Karl Abramson

Bloomberg Exposed for Foreign Meddling in Tobacco and Vaping Policy in the Philippines

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Wednesday, September 1st, 2021, 8:21 PM PERMALINK

The philanthropic wing of American billionaire Mike Bloomberg, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has been exposed for effectively buying off the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Philippines in exchange for the implementation of unpopular, anti-science policies related to tobacco and nicotine products. In a report approved by a committee of the Filipino legislature, lawmakers expressed outrage and demanded an investigation into the scheme, a signal that there may be more evidence yet to be presented regarding Bloomberg’s money-driven influence over Philippines’ FDA. 

The report, which was overwhelmingly approved by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, outlined how FDA and Bloomberg Philanthropies colluded, using regulatory methods, to discriminate against the legal tobacco industry. In the process, Bloomberg Philanthropies and their associates at FDA violated Philippine law. There is now an opportunity for Philippine authorities to hold Bloomberg and his allies legally accountable for their infringements. 

It has long been public knowledge that Mike Bloomberg holds radical anti-tobacco views. Unfortunately, his opinions extend to non-combustible nicotine products like e-cigarettes, Swedish snus, heated tobacco products (HTP’s), and pouches. E-cigarettes have been shown to be at least 95% less harmful than cigarettes, and an incredibly effective method of getting people who smoke to quit. Swedish snus is a clean tobacco product that exposes users to significantly less toxins than cigarettes and is the reason why Sweden has one of the lowest lung cancer rates in the world. Similarly, HTP’s reduce the user's exposure to harmful chemicals by heating, rather than burning, tobacco to create a vapor.  

Mike Bloomberg, however, could care less about the lifesaving impacts that reduced harm alternatives have. His policy proposals make it clear thar he would prefer smokers die from their addiction than make the switch to a safer product. His actions in the Philippines are proof that he will stop at nothing to use his money to purchase influence over the policies of sovereign countries. As some have put it, Bloomberg utilizes a unique method of “philanthro-colonialism” to gain control over a country’s political system under the guise of “philanthropy” intended to improve the lives of their citizens. 

Key findings from the report can be read below, while the full report can be accessed here

  • The Committee determined that the decision by FDA to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies was questionable due to Bloomberg’s “avowed policy to ban or restrict the use of tobacco and novel tobacco products”. 

  • FDA failed to disclose, in detail, its receipt of foreign donation. This is a potential violation of Philippine law and the report calls on the State Auditor General to investigate the validity of FDA’s receipt. 

  • In response to Bloomberg’s scheme, the Committee recommended the Filipino Congress pass a bill prohibiting foreign donors from engaging in donation-for-policy conspiracies with government offices. 

  • Bloomberg Philanthropies violated Philippine law by not obtaining the necessary registration permits to lobby the government as a foreign agent. This is direct breach of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

  • The report recommends mandating FDA and Ministry of Health to disclose all foreign donations with detailed receipts.  

The report sends a strong warning to FDA that they must now act with full transparency. They cannot accept monetary grants from anti-tobacco groups, or any groups, in exchange for implementing predetermined policies. The decision to release the report now is timely as the Philippine Senate is currently considering a bill that would remove FDA’s ability to regulate e-cigarettes, vaping products, and HTP’s.  

Supporters of government transparency are pushing for this bill to pass, as it would force Philippine authorities to consider the overwhelming science and data in support of these products. Should FDA be allowed to determine such regulations, that data would almost surely be pushed aside in favor of Bloomberg’s extremist ideology. The public health ramifications of that would be catastrophic. 

Sadly, Bloomberg’s philanthro-colonialism is not unique to the Philippines. Bloomberg Philanthropies has donated more than three billion dollars to the World Health Organization, a significant portion of that going towards a “Bloomberg Initiative to reduce tobacco”. 

In Armenia, where more than half of all men smoke cigarettes, restrictive vaping laws have begun to emerge. According to Armenia’s Health Minister, their funding for tobacco control comes from the World Health Organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK). CTFK receives nearly all their funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies.  

