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Public Health

Opinion: Learn from Britain — a junk food ad ban is a bad idea

The outdated playbook of trying to tax and ban things out of existence in a misguided effort to change people’s behaviour

Childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled in the last 30 years. Almost one in three Canadian children is overweight or obese, according to data from Statistics Canada. In an effort to tackle this growing problem, Health Canada has announced it is considering sweeping new legislation to restrict junk food advertising.

A similar plan was mooted but not adopted a few years back, but public health regulators now feel empowered to push this tired idea partly because the British government recently signed off on a new law banning television advertisements before nine in the evening for foods high in sugar. Health Canada says it is examining the British law and recommitting to implementing something similar in Canada.

The months the British government has spent dancing around this issue ought to be enough to ward off any right-thinking Canadian. The law it eventually came up with was a watered-down version of the original proposal, which would have banned all online advertising of anything the government considered “junk food.” Bakeries could have been committing a crime by posting pictures of cakes to Instagram.

The U.K. government now promises its new legislation will eliminate that possibility. But that doesn’t mean the ban is a useful public policy tool. First and foremost, ad bans simply do not work. The British government’s own analysis of its policy predicts it will remove a grand total of 1.7 calories from kids’ diets per day. That’s roughly the equivalent of 1/30th of an Oreo cookie.

It’s safe to assume the same policy would have similarly underwhelming results here in Canada. It won’t help reduce child obesity but it will make life more complicated for the country’s food industry. All this, just as the world enters a post-COVID economic recovery and countries like Britain and Canada need growth and investment more than ever.

The junk food ad ban was pushed through in the U.K. on the back of a sinister campaign weaponizing children’s voices. As the government wrapped up its public consultation on the proposal, it lauded a conveniently timed report supposedly highlighting the crying need for such a drastic policy intervention. The report — or “exposé,”’ as it was branded — was cooked up by Biteback 2030, a pressure group fronted by celebrity chefs and Dolce & Gabbana models. Absent hard evidence or coherent arguments for the centralization of decision-making on a matter as fundamental as what to have for dinner, it made its point by shamelessly putting interventionist politics into children’s mouths.

“I’m a 16-year-old boy,” read its introduction. “I feel like I’m being bombarded with junk food ads on my phone and on my computer. And I’m pretty sure this is getting worse.” Canadians who value free markets and individual liberties should be on the lookout for similar tactics from nanny-statists bent on drowning entire industries in red tape and consigning any notion of freedom of choice to the history books. It is incredibly paternalistic for the government to limit what advertisements adult consumers can see, as the ban would eliminate the targeted ads from all TV programming before nine p.m.

There is plenty Canada can do to fight obesity without resorting to blanket advertising bans, following the outdated playbook of trying to tax and ban things out of existence in a misguided effort to change people’s behaviour. The ban completely ignores the other half of the obesity equation, which is of course physical activity.

Obesity is a serious problem. It could even become the next pandemic. But as this junk food ad ban statement from Health Canada shows, powerful public health regulators are asleep at the wheel. They claim to be acting in Canadians’ best interest but they have nothing new to add to the policy debate.

Originally published here.

Health Canada coughs up counterintuitive vape policy

Ban on flavoured vape juice, nicotine limits will push smokers back to cigarettes

Just when it was thought to be safe to vape rather than smoke cigarettes, the Trudeau Liberals are unwittingly conspiring to resurrect the age-old sin of cigarette smoking.

They don’t think this will happen of course, but it will

On July 19, as per the federal Gazette, the Liberals of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce new regulations to not only reduce the nicotine level in e-cigarette vaping products but ban flavoured vape liquids beyond tobacco and menthol/mint.

“Health Canada is pushing smokers back to smoking cigarettes and into the arms of ‘Big Tobacco’,” says Shai Bekman, president of DashVapes Inc., Canada’s largest independently owned e-cigarette company.

Ontario’s pre-emptive move to ban vape flavours will affect the big-name e-cigarette brands that sell primarily in convenience stores, such as Juul and Vype.

Both companies sell e-cigarette pods that come in flavours such as cucumber, mango, strawberry, and vanilla.

But what is Health Canada thinking?

According to various experts in sociological behaviour, and confirmed in many peer-reviewed articles, rather than reduce smoking, this will eventually drive vapers back to real cigarettes and, because of the severe 70-plus per cent tax on smokes, will also cause increased demand for contraband cigarettes.

