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The Digital Economy Minister Crusading to Legalize Vaping in Thailand

By Yaël Ossowski

Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn

In our work promoting smart policies on harm reduction around the world, the Consumer Choice Center is often engaged in battles to stave off vaping flavor bans or tax hikes that will harm consumers and smokers looking to quit.

And while those efforts are vital to individuals moving away from tobacco in liberal democracies, there are countries outside that sphere that still maintain outright bans or harsh restrictions on vaping and harm-reducing technologies – depriving millions of a less harmful method of consuming nicotine.

That’s why political leaders like Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society, are worth highlighting.

Recently, Minister Thanakamanusorn has come out in favor of legalizing vaping in order to address the high number of smokers in Thai society. He wants to join the 67 countries around the world that have legalized vaping as a means of giving smokers an option to quit.

Speaking to the Bangkok Post, he’s become convinced of this position because he believes “vaping could be a safer choice for those struggling to quit smoking, adding there were at least 10 million smokers in the country.”

According to Public Health England, vaping products are at least 95% less harmful than combusted tobacco, and they have become integral in reducing smoking rates in developed countries like New Zealand, the UK, the United States, and Canada.

But vaping has yet to achieve significant acceptance or legality in many countries in Asia.

At present, total smoking prevalence among the Thai population hovers around 19%, and approximately 37% of all men.

As such, Thailand has long been a target of anti-smoking activists and health groups over the years to crack down on tobacco use. Both domestic and international groups have spent millions to reach the goal of achieving a total 30% relative drop in tobacco use.

One research organization at Thammasat University in Bangkok has been given grants as part of a $20 million global project by Michael Bloomberg’s charity Bloomberg Philanthropies to “monitor” tobacco regulations and push for bans on alternative technologies like vaping.

This follows Michael Bloomberg’s efforts at depriving adoption of harm-reducing nicotine products in developing countries like the Philippines, India, and others, as we have explored below:

Those funds, as well dispersed amounts from the UN’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, have been granted as a condition of certain regulations.

Thailand became the first Asian country to adopt “plain packaging” restrictions on cigarettes in 2019, and passed a harsh tobacco control measure that outright banned vaping products, restricted tobacco advertisements, and outlawed online sales.

Despite the millions spent, Minister Thanakamanusorn points out that it isn’t as effective as the activists claim, and hence he wants to look at vaping as a sustainable market alternative.

The effort to legalize vaping, however, will come with significant opposition. Both domestic doctor groups and the FCTC, as well as Bloomberg’s foundation, have put pressure on the government to enforce a continued ban on vaping products.

They are joined in their efforts by Thailand’s own state tobacco monopoly, Tobacco Authority of Thailand, which makes an annual revenue of 2 billion USD and would see a significant setback in state revenues if smokers were to switch to vaping products.

Considering the odds stacked against Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn’s vision for legalizing vaping in Thailand, it is clear that more voices will need to be heard in the debate.

Overall, we hope for a future that embraces the science of harm reduction and will allow the citizens of Thailand to use the same products that have helped millions of smokers quit in developed countries – if only the government lets them.

Yaël Ossowski (@YaelOss) is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Leaked: Bloomberg-funded ‘Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids’ Global Strategy to Ban Vaping Products By Bribing Public Bodies

To people in the United States, billionaire Michael Bloomberg is most well-known as a swashbuckling former New York City mayor who blew a lot of money on an ill-fated presidential primary run.

But around the world, his network of charities and selected groups he provides with millions of dollars in grants are, for all intents and purposes, a sort of private government who influence government leaders, fund the entire salaries of public health officials, and write legislation that is then introduced into legislative bodies, including the recent example of vaping bans in Mexico and the Phillippines.

Some of these organizations are those directly chaired and controlled by Bloomberg, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, but most are various campaign groups that rely heavily on funding and guidance from the New York City billionaire, including those focused on the environment, education, public health, and general tobacco control.

According to the latest article from Michelle Minton at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who was able to get her hands on internal documents from the Bloomberg-funded Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids organization, the pernicious impact of the campaigns to target developing countries goes much beyond standard tobacco-control measures such as taxes, age-gating, and advertising restrictions.

Influence and Cash-Strapped Governments

Instead, there are direct payments offered to government bodies and public health officials that implement the CTFK wish-list of legislation. Because developing nations spend less on public health measures and programs than developed nations, foreign NGOs that seek specific policy measures in exchange for millions of dollars in public funding are granted immense influence.

