them less secure than they are at the moment,” said Kokotovic.

“Non-custodial Bitcoin and cryptocurrency wallets are basically just code, many of which are open source and can be replicated and forked indefinitely. A government trying to ban code is not only ridiculous but will do absolutely nothing to supposedly stop bad actors. All it will do, in the end, is create a precedent for the government to crack down on its own citizens for using cryptocurrencies,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

“Banning software in 2022 is not only a bad idea that will be impossible to enforce, but will have a wide array of possible negative consequences, including the privacy of financial and crypto customers. 

“We have seen consumers voting with their feet in the past and sometimes being forced to choose service providers in different countries to avoid similar measures. We are still hoping that Seimas will understand the worries around approving such legislation and that they will preserve privacy and safeguard innovation rather than create unfavorable conditions for consumers and businesses,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

The Consumer Choice Center strongly urges Seimas members to vote against this legislation and to preserve the privacy of Lithuanian citizens as well as continue creating a prosperous and friendly business environment for consumers and industry alike.

“We offer the following bedrock principles on smart crypto regulation for lawmakers, hoping to promote sound policies that will encourage innovation, increase economic inclusion across all income groups, all the while protecting consumers from harm,” said Ossowski.

PRINCIPLES

  • Prevent Fraud
  • Technological Neutrality
  • Reasonable Taxation
  • Legal Certainty & Transparency

“The temptation to regulate cryptocurrencies and the blockchain economy based on financial considerations alone, rather than the innovative potential, is an active threat for entrepreneurs and consumers in the crypto space,” said Aleksandar Kokotović, CCC’s crypto fellow and co-author of the primer.

“Penalizing first-movers in crypto innovation or subjecting them to outdated laws will only serve to limit the unparalleled economic growth currently provided by the sector, or risk pushing all investment and entrepreneurship to less reliable and lawful jurisdictions,” added Kokotović.

The policy primer can be read in full here

UK PFAS Ban Could Undermine Semiconductor Manufacturing Efforts

London, UK: A new report published by the Consumer Choice Center highlights how calls for heavy handed chemical policy could exacerbate the state of the UK’s semiconductor production.

Maria Chaplia, Research Manager at the Consumer Choice Center explained: “A few weeks ago, the UK announced an inquiry into the state of UK chips. The global microchip shortage has hampered UK car production in 2021, with limited signs of recovery. As the security concerns over UK semiconductor firms, sold to China, continue to grow, boosting domestic production should be a priority. However, regaining a competitive edge in the semiconductor industry is impossible without a flexible evidence-based stance on PFAS.

PFAS are the next target of green groups. As the pressure to ban PFAS in the UK builds up, the evidence should prevail.

“PFAS, a grouping of 4000+ man-made chemicals, are vital for the production of semiconductors, and if the UK follows these green groups and bans their use, increasing domestic chip manufacturing will be incredibly difficult. If the UK is serious about increasing domestic chip production, they have to also work to secure the key inputs involved in the production process, and PFAS are one of those key inputs.” said David Clement, an author of the report.

“In fact, we know that this is what will happen if the UK opts for a phase out. This is exactly what happened when Belgium paused production at a PFAS chemical plant in response to the tightening of environmental regulations. Reporting done by Business Korea highlighted that semiconductor producers have only 30 to 90 days of coolant inventory left before they will encounter serious production problems.” said Clement.

“With the global chip shortage, the UK has a unique chance to become a semiconductor powerhouse if it doesn’t ban PFAS. Among other things, this will ensure the UK can effectively counter China’s increased chip manufacturing. Banning PFAS would achieve nothing but feed the green groups with yet another socially disruptive victory and shift the production of chips elsewhere. The UK government shouldn’t succumb to calls to ban all PFAS,” concluded Chaplia.

NIMBY Bitcoin mining ban threatens to lock New Yorkers out of the crypto revolution

By Yaël Ossowski

In 2015, when New York unveiled the BitLicense, a regulatory framework for Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, there was great fanfare among lawmakers. For innovators and entrepreneurs, however, that began what many labeled the “Great Bitcoin Exodus”.

And though it has been reformed since, much of the cryptocurrency space has walled off the Empire State because of the exhaustive regulations, leaving many customers unable to use a host of exchanges, brokerages, and other services. Residents were even prohibited from buying the much anticipated NYCCoin that launched last year.

Though some exchanges and brokers have applied and received the license — usually those armed with lawyers and staffed by former regulators — New Yorkers are still left out of most of the innovation happening with cryptocurrencies. Miners, however, decided to stay.

