Biden’s support for seizing vaccine IP harms innovation

Yesterday, the Biden administration announced it would be supporting the efforts of countries like India and South Africa to suspend intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization using the TRIPS Waiver.

“The US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we’ll actively participate in @WTO negotiations to make that happen,” tweeted U.S. Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the global consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, called the Biden admin’s move a “gross mistake.”

“By backing the seizing of intellectual property around innovative vaccines, the Biden administration is actively harming future innovation and certainty for biotechnology firms that use patents to fund their research and development, especially when the estimated cost of producing a COVID vaccine is near $1 billion.

“This would actively hurt patients who depend on innovative medicines and vaccines that don’t otherwise receive primary funding, including the world’s most vulnerable,” said Ossowski.

“The German firm BioNTech, which developed the first mRNA vaccine and partnered with Pfizer for distribution and testing, is originally an experimental cancer research firm and intends to use its profits to find the next cancer cure. Biden’s support for the patent waiver would undermine those efforts and more.

“What’s more, once the IP is released, there is no guarantee for the safety of vaccine production, both due to the specialized knowledge and equipment required to produce them and to store them properly for maximum efficiency. If doses are made by third-party suppliers relying on patented formulas and processes but without the specialization, this will increase the risks of botched vaccines and vulnerable people put at risk, which could lead to vaccine hesitancy throughout the world,” said Ossowski.

“Bad actors will have an easier time pushing black market products on the market. Fake vaccines will not just undermine the global vaccine drive but also put lives at risk and reduce trust in vaccines.

“If the United States wants to help vaccine low and middle-income countries suffering because of the pandemic, they should release all doses of AstraZeneca vaccine sitting in American warehouses, which the FDA has not yet approved, and begin exporting our vaccine surplus to the most hard-hit countries,” concluded Ossowski.

Read our similar article in the Financial Post.

Michael Bloomberg turns the dial on Indian health policy

By Shrey Madaan

Large sodas, alcohol, vaping devices and the Internet are just a few of the things the World Health Organization wants to keep us away from.

Lawmakers say it is safeguarding its subjects from evil elements in order to protect them. But many critics also believe Indian sensibilities are composed of graver stuff and are concerned about India’s transition to a “Nanny State”.

The Nanny State is the idea of a government or authorities behaving too protective for their constituents, i.e interfering with their personal choice and hindering their liberty and right to life. 

This is something we have seen Bloomberg Philanthropies try to establish here in India. For years, Bloomberg Philanthropies has bestowed billions of dollars to global issues close to the billionaire’s heart such as education, environment and public health, transforming Bloomberg into a sort of flamboyant private government. 

This is evident when he began the Anti-Tobacco Campaign in India, causing a drastic boom on tobacco products, laying a strong foundation for intellectual precision on imposing bans on vaping devices and persuading the Health Ministry to adopt larger health warnings on various consumer goods

Thanks to his Nanny State mission, Michael Bloomberg was named as World Health Organisation’s “Global Ambassador For Non-communicable Diseases and Injuries,” a mission funded by himself for many years.

While it’s noteworthy to appreciate Bloomberg’s recent expenditures into Covid-19 research, his prolonged mission to spread the nanny state overseas via the soft power of the WHO is not only paternalistic but derogatory as well. This emphasis on soft power and negligence towards substantive reforms highlights the inefficiency of WHO. 

Their focus on soft power is evident from foisting soda taxes, imposing bans on e-cigarettes and vaping devices in third world countries and initiating Anti-Tobacco campaigns like here in India. Because the WHO and Bloomberg put so much emphasis on these various issues, it is not too difficult to draw a line between those activities and the failure of the WHO to help contain the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in China. 

These lapses in Covid response, together with WHO detracting from its mission to safeguard us from pandemics, is a principal reason for opposing the global Nanny State expansion by people like Bloomberg. The recent channelling of funds into Indian non-profit agencies in exchange for a strong lobby against tobacco products and safer alternatives have called the credibility of Billionaire’s influence in question and has brought them under scrutiny. 

