RealClear Policy: White House’s Omnishambles Tobacco Policy Gets Product Regulation Wrong

Cracking down on both vaping and smoking is short-sighted and dangerous.

Published by RealClear Policy

Russia just invaded another country and inflation is at a forty-year high, but the Biden administration has determined that the time is right for the federal government to declare war on smokers and vapers.

On the one hand, the White House is attacking smoking by harshly restricting the amount of nicotine tobacco companies can put in cigarettes. On the other, it is also ordering via the FDA that vaping giant Juul stops selling its electronic cigarettes. The justification for that move is the allegation that teenagers are susceptible to nicotine addiction through vaping.

If you had never heard of vaping before and you were told this news, you would be forgiven for thinking vaping is a type of smoking, and that more young people taking up e-cigarettes is fueling an epidemic of young smokers. In fact, the opposite is true.

E-cigarettes are 200 times less likely to cause cancer than smoking and 95% safer overall. Not only is vaping a healthier choice than smoking, but it is also the most effective tool ever discovered for helping people quit cigarettes. 74% of smokers who try to quit using e-cigarettes succeed. That makes it a much better quitting tool than nicotine patches, going cold turkey, and every other tested smoking cessation method. Millions of American vapers are former smokers.

Cracking down on both vaping and smoking is short-sighted and dangerous. They are not equivalent harms. The Biden administration is attacking both the disease and the cure. Banning Juul, one of the most popular vapes on the market, will no doubt force countless vapers back to smoking and potentially prevent millions of current and future smokers from making the switch to e-cigarettes.

Singling out Juul is an illegitimate move. It has little to do with sound health policy — it’s all about the optics. The Juul name is associated with vaping more than any other in the U.S. Banning Juul is a symbolic victory for the Biden administration. The agency is more concerned with virtue signaling and attacking big names than protecting American consumers from harm.

As it turns out, this approach might be unlawful, too. Less than 48 hours after the FDA’s announcement that Juul products would disappear from shelves, the e-cigarette maker successfully filed for a temporary hold in federal appeals court while it appeals the decision. Shamann Walton, a San Francisco regulator who pushed a local vape ban, justified the approach by saying: “If you cut off the head, that kills the body… of what’s harmful to our communities.” Walton unmasks the nanny-state agenda – Juul is under attack not because it did anything wrong or its products are uniquely dangerous, but because its brand represents vaping, which the FDA wants to eliminate altogether.

Attacking vaping to begin with is a flawed approach which reflects a much wider failure in the global tobacco policy debate, led by the World Health Organization (WHO) whose so-called ‘Tobacco Free Initiative’ spends most of its time handing out awards to politicians who have introduced taxes and bans to curb vaping, such as a former Indian health minister. That’s despite vaping being both tobacco-free and the best way out of a tobacco habit for millions.

Lumping smoking and vaping together shows up the fundamental flaws in taking a nanny-state approach to vices like tobacco and nicotine. If the Biden administration truly wanted to make Americans healthier, it would use the tried-and-tested method of informing, educating and providing access to quitting resources — including vapes. Instead, it resorts to pointing at things it does not like and trying to drown them in red tape.

It is impossible to regulate public health vices out of existence. The failed war on drugs has proved that. Even if cigarettes and e-cigarettes were banned tomorrow, there is little evidence to suggest there would be a large decrease in the number of smokers and vapers.

Instead, an enormous black market would pop up overnight. There is a black market for cigarettes already because current cigarette taxes already create a significant price difference between legal and illegal products, but if the White House continues down its current path, illicit trade could boom. People would be unable to buy their products from reputable, licensed vendors, and would instead have to trade on street corners, funnelling money into criminal gangs and no longer knowing what they are putting into their body.

If the government is concerned about teen addiction, the only solution is to properly enforce the law which already bans the sale of nicotine products to minors. By choosing instead to curb adults’ liberties, the Biden administration is betraying smokers, more than half of whom tried to quit in the last year.

Polling shows most smokers are unaware of the health benefits of switching from cigarettes to vapes, which is unsurprising given the volume of misinformation about vaping from the WHO and its fellow travelers, such as Michael Bloomberg. That’s where there is potential to make America healthier — by improving knowledge about and access to vaping, not restricting it.