In Vietnam, Bloomberg’s “deep collaboration with government and local organizations” resulted in a plan, currently under consideration, to completely prohibit all e-cigarettes. As a result, millions of Armenians and Vietnamese will unnecessarily die from cigarette smoking as they are actively being discouraged from making the lifesaving switch to vaping. 

It is near certain that the same tactics Bloomberg utilized in the Philippines are being used by groups funded by him in dozens of other countries around the world. Those nations would be well served by enacting the same stringent policies protecting against pay-for-play schemes related to tobacco products, or any industry for that matter, as are currently under consideration in the Philippine Congress. As is evident in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Armenia, millions of lives depend on legislators taking a stand against the undue influence of foreign wealth over a nation’s domestic policies. 

Photo Credit: Center for American Progress

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Colorado’s Nicotine Tax Debacle is Hurting Working Families

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Wednesday, August 18th, 2021, 1:22 PM PERMALINK

When Colorado voters approved a vast increase in the state’s tobacco and nicotine tax, opponents of the proposal voiced concern that the hike would fall short of projected revenue as seen in countless other states. They were right. According to a data analysis from The Colorado Sun, Colorado’s exorbitant tax hike on cigarettes and other nicotine-containing products has generated significantly less tax revenue than promised. Originally billed as an opportunity for the state to fund universal preschool, lower-than-expected revenues are an early sign that this policy is well on its way to being a failure for Colorado and a headache for lawmakers and activists who threw their support behind the tax hike. 

Proposition EE, which passed by a wide margin as a ballot initiative last November, increased the tax rate on cigarettes by 230%, from $0.84 per pack to $1.94, effective January 2021. The tax will continue to rise incrementally until 2027 when it will level out at $2.64 per pack. The measure also increased the tax rate on other tobacco products from 40% of market price to 62%. 

Also included in the proposition was the implementation of a 62% tax rate on vaping devices and refillable e-liquid. Previously, vaping products were exempt from tobacco taxes in Colorado. Implementing a tax rate on e-cigarettes equal to the rate on tobacco products is problematic for multiple reasons.  

For one, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and therefore should not be classified as such for tax purposes. Secondly, e-cigarettes and vaping products have been shown to be at least 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Exempting vapes from taxes or taxing them at a significantly lower rate than tobacco incentivizes people who use tobacco to make the switch to a less harmful alternative.  

Health advocates, who overwhelmingly supported the proposition, argued that the tax hikes will reduce tobacco and nicotine use, despite evidence demonstrating otherwise. Data has consistently shown that tobacco tax increases have no statistically significant impact on the prevalence of smoking among those with household incomes less than $25,000 and 72% of smokers are from low-income communities.  

For these folks, increasing taxes on products they are addicted to puts unnecessary hardship on them and their families. At a time when they can least afford it due to the economic brought about by the Covid-19 that most affected poorer, working-class individuals, this tobacco tax hike is particularly cruel. For this reason, the progressive group Working Families Party of Colorado advocated against the proposition. 

Governor Jared Polis, one of the main proponents of the measure, said that the disproportionate impact that tobacco taxes have on low-income families, and by effect low-income children, would be offset by gaining access to preschool from increased tax revenue. So far, Governor Polis is being proven wrong. Even if revenues increase, and there is no reason to expect them to, funding for preschool won’t begin until 2023 at the earliest. It is surely little consolation to working families struggling to make ends meet today that their children might be able to attend preschool years in the future. 

Unfortunately, one organization that rallied support for increasing the tax rate was Mental Health Colorado, a group that claims to be the state’s leading advocate in ensuring equitable access to health care for those struggling from mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. This organization either does not know, or chose to ignore, the data showing e-cigarettes to be particularly helpful at getting people with mental health issues, who smoke at rates three to four times higher than the national average, to quit the deadly habit of cigarette use. 

Other groups that threw their support behind the initiative included the American Federation of Teachers Colorado and the Colorado Education Association, who said that taxing vaping products would decrease vape use among teenagers. While teenage vaping is harmful and should be discouraged, there is clear evidence that restrictive vaping laws increase youth cigarette smoking, subjecting them to more harm than e-cigarettes could ever cause. 