In response, the Indian government increased surveillance of non-profit groups, stating their actions to be against national interests. The Indian government tightened the scrutiny of NGOs registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). The action has been opposed by critics claiming the use of foreign funding law by the government as a weapon to suppress non-profit groups concerned about social repercussions of Indian economic growth. 

The note drafted by the Home Ministry’s Intelligence wing raised concerns about targeting Indian businesses and its aggressive lobby against them. The three-page note acknowledged Bloomberg’s intention to free India from tobacco and other products but also elaborated upon the significance of the sector bringing revenue of 5 billion dollars annually for the governments, and employment generated for millions. The note also highlighted the negative implications of aggressive lobby against the sector and how it threatens the livelihood of 35 million people. 

The steps to promoting soft power Nanny State are not only appreciated but are aided by WHO. That is where WHO is pushing us into the abyss. Instead of providing doctors and health care workers with necessary supplies and honing the health care systems, the opulence of Bloomberg has commissioned the WHO as a “Global Police” enforcing taxes and bans on a plethora of consumer products around the world. 

Bloomberg’s Nanny Missions emerged as a grim threat to the health care sector, making the current pandemic more threatening. Let us hope we do not feel the repercussions here at home. 

Originally published here.

Proposed ban on all vape flavours

To whom it may concern,

On behalf of the Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group representing millions of consumers in Europe and globally, I am writing to express our great concern at the proposed ban on all vape flavours. We need policies that are science-based and enhance consumer choice instead of hurting adult consumers and undermining their ability to choose for themselves. 

The Netherlands has always been one of the few islands of liberalism, an exemplar of rational openness to innovation. In the Netherlands, 3.1% of adults use e-cigarettes, and with the ban in place, nearly 260,000 Dutch vapers might return to smoking. Both short-term and long-term, that is too high of a price to pay, especially in light of our shared European efforts to reduce cancer rates.

In order to see why the proposed vape ban would be a disastrous move that the Dutch government should avoid. 

First, vaping was invented as a harm reduction tool aimed at adult smokers to help them switch to a safer alternative and conversely reduce health-associated risks.

Vaping has been proven to be 95% less harmful than smoking and has been endorsed by the UK, New Zealand, and Australia government bodies as a safer alternative.

As demonstrated by Public Health England, vaping is 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes. Prof. Peter Hajek stated “My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health”. Prof. McNeill et al., E-cigarettes around 95% less harmful than tobacco estimates landmark review, 2015

Second, allowing smokers to experiment with vape flavours is a key part of cessation through vaping.  Two-thirds of current vapers are using some form of flavoured liquids. Vapers prefer non-tobacco flavours over tobacco flavoured e-cigarettes, mainly because flavours don’t remind them of the taste of cigarettes. 

A nationally representative longitudinal study of over 17,000 Americans, over a five year period, showed that adults who used flavoured vaping products were more likely to quit smoking cigarettes when compared to vapers who consumed tobacco flavoured vaping products. When comparing the two groups, those who use flavours and those who use tobacco flavours, vapers that used flavours were 2.3 times more likely to quit smoking than those vaping tobacco flavoured products.

According to research on vapers in Canada and the U.S, a majority of vapers use non-tobacco flavoured vape products as their personal preference. Consumers generally prefer flavours over tobacco flavoured vaping products because of their taste, but also because tobacco flavours remind consumers of conventional cigarettes. Of those surveyed, who are considered regular users, 63.1% use non-tobacco flavoured products (fruit, mint, candy). These adults found vaping more satisfying (compared with smoking) than vapers using tobacco flavour. 

In our latest paper Vaping as a gateway out of smoking, we have debunked the most spread myths related to vaping, including youth vaping and nicotine addiction. After reviewing an extensive number of studies on the topic, we at the Consumer Choice Center are of the opinion that banning vape flavours would not only be a violation of consumer choice but, above all, a scientifically ignorant policy. The Dutch government can do better than such proposals and continue a long tradition of freedom on the continent instead of resorting to unjustified paternalism.