After all, if you’re going to smoke, why pay a heavily taxed $20 a pack when a trip to the friendly smoke shack on any Mohawk reserve in Ontario and Quebec will get you a tax-free pack for as little as $4?

As David Clement, North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Centre recently wrote in the Financial Post, “our federal government is ignoring what is working abroad and is rejecting its usual governing principle of harm reduction.

“Curbing youth access to vape products is very important but banning flavours for adult smokers trying to quit tobacco is a huge mistake, one that could have deadly consequences,” said Clement.

“Approximately 1.5 million Canadians use vape products, most of them smokers trying to quit. Research on consumer purchasing patterns shows that 650,000 of those vape users currently rely on flavours that would be prohibited if the ban goes through.”

In May, also in the Financial Post, Fred O’Riordan, a former director-general at Revenue Canada, said “ the federal budget had something for everyone, including contraband traders.

“Their unexpected gift came in the form of a $4 per carton increase in excise duties on legally manufactured cigarettes, a sharp increase that may mark the end of one era — in which tax policy was an effective tool to control tobacco use — and the beginning of another.

”More smokers will switch to readily available and far cheaper contraband products,” he wrote.

“(This) will be bad for the health side of policy, especially for young people since illegal sellers do not ask for proof-of-age ID.”

The purpose of tobacco taxes, of course, is to raise revenues, but projections have been falling for years.

Last November, the Canada Revenue Agency estimated the 2014 loss in federal excise duty revenue from illegal cigarettes — the so-called “tax gap” — at about $483 million.

Lost provincial tax revenues would more than double that estimate. And those “latest” numbers are seven years old.

What’s needed is the ballsy move of reducing tobacco taxes enough to make buying contraband a non-thought. Ontario Premier Mike Harris did this and sin-tax tobacco revenues predictably went up.

And keep flavoured vapes — the mango, the vanilla and even the bubble-gum, all of which are also sold on reserves.

Health Canada has to stop being so counterintuitive.

It’s not working.

Originally published here.

Junk food ad bans don’t work

Recognised as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 cases, obesity will likely top the European policy agenda for the years to come.

The recent launch of the MEPs for Obesity and Health System Resilience intergroup combined with several surveys and events signals an increased interest in finding the most effective solution. However, the traceable tendency to use the WHO’s recommendations as a shortcut when it comes to lifestyle issues does more harm than good.

In November 2016, the WHO published a report calling on the European Member States to introduce restrictions on marketing of foods high in saturated fat, salt and/or free sugars to children, covering all media, including digital, to curb childhood obesity. 

Same year the “What about our kids?” campaign, led by Romanian MEP Daciana Octavia Sârbu and organised by 10 European health organisations, called for a change of the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) to impose a watershed on junk food advertising at a time when the directive was undergoing a review. As a result, the updated directive did include a clause on the co-regulation and the fostering of self-regulation through codes of conduct regarding HFSS.

The WHO’s implicit impact is traceable across the board which, however, doesn’t add up to its legitimacy. The said report claims that there is unequivocal evidence that junk food ads impact children’s behaviour, but it doesn’t back it up with facts to show a causal link between the marketing of these foods and children’s obesity. What the report does though is demonise the marketing industry globally for intentionally targeting children.

The link between advertising – in particular TV ads – and childhood obesity is weak and most of the current conclusions are based on studies from decades ago. One such example is a trial conducted in Quebec over 40 years ago. As part of a 1982 study, five- to eight-year-old children who were staying at a low-income summer camp in Quebec underwent a two-week exposure to televised food and beverage messages. It was found that children who viewed candy commercials picked significantly more candy over fruit as snacks. Although there appears to be an established non-directional link between childhood obesity and television, and a plausible link with food ads, it is not sufficient to justify bans.

Junk food ad bans policies fail to recognise that childrens’ choices are heavily dependent on the environment where they grow up and behaviours that are treated as acceptable.  Therefore, if the parents live unhealthy lives then their children are much more likely to live unhealthy lives as well. 

To tackle obesity, we need to fundamentally change the societal narrative of what is healthy and what is not, and futile attempts to solve the problem through bans are not an effective way forward.