Another concerning aspect of the tax hike is the impact on organized crime and smuggling. It is highly likely that increased smuggling of tobacco products has contributed to the failure to meet expected tax revenue. A large-scale analysis from the Tax Foundation showed that excessive tax rates on cigarettes “induces substantially black and gray market movement”. Most tobacco smuggling is run by multi-million-dollar organized crime syndicates who also engage in human trafficking, money laundering, and use their profits to fund terrorism. The US State Department has gone so far as to declare tobacco smuggling a “threat to national security”.  

Sadly, Colorado is not finished increasing tobacco taxes and restricting access to reduced risk alternatives to cigarettes. Over the next six years, the cigarette tax will climb an additional 136% and tax rates on tobacco products and e-cigarettes will rise as well. While there is no easy method of stopping these harmful policies, lawmakers and voters in other states must make note of the disastrous effects of Colorado’s tax hike and avoid enacting similar measures in their states. 

Photo Credit: IslandWorks

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STUDY: Restrictive Vaping Laws Will Increase Cigarette Smoking Among Young Adults

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Tuesday, August 10th, 2021, 4:21 PM PERMALINK

A new study from researchers at George Washington University and Stanford University is indicating that e-cigarette restrictions would have devastating effects on the health of young adults. Just last week, the highly esteemed Journal on Nicotine & Tobacco Research accepted an article manuscript that examines the potential impacts of vape prohibitions on cigarette and vaping use among 18-34 year olds. According to the study, a ban on flavored vaping products would cause 33.2% of young adult e-cigarette users to completely switch to traditional cigarettes and 39.4% would switch to cigarettes should all vape sales be restricted. 

The researchers noted that there are likely unintended consequences of restrictions on vaping. These include e-cigarette users switching to traditional cigarettes and youth initiation of traditional cigarettes rather than vaping products. Anti-vaping laws are often framed as legislation that will improve the health of young people, but ample evidence is emerging that demonstrates such laws have an opposite effect. 

In San Francisco, a ban on flavored tobacco products led to stark increases in youth smoking rates and more than doubled the odds of young people engaging in the deadly habit of cigarettes smoking. E-cigarettes have been shown to be at least 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes, therefore, use of e-cigarettes among young adults, which should be discouraged, is clearly preferable to cigarette use. 

The concerning findings from this most recent study are a critical addition to the ever-growing academic and scientific literature on vaping and tobacco use and should be acknowledged by lawmakers who seek to implement restrictive measures on e-cigarettes. The main findings of the study can be read below, while the full study is available here

Key Findings

  • If the sale of flavored vaping products was prohibited, 33.2% of young adult e-cigarette users would “very likely or somewhat likely” switch to traditional cigarettes. 

  • An additional 14.9% of users would switch to cigarettes while continuing to use e-cigarettes.  

  • If all vape product sales were restricted, 39.4% of e-cigarette users would likely switch to traditional cigarettes. 38.9% of e-cigarette users reported not at all likely to switch to traditional cigarettes. 

  • Survey participants who viewed a greater number of media reports about vaping, which spread misinformation and often use fear-based messaging, were more concerned with the health impacts of vaping and more likely to support restrictive vaping laws. 

The researchers, four of whom work at George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health and one from Stanford University School of Medicine, utilized data from over two thousand survey respondents from six metropolitan areas in the United States. The locations (Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, San Diego, and Seattle) were selected due to variation in state policies regarding e-cigarettes and tobacco products. San Diego and Boston have stringent measures in place, while Oklahoma City and Atlanta have largely avoided implementing restrictive policies.  

The group most supportive of restrictive vaping laws is parents of teenage children. They falsely believe that such laws would keep their children safe and improve the health of young adults across the country. The findings of this study, paired with real-world evidence from San Francisco, show that bans on vape sales will do significantly more harm than good.  

While the researchers did not go so far as to declare restrictive vape laws as harmful to public health, they did state that young adult users of e-cigarettes “may not experience benefit” from these policies.  