Adult smokers should have a choice to switch to a safer alternative that has proved to be an effective cessation tool, and vape flavours are instrumental in making those efforts a success. We need to embrace vaping to reduce health-associated risks such as cancer. For smokers, and for future generations.

Kind regards,

Maria Chaplia
Research Manager 
Consumer Choice Center

Consumers and Bar/Restaurant Owners say “YES” to HB 536

The Consumer Choice Center endorses a safe and timely return to business for areas with a lower risk for coronavirus outbreak

Raleigh, N.C. – Yesterday, the NC State Senate passed HB 536, the bill intended to safely re-open bars and restaurants in accordance with the guidelines set by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center said:

“Giving business owners the legal means to safely open and serve customers is now a necessity,” said Ossowski. “Establishments in high-risk areas should be advised to remain closed until health authorities say otherwise, but that decision must be with business owners.

“We all recognize the risks from the spread of COVID-19, but we must now trust that both owners of bars and restaurants and consumers will be responsible and follow the guidelines set by state and federal authorities.

“A one-size-fits-all approach for the entire state, in which cities and counties face all the same restrictions despite differing numbers of cases, is no longer tenable after more than two months of lockdown,” said Ossowski.

“This bill includes provisions for reopening safely in both outdoor and inside spaces, as well as endorsing modernized alcohol policy that favors all consumers and residents of North Carolina. Gov. Cooper should sign this bill and give North Carolinians renewed confidence to safely re-engage in commerce.”

“The Legislature should also look to make permanent changes to our alcohol laws to better empower consumers and offer them more choice. Loosening restrictions on how food and drink establishments can serve, offer, and deliver their products should be immediately taken into consideration,” said Ossowski.

More about our proposal for Modernized Alcohol Policies here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

Originally published here.

Illiberal regimes are exploiting the pandemic to attack the foundations of democracy

It took us 75 years to rebuild freedom in some parts of Europe after the totalitarian horrors of World War Two, and less than three weeks to bring it to its knees again.

With coronavirus looming in the background, worrying erosions of the freedom of speech and media are being rushed through Europe.

On March 30, Hungary’s parliament passed a law that allows the leader of the country’s nationalist movement, Viktor Orban, to rule by decree indefinitely. The law makes it possible for Orban’s government to imprison anyone who publicises false facts that interfere with the “successful defence” of public health, or can create “confusion or unrest” related to the coronavirus.

The witch-hunt after personal freedoms followed and led to a number of arrests. Such a sweeping amount of discretion on the side of government is a death sentence for freedom of speech, the cornerstone of democracy.

Freedom of speech plays an essential role in establishing accountability between the government and its electorate, and it facilitates indiscriminate, back-and-forth communication. When governments monopolise this freedom, democracy can be extinguished.

Orban chose the right target. Even though it is claimed that these laws will be relieved once the pandemic is over, his record suggests the opposite. Since his victory in 2010, Orban has tightened state control over the media to suppress any opposition and eroded, step-by-step, institutional checks and balances. According to him a state need not be liberal to be a democracy.

But it’s not just Hungary. In Serbia, the government’s decree about the centralisation of information during the coronavirus emergency gave rise to arrests. On April 1, after reporting about a shortage of protective medical equipment available for staff at a medical centre in Serbia, Ana Lalić, a Serbian journalist, was detained. Lalić was charged with causing public unrest by spreading fake news during the emergency.

In a similar fashion, the Polish Ministry of Health made it illegal for medical consultants to issue independent opinions on the epidemiological situation, the state of hospitals, and methods of protection against infection. Speaking up about the lack of protective equipment can cost Polish doctors a job.

Meanwhile both Slovenia and the Czech Republic have announced that they are ending the presence of journalists at official press conferences altogether. According to Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, a Slovenian journalist who requested information about the measures adopted by the government to address the pandemic has been the target of a smear campaign by media close to the political party leading the government coalition.