The nanny-state mentality is a death spiral. Perhaps stoked by the Covid pandemic, politicians seem more certain than ever that it is their God-given duty to protect ordinary people from harmful products at all costs. There is no endpoint to that logic. The WHO believes that sugar should be taxed heavily and that women of childbearing age should not consume alcohol. 

Until we live in an ultra-sanitized society where we wear masks permanently and eat tasteless grey sludge, the nanny state beast will never be satisfied. Instead of indulging it, the Biden administration should treat smokers and vapers like the adults they are. By investing in education and resources rather than new regulations, the White House could help make America healthier without compromising on basic personal freedoms or growing the market for illegal products. 

Jason Reed is the spokesperson for Young Voices and a commentator on public health policy for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624.

TCW: Don’t let the eco-maniacs cancel palm oil

Why does the eco-lobby care so much about restricting our access to this innocuous-seeming vegetable oil?

Published by TCW (formerly The Conservative Woman)

THE Mirror recently ran a story claiming that palm oil can contribute to the spread of cancer. That would be very worrying, because palm oil is extremely versatile and is used in everything from shampoo to chocolate. But is it true?

That article in the Mirror is regurgitated from an earlier story in the Guardian, which in turn is lifted from an article in the science journal Nature. All three articles, which are remarkably similar, try to claim that palmitic acid, which is found in palm oil, can exacerbate cancer, but when you dig beyond the headlines, you soon realise that the reports are little more than scare stories.

The truth is that palmitic acid is the most common saturated fatty acid in nature. It is present in plants and animals, and makes up 20-30 per cent of total fatty acid in the human body. An 11-stone man contains almost 8lb of the stuff.

The link to cancer is tenuous at best. The experiment cited was on mice and there is no information about what happens in people. The logic is so stretched you could apply it to almost any ingredient in food that you wanted to demonise. Broccoli, for instance, contains a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is carcinogenic, as do countless other common, harmless foods. Headlines claiming something commonplace has ‘links to cancer’ are almost always political and activist-driven, and this is certainly the case with palm oil.

The rhetoric in the cancer scare articles is part of a much wider campaign against palm oil. Companies and politicians around the world are going out of their way to disassociate from it. Leading the pack is the European Union, which is pushing for palm oil imports to Europe to be banned.

Why does the eco-lobby care so much about restricting our access to this innocuous-seeming vegetable oil?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is virtue-signalling. Many claim to be very worried that palm oil is causing deforestation on a mass scale. Greenpeace even produced an advert claiming that by consuming palm oil, we are destroying orangutan habitats. (The ad was banned for being too political.) But much like the palmitic acid story, the truth about palm oil and deforestation is quite different from what the environmentalists would have you believe.

Palm oil caters to more than a third of global vegetable oil demand but causes just 4 per cent of the deforestation, and that proportion is falling by the week as more sustainable methods are developed. Alternatives such as sunflower and rapeseed use much more land to produce the same amount of oil, making them both worse for the environment (because you have to chop down many more trees to produce them) and considerably more expensive.

Why, then, does the green lobby target palm oil rather than other products? Quite simply, palm oil is widely used (for good reason) so the simplistic Left blames it for all the world’s ills, from cancer to deforestation.

Ninety per cent of the palm oil imported to Europe is certified as sustainable already. Even the World Wide Fund for Nature says that if we care about protecting nature, the best thing we can do is allow the innovation in sustainable palm oil, not attack or ban it.

WWF says: ‘Palm oil is an incredibly efficient crop, producing more oil per land area than any other equivalent vegetable oil crop. Globally, palm oil supplies 40 per cent of the world’s vegetable oil demand on just under 6 per cent of the land used to produce all vegetable oils . . . Furthermore, there are millions of smallholder farmers who depend on producing palm oil for their livelihoods. Boycotting palm oil is not the answer.’

Short-sighted attacks on essential products such as palm oil would be unwise and harmful at any time, but when inflation is rocketing and the price of food and toiletries is already a huge worry for many families, making products more expensive by restricting access to ingredients is positively ludicrous.

Don’t let eco-maniacs cancel palm oil. The consequences for the rest of us would be dire because it would only cause food prices to climb even further and leave more supermarket shelves empty, without doing anything to preserve the natural world. The anti-palm oil campaign is just another round of Project Fear from the green lobby without a basis in fact.