Education – both at school and home through model behaviours – and parental responsibility play a key role in fighting obesity. WHO’s junk food ad bans are a knee-jerk solution to a problem that requires a fundamental societal change.

Originally published here.

Taxing sugary drinks unlikely to cut Newfoundland and Labrador obesity rates

Newfoundland is creeping toward a fiscal cliff.

The province’s debt load is more than $12 billion, which is approximately $23,000 per resident. COVID-19 has obviously worsened that troubling trend, with this year’s budget deficit expected to reach $826 million.

Just this week legislators proposed a handful of tax hikes to help cover the gap, ranging from increasing personal income tax rates for the wealthier brackets, increasing taxes on cigarettes, and the outright silly concept of a “Pepsi tax.”

In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated almost $9 million per year in revenue.

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady justified the tax, beyond the need for revenue, stating that the tax will “position Newfoundland and Labrador as a leader in Canada and will help avoid future demands on the health-care system.”

When described like that, a Pepsi tax sounds harmonious. Who doesn’t want to curb obesity and generate revenue?

Unfortunately for supporters of the tax, the evidence isn’t really there.

In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated nearly $9 million per year in revenue.

Unfortunately for supporters of the tax, the evidence isn’t really there. In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated nearly $9 million per year in revenue.

Regressive taxes

Consumption taxes like this are often highly regressive, meaning that low-income residents bear most of the burden, and are ultimately ineffective in achieving their public health goals.

Looking to Mexico provides a good case study on the efficacy of soft drink taxes. With one of the highest obesity rates in the world, Mexico enacted a soft drink tax, increasing prices by nearly 13 per cent, with the goal of reducing caloric intake. A time-series analysis of the impact of the tax showed that it reduced consumption of these drinks by only 3.8 per cent, which represents less than seven calories per day. Estimates from Canada also show the same. When PEI’s Green Party proposed a soft drink tax of 20 per cent per litre it was only estimated to reduce caloric intake from soft drinks by two per cent, which is approximately 2.5 calories per day.

While these taxes do in fact reduce consumption to some degree, the reductions are so small that they have virtually no impact on obesity rates. To make matters worse, taxes like this aren’t just ineffective in combating obesity, they are heavily regressive. Looking again at the data from Mexico, the tax they implemented was largely paid for by those with a low socioeconomic status.

In fact, a majority of the revenue, upwards of 63 per cent, was generated from families at, or below, the poverty line. If we take the province’s estimation of $9 million a year in revenue, it is reasonable to assume that $5.67 million of that revenue will be coming from the pockets of low-income Newfoundlanders.

In other jurisdictions south of the border, like Cook County Illinois, no soda tax has avoided the uncomfortable reality of being incredibly regressive, which is partly why they eventually abandoned the tax altogether.

Doubtful benefits

Newfoundlanders need to ask themselves, is it worth implementing a heavily regressive tax on low-income families to move the needle on obesity by a few calories a day? I’d argue that the negatives of the tax far outweigh the benefits, and that’s before business impacts enter the equation. This also happens to be the same conclusion found in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, in a report to the Ministry of Health, stated that “We have yet to see any clear evidence that imposing a sugar tax would meet a comprehensive cost-benefit test.”

While both budget shortfalls and obesity are serious problems, a “Pepsi tax” isn’t a serious solution.

Originally published here.

Nicotine flavor ban: A lesson in why a bill should not become a law

A few years ago, a liberal law professor friend in New York asked me to help her with a lesson. I was tasked with coming up with a public health policy that students across a wide ideological spectrum could agree upon.

I suggested a policy promoting public health education explaining how vaccines work, as part of an educational campaign to support more widespread acceptance of essential vaccinations.

This proposal met some key criteria in that it was not intrusive, it was based on science as well as common-sense, was always timely and was consistent with broad-based public health goals.

The professor reported back that my topic led to a lively discussion about policy-making and was instructive about how to govern effectively, especially in politically polarized environments.

Now I’d like to propose another public health policy discussion that reasonable people with a wide range of ideologies should also agree upon, but this time, we’d evaluate a policy that should be widely rejected.

The same type of fundamental criteria apply. The proposal should be overly-intrusive, based on neither science or common-sense, particularly untimely, and inconsistent with broader public health policy goals.

A bill so ill-conceived is now being introduced by a member of the New York State Assembly who lives in my Upper West Side neighborhood. Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal is proposing to ban flavored nicotine pouches used by adult smokers to quit smoking.