As such, rather than actual domestic democratic demand for measures against tobacco and vaping products, including all-out bans on vaping flavors and technology, these nations pass laws in direct exchange for grants, often much larger than their own domestic department budgets. In other contexts, this would rightly be defined as bribery.

Considering Michael Bloomberg’s charities have spent nearly $700 million globally to hurry these measures into law, the long arm of the global anti-tobacco advocacy movement has already chalked up several success stories.

In government, CTFK and its partners engage in lobbying, like most other advocacy organizations, but CTFK’s strategy for influencing tobacco policy really hinges on establishing itself as an indispensable resource for regulators and lawmakers. For example, the CTFK plan lists myriad examples of support it has provided to government entities, such as assisting in lawsuits against the tobacco industry in Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya. In Panama, it notes “collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Panama who is interested in financing a regional effort” for tobacco litigation.

Michelle Minton, Exposed: Bloomberg’s Anti-Tobacco Meddling in Developing Countries

The documents outline the efforts of campaigners from CTFK to pass various tobacco control and anti-vaping measures in countries such as Brazil, China, and Nigeria, including “financial support” to ministries and government offices.

More than just government officials and health bodies, exorbitant funding is also made available to universities and media institutions, documents show, to amplify the core messages and aims of CTFK.

The Smokescreen

Rather than advocating for general tobacco control measures, a good portion of CTFK’s campaigns has focused on banning or severely restrict harm reducing technologies such as vaping, especially in developing countries such as India, the Phillippines, China, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, and more.

Diverting from their mission of truly “tobacco-free kids,” Bloomberg’s connected organizations have instead used their influence to zero in on innovative and novel technological vaping products that deliver aerosolized nicotine and have nothing to do with tobacco.

Instead, organizations like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have used powerful rhetoric on the need to eliminate smoking as a literal smokescreen for eliminating or severely restricting all non-combustible nicotine alternatives, including vaping devices, heat-not-burn devices, nicotine pouches, and more.

Considering the demonstrated health potentials that come with endorsing nicotine-delivery alternatives as a means to quit smoking, as is recommended by relative health ministries in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to undermine these efforts in developing countries with relatively high smoking rates should be a scandal of epic proportions.

But, alas, those headlines are far from prominent. Instead, we have multiple policy victories that restrict consumer choice and access to alternatives without much regard for actual public health.

Achieving True Public Health

What makes these revelations most startling is that there is no room for nuance on whether innovative new vaping devices and other alternatives, which do not contain tobacco, should be considered tobacco products. Organizations such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an organ of the World Health Organization, say they are no different.

But they’re wrong. The growing compendium of academic studies and government reports demonstrating that vaping is 95% less harmful than combustible tobacco speaks to that.

The fact that millions of people have been able to quit smoking by using nicotine vaping devices should be a testament enough to how the market can deliver solutions for public health, not to use a cudgel to hamstring and deny developing nations the real opportunity they have to improve and save the lives of millions of their citizens.

But as noted by Minton at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “the strategy of CTFK and the wider Bloomberg-funded anti-tobacco effort appears aimed at winning policy battles and passing laws with little consideration of whether they result in actual reductions in smoking or improvements in health.”

If this is the face of the modern tobacco control movement, then we know that public health is not actually their goal.

In Kamala Harris, do consumers have an ally or a foe?

This week, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden revealed Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate for the November general election against President Donald Trump.

Because Harris’ influence on the Biden campaign will loom large, and be important to whomever American voters choose in the fall, it’s worth looking at some of her ideas and policies and how they would have an impact on consumers.

Let’s take a dip, shall we?

HEALTHCARE

On her original presidential campaign website and throughout the Democratic primary debates, Harris was adamant about banning private healthcare insurance in favor of a Medicare For All plan. She later backed out once she was questioned by party activists.

With that in mind, considering Biden was nominated to be his party’s candidate on a platform of not seeking Medicare For All, a plan to expand the government health insurance program to seniors to the entire population, it seems there may be healthy disagreement on this point.

As I’ve written in a few outlets, the idea of a Medicare For All health insurance system would rob consumers of competition and choice, and likely lead to less quality of healthcare than we actually receive. It would mean that healthcare decisions would be placed in a complex hierarchy of bureaucratic agencies immune from market forces. That would inevitably lead to higher costs overall – no matter who foots the bill.