Despite the growing number of cases in Russia, Vladimir Putin continues to push for a nationwide vote on constitutional reform which could enable him to stay in power until 2036. On May 13, Russian lawmakers passed a bill that allows Russians to vote by mail or online for Putin’s constitutional amendments. Most likely Putin will get it his way since, similar to the direction chosen by Hungary, speaking up against the government automatically makes you a heretic.

Where people are pushed into choosing between the protection of their life and that of their loved ones and an act of political resistance, most opt for silence. Yet forcing such a choice is inhumane, manipulative and, in the end, will lead to the demise of those governments that do so.

An ardent admirer of China’s measures to halt the coronavirus, Putin has also resorted to outright totalitarian measures. The Financial Times and New York Times might soon be banned from Russia for revealing the truth about the death rate in the country. However, the first target of Russia’s anti-fake news campaign has been its own citizens, who are being fined for spreading ‘fake information’ about Covid-19. The already very small number of civil freedoms in Russia is under enormous threat.

Free elections are a key trait of democratic regimesm but are not sufficient in themselves. Genuine democracy cannot exist without civil rights and, in particular, the right to resist through protests, free speech, and a free media.

One could hardly imagine a better excuse to quickly proceed with illiberal agenda than a public health emergency. There is a reason why illiberal governments invest so much in propaganda. The very root of their power lies in artificially created and frighteningly powerful narratives that are repeatedly and consistently spread whilst censoring every voice of dissent. Freedom of expression is to democracy what property rights are to the economy. The monopolisation of either leads to disruption.

So we’re at an impasse. On the one hand, this pandemic might dissuade us from taking cues from the unfree world and its tactics.

On the other, the emergency nightmare might turn into our permanent reality by giving governments carte blanche to enforce severe restrictions on our liberties. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to suppress every potential disobedience than through the appeal of fear for our health, not to mention that of our parents, friends, and literally everyone dear to us. This provides illiberal democracies with a once-in-generation opportunity to camouflage their totalitarian pursuits as part of emergency packages to stop the pandemic.

Let us hope that for the best but be prepared to fight back in case of the worst. Democracy is rooted in freedom of speech and media and we have to defend it at all costs.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

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

Don’t put ordinary consumers on the hook for flying back Thomas Cook holidayers

Fred Roder
Managing Director
Consumer Choice Center

Don’t put ordinary consumers on the hook for flying back Thomas Cook holidayers

London, U.K. – On Monday, the travel company Thomas Cook announced it would cease operations immediately after it was unable to raise enough money to pay off its debts. This has left hundreds of thousands of travelers without return flights from their holiday destinations.

As a response, several politicians in the U.K. called for government aid to Thomas Cook, and the government has been called to intervene and help out stranded travelers.

Fred Roeder, London-based Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center, responded by stating that an intervention by the government would be the wrong direction to take.

“It is sad to see a legacy travel company such as Thomas Cook to go under,” said Roeder. “But many politicians want to show their support to stranded travelers by flying them home on taxpayers’ dime.

“While it is very unfortunate to be stranded at the end of a holiday, one should ask why taxpayers should pay for tourists who didn’t buy insolvency or travel insurance?

“Why should those who stayed home because they either didn’t have the money or time for holidays bail out those who went for a holiday trip but didn’t want to spend the extra few pounds for insurance? This is effectively is the scenario that ordinary British consumers and taxpayers are faced with,” said Roeder.

“We cannot expect Britons who didn’t go on holiday to bail out those who did without reasonable insurance, and effectively bail out the company for its own financial mess.

“Airlines and tour operators going bankrupt happens regularly. Monarch and AirBerlin are just two recent European examples. If the government steps in every time a travel company goes bust, the wrong incentives will be set: Travelers won’t buy insurances and at the same time risk booking heavily discounted offers from troubled travel companies.

“If this happens, then the next government-sponsored airlift will just be around the corner,” said Roeder.