Spiked: We need to fight for our right to gamble

Gambling is the latest target of nanny-state zealots.

Published by Spiked

When Boris Johnson became prime minister back in 2019, you could have been forgiven for thinking a new age of libertarianism was dawning. During his campaign for the Conservative leadership, he promised to use his premiership to roll back ‘the continuing creep of the nanny state’. Even as the Covid pandemic first loomed, Johnson hailed Britain as a ‘land of liberty’.

In the years since then, we have given more ground to state paternalism than ever before. The Covid pandemic redrew the boundaries of what constitutes a reasonable government intervention. Suddenly, there was no limit on how the state could restrict our personal and private lives, especially in the name of public health.

On issues from junk food to e-cigarettes, the hangover of the Covid revolution in nanny statism is clear. Politicians view just about every problem as a potential public-health hazard in need of greater regulation and legal restrictions. We now have to work harder than ever before to convince politicians that we are capable of making lifestyle and consumption choices for ourselves. The state is determined to step in on our behalf to ward away dangerous vices like sugar and alcohol.

You would never know it from their constant denunciations of Boris and Brexit, but nanny statists and the public-health lobby are privately delighted by this state of affairs. The sin-tax enthusiasts and red-tape fetishists have clearly noticed how far politics has swung in their favour in recent years. After governments around the world normalised extreme encroachments on personal freedom, such as banning outdoor socialising, the nanny statists’ pet policies – from enforced plain packaging on foods to ever-more onerous restrictions on advertising – no longer seem so outlandish or even all that restrictive by comparison.

It was only a matter of time, then, before both the government and the ever-inflating public-health lobby turned their attention to gambling. Putting a fiver on a football match, or having a flutter on the horses, is harmless fun for many. And so, naturally, the nanny statists want to put a stop to it.

The government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act is reportedly due to be published this month. We do not know for certain what it will contain. But going by recent precedents – such as the proposal to make England ‘smoke-free’ by 2030 – it is fair to say it is unlikely to contain too many reasonable, level-headed policies.

The paternalists will say their focus is on ‘problem gambling’ (or gambling addiction). In truth, this is a predicament that affects an exceedingly small number of people. And, arguably, those it does affect will be best helped by experienced third-sector organisations, rather than cack-handed state interventions. Nevertheless, ministers are under huge pressure to Do Something.

If the government simply wanted to provide more resources for public-information campaigns or more money to addiction charities, that would be all well and good. But we can almost certainly expect the Gambling Act review to contain all kinds of illiberal, invasive and unworkable ideas.

One particularly absurd idea, which the Gambling Commission expects to appear in the review, is for ‘payslip checks’. This would mean that anyone placing a bet above a certain amount would have to submit their payslips first. This would then allow the government to check if they can afford to lose that money. Among the many obvious problems with the idea is that it would mean collecting sensitive data from millions of people’s payslips. This would have to be held in a centralised database, putting everyone’s data at risk.

No doubt many of the policies to come out of the Gambling Act review will be just as invasive. Whatever the exact details of the proposals, you can be sure they will undermine our fundamental right to choose how to spend our own time and money.

Those of us who believe in personal freedom, and who don’t want the nanny state to keep bearing down on us, have got a serious fight on our hands.

Yorkshire Post (Business): Nanny state should step back and let us judge how we want to lead our lives

Whether it’s food, drink or smoking, all nanny statism comes from the same place. Next on the chopping block is gambling, with the Gambling Act Review due soon.

Whether it’s food, drink or smoking, all nanny statism comes from the same place. Next on the chopping block is gambling, with the Gambling Act Review due soon.

I wrote for the Yorkshire Post’s Business section:

Times Radio: Britain is a Gerontocracy (debate with Age UK)

Britain is a gerontocracy. Young people need tax cuts and housebuilding, but instead the government triple-locks pensions.

I joined Hannah MacInnes (in for Carole Walker) on Times Radio to debate Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

Townhall: Trial Lawyers Are Abusing The Tort System. Here’s Why That’s A Problem

The way lawyers are behaving in American courts poses a direct threat to the free market economy.

Published by Townhall

Lawyers are going beyond their brief. Too often, lawyers in courtrooms are determined to win at all costs – and that is dangerous for the rest of us.

