Life as a taxpayer: paying to be berated

The EU’s 2018 NGO Health Awards took place this week where the European Commission recognised those NGOs it deems to be the most effective in fighting the use of tobacco. Bill Wirtz watched what he describes as “an insufferable nanny state love-in”, so you don’t have to. 

At the beginning of the EU Health Policy Platform annual meeting, Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, held an energetic speech against the practice of smoking tobacco. He pointed out that he believes the idea that harm-reduction through e-cigarettes, as it is currently practiced in the UK for instance, is nonsense. He doesn’t seem bothered by the facts. Public Health England found as early as 2015 that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent safer than traditional cigarettes. If the Lithuanian Commissioner really wanted to reward those who get people to stop smoking, he’d give the prize to the companies that produce e-cigarettes or heat-not-burn products, both have which have proven to considerably reduce health risks and contribute to smoking cessation.

Instead, three anti-smoking NGOs, subsidised by public money, received the prizes. The third prize went to Youth Network No Excuse Slovenia, a youth organisation dedicated to the cause of fighting tobacco. “No Excuse” prides itself with the fact it “operates independently from private financiers”, meaning it is entirely funded by taxpayers’ money.

“No Excuse Slovenia” received £71,000 from the Slovenian government in the last three years. It is also hiring people with money from both the European Union’s Social Fund and the Slovenian government. “No Excuse Activists”, an associate program run by the same people, received £592,000 in the last ten years. The organisation is a member of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), which for the last three years has cashed in £1.5 million of taxpayers’ money through EU funds. The EPHA calls for higher taxes on tobacco products or for even larger health warnings . These are things that the EU could perfectly well argue independently, but it instead chooses to give your money to NGOs who then lobby Brussels which results in everyone having to pay more tax.

The second place went to Education Against Tobacco (EAT), a group of medical students actively promoting tobacco cessation to students. EAT’s website doesn’t ask for donations and doesn’t present any financial statements, which is why it’s safe to assume that the group is funded by university grants.

Lastly, the winner of the EU health award is the Irish Cancer Society (ICS). The ICS prides itself on being an organisation that operates independently of the Irish government, but is quick to admit that it does cooperate with it, i.e. it receives grants to run things like smoking cessation hotlines. If you think that that is trivial, look at it this way: if the Prime Minister publicly claimed that he did not receive money from Coca-Cola, and then went on to say that the Coca-Cola Company only funds specific expenses, such as her holidays, we’d probably still have some questions. Any accountant will tell you that funds are fungible.

The problem isn’t that people advocate against smoking tobacco. That is their prerogative, just as much as people can argue against the consumption of alcohol. After all, alcohol, as opposed to tobacco, can lead to car accidents, public nuisance, physical altercations, or domestic violence. Tobacco is the thin end of the wedge. On the day that the last person lays down their cigarette, the same activists will come for your whisky, wine, and beer. When looking at public health policies, we see that that is already largely the case. What will be next: an 80 per cent tax on beer, a ban on drinking in pubs? After all, I could give you a long list of avoidable consequences if those measures were introduced.

The problem is, however, that taxpayers’ money is wasted on activists who say exactly what the government wants them to say. There’s is a fundamental dishonesty in what the government does: instead of making a political declaration, writing it in the manifesto, and standing for election with the promises in it, politicians now choose to avoid these issues completely in the times of election, and instead fund “non-governmental organisations” that get their funding from the government, who then give their “expertise” in committee hearings. Instead of standing their ground, politicians hide behind an army of anti-choice lobbyists working for the same government they try to influence. In political jargon you’d call it: civil society representatives providing insights and perspectives to elected officials for the purpose of informed policy-making.

All that is then rounded up with ceremonial award procedure and a cocktail lunch you paid for. But don’t worry, you can still watch the live stream.

Originally published at http://commentcentral.co.uk/life-as-a-taxpayer-paying-to-be-berated/

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.