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Apakah Melarang Vape pada Masa Pandemi Merupakan Kebijakan yang Tepat?

Apakah Melarang Vape pada Masa Pandemi Merupakan Kebijakan yang Tepat?

Pandemi COVID-19 hingga saat ini masih menjadi permasalahan besar yang harus dihadapi oleh berbagai negara di seluruh dunia. Salah satu dampak dari hal tersebut adalah, perayaan tahun baru 2021 kemarin terasa sangat berbeda di berbagai kota-kota besar di banyak negara.

Tidak ada perayaan besar-besaran, pesta meriah, hingga kembang api yang mewarnai langit malam. Jutaan orang di seluruh dunia terpaksa harus tinggal di kediaman mereka, atau merayakan tahun baru di tempat yang tertutup, bersama orang-orang dekat mereka dalam jumlah yang kecil.

Untuk itu, penanganan dan pengentasan pandemi COVID-19, yang sudah memakan korban jiwa hingga lebih dari 2 juta orang di seluruh dunia, menjadi prioritas utama banyak pemerintahan di dunia. Berbagai pemerintahan di seluruh dunia mengambil berbagai langkah yang dianggap mampu untuk memitigasi dampak virus yang penyebarannya sangat mudah tersebut.Beragam kebijakan dilakukan oleh banyak pemerintahan di seluruh dunia untuk mengatasi dan memitigasi pandemi tersebut. Beberpaa kebijakan yang umum diambil oleh berbagai pemerintahan di dunia diantaranya adalah lockdown nasional untuk menutup seluruh fasilitas umum, sarana pendidikan, dan gedung perkantoran, menutup perbatasan, dan mewajibkan seluruh warga yang keluar rumah untuk mengenakan masker.

Selain itu, lockdown, menutup perbatasan, dan mewajibkan semua orang menggunakan masker bukan hanya kebijakan yang diambil oleh berbagai pemerintahan di dunia untuk memitigasi dampak dari pandemi COVID-19. Kebijakan lain yang juga dilakukan adalah melarang berbagai produk yang dianggap berpotensi meningkatkan dampak dari pandemi COVID-19. Salah produk yang menjadi sasaran dari kebijakan tersebut adalah rokok elektronik tertentu, yang juga dikenal dengan nama vape.

Di Amerika Serikat misalnya, pelarangan vape sebagai untuk memitigasi pandemi COVID-19 merupakan kebijakan yang dilakukan oleh beberapa pemerintahan di negara bagian dan juga kota memberlakukan pelarangan terhadap vape berperasa (salud-america.org, 18/09/2020). Lantas, apakah kebijakan tersebut merupakan sesuatu yang tepat? Berdasarkan penelitian yang dilakukan oleh berbagai lembaga kesehatan di seluruh dunia, rokok elektronik, atau vape, merupakan produk yang jauh lebih aman daripada rokok elektronik yang dibakar. Hasil penelitian yang dilakukan oleh lembaga kesehatan Pemerintah Inggris misalnya, Public Health England, menunjukkan bahwa vape atau rokok elektronik jauh lebih aman 95% dari rokok konvensional yang dibakar (Public Health England, 19/07/2015).

Tidak hanya itu, vape atau rokok elektronik juga terbukti dapat membantu jutaan perokok untuk berhenti merokok. Lembaga kesehatan Inggris, National Health Service misalnya, menyatakan bahwa rokok elektronik atau vape merupakan produk yang efektif untuk membantu seseorang berhenti dari kebiasaan merokoknya (National Health Service, 29/03/2019).

Hal ini tentu merupakan hal yang sangat positif. Adanya produk yang jauh lebih aman, yang dapat membantu seorang perokok untuk menghentikan kebiasaan merokoknya tentu adalah hal yang harus kita dukung dan apresiasi. Selain itu, pihak yang paling dirugikan apabila pelarangan vape diberlakukan adalah para perokok, di mana mereka tidak lagi bisa mendapatkan akses terhadap produk yang dapat membantu mereka berhenti merokok. Kebijakan tersebut membuat lebih banyak keburukan daripada manfaat (reason.org, 22/06/2020).

Selain itu, dampak unintended consequences yang dapat terjadi bila kebijakan tersebut diberlakukan adalah, bila vape dilarang, maka akan lebih banyak produk-produk vape ilegal yang sangat berbahaya bagi konsumen, karena tidak melalui proses regulasi oleh pemerintah. Hal ini tentu merupakan sesuatu yang sangat berbahaya. Bila produk ilegal vape membanjiri pasar, terlebih lagi pada masa pandemi seperti sekarang, maka akan lebih banyak orang-orang sakit, dan rumah sakit serta sarana kesehatan akan semakin sulit menampung mereka, karena sudah dipenuhi oleh para pasien COVID-19 (Newsday.com, 04/05/2020).