The American economy is built on the free market and the value created by private enterprise. Companies and entrepreneurs alike must be free to trade and do business without falling victim to overzealous attacks from lawyers who are happy to bring worryingly large sections of the economy tumbling down, just so long as it leaves their client smelling of roses. The companies on the receiving end of attorney attacks are often innovative, productive and value-creating, providing vital products and services to millions of consumers. It is not the place of lawyers to bring that to a grinding halt without good reason.

The way lawyers are behaving in American courts poses a direct threat to the free market economy. When it comes to professional negligence or issues with product safety, it is important that businesses are held to account according to the law – but in a growing number of cases, trial lawyers are abusing the concept of consumer protection to hurriedly discredit whole swathes of the American economy, with little thought for the far-reaching consequences of that.

Attorneys are collecting millions of dollars every year by villainizing entire industries by following a carefully honed set of steps involving outside experts and marketing organizations. Media reporting on high-profile trials of interest to consumers can be manipulated. Convenient media narratives often paint the plaintiffs as ‘good’ and the accused as ‘bad’, resulting in a misleading perception of what went on.

As is so often the case, these problems stem from the system, not the individual actors. The way the American tort system works allows deceptive lawyers to exploit the law and spread misinformation. To prevent legal counsel from acting in bad faith, sensible tort reform is urgently needed. As well as better protecting American consumers, tort reform would prevent millions of dollars from going down the drain because of these harmful, time-wasting maneuvers.

It’s not just lawyers – marketing agencies have a role to play in this, too. Attorneys know that public opinion is all-important, and they have no qualms about openly manipulating it to suit their own ends. Plaintiffs’ lawyers do extremely well out of cherry-picking information, taking it out of context and exaggerating its important to the media, often forcing companies to fork out enormous settlements just to ease the media pressure.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “the system makes it easy for lawyers to file nearly identical complaints in rapid succession, with just a few paragraphs changed about each plaintiff, giving defendants little to go on to gauge the legitimacy of any given case.” In other words, the bar for plaintiff’s lawyers to meet in order to file a case is far too low, and they are able to weaponize the system to put undue pressure on the company they are suing, far beyond what the law intends.

Then, to hide how weak their case is and keep up the relentless attacks on industry in the public square, attorneys often hire marketing agencies to do their dirty work for them. According to X-Ante, a tort litigation tracker, TV commercials asking people to report alleged injury by Zantac, a heartburn medication, aired more than 45,000 times in the first quarter of 2021. That’s the same as airing every four minutes. The plaintiffs’ bar spent $7 million on that alone. That weights the scales of justice in a wildly unfair way by placing enormous undue pressure on the company to pay out.

The problem has become so serious that some companies are having to resort to creative new methods such as the so-called ‘Texas Two-Step’. When Johnson & Johnson suddenly found itself stuck with a whopping 38,000 pending lawsuits alleging the talc in its famous baby powder product had carcinogenic effects, the company had no choice but to take drastic measures.

J&J divided itself in half by slicing its consumer health business off into a separate company, moving all its legal liabilities along with it. That brought all tort cases relating to baby powder across the US to a halt, because they suddenly fell under the jurisdiction of bankruptcy courts, rather than civil courts. That gave the company a fighting chance – plus the opportunity to keep trading, rather than supermarket shelves abruptly containing a much smaller range of baby power products – which it may not otherwise have had.

Companies should not have to resort to such dramatic, costly measures to escape the harms of reckless lawyer behavior. It is high time we recognize the ways trial lawyers are abusing the tort system to make it more difficult for wrongly accused companies to defend themselves, at the expense of their customers and the free market. We urgently need sensible tort reform to continue protecting consumer rights while also putting an end to this systematic manipulation of the legal process.

Jason Reed is the spokesperson for Young Voices and a writer and broadcaster on politics and policy for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624

IREF (France): Le Président Macron est vapoteur. Pourquoi n’en parle-t-il jamais?

Published in French by the Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal Issues, a European think tank. English translation below.

President Macron vapes. Why does he never talk about it?

Published in French by the Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal Issues, a European think tank. English translation below.

President Macron vapes. Why does he never talk about it?

Recently, a set of photographs emerged of President Macron at the Elysée. Perhaps surprisingly, he was not wearing a suit and tie as he generally does. Instead, he is wearing stubble and a hoodie. He looks like he has been working from home on a laptop, not serving as President of France. Some have speculated that he was trying to tap into the popularity of wartime leader, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who spoke to the US Congress earlier this year wearing a t-shirt.