Understanding the potential impacts of public policy is crucial. While more research should, and will, be done to further examine the impacts of bans on various e-cigarette products, the evidence is growing clearer. The laws that legislators claim are necessary to “protect the children” are increasing cigarette consumption among young people and subjecting them to immense amounts of harm. In the interests of public health, these laws, and those who spread lies and misinformation to promote them, must be thoroughly rejected.

Photo Credit: Corporación de Radio y Televisión Española

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Taxpayer Funded WHO Colludes with Mike Bloomberg to Stop Smokers from Quitting

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Friday, August 6th, 2021, 3:00 PM PERMALINK

The coronavirus outbreak and resulting worldwide pandemic has resulted in more than four million deaths, including 612,000 Americans. In the early days of the pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) arrested journalists and doctors who dared to tell the world about the deadly virus that was spreading across China. The CCP blocked information about the virus on social media sites and removed news stories reporting accurate infection data. By the time the world was finally made aware of the danger Covid-19 posed, it was far too late. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the murderous and authoritarian CCP deserves recognition for the “transparency” and “leadership” they showed in the face of a deadly virus. WHO publicly said that China’s oppressive regime was “making us safer” from Covid. The four million people who have died thanks to CCP recklessness would surely disagree. 

Unfortunately, WHO isn’t finished repressing opportunities to save lives. Just three days ago, on July 27, WHO released their eighth global tobacco report, focused on reducing global access to reduced harm tobacco products and alternatives to tobacco. There are 1.1 billion people in the world who smoke cigarettes every single day, an all-time high. In 2019, eight million people died as a result of smoking. Thanks to WHO, millions more will die without access to these lifesaving alternatives. 

Just imagine how corrupt an organization would need to be to actively work against lifesaving technology. Fortunately, there is ample evidence demonstrating exactly who is influencing WHO tobacco control policy and how they are doing it. Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former Mayor of New York City, and his multi-billion-dollar “charity” Bloomberg Philanthropies funded, and contributed to, the WHO report and have used their massive endowment to exert undue influence over low- and middle-income countries that are more vulnerable to philanthropic pressure.  

The WHO report is only one example of Bloomberg using his wealth to global health policy. In January 2021, Philippine Food and Drug Administration officials revealed that they have been receiving money from the Bloomberg Initiative and The Union, charities funded by Bloomberg himself. According to reports, the funds were bestowed on the condition that the Philippine government implemented Bloomberg-sanctioned tobacco control policies. While the Philippines are one of the first countries where Bloomberg’s pseudo-colonialism have been publicly exposed, the former Mayor and failed 2020 Presidential candidate has been pouring money into dark money groups for years in pursuit of prohibitionist policies. 

WHO’s report is filled with downright lies about e-cigarettes. In one section, the report states that “The outbreak of electronic-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in the United States in 2019–2020 highlights the potential dangers associated with (e-cigarettes)”. There is zero evidence that EVALI is the result of nicotine-containing e-cigarette use. Rather, illicit THC vaping products containing Vitamin E-Acetate have been identified as the culprit behind the outbreak. This is common knowledge among the scientific and health community. The report also attempts to tie “popcorn lung” to e-cigarette use, even though there has never been a case of popcorn lung resulting from vaping. WHO is more interested in following Bloomberg’s misguided ideology than sharing the truth about vaping. 

It is truly inconceivable that WHO would allow a prohibitionist like Mike Bloomberg to fund a report that will have incredible influence over the policies of dozens of countries. Bloomberg, and by extension WHO, would prefer to see the one billion global smokers die from cigarettes than switch to an alternative that reduces their exposure to harmful chemicals. 

There are, however, countries that have embraced, or at the very least tolerated, vaping products and other safer alternatives and have seen incredible improvements in public health as a result.  

WHO’s report claims that evidence is “inconclusive” that e-cigarettes help smokers quit, yet 2.4 million British smokers have quit cigarettes with vaping. Even as cigarette smoking has increased globally in the last few years, England has seen a dramatic decrease in smoking prevalence thanks to vaping. The British government has embraced vaping as a method of smoking cessation, publicizing data demonstrating that vaping is 95% less harmful than cigarettes and two to four times more effective at helping smokers quit than traditional nicotine replacement therapies. 