Dampak dari beredarnya vape ilegal terhadap kesehatan publik bukan sesuatu yang dapat kita abaikan begitu saja, dan sudah pernah terjadi di beberapa tempat, salah satunya di Amerika Serikat. Di negeri Paman Sam, pada tahun 2019, terjadi kasus orang-orang yang terkena penyakit dan gangguan pernafasan yang disebabkan oleh konsumsi produk-produk vape ilegal. Setidaknya ada 35 orang yang meninggal disebabkan karena konsumsi produk ilegal tersebut (The Washington Post, 26/10/2019).

Sebagai penutup, kebijakan pelarangan vape, apalagi di masa pandemi COVID-19, adalah sesuatu yang berbahaya. Kebijakan ini bukan hanya akan menghilangkan kesempatan bagi jutaan perokok untuk mengakses produk-produk yang dapat membantu mereka berhenti merokok, namun juga berpotensi akan meningkatkan produk-produk vape ilegal yang berbahaya bagi konsumen, yang akan semakin memberatkan sarana kesehatan yang sudah dibebani oleh banyaknya pasien COVID-19.

Originally published here.

Philadelphia should reverse its plastic bag ban

Philadelphia’s pending ban on disposable plastic bags won’t just annoy consumers — it will actually hurt the environment. Alternatives to plastics have a much bigger eco-footprint.

The city of Philadelphia has officially paused its plastic bag ban, which will now be phased in over the next year and enforced by city officials in April of 2022. While consumer advocates appreciate the delay, the prospect of a bag ban is misguided — and will ultimately do more harm than good, including for the environment.

Why is that the case? Well, it’s largely because alternatives to single-use plastic bags come with serious negative environmental externalities. That might sound far-fetched to some, but that was the conclusion of Denmark’s Environment Ministry when it evaluated plastic bags versus reusables. 

Danish government researchers using 15 environmental benchmarks (including climate change, toxicity, ozone depletion, resource depletion and ecosystem impact) concluded that single-use plastic bags are often superior when compared to paper or cotton alternatives. So much so that paper bags, a common plastic replacement, needed to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag. 

When it came to cotton alternatives, the numbers were even higher. A conventional cotton bag alternative needed to be used over seven thousand times to outpace a plastic bag in ecological effects, and an organic cotton bag had to be reused over twenty thousand times. Consumer usage patterns of those alternatives clearly show that they never get reused at the rate required for them to be environmentally advantageous, which means that in an effort to protect the environment, city officials are in fact passing a ban that will do more damage. The ban ends up being more environmental symbolism than environmental protection. 

And the Danes aren’t alone in their conclusions: The British government’s impact assessment on this very question drew the same conclusion.

Consumer usage patterns of those alternatives clearly show that they never get reused at the rate required for them to be environmentally advantageous.

Not only is the bag ban bad for the environment, it is bad policy for local retailers and their consumers. The pandemic has had an absolutely devastating impact on the food service sector, and the ban will ultimately make that impact worse by further inflating costs as retailers are forced to switch to higher-cost alternatives. After all, the reason plastic is so ubiquitous is that it’s easy to use, cheap and preferred by both consumers and retailers. When the full force of the ban takes effect in 2022, the inflated costs will be shouldered by consumers through higher prices.

Beyond the impact on the environment and the economy, the ban completely ignores viable methods to reclaim plastic waste to ensure it doesn’t end up as pollution or in landfills. As part of the city’s justification for banning plastics, it claimed that it takes ten thousand hours to sort the plastic bags out of waste piles, because the bags are not recyclable. That claim sidesteps the fact that once these bags are actually reclaimed, they can be repurposed through a process called chemical depolymerization, which for the layman, is the process of chemical recycling, where plastic is broken down into its original building blocks and repurposed into new products. 

Through recovery and chemical depolymerization, we can turn every piece of discarded plastic back into the same molecules it started from — and these transformations aren’t hypothetical. Across North America there are countless examples of plastics being repurposed into resin pellets, which extends the life of these plastics exponentially, and potentially, indefinitely. For single-use bags specifically, there are innovative projects underway where scientists take these items, alter their chemical bonds and bind them with bitumen to be used to pave roads. The end result is lighter asphalt made with recycled plastic that won’t leach into the soil or waterways. Giving plastic waste a second life in this way creates jobs and fosters innovation — the true solution to so many of our environmental ills. Just as importantly, it ensures that plastics remain in the economy rather than ending up in the environment. 