Harris being on the ticket doesn’t mean M4All is now on the docket for the Democratic Party, but it does mean that ideas about the government reorganizing health insurance will certainly be a part of a potential Biden Administration in the future. That’ll be something to keep an eye on.

TECH

As we covered during the debates in 2019, Sen. Harris petitioned Twitter to remove President Donald Trump from its service. Those calls weren’t central to her rhetoric on tech regulations, but they at least revealed her mindset regarding content on social media platforms, and who should be allowed to have an account. In some speeches, she’s come out as more hawkish on online censorship, which should good everyone worry.

Unlike some of her past primary opponents, she was rather soft on the question of antitrust and whether the tech giants in Silicon Valley should be broken up, which is a relief for consumers.

Most of the animus against tech companies has very little to do with concern for consumers, and much more to do with the new generation of gatekeepers using technology and innovation to provide better services. Most consumers prefer these new innovations and want them to thrive, not be broken up.

For some observers, her political career in California and proximity to tech firms mean she’ll be an asset rather than a liability on future tech regulation. The outlet Marketwatch dubbed her a “friend, not a foe, of Big Tech” and the Wall Street Journal similarly gave her praise, though with some caution.

VAPING

What isn’t a surprise to listeners of Consumer Choice Radio is that Sen. Harris is no friend of vaping and harm-reducing innovations.

She penned a letter last year accusing the FDA of being soft on vaping and for not banning all vaping products outright. That would have been disastrous for the former smokers who rely on these products.

She took it a step further by linking legal nicotine vaping products to the bootleg THC vaping devices that caused lung injuries throughout 2019, which we’ve debunked in our own work at the Consumer Choice Center.

If Harris’ worldview remains the same, vapers won’t have a friend in the potential future VP.

CANNABIS

And lastly, we come to cannabis, a favorite topic of those who dub Harris “The Cop Who Wants to be (Vice) President,” like Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason.

During Harris’ time as a prosecutor in California, her reputation as an anti-cannabis voice was well-known.

But as our friends at Marijuana Moment mention, she’s changed her mind over the years, from being a staunch opponent to advocate:

Though she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure as a prosecutor in 2010 and laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014, she went on to sponsor legislation to federally deschedule marijuana in 2019.

Where Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana

Since dropping her campaign to be president, she’s become more vocal, making the argument for legalizing cannabis at the federal level, though she’s

Overall, there’s a lot to digest on a potential Kamala Harris Vice Presidency. On behalf of consumers, let’s hope there’s more good than bad.

Yaël Ossowski Interview on Savannah TV: Vaping Tax Hurts Poor Consumers

Consumer Choice Center Deputy Director Yaël Ossowski is interviewed on WSAV TV in Savannah, Georgia on the proposed 7% tax on vaping products.

Broadcast: July 6, 2020

Narcos 3.0: Mexico declares War on Vaping and repeats old prohibitionists mistakes

When Mexico’s far-left President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or short AMLO) ran for office in 2018, he and his platform promised an end to the decade-long war on drugs in Mexico. He acknowledged that prohibitionist policies cause more harm than they do good. Ironically that same President issued a surprise presidential decree on February 19 banning the import of e-cigarettes, vapes, and heated tobacco products. The order even forbids the import of nicotine-free vaping liquids.

The Presidential decree relies heavily on scare tactics, invoking the U.S. “vaping crisis” to justify Mexico’s ban. But even the U.S. CDC and AMLO’s decree concede the “vaping crisis” was actually caused by illicit black market vaping liquids. Pushing Mexican vapers to the black market will exactly cause what the order claims it is trying to prevent: more lung diseases.

Even before this decree, Mexico had opaque vaping regulations, that had to be clarified by a supreme court ruling and allowed at least certain manufacturers to sell e-cigarettes to the country’s roughly 1.2 million vapers.

These vapers are now being left alone with no access to nicotine products that are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and that in times of lockdowns and people spending most of their week at home thanks to COVID. Two scenarios are most likely to happen if the decree does not get annulled:

  • Narcos 3.0: Mexico has a well developed black market for illicit substances, and, as regular Netflix viewers know, it serves as a massive transit hub for the global drug trade. It wouldn’t take much for organized crime to either smuggle legal vaping products from neighboring countries into Mexico and sell them on the black market or (even more concerning) sell counterfeited vaping liquids to Mexican vapers. The vaping crisis in the United States, which the Presidential decree instrumentalizes for its ban, was caused by illicit black market vaping liquids. Pushing Mexican vapers to the black market will exactly cause what the order tried to prevent: More lung diseases. 
  • Back to the ciggie: Even is the more dramatic scenario of a booming vaping black market might not come true (mainly due to the low margins on nicotine products compared to Cannabis or Cocaine), we would still see over a million vapers left behind. It is more likely that most of them will switch back to smoking regular cigarettes instead of switching to nicotine patches or entirely quit. That, in turn, would also lead to worse public health outputs.