In Japan, cigarette sales have decreased by 43% over the past five years, the greatest decrease in recorded history, as a result of heat-not-burn tobacco products that significantly reduces exposure to harmful chemicals compared to cigarette smoking.  

A form of “clean” smokeless tobacco called snus contains less toxins than other tobacco products and is highly popular among Swedish men. Sweden has the lowest rate of lung cancer in the developed world.   

The World Health Organization knows this, of course. Just how they knew that China was arresting journalists, making truth-telling doctors disappear, and shutting down the spread of information that would have alerted the world to the once-in-a-generation pandemic that would soon sweep the globe.  

This much is clear, the World Health Organization is more interested in lining their own pockets than saving lives. The United States, currently the largest contributor to WHO’s budget, cannot in good conscience continue to fund their willful ignorance that continually costs lives all over the world. American taxpayers must demand that the U.S. defund, or at least suspend, funding to WHO until they commit to expanded transparency and true pro-science policies. 

Photo Credit: United States Mission Geneva

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ATR Opposes Congressional Effort to Keep Adults Smoking Cigarettes

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Thursday, July 29th, 2021, 4:55 PM PERMALINK

Earlier today, Americans for Tax Reform sent a letter to the United States Senate in opposition to the Resources to Prevent Youth Vaping Act, legislation that takes aim at e-cigarette manufacturers and the lifesaving products they produce. Should the proposal be enacted, vape manufacturers would be required to pay user fees to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would be used to increase awareness of the “danger” of e-cigarettes, even though vaping has been conclusively shown to be 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. 

While it is obvious that underage persons should not be consuming e-cigarettes, this bill would lead to an increase cigarette consumption, harming the health of American youths more than e-cigarettes ever could. 

Tim Andrews, ATR’s Director of Consumer Issues, wrote: “It would be incredibly cruel to force e-cigarette manufacturers to fund FDA misinformation. The products that these businesses creating are saving lives every day. Further, e-cigarettes have the potential to decrease socioeconomic disparities in healthcare by aiding disadvantaged populations with smoking cessation.” 

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and is responsible for roughly 480,000 deaths every year. Public policy, particularly when related to public health, must take into account all available data and evidence. This proposal fails to consider the lifesaving benefits of e-cigarettes. It will keep adults smoking, and dying from, traditional cigarettes.” 

Andrews concluded: “E-cigarettes are not tobacco products. There is no reason for Congress to impose rules and regulations that treat them as such. Vaping products are the most effective method of helping smokers quit the deadly habit of cigarettes and there is zero evidence demonstrating e-cigarettes are a pathway to cigarette smoking. Rather, more than 60 public health organizations agree that e-cigarettes are a pathway away from smoking. In the interests of public health, we call upon you to accept the science and vote against the Resources to Prevent Youth Vaping Act. Millions of lives quite literally depend upon it.” 

The full letter can be read here.

Photo Credit: David Maiolo

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Members of Congress Promote Cigarette Smoking with Push to Vilify Vape Businesses

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Thursday, July 29th, 2021, 3:53 PM PERMALINK

On July 23, 2021, a group of eight bipartisan legislators in the United States Senate and House of Representatives introduced the Resources to Prevent Youth Vaping Act, legislation that would force e-cigarette manufacturers to fund an anti-vaping misinformation campaign with fees paid to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

A press release that accompanied the introduction of the bill contained numerous myths, misconceptions, and downright lies about e-cigarettes and the vaping industry. It is highly disappointing that the six U.S. Senators and two Representatives sponsoring the legislation have chosen to engage in fear-based deception, rather than accepting the science on e-cigarettes.  

However, the problem is larger than just a few misguided lawmakers. More than half of adult cigarette smokers, the people for who vaping was invented, believe that e-cigarettes are at least as harmful, or more harmful, than traditional cigarettes. This could not be farther from the truth, as vaping has been scientifically shown to be 95% safer than cigarettes.  

Legislation like the Resources to Prevent Youth Vaping Act exacerbates this problem and will keep more adults smoking, and dying from, traditional cigarettes. As such, it is crucial to communicate the truth about vaping. Let’s examine some of the allegations from the press release. 