Bitcoin mining firms have scooped up abandoned plants in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and more, using hydropower and natural gas to power the computers needed to “unlock” Bitcoin from the network. Regulators, however, are once again keen to put the screws to crypto. 

A bill awaiting its fate in the Senate would impose a two-year moratorium on crypto mining permits, and launch an expansive environmental review.

As a consumer advocate, I view this bill as a death blow to the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency industry, risking jobs and capital that could otherwise scale up renewable energy, and would deny the benefits of crypto and Bitcoin to consumers.

Embracing climate goals to ensure 100% renewable energy usage in mining is well-intended, but a complete ban would have consequences. It will be yet another signal to entrepreneurs and consumers that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not welcome in New York, and the regulatory framework is too unfavorable to justify investing here.

For people feeling the impact of inflation, and for those who are locked out of the traditional finance and banking sector, their choices will become even more limited.

I understand the rise of cryptocurrency mining raises questions for residents, particularly when it involves the economy and environment. However, a more prudent path would be an environmental review conducted by relevant authorities, rather than a wholesale ban and moratorium that would put many projects in jeopardy.

When it comes to public policy on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, I would rather side with financial inclusion and crypto innovation than a “Not In My Backyard” mentality.

New Yorkers deserve better: a choice of whether they want to participate in the crypto revolution, rather than have their lawmakers make that choice for them.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center

Democrats Can’t Have Both PFAS Ban and EV Transition: Choose One

As part of the climate agenda, Democrats have advocated the phasing out of motor vehicles. The goal is to ensure that electric vehicles make up half of all new vehicles sold by 2030. To accomplish this task, tax credits of up to $12,500 could be offered.

Democrats have put electric vehicles at the heart of their climate ambitions. While that all sounds great on paper, the reality is more complex. The extensively demonised PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances)–known as forever chemicals–which Democrats want to ban are key to the production of EVs. Either Democrats call off the prospect of a full PFAS ban, or their EV agenda will never be realised.

PFAS are the latest target of regulators in the United States. They are a group of over 4000 chemicals that carry individual risks; benefits and availability of substitutes vary as well. Turning a blind eye to the complexity of these substances, Democrats introduced the PFAS Action Act in April 2021. The Act is now with the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works.

PFAS are used to produce life-saving medical equipment and are vital for contamination-resistant gowns, implantable medical devices, heart patches, etc. These chemicals are also widely used in green technology production. In particular, solar panels, wind turbines, and lithium-ion batteries.

Fluoropolymers (one specific class of PFAS) are an essential part of green technology. Fluoropolymers are used to produce lithium batteries, the power source behind electric vehicles. They are durable, heat and chemical resistant, and have superior dielectric properties, all of these qualities make it hard for other chemicals to compete. If PFAS are banned as a class, the green ambitions of switching to electric vehicles would be extremely difficult to turn into policy. The PFAS Action Act would cause further disruptions in the EV supply chain, increasing costs for consumers and ultimately making them less attractive as an alternative to gasoline vehicles.

Fluoropolymers are also used in coating and sealing solar panels and wind turbines that protect against harsh weather conditions. Fluoropolymers provide safety by preventing leaks and environmental releases in a range of renewable energy applications. The unique characteristics of PFAS such as water, acid, and oil resistance make these substances hard to replace. 

Unless damaged, solar panels continue to produce energy beyond their lifeline. Fluoropolymers are what make solar panels durable. Going solar requires significant investments and without fluoropolymers, the risk of producing and installing them will increase. It is already expensive to build solar panels in the U.S., and the blanket PFAS will exacerbate it. In fact, this is exactly what is happening in Europe with microchips, which rely on PFAS in the production process, where the closing of a plant in Belgium is on the verge of causing serious production delays.

That is not to say that PFAS are risk-free. A 2021 study by ​​Australian National University confirms that the PFAS exposure comes entirely from water. If Democrats really want to make a difference, their legislation should focus on processes that are harmful instead of single handedly banning all PFAS. 

The proposed ban is also problematic because fundamentally it won’t drive down demand for PFAS. Banning will shift production to countries like China, where environmental considerations are nearly non-existent. As a result, American regulators will be giving China the upper hand for both EV battery production, solar panels, and semiconductors. Not to mention, that banning a substance that is key to so many production processes will magnify the damage caused by inflation. For American EV and solar panels producers, the PFAS ban will be a huge hurdle that is extremely difficult to overcome.

If Democrats are really as determined to pursue a transition to EVs as they suggest, the PFAS blanket ban should be called off. Instead, PFAS should be assessed individually and where poor production processes result in water contamination, the government should intervene.

