Comment: Elisa Serafini – Tobacco hurts, but banning vaping hurts more

We all know the risks of tobacco abuse: science has clearly shown that it is not terrible. But science has also shown that innovative and safer alternatives to smoking can limit negative externalities on health and the environment. Despite this, whatever the evidence, local and international institutions are fighting vaping – and it has terribly negative consequences for public health, the environment and the economy.

The number of adult smokers worldwide has declined – from 23.5% in 2007 to 19% today – and that number is expected to be as low as 17% by 2030. More and more consumers have chosen alternatives to cigarettes that companies have developed. convert smokers to smoke-free products while keeping and transforming their business. Some companies, like Philip Morris, have said they will eventually switch to medical products (such as inhalers) once any type of tobacco-related product no longer fits the market.

Innovation is an innate and natural process in business and humanity. As the world-renowned economist Joseph Schumpeter puts it, it is nothing more than “doing things differently in the realm of economic life.”

But how can companies innovate to reduce their environmental and health impact if regulators hamper this process?

Unfortunately for smokers trying to quit, the United States did so by recently announcing a nationwide ban on flavored e-cigarettes (considered too appealing to young people). In addition, another law prohibits the shipping of vaping products. And in other countries like Italy, the government is trying to equalize taxes on tobacco products that are alternatives to traditional cigarettes.

These national regulators receive their bad advice from the World Health Organization, which is pushing governments and institutions to wage a political war against innovative alternatives to smoking.

Politicians and regulators often speak of the “public interest” that would be pursued with this regulation. References are associated with “sins” and evil. “We have to protect the citizens. But are we really protecting them? Also, is this something the government should do about any potentially dangerous behavior?

Let’s start with the first question.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote: “One of the big mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.

Noble intentions can easily lead to devastating consequences, and the story is full of episodes like this.

To take a more contemporary example, let us take Colombia, a country that the World Health Organization has rewarded for its efforts in the fight against the tobacco market.

In 2016, the World Health Organization celebrated Colombia as the most virtuous country in the fight against smoking. Colombia increased the tobacco tax rate and tripled it from 2016 to 2018.

According to official data, cigarette consumption fell by 34% in 2018, but at the same time, a significant black market has developed, doubling the number of illegal cigarettes sold in Colombia from 2016 to 2017. The illegal trade has grown. a public cost, in 2017 thousands of jobs were lost, as well as $ 144 million in taxes.

The Philippines was also celebrated for its extraordinary “Sin Tax Law,” which increased taxes on cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and e-cigarettes. Yet in 2020, 53% of the contraband seized by the government in terms of value was tobacco and cigarettes.

Another country, India, has curiously banned all vaping and tobacco warmer products while keeping regular regulations on traditional cigarettes, which are found to be more harmful.

These policies are dangerous for their methodology, because they were developed without taking into account the scientific method, and their effects, because they can jeopardize the gains obtained in harm reduction.

Behavioral studies, medicine and psychology have amply demonstrated that people can be vulnerable to behaviors that can be damaging and addictive.

What science has also proven, however, is that it is possible to develop alternatives that can reduce damage and limit negative externalities while accepting, and this is the key, that individuals should always have the right to. free will to choose what is best or worst for themselves.

Addressing individual choices has been the obsession of policymakers, economic institutions and behaviorists, from the most authoritarian dictatorships to the softer “incentives” put in place by nudge theory.

Finally, it is not surprising that some innovations meet resistance from regulators and institutions. However, what is surprising is when these innovations can significantly reduce risk and are fought by the government.

Achieving a smoke-free world is not impossible, but only if governments step aside.

Elisa Serafini is a journalist for The Post Internazionale and Forbes Italy and has experience in public policy and innovation. She wrote this for

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