Simply put, plastic usage can be something we deal with and even benefit from, without having to resort to heavy-handed bans. Leaning on innovators to better deal with plastic waste is a solution that avoids high-impact alternatives, maximizes consumer choice, manages waste properly and actually benefits the environment.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

Twitter Ban shows that the free market works

Big tech’s conservative purge will lead to stricter regulations.

Earlier this month, Twitter banned the personal account of Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) and at the same time limited the official White House account, leaving the President of the United States unable to directly communicate with the nation and its voters on the platform. 

For many conservatives, the move to ban Trump from Twitter after the Capitol riots on January 7, was an assault on freedom of speech and since then, many leaders around the world have also condemned how Twitter handled the situation. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was critical of Twitter for blocking President Donald Trump’s account, considering the ban a threat to free speech. The European commissioner Thierry Breton saw Twitter’s decision as a total break from the past, calling it “the 9/11 moment of social media” in an op-ed published by Politico. Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack said blocking Trump amounts to censorship. And the French Junior Minister for European Union Affairs Clement Beaune said to Bloomberg that “This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO.”

Other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube followed Twitter’s lead and now Trump is banned from virtually every major platform out there, mostly indefinitely. Those who approve of Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump and the purge of thousands of conservative accounts on the platform, like to invoke the mantra that if conservatives think they have been “shut down”, they should also find comfort in the fact that the free market will provide an alternative and competition. However, it’s not that simple.

Social media platforms enjoy a great privilege that not many other companies or sectors do. They make their own rules under their Terms of Service and have total control of their platforms. This extreme power makes it hard for users and companies who feel that they have been unfairly treated to have a diligent due process review of their claims. With nowhere to go to have their voices heard, one last line of defence still stands and stronger than ever: the market.

After the ban of Donald Trump’s accounts, which had over 80 million followers on Twitter, some consumers started to ditch the social media platforms and services that they believe were censoring and targeting conservative speech. Many well known political accounts, such as James Woods reportedly lost over 7 thousand followers in 48 hours and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, lost 45,000 followers. Even more centrist political accounts as Dave Rubin reported a drop of over 35 thousand followers on Twitter. Republican lawmakers also lost thousands of followers. According to USA Today, about 42% of the accounts – 213 – had fewer followers on Jan. 13 than they did on Jan. 6. The vast majority of those accounts –200 – belonged to Republicans. As a result, the next week, Twitter stocks plummeted more than 10%. Facebook fell 4% to $256.84, Alphabet stock was down 2.2% to $1,766.72, and Amazon stock dropped 2.2%, to $3,114.21.

The market reacted this way because large tech companies are alienating users by directly excluding accounts and because people are simply leaving the platforms all together for alternatives such as Gab and RumbleParler was a popular alternative for Twitter but was wiped off the internet last week after both Apple and Google remove the app from their stores and Amazon decided not to host the website on their AWS servers. 

Most of today’s social media platforms are free because they collect data about their users every day, from location to website searches, even fingerprinting all your devices. Those pieces of information are sold to advertisers who cater to your interests.  As we have written, this practice is both innovative and helps support the social media networks we use. However, the business model is not sustainable if tech companies are not able to gather updated information about their users, or worse, if the consumers the advertisers are looking to reach are not on their platforms anymore. 

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, whose company’s share plumed the most this week, seems to have realized this the hard way. His strategy may have backlashed as now, millions of conservative consumers are out on the internet, without a home, and desperately looking for a new place to be heard and speak freely. He acknowledged last week that banning Trump from Twitter “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

Tech companies should be aware that even though they enjoy a privileged position now, this might not last for long. The European Commission, for example, has introduced two proposals that would place more restraints on digital giants. The first, is the Digital Markets Act, the centerpiece of Europe’s digital plans aimed at boosting online competition in a world dominated by Silicon Valley. The second is the Digital Services Act aimed to limit the spread of illegal content and goods online, making online platforms responsible for the spread of such content. Other countries might also try to regulate digital services in a way that would be prejudicial to tech companies and most importantly, to consumer choice. Poland, for instance, plans to make censoring of social media accounts illegal: “algorithms or the owners of corporate giants should not decide which views are right and which are not,” wrote the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki on Facebook last week.

For now, a free market is still the most powerful way in which consumers can have a voice and make their choices clear. This might change in the future, but it’s comforting to know that even when governments fail, consumers and private companies can count on the power of supply and demand. And if you ask me, I wouldn’t change it for anything else.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn


Originally published here.

Germany’s energy transition should give us pause

A radical energy transition should not punish consumers.

If we want to be serious about climate challenges and the growing energy demand, we must urgently take up the issue of nuclear energy again.