These pouches fall into the category known as non-combustible alternative tobacco products. They contain nicotine derived from tobacco, but unlike other forms of oral tobacco such as chewing tobacco and Swedish-style moist snus, they don’t contain actual tobacco leaf. Nonetheless, they are still regulated as tobacco products and are subject to the strict regulatory process now being implemented by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Those rules include a requirement that a product be authorized for marketing only if the agency finds it to be “appropriate for the protection of public health.” And, of course, sales of any tobacco product to anyone under 21 are illegal under federal law.

A basic tenet of regulatory policy can be drawn from the restrictions the Supreme Court has placed on laws affecting constitutional rights, which is that a rule must be specifically and narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.

In the case of a proposed ban on flavors in nicotine pouches, the stated interest is to prevent youth use of a tobacco product. In that regard, it is quite compelling.

But the rule is certainly not at all tailored to achieve that purpose. The ban would apply to all flavored products, not to minors who would purchases it. 

In fact, because these are legally considered to be tobacco products, it is already illegal to sell these products to anyone under 21 in New York, as well as the rest of the country. So essentially the law is a ban on the sale of these products to adults.

Another way to evaluate such a proposal is to ask the questions, we asked in the academic setting:

  • Is the proposal intrusive?
  • Is it based on science as well as common-sense?
  • Is it timely?
  • Is it consistent with broad-based public health goals?

Such a ban would certainly be intrusive. It would prevent adult smokers from access to a significantly less harmful alternative to cigarettes. Flavors are essential In order for products such as these to be appealing to adult smokers an alternative to a cigarette. “Intrusive” is a rather gentle term when trying to describe a rule that would take ban access to a product that could save an addicted smoker’s life.

The proposal is also devoid of any science. Although the science is clear, youth should not use any nicotine containing products, a ban on the sale of lower-risk nicotine products to adults has no evidentiary basis and undermines the well-established public health principle of harm reduction. Remember, because sales of tobacco to those under 21 are already illegal, the only legal change this rule would cause is a ban on sales to adults. So common sense, together with our national history regarding prohibition, make it clear that Assemblymember Rosenthal’s proposal fails this test miserably as well.

As New York continues to grapple with public health challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, including the tragic scandal related to the state’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, now seems like a strange time to introduce an intrusive and unscientific ban on a product which, even the bills’ supporters recognize, aren’t being used by youth, as were e-cigarettes.

In fact, the regulations on e-cigarettes have given fewer acceptable lower-risk alternatives to adult smokers who can’t or won’t stop using nicotine. So now would be a particularly dangerous time to ban the sale of flavored nicotine products to adults.  

Finally, the proposed ban is inconsistent with broader public health policy developed by Congress and now being implemented by the Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA has consistently explained that “tobacco products exist on a continuum of risk, with combustible cigarettes being the deadliest.”  The FDA is counting on lower-risk non-combustible products, authorized by the agency, to replace cigarettes for adults who need or want to use nicotine. A state ban on products the FDA is currently evaluating as a tool for tobacco harm reduction would undermine the difficult but promising regulatory process.

The pandemic has reminded us that the government has tremendous power over everyone’s lives, even in a freedom-loving democracy as ours. But there’s a line — there are standards as outlined above that can help us distinguish between rules which promote public health and those which, no matter how noble the stated intention, serve to undermine it.

Originally published here.

Obesity is America’s next pandemic

But public health authorities are asleep at the wheel

Obesity is out of control. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 42 percent of Americans have reported undesired weight gain. Among children, the situation is even more dire, with 15.4 percent of those aged 2 to 17 reportedly obese by the end of 2020, up from 13.7 percent the year before.

These aren’t just abstract statistics. The U.S. has a huge shortfall in life expectancy compared to other developed countries, translating into around 400,000 excess deaths per year. When it comes to the difference between the U.S. and other similarly wealthy countries, 55 percent of America’s public health problems can be traced back to obesity.

Obesity is the next pandemic.

And if the U.S. is very unlucky, politicians will combat the new pandemic the same way they did the old, with sweeping authoritarian bans. Newsflash: A strong government response to obesity hasn’t worked so far, and it won’t work today.