Claim: “Electronic nicotine devices should be subject to the same user fees that the FDA assesses on the manufacturers and importers of cigarettes and other forms of tobacco” - Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) 

Truth: E-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes share very few characteristics. E-cigarettes heat a nicotine-containing liquid to create a vapor. Cigarettes have a combustion process which creates tar and other harmful chemicals that cause cancer, heart disease, and other serious illnesses. Vaping does not have a combustion process, allowing users to consume nicotine while decreasing the harm they are subjected to. Nicotine is not a carcinogen. Rather, it is a highly addictive but relatively benign substance, much like caffeine, that does not cause short or long-term harm when separated from the dangerous chemicals in cigarettes. 

Claim: “We know the numbers – more and more teens and high school students are using vapor products.” - Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) 

Truth: Clearly, Senator Murkowski does not know the numbers. According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of underage persons who had vaped nicotine in the past 30 days decreased by 27.2% between 2019 and 2020. National Youth Tobacco Survey Data, the most recent data available, shows that past-30-day youth vaping rates are lower today than they were in 2015. 

Claim: “Big Vape has hooked nearly four million kids on e-cigarettes, creating a vaping epidemic that is threatening our next generation with a lifetime of nicotine addiction and disease.” - Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) 

Truth: Senator Durbin’s attempt to demonize vaping manufacturers by branding them “Big Vape” is unequivocally false. The Small Business Administration, a government agency that provides support to American entrepreneurs, has correctly noted that “small businesses created the (vaping) industry and have been drivers of the industry’s major innovations”. 

More Truth: There are not four million kids “hooked” on e-cigarettes. Senator Durbin would like you to believe that a teenager who vapes once or twice a month is addicted to vaping but that, of course, is not true. Approximately 3% of teenagers are daily users of vape products and 67% of daily users previously smoked cigarettes. Obviously, no teenagers should be using vaping products but teenage cigarette smokers who switch to vaping are reducing the harm they are exposed to. Senator Durbin would prefer they smoke. 

Even More Truth: There is zero evidence that vaping causes disease. Shockingly, Senator Durbin is wrong once again. 

The bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos (IL-17), and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01). 

Shortly after the bill was introduced, Americans for Tax Reform sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, urging them to oppose this disastrous proposal. That letter can be read here

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New York City Council Proposal Places Consumer Privacy at Risk and Hurts Small Businesses

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Monday, July 19th, 2021, 3:57 PM PERMALINK

Earlier this morning, Americans for Tax Reform wrote to New York City’s council, urging them to oppose Intro 2311, a bill that would force meal delivery services to share private consumer data with restaurants. 

Intro 2311 would be a disaster for consumers and businesses, placing consumer security and safety and risk, and exposing small family-owned restaurants to significant legal liability” said Director of Consumer Issues Tim Andrews. “With no privacy safeguards in place, customer’s private details could be sold to third parties without their consent, restaurant staff could know the personal addresses of customers subjecting them to stalking and harassment, as has occurred in other countries, and the lack of any security provisions means consumer private data could be easily hacked.” 

Andrews continued: “This Bill is not only bad for consumers; it is bad for businesses. Family-owned restaurants don’t have the resources to protect their data from being extorted in increasingly common ‘ransomware’ attacks. Security breaches would not only harm users, but they could also force small businesses to cease operations as a result of multi-million-dollar legal liability costs, in addition to the inevitable loss of customers.” 

Andrews added: “Consumer data is one of the most valuable assets of the modern era. To allow restaurants to sell this private information to credit firms, banks, political campaigns, or unscrupulous bad actors with no privacy protections whatsoever violates every rule of sound public policy. Should the very delivery firms that were responsible for keeping restaurants in businesses, and families fed, throughout the pandemic be forced to turn over their valuable data for free to businesses unable to manage it securely, all New Yorkers will suffer as a result."