Imagine that you declare an energy transition, but nobody is participating in it. This is what happened in Germany with the “Energiewende” (energy transition). This German transition led to a significant price increase for ordinary people. The Institute for Economic Research found that this radical change cost German households more than 28 billion euros because the market was subject to less competition. The big winners from this transition are the coal and gas industry.

Indeed, the use of coal- and gas-fired power stations has increased so much that Germany – even with all the efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – has remained stagnant on its results. As a result, its climate targets have not been met. To avoid Germany’s situation, the Greens in Finland are in favour of nuclear power. In Switzerland, even though the country no longer builds new power plants, it has several times rejected the principle of a complete phase-out of nuclear power by means of a referendum.

The need for nuclear power is also becoming more and more important for reasons of national security: why accept a growing dependence on gas from Russia, a country that violates human rights and is regularly hostile to European countries?

The scientific world, which the political world wants to rely on when it comes to underlining the urgency of climate change, has regularly made its voice heard in this debate. In December 2014, 75 scientists from around the world wrote an open letter to environmentalists on nuclear energy, claiming that it is an efficient and necessary means of producing energy and that the facts contradict the ideological reasoning against power plants.

The scientists were brought together by Professor Barry W. Brook, chair of sustainable environment at the University of Tasmania, Australia. This environmentalist has published three books and more than 300 scientific articles. Their letter said:

“Although renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are likely to make an increasing contribution to future energy production, these technological options face practical problems of scalability, cost, materials and land use, which means that it is too risky to consider them as the only alternatives to fossil fuels”.

Nuclear energy is the answer to the problems of our time. It is affordable and, importantly, does not emit CO2 emissions. The United States, not particularly known for its adherence to international climate agreements, has avoided 476.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions thanks to nuclear power. Since 1995, a total of 15.7 billion tonnes has been avoided thanks to nuclear power or a third of the planet’s annual consumption. Of course, this is a figure that would have to be increased, but this will only be possible with energy models such as France’s, which guarantees energy independence with a system of extensive nuclear power plants.

Furthermore, we must come back to the facts when it comes to the discussion on waste. In reality, nuclear fuel is extremely dense. It is about a million times larger than that of other traditional energy sources and, as a result, the amount of nuclear fuel used is small. All the nuclear fuel waste produced by the US nuclear industry over the last 60 years could fit on a football field less than 10 metres deep. Moreover, currently, 96% of this “waste” is recyclable.

Opposition to nuclear power is mainly due to a lack of knowledge of the technological systems, as well as the problematic media coverage of accidents such as the one in Fukushima. As the ecologist Michael Schellenberger notes, “the number of deaths for the same production of electricity, here, for example, the terawatt-hour, is significantly lower than for other major means of mass production such as coal, oil, biomass and natural gas”.

While we are all concerned about the effects of climate change, we must realise that nuclear power is the only viable alternative that is safe, clean and capable of guaranteeing the production we need. Should we have a debate on nuclear power? Of course, we do. But we must ensure that this debate is based on facts and without losing sight of the objective of maintaining our quality of life while reducing greenhouse gases.

Originally published here.

AFRICA: a charter on agroecology is born

AFRICA: a charter on agroecology is born©Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock

The International Agroecological Movement For Africa, (I am Africa) aims to revolutionise African agriculture on a sustainable and environmentally friendly basis. This desire, which was started on the fringes of the “One Planet Summit 2021”, is governed by a charter that is open for signature by other companies willing to invest in future-oriented agro-ecological sectors in Africa.

This is the agricultural version of the third edition of the “One Planet Summit”. On the side-lines of this international summit on climate change, held on January11th, 2021 by videoconference, more than 100 African and European operators from across the agricultural value chain launched the International Agroecological Movement For Africa, (Iam Africa). The initiative is governed by a charter in which the signatories commit themselves to investing in agro-ecology in Africa. “The objective of the signatories is to participate in the promotion of a strategy that combines social, environmental and economic development for the prosperitý but also for the preservation of the biodiversitý and more generally of the continent’s stabilitý,” says Karim Ait Talb, co-founder of the initiative and deputy managing director of the Advens/Geocoton group.

The provisions of the charter give a large part of the project implementation to local companies and organisations. And the collaboration between the latter and European structures should encourage technology transfers and the appropriation of the know-how necessary for the sustainable establishment of the agricultural and livestock production sectors envisaged by this charter.