The United Kingdom offers a troubling glimpse into the kinds of policies overactive American politicians might soon try to push through. Britain is led by a nominally Conservative prime minister in Boris Johnson, who calls himself libertarian and won his office by pledging to roll back the “continuing creep of the nanny state” — but you wouldn’t know it from his actions.

In reality, in recent years, the British government has unleashed an avalanche of new taxes and regulations aimed at making Britain slimmer. All have comprehensively failed — the U.K.’s obesity rates are higher than ever, with excess body fat responsible for more deaths than smoking every year since 2014 and over a million hospital admission for obesity-related treatment in England in the year leading up to the pandemic.

The state’s rampant interventionism in this area hasn’t made a dent, and there is no reason to think the result would be any different on the other side of the pond. In the U.K., a regressive sugar tax on soft drinks remains in place (despite Boris Johnson previously promising to scrap it) achieving nothing besides making the weekly shopping trip more expensive for those who can least afford it. There’s also a bizarre £100 million ($142 million) taxpayer-funded scheme which will supposedly solve Britain’s obesity crisis by bribing people to exercise.

The headline act, though, is an appalling move to ban advertising for ‘junk food’ before 9 p.m. on television and at all times online. The premise, proposed with great insistence by bankrupt celebrity chefs and now seemingly adopted by the government, is that helpless children are being bombarded with ads for unhealthy food online and therefore that the malevolent, profit-hungry advertising industry is single-handedly responsible for the national obesity crisis.

Even if that were the case, an advertising ban would be a wildly inappropriate policy response. Government analysis of the policy — not a hit job from a skeptical think tank, but research from the very same people who are insisting that this ad ban is vital — found that it will remove an average of 1.7 calories from children’s diets per day.

For context, that is roughly the equivalent of 0.3 grams of candy, or a little under six peas. The British government is unwavering in its willingness to hamstring an entire industry, even as the world inches towards a period of post-pandemic economic recovery, in order to effect an impossibly miniscule change in children’s diets, not to mention the policy’s disastrous implications for free enterprise and individual liberty.

America: Learn from Britain’s mistakes. Obesity is the next pandemic, but public health authorities who claim to be acting in our best interests have been asleep at the wheel for far too long. All over the world, bureaucrats have been peddling tired 20th-century ideas to deal with 21st-century problems and the U.S. is next in line. Public health is too important to leave up to an outdated and out-of-touch medical-industrial complex which is more interested in its virtue-signaling echo chambers than helping the vulnerable or achieving any real results.

Originally published here.

Propiedad intelectual, el derecho que se debate en el mundo por la liberación de patentes de las vacunas

Organizaciones internacionales rechazaron las medidas propuestas por la OMC. Si se aceptaran y aplicaran, sería contraproducente: profundizaría la crisis y debilitaría las bases de sustentación ante una futura pandemia.

El debate sobre el derecho de propiedad intelectual se puso al rojo vivo con la pretendida iniciativa de liberar las patentes de las vacunas.

Sin embargo, una acción de tal magnitud podría traer aparejado un efecto contrario al deseado ya que se vulneran los esfuerzos de empresas tras haber invertido cientos de millones de dólares en investigación y desarrollo.

Sobre este tópico, la Fundación Libertad y Progreso junto con otras 26 organizaciones internacionales rechazaron las medidas propuestas ante la Organización Mundial del Comercio (OMC), tendientes a anular los derechos de propiedad intelectual (DPI). El resultado de estas medidas, si se aceptaran y aplicaran, sería contraproducente: profundizaría la crisis en la que nos encontramos y debilitaría las bases de sustentación ante una futura pandemia.

Según el Global Health Innovation Center de Duke University, el mundo se encamina a producir 12.000 millones de dosis de distintas vacunas necesarias para brindar inmunidad de rebaño (70% de la población mundial). Una vejación masiva sobre los derechos de propiedad intelectual afectarán los incentivos para esta producción y futuras investigaciones para el bienestar de la humanidad.

El respeto por los derechos de propiedad intelectual es fundamental para acabar con la pandemia de la Covid-19 y reactivar la economía. La seguridad jurídica garantizará no sólo la producción, sino también el acceso a vacunas.