The Consumer Choice Center fights for affordable flights across the world. Read more here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice.

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

Classement : les dix aéroports européens les plus conviviaux

Le Consumer Choice Center a lancé son European Airport Index, qui classe BruxellesZurich et Düsseldorfen tête des 10 premiers aéroports d’Europe en termes de convivialité pour les passagers.

Cet indice, le premier du genre en Europe, devrait être utilisé « pour informer à la fois les consommateurs et les administrateurs quant à savoir qui fait le meilleur travail pour accueillir les passagers », souligne dans son communiqué The Consumer Choice Center (CCC), dont le Top 5 est dominé par Bruxelles-Zaventem et Zurich-Kloten, devant les plateformes de Düsseldorf, Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez et Manchester. Viennent ensuite CopenhagueAmsterdam-SchipholStockholm-ArlandaFrancfort et Munich.

Paris-Orly est cité comme 4eme au niveau de l’expérience client (en nombre de passagers par an par restaurants et magasins), tandis que Madrid est présenté comme « le seul aéroport du sud dans le palmarès » – où ne figure aucune plateforme d’Europe de l’est. Les meilleurs en termes de distance du centre ville sont Dublin et Lisbonne, tandis que Londres-Heathrow se distingue par le nombre de salons d’aéroport (44, soit 1,82 million de passagers par salon, moins que Zurich ou Moscou-Vnukovo respectivement deuxième et troisième). Ni Heathrow ni Paris-CDG, dont le trafic est triple de celui des deux gagnants, n’entre dans le Top 10, note le CCC.

Les 30 aéroports les plus importants d’Europe en nombre de passagers ont été étudiés selon un système de points établi par le centre, en fonction d’un ensemble de facteurs « allant de l’emplacement et des options de transport à l’expérience en aéroport et au réseau aérien », selon Fred Roeder, directeur général du CCC, coauteur de cette étude. D’autres facteurs ont été pris en compte dans le classement, notamment « les passerelles d’embarquement plutôt que l’embarquement par bus, la proximité du centre-ville, le nombre de salons, les temps d’attente et le respect des horaires par les compagnies aériennes ». Des points supplémentaires ont été attribués aux aéroports ayant obtenu une autorisation préalable pour les vols avec les Etats-Unis (TSA pre-clerance) ou leur capacité de diffuser les temps d’attente au passage de la sécurité.

Yaël Ossowski, directeur adjoint du Consumer Choice Center, a déclaré que ce classement « démontre le pouvoir d’offrir à la fois fonctionnalité et confort » dans les grands aéroports : Comme tout voyageur le sait pendant l’été, de nombreux aéroports « sont aux prises avec des pics de passagers en haute saison, et cette expérience se répercute sur tous ceux qui prennent un vol. Des points ont été attribués aux aéroports qui offraient d’excellentes destinations dans le monde entier, mais aussi un mélange sain de boutiques, de restaurants et de commodités » dans l’aéroport. Le système de points « vous donne un excellent aperçu des aéroports que vous devriez envisager d’utiliser lors de votre prochain voyage, que ce soit pour vos vacances ou pour votre travail », a-t-il conclu.

L’étude complète du CCC est disponible ici.

Originally published here

Why Consumer Choice? An Interview with Luca Bertoletti of the Consumer Choice Center

“We believe that we represent the silent majority of consumers, who don’t actually really care about the new type of packaging or different other things but who actually care more to have choice between different products, and be able to buy the cheap one, or the better one, depending on their purchasing power.” A while […]

A North Carolina Republican is singlehandedly blocking progress on cannabis banking

For the 98 percent of Americans who live in states or jurisdictions with some level of cannabis legalization – whether recreational or medical – it is far past the time to have some legitimate banking options. There are now thousands of cannabis-related businesses that buy and sell goods and services, estimated to be worth over $50 billion nationally. However, […]

FDA unveils sweeping anti-tobacco effort to reduce underage vaping and smoking

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