Whatever the reason for his interesting choice of outfit, there was one detail in the photo which few noticed: President Macron was carrying a vape.

In itself, that ought not to be surprising. Vaping has been on the up in France, as in many countries around the world. It is the number one tool for quitting smoking, and electronic cigarettes are much healthier than their traditional tobacco counterparts – vaping is 95 per cent healthier than smoking overall, and around 200 times less likely to give you cancer.

Vaping is cheaper, too. A smoker who consumes a pack of twenty cigarettes each day can probably expect to spend around five thousand euros annually on the habit. Even those who only need five cigarettes per day are spending well over a thousand euros each year. Compared to those numbers, switching to vaping would represent a huge cost saving.

When you start vaping, the first major cost is the e-cigarettes device itself, which generally costs less than fifty euros, and a few extra euros to replace its coils every couple of weeks. The only other regenerative cost is for the e-liquid itself. Of course, there is a wide range of different prices, but most estimates suggest that vapers should expect to spend around two hundred euros each year on liquids to top up their device.

That is an extraordinary price difference. Even if a smoker only gets through five cigarettes each day, switching to vaping would be around 76 per cent cheaper overall. People around the world are already hearing lots of advice about how to cut down electricity consumption or fuel usage in order to save money while the prices of those things are high, but almost no one with a significant platform has been talking about how the millions of smokers across the globe can save money – and, of course, improve their health – through vaping.

When we have a cost of living crisis where countless families are already struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table, savings like this can be life-changing. Energy bills are already going through the roof, and the prices of essentials like food and clothes are skyrocketing because of inflation, the war in Ukraine, supply chain disruptions and much more. Life is getting more expensive, so any opportunity to ease the strain on our wallets will be welcomed by many.

President Macron, it appears, has taken advantage of the benefits of vaping. Good for him. Why, then, does he continue to promote the nanny state brand of politics in which vaping is condemned? If the president accepts the benefits of vaping and the life-changing effects it could have for millions of French smokers, he should throw the government’s weight behind it.

It is a shame that, even as society organically begins to move away from cigarettes, many people who want to quit are unable to do so because they do not have access to the resources they need, such as e-cigarettes, or they do not know about their benefits. For example, did you know that heat-not-burn tobacco products are much safer than smoking cigarettes? In fact, the UK’s Committee on Toxicity found in 2017 that heated tobacco products emit up to 90 per cent fewer harmful compounds than cigarettes.

Similarly, polling shows that very few smokers know about the benefits of switching from smoking to vaping, because there is a huge amount of disinformation swirling around it. That is only possible because of unelected, unaccountable political groups such as the World Health Organisation, which insistently badmouths vaping through its ‘Tobacco Control Project’ (despite the fact that, ironically, vaping is tobacco-free).

The problem is that the president, on a fundamental level, does not subscribe to the idea of personal choice and individual liberty as fervently as he should. He will say he believes in those things, of course. But when confronted with the idea that the French people should truly be able to make lifestyle decisions like this for themselves, free from government interference of any kind, he recoils, as do almost all politicians. Relinquishing power over people’s lives is harder than it seems.

The current moment would be an excellent time for the president to put his foot down and stake his flag in vaping. Many French people, of course, will want to continue smoking, despite the heavier burden it carries for their bodies and their wallets. They will not mind his support for vaping because, crucially, it comes with freedom of choice.

Conversely, those who want to quit smoking – which is probably a large majority of France’s smokers – will be grateful for the chance to save money. Over the next few months – and sadly probably in the longer term, too – the inflationary and cost of living crisis is going to make life considerably more difficult for millions of French people. Saving money by switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes could be a lifeline for many.

Jason Reed is the UK Lead at Young Voices, which has recently launched a pro-liberty project in France. To find out more, email info@young-voices.com or visit lesjeunesvoix.fr

Times Radio: A Generational Change In Attitudes, Not Nanny Statism, Caused The Drop In Smoking

I joined Carole Walker on the late night show on Times Radio to debate Deborah Arnett from Action on Smoking & Health (ASH) about the proposal to raise the legal smoking age in the UK to 21 and whether lower smoking rates are thanks to government intervention or society-wide generational attitude shifts towards cigarettes.