The Sahel region will be a priority

Iam Africa intends to deploy particularly in the Sahel region, considered to be one of the epicentres of global warming in the world. The signatories of the charter are indeed convinced that the establishment of an agro-livestock value chain encouraging the deployment of agro-ecological practices, and the creation of dignified and sustainable jobs, will constitute an important response for the adaptation of the populations of the region and the mitigation of the effects of climate change, particularly with regard to migration flows and security challenges. The intensification in the Sahel of projects carried out in the framework of Iam Africa should also contribute to the realisation of the Great Green Wall initiative by 2030.

However, it would be prudent for Iam Africa members to adapt the vision of their charter to local realities. For some experts warn against the popularisation of agro-ecology in developing countries. Its lack of mechanisation, GMOs and the use of synthetic fertilisers is a blow to agricultural production. A recent study by pro-agroecology activists showed that applying these principles to Europe would reduce agricultural productivity by an average of 35%. For Bill Wirtz, a public policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, if such a scenario were to occur in Africa, it would be a disaster for a continent where 20 per cent of the population suffers from hunger (2017), according to a UN report.

Originally published here.

The EU-Mercosur Agreement is an opportunity, not a threat

This agreement provides the tools to oppose China in the region…

The agreement between the European Union and Mercosur is being called into question – under false pretexts. It is time to realise what is really at stake.

The trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and Mercosur (an economic community comprising several South American countries) is criticised – or even practically dead to some. This was France’s intention from the outset: more protectionism, less free trade.

It all started with the fires in the Amazon, in Brazil. According to the forest and environmental expert Emmanuel Macron:

“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet that produces 20% of our oxygen, is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7, meet in two days’ time to talk about this emergency. #ActForTheAmazon”

With such calls, the right thing to do is to put things into perspective. We know that the number of fires in Brazil this year is higher than last year, but it is also about the same as in 2016 and lower than in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Although the number of fires in 2019 is indeed 80% higher than in 2018 – a figure that has been widely reported recently – it is only 7% higher than the average for the last ten years. Moreover, most of the fires are currently occurring on already deforested land in the Amazon.

The popular myth is that the Amazon is “the lung of the Earth”, producing “20% of the world’s oxygen”. At least that’s what Emmanuel Macron’s tweet says. In reality, both are inaccurate… and not just because your lungs don’t produce oxygen. Yet this figure will continue to circulate as long as there are reports to be delivered; the Associated Press agency itself has propagated it – it had to withdraw it afterwards.

According to the Scientific American :

“In fact, almost all of the Earth’s breathable oxygen comes from the oceans, and there is enough to last for millions of years. There are many reasons to be appalled by this year’s Amazon fires, but depleting the Earth’s oxygen supply is not one of them.”

So no, you won’t suffocate because of the fires in the Amazon.

Ireland and France are nevertheless proposing to terminate the agreement with Mercosur for environmental reasons. Unfortunately for them, no environmentalist pretext can hide their real motives: to defend the protectionist interests of Irish and French farmers, who have complained about increased competition from countries like Argentina.

This agreement is of great geopolitical importance; it is a vital sign against protectionism. If ratified, this agreement with Mercosur would establish the largest free trade area that the EU has ever created, covering a population of over 780 million inhabitants, and would consolidate the close political, economic and cultural links between the two areas.

The agreement eliminates tariffs on 93% of exports to the EU and grants ‘preferential treatment’ to the remaining 7%. In addition, it will eventually eliminate customs duties on 91% of the goods that EU companies export to Mercosur. The number of formal complaints to the WTO in 2018 was 122% higher than in 2009. In 2018, the EU was the second biggest defender of WTO complaints, almost twice as many as China.

Then there’s the importance of China.

This country is not mentioned at random. It is crucial to understand the Chinese influence in South America. Since 2005, the China Development Bank and the China Export-Import Bank have granted more than $141bn in loans to countries and companies belonging to Latin American and Caribbean states.

In Latin America and elsewhere in the world, Chinese loans are seen as both profit-seeking and a form of diplomacy. The Development Bank focuses on eight areas: electricity, road construction, railways, oil, coal, telecommunications, agriculture and public services. With this agreement, it becomes possible to counter Chinese influence. France and Ireland must stop opposing it and work on a joint agreement in Europe.

Giving consumers more choice, guaranteeing more free trade for producers on both sides and defending geopolitical interests through trade policy: all this should be obvious. Unfortunately, it seems that nothing is obvious anymore, at least for the current political class.

Originally published here.

Storming of Capitol a threat to republican democracy

Last Wednesday, we saw the worst passions of the American republic storm through the doors of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

For hours, people around the world watched as protestors transformed into rioters who ransacked various congressional offices, posed for photos on the House floor, and terrorized hundreds of congressmen and women, senators, staff, journalists, and Capitol Police.

One woman, a protestor and rioter from Arizona, was shot and killed by Capitol Police. Three others died due to medical emergencies, according to Washington Police Chief Robert Contee.

