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Press Release

Smart regulation helps prevent underage vaping

KUALA LUMPUR, 27 January 2023 – The Consumer Choice Center (CCC) agrees with Malaysia’s Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa regarding concerns about the sale of vape products to children.

According to the representative of the Malaysian Consumer Choice Center, Tarmizi Anuwar does not support vaping by youth or children under 18 years of age and suggests that the government quickly implement smart laws to regulate the sale and marketing of vape products. 

“Underage children should not be allowed to buy vape products. In order to avoid or reduce the risk of this happening, the government needs to create a separate law or expand current tobacco regulations for the sale and marketing of vape.”

“There are several steps that the government can take including introducing smart regulations and enforcing strict age restrictions on vaping devices and liquids at the point of sale and using modern age verification technology for online sales.”

“The absence of laws will make it easier for children to obtain vapes from black market activities and illegal trade.”

Elaborating on Dr Zaliha’s statement regarding the classification of nicotine under the Poisons Act 1952, he said, “Nicotine replacement products have already been exempted from the Poisons Act 1952 in October last year. This means that nicotine is no longer considered a non-toxic product.”

“Technically, vape can be considered as a nicotine replacement product because the main purpose is to be used as an aid to quit smoking.”

“However, this is one of the areas of public policy that still need to be improved so that there is no confusion.”

In addition, Tarmizi emphasized that this law is also important in differentiating vape products between responsible adult users and children.

“This law is important to ensure that adult consumers have a legitimate choice to choose products that are less risky and harmful and move towards a healthier lifestyle.”

“The government is also not justified in using this argument to limit access to responsible users because it has not yet been proven about reports or articles that link vaping as a gateway to smoking.”

Based on an analytical survey by Lee, Coombs dan Afolalu (2018) said the actual factors of vaping among youth have yet to be proven. In addition, according to the Royal College of Physicians, reports stating that teenagers who use vaping are at risk of potentially giving birth to a generation affected by nicotine are not based on evidence.

Tick-tock for TikTok in the EU?

TikTok has become one of the most popular apps for consumers in the European Union, giving the Chinese Communist Party-controlled firm more access than ever to data of European citizens.

Given the very clear issues with the spread of TikTok and its connection to the regime, should EU lawmakers consider US-like legislation (barring federal employees from using the app) or even more radical regulation to protect European consumers from a Chinese government platform? 

Zoltán Kész, Consumer Choice Government Affairs Manager, states that there is a real threat of consumers being spied on.

“With more than 230 million TikTok users in the European Union, nearly half the population, we should begin looking into solutions to encourage the governments of member states or even the European Parliament to control the Chinese app’s influence in our institutions.”

“We at Consumer Choice Center believe in free speech and tech innovation, and we also believe in being free from surveillance from despotic regimes. Free trade with private companies is also essential to global trade. Still, when it comes to the communist government ownership in the company, it worries us to see that our liberal democracies may be harmed by the possibility of European consumers’ devices being spied on,” says Kész.

“A new, 21st-century version of liberal democracies must admit that when it is authoritarian regimes involved on one side of the equation, you have to have security measures in place to save our democracies from totalitarians,” concludes Kész.

Biden Administration’s abandonment of Section 230 undermines tech innovation that will harm and disadvantage consumers

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, lawyers from the Biden Administration filed an amicus brief in a Supreme Court case that will undermine future American tech innovation and inevitably harm and disadvantage online consumers.

In Gonzalez v. Google, the Supreme Court is asked to decide whether YouTube can be held liable for content on its platform, and more specifically its algorithms. The argument brought by plaintiffs is that the algorithm that recommends content based on user preference is not covered by Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act, and other legislation, and that Google (YouTube’s parent company) can be held liable.

Such a ruling would have a sweeping impact on Internet freedom of speech and tech innovation based here in the U.S.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, responds:

“In a global race to defend freedom and innovation online, it’s beyond disappointing to see the Biden Administration take a position that undermines Section 230, American digital entrepreneurship, and freedom of speech online,” said Ossowski.

“China and the EU are promoting and subsidizing their tech companies and future start-ups massively while our own officials are trying to kneecap them, whether by antitrust litigation by the Federal Trade Commission, Senate bills to break up tech firms, or general hostility to the growth and innovation that Section 230 has afforded to the benefit of consumers,” he said.

“The Biden Administration’s abandonment of Section 230 is concerning and puts much at risk for consumers online.

“The ability of digital entrepreneurs to offer unique and tailored services to consumers who enjoy them would be severely constrained if a Supreme Court ruling upends our modern understanding of the legal system’s protection of platforms online. Added to that, it threatens free speech on the Internet if platforms have an undue obligation to perform content moderation so as to avoid any and all legal liabilities posed by user-generated content.