Patente sind unabdingbar im Kampf gegen die nächste Pandemie

Die Weltgesundheitsorganisation (WHO) befindet sich im Anfangsstadium der Diskussion über ein so genanntes Pandemiepräventions-, -vorbereitungs- und -reaktionsinstrument (PPR). Dieses Instrument soll die Frage klären, wie die internationale Gemeinschaft mit künftigen Pandemien, wie wir sie derzeit erleben, umgehen wird. 

Die COVID-19-Pandemie veranschaulicht auf faszinierende Weise, was viele von uns schon seit Jahrzehnten wissen: Der Staat ist oft langsam und ineffizient, während sich die Privatindustrie den Herausforderungen unserer Zeit erfolgreich stellt. Als die Pandemie von der WHO ausgerufen wurde, war Chaos vorprogrammiert. Von Drohnen, die Jogger beim Sport verfolgten, bis hin zu Parkbänken, die entfernt oder abgeklebt wurden – die Reaktionen der Staaten waren bürgerrechtlich fraglich und schlecht durchdacht. Es war jedoch von Anfang an allen klar, dass ein Impfstoff die einzige Möglichkeit war, einen realistischen und schnellen Weg zu einer dauerhaften Ausweg aus den Lockdowns zu finden. Der Haken an der Sache: Die Entwicklungzeit eines Impfstoffs wurde zu Anfang auf viele Jahre geschätzt.

Warum also haben wir es heute mit einer kontrollierten COVID-19-Krise zu tun und mit Infektionen, die für die Erkrankten wesentlich weniger schwerwiegende Folgen haben?

Der private Wettbewerb zwischen den Impfstoffherstellern hat in einem noch nie dagewesenen Ausmaß und mit einer ungesehenden Schnelligkeit stattgefunden. Obwohl alle Impfstoffe medizinische Bezeichnungen haben, kennt der normale Patient sie eher unter dem Namen eines Pharmaunternehmens.

Es ist wahr, dass bei der pharmazeutischen Forschung und der Entwicklung von Impfstoffen die Leidenschaft von Wissenschaftlern und die bürgerliche Pflicht von Unternehmen eine Rolle spielen. Tatsächlich sollten wir diesen Effekt nicht schmälern, denn die meisten Pharmaunternehmen haben jahrzehntelang lebenswichtige Medikamente zum Selbstkostenpreis in Entwicklungsländern verkauft. 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. Die Rechte an geistigem Eigentum 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 konkurrierenden Unternehmen zusammen zu arbeiten. Die Rechte des geistigen Eigentums ermöglichten auch die Zusammenarbeit zwischen den Regulierungsbehörden, einschließlich Vereinbarungen über den Vorabkauf, die sich als entscheidend für die Pandemievorsorge erwiesen haben.

Leider wird diese Tatsache von den Kritikern des geistigen Eigentums nicht anerkannt. Eine beträchtliche Anzahl von Gesetzgebern ist der Meinung, dass der PRP-Mechanismus nicht auf der Prämisse der Rechte des geistigen Eigentums beruhen sollte. 

Sie begehen einen schweren Fehler, wenn sie das geistige Eigentum für die langsame Verbreitung verantwortlich machen, da der Gegenteil der Fall ist. Allerdings können diese Kritiker die Staaten für etwas anderes verantwortlich machen: Langsame Lieferketten und regulatorische Hürden sind in der Tat ein unnötiger und tödlicher Aspekt der Impfstoffverteilung. Wir brauchen ein harmonisiertes Regulierungssystem für die Zulassung und den Vertrieb von Impfstoffen sowie einen deutlichen Abbau der 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 Regulierungsverfahren 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. Darüber hinaus müssen wir die Handelsströme zwischen den Ländern digitalisieren und nach einem System gegenseitig anerkannter medizinischer Standards arbeiten. Welchen Sinn hat es, dass das Vereinigte Königreich und die Europäische Union bei der Zulassung von Impfstoffen nicht nach dem Prinzip des gegenseitigen Vertrauens arbeiten?

Versuche, einen Impfstoff außerhalb des Systems des geistigen Eigentums zu entwickeln, sind gescheitert. Bekannte Versuche von Krankenhäusern und Universitäten, nichtkommerzielle Grundlagen für einen COVID-19-Impfstoff zu schaffen, haben keine Details über präklinische Versuche geliefert. Die Impfstofflösungen einzelner abgelegener Autokratien, wie z. B. Kuba, geben Anlass zu großer Skepsis: Trotz der selbst behaupteten Erfolge haben die kubanischen Wissenschaftler keine Daten über die Wirksamkeit des Impfstoffs veröffentlicht.