We can see that AMLO’s decree will have serious, negative unintended consequences contrary to its own objectives.

Perhaps the most concerning is that the World Health Organization lauded Mexico’s vaping ban as a public health achievement, it fails to recognize that Mexico’s anti-vape stance will keep smokers and nicotine consumers locked in with combustible cigarettes. This policy deprives them of the choice to switch to the 95% less harmful vapes. The Consumer Choice Center’s interactive vaping map shows that up to 3.3 million additional Mexican smokers could switch to vaping if the government would emulate the UK’s progressive and science-based vaping laws.

 

Better vaping policies could help millions of Mexicans

So instead of cracking further down on vaping, Mexico should embrace tobacco harm reduction. Due to COVID and the parliamentary schedule, the Mexican Congress is currently out of session. Still, there is a window for legislative action when Congress returns to operation in the fall.

Consumer groups, vaping advocates, and the scientific community need to use this window of opportunity to explain more Mexican politicians and regulators the benefits of vaping and help busting myths around the United States’ vaping crisis. Initial protests against this misguided decree started already in March. This multi-lingual paper on the Myths and Facts on Vaping, written by my colleagues Yael Ossowski and Bill Wirtz explains the reasons behind the perceived vaping crisis in the US and is also available in Spanish. Probably an essential message in this paper for politicians is this one:

MYTH #3: VAPING IS THE CAUSE OF RECENTLY REPORTED RESPIRATORY ILLNESSES

Much cause for concern of late has been a flurry of reports of illness and hospitalizations blamed on traditional vaping devices and liquids. The CDC has reported nearly 380 cases of lung illnesses related to vaping. Sensational headlines and opinion articles have convinced leaders in several states and even President Donald Trump to consider banning vaping flavors outright.

But careful analysis of the reported cases reveals that a vast majority of the patients with symptoms were found to have used illicit vape cartridges mixed with the cannabis compound THC. 

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine that examined cases in Illinois and Wisconsin found that 84% of hospitalized patients report using illicit THC vaping cartridges prior to their illness. No illnesses have yet been tied to store-bought vaping pods or liquids containing nicotine.

To that end, two Wisconsin brothers were recently arrested in connection with a multi-million dollar operation that mixed various chemicals (including Vitamin E) with THC in cartridges meant for vaping devices, which they then sold illegally. Authorities have identified this large scheme spread across much of the Midwest as a culprit in the recent lung illnesses there.

What this reveals is that illicit vaping products sold on black markets, rather than licensed retailers, have actually caused the most severe of the lung illnesses reported in the media. 

As such, a ban on regulated devices and liquids, whether with flavors or not, would not address the problem as it currently exists.

By pushing vaping into the black market and Mexican vapers going back to the cigarette, AMLO will (despite the thunderous applause from the World Health Organization) further weaken Mexico’s public health outputs. If he is passionate about fighting lung diseases he should make access to legal and safe ways of consuming nicotine easier and not harder. Everything else is just a stimulus program for organized crime and lung specialists.

In light of COVID-19, what does banning flavored vaping achieve?

The nation is focused on containing a virus of mass proportions and mitigating the disastrous economic consequences of lockdowns.

But that didn’t stop Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo from cheerily pushing his flavored vape ban in the state budget passed a few weeks ago in Albany.

This follows Cuomo’s September 2019 emergency ban on vaping flavors, excluding tobacco and menthol, later struck down by the State Supreme Court because the governor “exceeded” his authority.

Now passed by the State Legislature, the new measure prohibits the sale of tobacco and vaping products in pharmacies, bans online sales, and restricts vape shops from selling any vaping liquid but tobacco flavor.

Move over drug dealers, flavored vapes are the new hot product to sling on the streets.

At a time when New York’s hospitals are overburdened with coronavirus patients, is this really the time for a ban that effectively creates a novel black market for unregulated flavored vaping products?