“For the sake of consumers and American innovation, we hope that an eventual ruling protects the core of our freedom of speech and association online, and protects citizens’ choices to use the services they want. Thus far, the Biden Administration’s views leave us concerned that this is in peril,” he concluded.

Learn more about the Consumer Choice Center’s campaigns for smart policies on tech innovation.

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.

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.

Consumer Group Warns Regulators of FTX CEO’s influence on Upcoming Cryptocurrency Regulations

Washington, D.C. – Today the Consumer Choice Center sent a letter to Senators and Representatives involved in crafting and approving future cryptocurrency regulations, warning them of the substance of regulatory recommendations made by FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, which he made in a recent company blog post.

Bankman-Fried has, in recent years, become a primary player in American domestic politics, pledging to spend up to $1 billion to fund the Democratic Party’s 2024 efforts, and a notable figure promoting cryptocurrency regulatory policy — much of which would benefit his company and properties.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, said “The reason for cautioning lawmakers is that the decentralization that powers the entire crypto ecosystem is at stake if they only hear from vested interests from oscillating agendas that won’t necessarily favor consumers.

“For those of us with a significant consumer interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — protocols designed to be decentralized — to see so much capital and control vested in one person who has a major influence in crafting legislation to impact millions is a warning sign,” added Ossowski.

“Users of decentralized technologies do not need an industry approach to regulation. Regulations exist to set the rules of the game, not to chart the leaders of the game. The main caution we invoke is that many proposed regulations aim to cement existing industry players and lockout innovative upstarts, while at the same time requiring the same restrictive rules that caused many people to explore cryptocurrencies in the first place.

“Recent comments and suggestions by FTX CEO and noted Democratic Party fundraiser Sam Bankman-Fried, especially, leave us concerned. If rules on crypto and its customers help solidify the financial portfolios, positions, and stock prices of only a select few companies, this will drive innovation away from American shores. While many proposals laid out by Mr. Bankman-Fried do address consumer needs — especially as it relates to hacks, scams, and protection of funds — his recommendations for a highly licensed regime on all sides of digital transactions, especially Decentralized Finance (DeFi), go against the spirit of why cryptocurrencies were created in the first place,” he said.

“Last year, my colleagues and I at the Consumer Choice Center released our Principles for Smart Crypto Regulationunderscoring the need for preventing fraud, pursuing technological neutrality, reasonably low taxation, and legal certainty and transparency, which we believe will be a better framework for future regulation.

“It would benefit us all if future rules help empower consumers and the firms they interact with, punish fraud, abuse, and insider trading, and provide financial transparency.  The whims of a select few industry players, however successful they may be, cannot be the guiding light for the future of decentralized digital money,” concluded Ossowski.

***CCC Deputy Director Yaël Ossowski is available to speak with accredited media on consumer regulations and consumer choice issues. Please send media inquiries to yael@consumerchoicecenter.org.***

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

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.

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.”

President Biden Must Waive the Jones Act Immediately to Help Hurricane Victims

In the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, a ship containing 300,000 barrels of desperately-needed diesel fuel is waiting offshore until it can secure an exemption to the 1920 Jones Act, mandating only US ships can ship goods between US ports, among other protectionist restrictions.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierlusi has called on the federal government to grant the waiver immediately.

The Consumer Choice Center calls the Biden Administration’s indecision a “crippling example of the harms of restricting trade and commerce for nationalistic and political gain, and why the Jones Act must be immediately waived and then repealed.”

“President Biden’s Administration can immediately waive the Jones Act to speed rescue and recovery operations in Puerto Rico and along America’s coasts. The fact that desperate people, in the wake of hurricanes and natural disasters, must continuously ask the federal government to temporarily waive this law demonstrates it is no longer fit for purpose and should be repealed altogether,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group.

“For too long, the Jones Act has acted as a protectionist racket, benefiting shipbuilding union leaders at the expense of American consumers and entrepreneurs. The OECD estimates that a repeal of the Jones Act would benefit the American economy by up to $64 billion, lowering prices for consumers and offering new opportunities for investment and innovation.

“The fact that we are in a time of economic uncertainty, high gas prices, and rising inflation, and the Biden Administration and its agencies are more focused on protecting their labor union constituents, rather than citizens in need, is a crippling example of the harms of restricting trade and commerce for nationalistic and political gain, and why the Jones Act must be immediately waived and then repealed,” said Ossowski.

“The Consumer Choice Center supports the efforts of Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) to do just that with the Open America’s Water Act. Congress can do its part to support these bills and give people relief today and going forward. “Consumers and citizens deserve better,” added Ossowski.

On our syndicated radio program Consumer Choice Radio, we interviewed Colin Grabow, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, on how the Jones Act is making people poorer. WATCH HERE.

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