Libertad y Progreso suscribe a la declaración conjunta que establece los siguientes puntos:

*Los DPI son fundamentales para la producción a escala sostenible de vacunas;
*Los DPI son esenciales para la I&D para futuras pandemias;
*La competencia mundial, no la producción local forzada, será la que mantenga los precios bajos de las vacunas;
*Una suspensión de los DPI no tendrá efecto sobre la producción de vacunas sin una transferencia tecnológica forzada, la cual sería demasiado lenta, estaría llena de problemas legales y causaría mucho daño económico.

Al 20 de abril del 2021, había 217 vacunas anti-Covid (además de más de 600 tratamientos antivirales y terapéuticos) bajo desarrollo a nivel mundial. Este mercado competitivo e innovador se encuentra bajo riesgo con las iniciativas multilaterales anti-DPI. La escasez de vacunas en la Argentina y en otros países, no se hubiera producido o hubiera sido transitoria si los gobiernos respectivos hubieran actuado con diligencia.

Las organizaciones abajo firmantes, hacemos un llamado a los gobiernos para que protejan el sistema de innovación que ha suministrado múltiples vacunas y medicamentos anti-Covid en tiempo récord. De no ser así, la inversión futura para nuevos desarrollos para enfrentar las nuevas cepas de Covid-19 y futuras pandemias será menor y, por ende el costo humano será superior.

La declaración fue firmada por la   Asociación de Consumidores Libres de Costa Rica, Alternate Solutions Institute de Pakistán, Austrian Economic Centre de Austria, Bay Area Council Economic Institute de los Estados Unidos, Centro Mackenzie de Liberdade Econômica del Brasil, Center for Global Enterprise de los Estados Unidos,  Competere de Italia, Consumer Choice Centre de Bélgica, Free Market Foundation de Sudáfrica, Fundación Eléutera de Honduras, Fundación IDEA de México, Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy de Malasia, Geneva Network de Reino Unido, Imani Centre for Policy and Education de Ghana, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation de los Estados Unidos, Instituto de Ciencia Política de Colombia, Instituto de Libre Empresa del Perú, Istituto Bruno Leoni de Italia, Istituto per la Competitivà (I-Com) de Italia, KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific de Malasia Libertad y Desarrollo de Chile, Libertad y Progreso de Argentina, McDonald-Laurier Institute de Canadá, Minimal Government Thinkers de Filipinas, Paramadina Public Policy Institute de Indonesia, Prime Institute de Pakistán y Property Rights Alliance de los Estados Unidos.

Originally published here.

Boris Johnson’s interventionist obesity strategy will fail. We need more choice, not less to slim down

Obesity is on the rise like never before. More than one in four people in the UK are now obese, one of the driving forces behind the mortality rate from Covid. In the year leading up to the pandemic, more than a million people were admitted to hospital for obesity-related treatment in England.

Record hospitalisations should be a wake-up call. Public health authorities on both an international and national level have failed to front up to the sheer scale of the challenge. Public Health England and the World Health Organisation are both indoctrinated with interventionist tunnel vision. For them, fighting obesity is banning things, taxing them out of existence, trying to manipulate consumers with intrusive campaigns and attempting to shame them into making “better decisions”. 

Those charged with addressing public health issues are reading from the same tired hymn sheet of failed policies. They are trotting out twentieth-century ideas to deal with twenty-first-century problems and their failures have tragic consequences on an enormous scale.

The headline act in this appalling show is the government’s plan to ban junk food ads. The policy looks set to go ahead after being included in the Queen’s Speech, despite extensive campaigns calling attention to the problems with an overly intrusive approach, for the advertising industry and everyone else.

My mother, a working-class, immigrant single parent, runs a small baking business out of her kitchen. Under the mad ad ban plan, my mum posting pictures of her cakes on Instagram will become illegal. And for what? The government’s own analysis of the policy found that it will remove an average of 1.7 calories from children’s diets per day – roughly half a Smartie.

When asked about the case of a bakery with an Instagram account, the prime minister’s spokesperson was unable to offer any reassurances. A government source quoted in the Sunday Times earlier this year said: “there will be caveats – this is not aimed at small companies advertising home-made cakes online. It is aimed at the food giants.” It remains unclear how a blanket ban on a certain type of advertising can be legally targeted at some companies and not others.

The solution to the obesity crisis lies in more freedom of choice, not less. Even those evil food giants are responding to public pressure, keen to be seen making an effort in this area. McDonald’s, for instance, is providing five million hours of football training across the UK. Even Britain’s pubs play an important role, contributing more than £40 million every year to grassroots sports.

