Monday 23 July 2018

Big Trouble In Little New Zealand

Via Eric Crampton, we are seeing yet more evidence of how vaping has utterly confused policymakers all over the world.

E-cigs and other risk reduced nicotine products are - quite rightly - described as a 'disruptive' technology. Of course, the traditional use of that term generally means that it is disruptive to the current market, but considering the current market is dried tobacco leaves in paper tubes that governments tend to dislike, you'd think they'd be happy about that.

Well, in many jurisdictions it appears not, and if you look closely you can see why. As Crampton points out, the NZ Ministry of Health's latest Health and Independence Report is optimistic about e-cigs but it is worth noting that this is only because they were made de facto legal by a court case brought by the makers of iQos. All of a sudden, vaping was legal too. And with that judgement has come some very irritating problems if you are a government set in its ways and who only had dried leaves in a paper tube to regulate before.
1 There remain interesting conflict of laws problems around plain packaging rules and the Fair Trading Act. Plain packaging rules for tobacco products would include heated tobacco, including Iqos. And, in theory, would also cover any nicotine derived from tobacco for vaping too. But putting the big smoking warnings on packages of products that are not smoked could be considered illegal under the Fair Trading Act's prohibitions around false representations and misleading conduct.  
I emailed MBIE asking about this, and they punted to ComCom. When I asked ComCom, they said that they cannot vet specific advertising or business practices for any company - and that companies would have to seek independent legal advice. So it is legal to sell vaping products - but if MoH believes the nicotine to be tobacco derived, it might consider it to be subject to the plain packaging rules. And it might be illegal to put those plain packaging warnings on the packages. But the government will not tell you. Seems pretty dumb. And it's an odd kind of dumb - companies that are cagey about how their nicotine is derived are probably ok, but ones that publicly state that their nicotine is derived from tobacco may not be.  
2 MoH is of the view that the Iqos decision does not apply to snus. Snus has seemed rather important in getting people away from smoked tobacco in Sweden. Why they want this to still be illegal - I don't get it. I expect that if they ever sued NZ Snus for selling the stuff, that the prohibition could easily be deemed inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. 
3 Excise rates on non-combusted tobacco for reduced harm devices remain unjustifiably high. This doesn't affect vaping, which is not subject to excise (phew!), but would be a problem for other products. And what about the display bans and bans on advertising less harmful alternatives?
All very complicated, isn't it? Where did that golden age go where the NZ government could just nod through ineffective policies from extremist tobacco controllers without too much fuss? Wasn't life so much simpler back then? Now, in the blink of an eye, some bastard judge has just made their lives incredibly complicated.

What's more, interests used to be aligned. Prohibitionist tobacco controllers would scream for ever higher tax on tobacco and all parties in government - much like the tobacco control plan debate here last week - shout "hell yeah!" in support. Yes, tobacco duty is well past the Laffer Curve in most western countries, but raising it doesn't cost a great deal and it helps politicians to virtue signal whilst keeping their state-paid vermin off their backs for a little while.

But now this new thing has come along and they're in a cleft stick. They've demanded smokers quit smoking for decades, and now they are. In droves. And it's happening alarmingly quickly. So much so that government receipts from tobacco duty are starting to tank.

It also shows their coercive and bullying tobacco control policies to be utterly useless, and they spent so much time, money and effort on the legislation to get them through. Just think of all those civil service man hours completely wasted.

So now they are trying to fit current policies to new technology and finding it's like putting a square peg in a round hole. It's the same all over the world, the EU Tobacco Products Directive in 2013 regulated e-cigs despite they not containing tobacco, the FDA classes e-cigs as tobacco products because it's far less effort than actually producing a bespoke regulatory regime for them.

Is it any wonder why the laziest of countries - mostly basket case nations, banana republics and dictatorships (and NHS trust fiefdoms) - simply ban the products rather than have the hassle of changing everything they have been doing for decades?

We are living in historic times. Products have come along in an inordinately short space of time for political policies - it's almost a global revolution - and governments are at a loss what to do about it. This is as disruptive as things get.

It's easy to laugh at NZ politicians because they have kind of brought it on themselves in being lazy and complicit in adhering to the sophistry and mendacity of the tobacco control cult in the past, but you have to kinda feel sorry for them having this hot potato thrown into their lap before they can get their spin-masters to react to it and burble their way through committees to water it down.

Of course, if NZ politicians really wanted to provide a huge incentive to their smokers to quit, this graphic provided by Crampton should show them the way.

NZ is a massive draw for criminals to sell black market tobacco in their area of the world. So if they really wanted to get smokers to stop smoking - because that is what they really want to do, right? - they merely have to enthusiastically welcome e-cigs and other safer nicotine products with open arms, not tax them, and see their smoking rates plummet while simultaneously easing pressure on the cost and workload of their border agencies.

What's not to like?

Let's see which way they jump, eh? God I love watching this stuff, it's like a global zoo dedicated to observing the behaviour of disingenuous and venal politicians. 

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