The march outflowed from a “Stop the Steal” rally held by President Donald Trump in the hours prior, decrying the results of the 2020 election and fueling various allegations of voter fraud and manipulation.

He urged his supporters at the rally to turn their attention to Congress, which was deliberating the final tally of the Electoral College votes.

What transpired at the Capitol Wednesday was something no one should tolerate in a liberal democracy. The ransacking of a seat of the federal government, by any force or group of individuals, is an act of aggression that should be prosecuted.

It was, no doubt, a result of demagoguery and a violent urging by Donald Trump.

There are many items of concern that my organization and I have broadly agreed with President Trump: on questioning the role of the World Health Organization early on in the pandemic, dismantling burdensome regulations that quash innovation, pushing for the safe and orderly opening of the economy after devastating coronavirus restrictions, and more.

At the same time, we have opposed the Trump administration when it was needed most: disastrous tariffs that raise prices for all consumers, drug pricing plans that will set back innovation while making drugs more expensive, and a federal vaping flavor ban that will deprive former smokers of the ability to choose a less harmful alternative.

Personally, I have opposed Trump’s desire to severely restrict and reduce immigration. My family immigrated to the U.S. some 30 years ago, and we have enjoyed a much more fruitful life because of it.

But those policy arguments and disagreements are secondary to the very real threat of a violent parade of hysteria through the halls of the Capitol.

We advocate for ideas to improve society based on the rule of law and democratic order. We use the means of free expression, free assembly, and the right to petition our government to ensure that policies that help every consumer and every citizen will be the law of the land.

Seeing a mob trample into the primary seat of one of America’s branches of government achieves none of that, and should be rightly condemned.

Our decentralized republican democracy based on a time-honored Constitution, a system that is unique to the United States and has allowed for some of the most promising economic and social innovation in the world, was threatened. And we cannot excuse these actions in the slightest.

From this point forward, we must restore the rule of law and advocate for liberal democratic principles to advance the American project.

That President Trump should continue to serve out the last two weeks of his term, after this insurrection and rebellion in our nation’s capital, is unacceptable.

Whether it be through his removal from office by the invocation of the 25th Amendment by Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet, or articles of impeachment in the House and swift conviction by the Senate, something must be done to show to the world what happens when order and liberty are transgressed in a representative liberal democracy.

When the actions of certain individuals go too far, and when demagoguery threatens the very system that allows us to freely enjoy our liberty and pursue happiness how we see fit, that is an appropriate time to use the tools at our disposal to rectify injustice.

Let us hope justice conquers after the events of last week.

— Yael Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

We should not monopolise consumer information

Letting legislators alone decide what consumer information is causes multiple problems…

Expanding consumer access to information is meant to be a cornerstone of informed policy and decision-making. 

Rather than adopting paternalistic rules, lawmakers and regulators in liberal democracies should reflect the will of the people and ensure that consumers and citizens are able to always access more, not less, information on labels and products. 

Obviously, distinguishing what information is “accurate”, especially when it comes to products we buy and sell, is a canard. Let’s look to health and warning labels. Mandated by governments, these serve a distinct purpose: they inform consumers about the dangers of consumption – or of overconsumption – of certain products. 

For instance, for alcohol, the industry has long implemented health warnings for pregnant women. This has been done voluntarily and in a self-regulating manner. Initiatives such as these demonstrate that private industry possesses an instinct towards corporate responsibility, and they should be encouraged to inform consumers on similar health challenges in a variety of ways. 

We believe that more can be done to allow consumers to seek information online. The marked increase in supermarket goers scanning food items, whether it is a bottle of wine or a box of rice, has shown there is a desire to be better informed and conscious about the things we consume. That’s a great development.

When it comes to regulation on this information, we should encourage an approach that avoids overburdening the administrative state with challenges it cannot overcome or solve.

Many legislative proposals on what information must be provided to consumers are laboriously updated and concocted and can have unintended consequences. For instance, while the food pyramid was once a standard model in school curricula for decades, it is now recognised to have been entirely inaccurate in its advocacy for a healthy diet. 

We see a similar problem with mandatory labelling suggestions such as the “Nutri-Score”, which lays out the nutritional value of a product, without necessarily promoting healthy products. The green-to-red scale of the Nutri-Score misleads consumers by signalling that highly nutritious food is automatically healthy food. The same goes for over-labelling. Consumers’ attention should be on the most important aspects and qualities of a product rather than an arbitrary score that simplifies nutritional science. An inflation of health and warning labels could diverge attention of consumers away from the key take-aways of health advice, and lead them to ignore them all together.