Im Interesse der medizinischen Innovation sollten die internationalen Gesundheitsorganisationen keine Maßnahmen in Erwägung ziehen, die die Rechte am geistigen Eigentum untergraben würden. Gerade die COVID-19-Pandemie hat gezeigt, dass Forscher und Hersteller einen Anreiz haben, ihr Wissen zu teilen und so ihr Innovationspotenzial freizusetzen, wenn ihre Erfolge patentiert und kommerziell vermarktet werden können.

New Zealand’s generational tobacco ban is madness

Featured image credits: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Since the 1970s, New Zealand has implemented many tobacco control measures, such as an indoor ban, advertising restrictions, and excise taxes, among many to tackle smoking. The price of cigarettes in New Zealand is among the highest globally. Despite smoking rates falling at an unprecedented rate, New Zealand believes there is no need to stop here, and a generational tobacco ban is now on the table. 

The generation tobacco ban would essentially ban people born after a particular year from buying cigarettes. The law is expected to be enacted in New Zealand in June this year, and everyone born after 2008 will not be allowed to buy cigarettes in their lifetime. 

The first question that the proposal begs is: why 2008, and not 2009 or 2007? By setting a subjectively determined cut-off date, the government of New Zealand will divide the society into two groups of adults (or once-to-be adults) who can buy cigarettes and those who can’t. The discriminatory nature of the ban is rather striking. From a public health perspective, those born before 2008 and smoking can be seen as a burden on the system–so why punish the other group, who, given the falling smoking rates, likely wouldn’t choose to smoke anyway?

The evidence on the effectiveness of generational smoking bans is weak. Instead of driving down the smoking rates, the tobacco sales ban not only doesn’t help the smoke-free cause, but it can also increase the smoking incidence among the youth. Bhutan, where the imports of tobacco products were banned during covid, demonstrates that such bans are riddled with unintended consequences and rarely achieve their original goals. After all, the Great Prohibition in the US stunningly demonstrated that, regardless of what the governments imagined when implementing bans, people always find creative ways to satisfy their wants. 

That is where the booming black market, encouraged by bans, fills the gap. In Bhutan, the only impact of the ban on the import and sales of tobacco products was to make them significantly more expensive, making illegal under-the-counter sales and the smuggling of these products even more attractive. That was also the case in South Africa, where banning the sales of tobacco and alcohol during covid boosted the illicit trade in these products.

Given the scope of the tobacco control measures in the past 50 years, I wonder if there is an endgame. New Zealand has tried it all. Indoor bans, plain packaging, excise taxes, and now the generational ban. What happens if the ambitious goal of becoming smoke-free doesn’t work out for New Zealand (which is bound to happen)? Where do we go from there? Do we outlaw thinking about smoking or using the word “tobacco”? This madness must stop. 

Liberal Housing Plan Misses The Mark

Ottawa, ON: Today the Federal government released their budget, which includes a significant portion addressing the housing crisis. Major policy announcements include a ban on blind bidding, a new tax-free First Home Savings Account, a foreign buyer ban, and $4 billion for municipalities who grow quicker than the historical average.

The Consumer Choice Center’s Toronto based North American Affairs Manager David Clement responded stating “Unfortunately, the government’s housing plan is not bold enough to properly tackle the housing crisis and effectively deal with the issue of chronic undersupply.”

“They’ve proposed a ban on blind bidding, which has already been shown to have no impact on prices and does nothing to increase supply. Their foreign buyer ban is yet another policy that is attempting to tinker with demand, without addressing supply. And while some of Ottawa’s response will allow for consumers to save more, like the Tax Free First Home Savings Account, these tax policy changes also do nothing to increase the supply of housing,” said Clement

“The only supply side policy the federal government has announced is their earmark for communities that grow at a quicker pace than the historical average. The government’s own estimate states that this could result in the building of 100,000 new homes by 2025, but the problem is that a province like Ontario needs another 650,000 new homes just to get to the national average, which wouldn’t be much to celebrate considering that Canada ranks dead last in the G7 for housing units per 1000 people,” said Clement.

“Rather than tinkering with demand and an underwhelming earmark program, the federal government should have focused on zoning reform. The federal government could quite easily tie federal funding for affordable housing and public infrastructure to density goals, with zoning reform as the core mechanism to achieve it. This would be broadly similar to the recent child care agreements which involve the transfer of federal dollars in exchange for a set of provincial deliverables,” said Clement.

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