When people voice their concern en masse about a particular issue, private actors go out of their way to make themselves useful and do something about it. Countless companies are voluntarily investing in healthy lifestyle schemes or cutting back their own contributions to obesity. Tesco, for example, has laid out an ambitious plan to boost the proportion of its food sales which is made up of healthy products to 65 per cent, setting an example for the rest of the industry as the market shifts.

Attempts to centralise responses to public health crises in government and concentrate responsibility in Whitehall fail consistently. Tesco’s radical new agenda was not motivated by public health bureaucrats, but instead by demands from its own shareholders and pressure from competitors including Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. While Public Health England is cracking down on Marmite ads and Instagram pictures of cupcakes, the group of people arguably doing more than anyone else to make Britain healthier are private corporate investors.

Companies and consumer choice are our allies, not our enemies, in the fight against obesity. Rather than trying to hold back the tide, let’s harness the power of the market to tackle obesity.

Originally published here.

Parenting, not paternalism, defeats bad diets

Parents are the best judges of the education of their children.

The European Union regulates so-called “junk food” advertising, in order to protect children from exposure to harmful content. Its rules target food that are high in energy, saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugar and salt. This really translates as a massive distrust in parenting.

It undoubtedly sounds terrible when we read the words “advertisements targeting children”. Children, being the most vulnerable people of all, shouldn’t be targeted like the same way a hunter peeks through a scope, which seems to be the semantic implication when the word is used. In reality, it’s hard to imagine that many consumers would regard a TV ad for corn flakes that includes a cartoon character, as predatory behaviour by marketing companies.

And yet, this is precisely what lead Chile to ban these characters on cereal boxes earlier this year, and has motivated British star-cook Jamie Oliver to demand a similar rule in the United Kingdom, despite practicing the same in his own videos. We all know the saying: do as I say, not do as I do.

Some campaigners will find this hard to believe, and yet: removing Tony the Tiger from a cereal box won’t make children eat healthier all by themselves. The entire reason why children are not considered adults, is because they cannot properly evaluate the results of their actions, and they will eat anything sweet or fatty that tastes good to them.

Unless we were to remove children completely from their parents, there would be no way for us to make sure that their nutrition is entirely according to the guidelines of national health ministries.

Between a child (as opposed to youth) seeing an advertisement and the act of purchasing the product, there is a parent who has to make the decision whether or not to allow the child to receive it. By restricting the ability to market the product, we’d forgo the judgement of the parents. Far worse, such restrictions would tell parents that the government does not believe that they are able to do their job properly.

In a similar manner, alcohol and alcohol advertising is perfectly legal and available, yet we trust the resounding majority of parents to provide educational background on alcohol to their children.

Raising awareness about the consequences of too much sugar and fat is the right way of going about this problem: it empowers consumers by providing them with information, and endorses a non-paternalistic approach. The last thing we need is for the advancements in public health to backfire due to restrictions on marketing.

As a matter of fact, branding bans can indeed backfire. Brands establish consumer loyalty, yet they can equally reverse it very quickly. If a producer is know for its brand name or logo, making mistakes will make recognizable marketing into a liability. On the other hand, competitors can exploit marketing techniques to sell better products.

Most of all, advertising bans are lazy decision making. The conversation about the education of children, and the gap between counselling parents and interfering in what they see fit for the education of their children is narrow, and requires intricate analysis.

Restricting the advertisements of “predatory” companies on the other hand is a far simpler solution to understand. It’s very much the equivalent of Ostrich effect: if I do not see it, I can make the problem go away. But as the problem does not go away with this particular ban, it is very likely that conclusion will be reached that

A) the ban wasn’t stringent enough, or that

B) MORE bans are necessary. As a result, we’re being trapped with a legislative avalanche that does not empower consumers.

Parents are the best judges of the education of their children. We should empower them as consumers through information, not paternalism.

Originally published here.

Canada under pressure to support waiver lifting patents on Covid-19 vaccines

David Clement is interviewed on CTV’s “Your Morning,” making the case for why Canada should not support the #TRIPSwaiver​ at the WHO, which would suspend intellectual property protections on COVID vaccines and tech, and what Canada and the U.S. can actually do to support increasing the global supply of vaccines.

Originally posted here.

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