When it comes to labelling, public health advocates insist that a plethora of studies prove the effectiveness of specifically pictorial health warnings. But is this true? This assumes that the warning is already being looked at, which is not self-evident. Just as in the case of medicine, for a drug to be effective, it seems obvious that the patient will have to take it in the first place. Take the example of this 2018 study, which examined the amount of respondents who were actually aware of the warning labels for alcohol.

“Eye-tracking identified that 60% of participants looked at the current in-market alcohol warning label […]. The current study casts doubt on dominant practices (largely self-report), which have been used to evaluate alcohol warning labels. Awareness cannot be used to assess warning label effectiveness in isolation in cases where attention does not occur 100% of the time.”

These are people who purchased the product, and were actually not aware of what the warning label said or indicated. But how can that be? How is it possible that people ignore the warning label that has been specifically designed to catch their attention and change or modify their behaviour?

The WHO working document “Alcohol labelling A discussion document on policy options” portends the necessity of “good design” when it comes to warning labels.

“There are four message components that may be considered when developing an effective health label, each serving a different purpose: (i) signal word to attract attention; (ii) identification of the problem; (iii) explanation of the consequences if exposed to the problem; and (iv) instructions for avoiding the problem. The visual impact of the label can be enhanced by using large, bold print; high contrast; colour; borders; and pictorial symbols.”

But bad design alone cannot be the only explanation for decreased awareness among consumers. Take the example of safety instructions on aeroplanes. Frequent flyers know that after 2 flights a week or more, these warnings and indications about the location of life jackets become background noise. An inflation of warning labels can desensitise those who are meant to be aware of them, because of a lack of nuance. The messages “coffee can be bad for your health” and “smoking can be bad for your health” don’t frame a hierarchy of health hazards. In fact, put next to each other, both messages could imply that both are equally damaging and to be avoided. We know that’s not the case.

More than anything, we should not try to make health warnings trivial and overstated. If they become less meaningful to consumers, we run the risk that important health warnings will be ignored by the average consumer. As such, information provided to consumers should never be monopolised by governments alone. Rather, we should allow different brands and products to provide accurate information where necessary, for the consumers’ sake.

Originally published here.

There is an easy way to make medicine instantly cheaper

Exempting drugs from VAT is a great tool to give patients a break.

COVID-19 has heightened public awareness on the question of drug prices. After vaccine prices had been leaked to the public by Belgian minister Eva de Bleeker, questions arose on the costs associated with creating vaccines. This is essentially a similar debate when it comes to the prices of all drugs.

The question of how to reduce the cost of drugs has led some to make interventionist suggestions. Many blame the greed of the pharmaceutical industry for drug prices, when in reality the truth is much more complicated. To some, the question is about intellectual property rights. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is running a campaign on access to medicines that distorts the realities of the drug market, while calling for solutions that would undermine scientific innovation. The “Access to Essential Medicines Campaign” seeks to increase the availability of medicines in developing countries by tackling the issue of price and intellectual property rights. In the eyes of MSF, producers and researchers are getting rich on the backs of those who can least afford it.

In reality, drug prices are a result of many considerations: the development costs, the amount of patients able to receive it, intellectual property rights (though not in the sense that MSF would have you believe), and… taxes!

Informed patients will know that all but one European country charge VAT on over-the-counter (OTC) medicine and prescription medicine. Germany charges as much as 19% VAT on both types of medicines, while Denmark ranks the highest, with rates at 25% – that is a fifth of the total price for a drug! There is only one country that does not charge VAT on prescription or over-the-counter drugs: Malta. Luxembourg (3% each) and Spain (4% each) also show that modest VAT rates on drugs are not a crazy idea but something millions of Europeans already benefit from. Sweden and the UK both charge 0% VAT on prescription medicine, yet 25% and 20% respectively on OTC.

One of the significant roadblocks towards more patient access to drugs is the unfair tax policies of some EU member states. Before talking about eroding intellectual property rights and price setting across the block, we should discuss whether we should have a VAT on medicines.

Especially on prescription medicine, where cancer drugs can reach substantial price levels, VAT rates of up to 25% significantly burden patients and their health insurance. 

On prescription medicine, there is little sense in first charging value-added tax, and then have national health insurance providers pick up the tab. As for OTC medicine, the implication that just because it isn’t prescribed, it, therefore, isn’t an essential good, is a blindspot of policy-makers. Many OTC meds, ranging from drug headache pain relief, heartburn medicine, lip treatments, respiratory remedies, or dermatological creams are not only essential medicines for millions of Europeans; they often act as preventative care. The more we tax these goods, the more we are burdening MDs with non-essential visits.