Demand for flavored vapes by responsible adults, the majority of whom are former smokers trying to consume nicotine in a less harmful way, may disappear from storefronts, but it’ll easily be replaced and sourced by street dealers with a new customer base.

The governor and his allies claim the measure was necessary to prevent teen vaping and lung illnesses, but that’s false on two counts.

First, this measure punishes adult smokers who’ve found alternative products to protect kids who seek out risky products — as they’ve always done. Mind you, the state hates flavored vapes, won’t dare touch alcohol ice cream cones, and is considering legalizing cannabis in the next few months. The hypocrisy is blaring.

Shops selling vapes to kids were already breaking the law but not getting penalized. Rather than outsourcing the product to the black market — where dealers don’t ask for ID — we should implement harsher penalties on shops that sell to underage kids. Simple.

When it comes to lung illnesses caused by vaping, the CDC has repeatedly stated this was the result of illegal vape cartridges containing THC, not nicotine. This is like banning Bud Light in hopes of tackling the running of moonshine.

By banning nicotine vaping flavors, New York is inviting yet more bad actors to produce their own products, beyond the purview of regulations and safety. Could we see a new wave of lung illnesses due to these bootleg products already found on the street?

Perhaps the state would focus more on the very real pandemic it is facing rather than trying to crack down on products that responsible adult users depend on to quit smoking.

As late as February, Cuomo was lauding his anti-vaping efforts as “leading the nation in confronting this new and deadly epidemic.”

Little did he know he’d be consumed with a global pandemic of this magnitude just weeks later.

If you want to uphold public health, we must continue to fight for the legal production and sale of flavored vaping products.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

This article was originally published in Newsday

Banning Cannabis Vape May Lead to Bigger Black Market Problem, Warns Consumer Choice Center

The Consumer Choice Center says the province’s cannabis vape ban is a dangerous mistake.

The provincial government on Wednesday announced that it is not going to allow the sale of cannabis vape products in Newfoundland and Labrador – at least for the time-being.

David Clement of the Consumer Choice Center, an anti-regulation non-profit organization, says the move to ban cannabis vape devices does more harm than good, and will put consumer safety at risk.

Clement says available evidence shows that severe lung illnesses from vaping are being caused by illegal vape products with harmful and prohibited additives, that are not in legal products.

He says the ban prevents legal and compliant products from stamping out the black market alternatives that are hurting people, making the problem worse.


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

Trump’s Medicare executive order

CONSERVATIVE GROUPS SEND LETTER ON VAPING — A coalition of 25 conservative groups is urging Trump to keep flavored e-cigarettes on the market, arguing the products are “essential to the success of vaping as an alternative to cigarette use long-term.”

Groups such as Americans for Tax Reform, Consumer Choice Center and FreedomWorks argued the administration’s envisioned flavored vape ban would go against the White House’s deregulatory agenda and “destroy thousands of small businesses.” This comes as the White House abruptly organized, and then canceled, a meeting with conservative groups over vaping, which it said at the time would be rescheduled.

Read the article from POLITICO here.


For more facts on vaping, read our research on the Myths and Facts on Vaping: What Policymakers Should Know


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

The Consumer Choice Center talked with Vicki McKenna about the “Don’t Vape” hearing

Washington D.C – Our Senior Fellow Jeff Stier sat down with Vicki McKenna for a quick chat about #Vaping, her recent testimony for the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy hearing, and how she became a public health hero for the harm-reduction campaign.


For more facts on vaping, read our research on the Myths and Facts on Vaping: What Policymakers Should Know


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

As vape panic roils, flurry of lawsuits against Juul has begun

Inhale vapor. Exhale cash. 

The health risks around vaping are so unknown, and there is so much money in the pockets of e-cigarette makers like Juul lawyers are greasing up their hands for the reach-in. 

Here are some e-cig lawsuits already filed: 

A Kansas dude who says he goes through five pods a week.

A Connecticut man who says false advertising led him to start using Juuls, which he says cause him chest pain. 

A New Jersey dad who bought Juuls for his 14-year-old son, who now coughs and vomits

Dozens of lawsuits, all against Juul. Many of these lawsuits say that Juul’s happy, slick ads misled them into thinking Juuls were safe, when in fact they’ve lead to health problems. 

The concequenses of vaping are unclear at this point, and it may be decades before we know actual long-term effects. Scientists are studying links between vaping and lung diesase, seizure and addiction. 

Originally published here.


For more facts about vaping, read our Research on the Myths and Facts on Vaping: What Policymakers Should Know

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