Zero VAT on medicines is a question of fairness. Everyone is burdened with the costs of the COVID-19 lockdowns. While we have become one-sided in our analysis of which medical problems are important, we need to understand that other medical treatments are needed as we speak, and that they represent a burden on all patients.

It is time for European nations to agree on a binding Zero VAT agreement on medicine or at least a cap at 5%, which would reduce drug prices in the double digits, increase accessibility, and create a fairer Europe.

Originally published here.

There’s no scientific need to expose Australians to suffering. We need vaccine reciprocity now

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As the city of Brisbane once again goes into full lockdown, borders remain closed, and businesses nation-wide are being decimated, the Australian bureaucracy still refuses to allow its citizens access to the Covid-19 vaccine citing their own approval timetable. The good news is that the fix is easier than many think, and includes valuable lessons for any future pandemic Australia may face.  

With merely 28,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths, Australia has been fairly well shielded from this global pandemic. But the price individuals and the whole economy paid for this is high: Australians are not allowed to leave the country, while tens of thousands of Australians are stranded overseas, unable to return home. Thousands of businesses have closed, and the tourism and hospitality industries have been devastated. State border closures have led to tragedies such as twin babies dying as border closures prevented the mother from giving birth at a hospital near her. Another mother miscarried after border closures prevented her from accessing immediate medical care. Other families were prevented from visiting their children in intensive care, and the list goes on.  

Bizarrely however, Australia’s government and regulatory bodies seem to be content with this strategy and seem to have no desire to get society back to normal. Until last week, the federal government was not contemplating rolling out inoculations until the end of march — a decision fortunately revised to mid-February but either way, Australia is months behind the global efforts to start vaccinating, and it suggests Australia’s regulatory agencies are not currently prepared to act as quickly as needed in a future pandemic. An international comparison shows how drastic the regulatory backlog is down under:

The United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (approved an effective COVID19 vaccine on December 2. By early January the same regulator allowed two additional vaccines to be used by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists around the country. And while the UK was the fastest to approve these highly needed vaccines, other countries followed quickly and managed to roll out mass vaccination at lightspeed. The UK, EU, Japan and Canada are rolling out vaccines, and as of writing three Middle Eastern countries spearhead the global race to immunize wide parts of society; Israel has vaccinated nearly one-fifth of its population, with a plan to have every citizen vaccinated by the end of March, the United Arab Emirates have provided 9 per cent of its resident with at least one jab, and Bahrain holds the third place with having reached 4 per cent of its people so far. 

Despite the international success of vaccine rollouts, and the opportunity it presents to save both lives and the economy on which people’s lives depend, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration initially announced that it will approve the first vaccine only by late March 2021. That is nearly four months later than the UK’s or United States’ approval. Prime Minister Morrison has now announced that they will bring the approval forward to mid- or late-February but that still is still over a month longer than it needs to be  

These continued delays show the dangerous exceptionalism Australia’s government applies in this global public health crisis. Can the government really justify prolonged lockdowns, COVID cases, and deaths if there are already multiple effective vaccines used across developed countries?  There is no reason for the TGA to come to different conclusions than the UK’s MHRA, the US’ FDA, and the EU’s EMA: Australians are not a separate species who will somehow react differently and need additional studies. Bureaucratic inertia and a refusal to alter rigid timetables despite the circumstances, and a nationalist belief Australians need to do everything ourselves, is a degree of arrogance that comes at a great cost.   

Australians should demand mutual recognition of vaccine approvals (also called reciprocity) in vaccine approval with all regulatory agencies based in OECD countries. The costs of delaying the vaccination rollout are simply too high to justify the ongoing arrogance of the TGA. Given that all reputable medicines agencies across the OECD have already given their blessing, patients in Australia should receive immediate access to immunization shots. 

As a new and more virulent strain of Covid-19 has already begun circulating in Australia, the need for a vaccine has become even more urgent, particularly given evidence released today has proven the vaccine is effective against this mutation. Future COVID cases, deaths, and economic bankruptcies could be quickly prevented if the government acts swiftly by burying its ego. In addition, the next pandemic is likely to come sooner than later. A more agile vaccine approval system needs to be in place by then, so we can quickly respond to any potential future challenges. Reciprocity among OECD countries is an easy fix. Accepting our partners approval of vaccines is Australia’s quick and easy way out of the current situation and will ensure a swift and safe return to normal.

Admitting Australian’s don’t have to do everything ourselves will save lives and is the only moral course of action for the Government to take.  

Fred Roeder is a health economist and Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center. Tim Andrews is the Founder of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance and presently Director of Consumer Issues at Americans for Tax Reform.  

Originally published here.

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