The full letter can be read here

Photo Credit: Jörg Schubert

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Limiting Meal Delivery Fees Hurts Consumers and Threatens the Gig Economy

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Tuesday, July 6th, 2021, 3:33 PM PERMALINK

Last week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a permanent cap on fees that third-party delivery services can charge restaurants. Originally enacted as an emergency order by Mayor London Breed in April 2020, San Francisco’s fee cap is the first in the nation to become permanent. Proponents of the policy claim that the caps are vital to protect businesses from exorbitant fees, which on occasion can be 30% of each order. In reality, the fees are a necessity for delivery services and capping them leads the costs to be passed on to consumers. 

Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, meal delivery became essential to the survival of restaurants. With customers unable to eat in restaurants due to local laws, and many fearful that going out to pick food up from an establishment would expose them to the virus, touchless delivery became the preferred method of ordering food among consumers. 

Similarly, as millions of people lost their jobs due to the pandemic-induced economic downturn, the “gig economy” became crucial for individuals looking to earn some extra money. With flexible hours and a simple application process, driving for a delivery service is incredibly appealing for many people. Unfortunately, as anyone who understands basic economics knows, increased prices often lead to a decrease in consumption. Fee caps generate price hikes on customers, driving down demand for delivery and reducing the ability of drivers to supplement their main source of income. In fact, the implementation of fee caps in multiple states and dozens of localities has caused companies to introduce “regulatory response fees”. 

In Portland, Oregon, the City Council approved a 10% cap on service fees, the lowest in the nation. Functioning as a government mandated price control, the cap forced delivery services to raise prices on consumers to recoup lost revenue. As a direct result of the fee cap, consumers in Portland are now charged an additional $3 on all UberEats orders. 

In more than a dozen other cities, including Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Denver, similar fees are added when ordering food delivery. On average, consumers in cities where fee caps have been implemented are charged an additional $2 for each order.  

Even though delivery services such as UberEats, Grubhub, and Postmates had their most successful year to date in 2020, not a single delivery app is profitable. DoorDash, the most popular delivery app, is the only service to make a profit, doing so for only one quarter. Over the course of 2020, DoorDash lost $461 million dollars even with a profitable quarter. Grubhub lost $156 million in 2020 and UberEats suffered losses estimated at $873 million. 

Opponents of fee caps argue that it is counterproductive for state governments to intervene in the food delivery market because the fees that restaurants pay are voluntary and contractually agreed to by both parties. Delivery companies are providing a service to these restaurants and reserve the right to charge whatever fees are necessary to cover their costs. Likewise, restaurants have the right to decline the service and offer their own food delivery or pick up options to avoid paying fees to a third party. 

Additionally, there are concerns that blanket caps on fees remove the ability of entrepreneurs to promote their business. Most delivery services have optional fees that restaurants can pay to be promoted on apps through ads, sponsored listings, and exclusive deals. 

While many restaurants are in favor of fee cap legislation, it is highly likely that they are advocating against their own interests. During the pandemic, customers often begrudgingly accepted the regulatory response fees and ordered through delivery apps anyways. For many, the extra few dollars were worth avoiding infection.  

Now, with vaccines widely available and low infection rates nationwide, fewer patrons will be willing to pay extra, ultimately leading to lower demand for deliveries and therefore fewer delivery drivers. With less drivers comes less access to goods, and eventually a depletion in customers. 

Food delivery services have revolutionized the industry by providing workers with flexible employment and competitive wages. If these companies are unable to make consistent profits, it is only a matter of time before they cease operations, dealing a potentially fatal blow to restaurants that rely on delivery to sustain their business. It is imperative that efforts to impose permanent caps are rejected by state and local governments. 

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ATR Leads Coalition Urging PMTA Enforcement Extension

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Thursday, July 1st, 2021, 1:44 PM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform today led a coalition of 23 organizations urging the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to follow the common-sense recommendations of the Small Business Administration and seek a court order to allow vaping manufacturers to keep products on the market while their Pre Market Tobacco Authorizations (PMTA) reviews are in progress.  The FDA has acknowledged it is unlikely to complete all authorizations by the September 9 deadline, meaning thousands of businesses, who did the right thing, and completed all legal requirements, would be prohibited from selling their life-saving products merely due to FDA delays in processing their application. 

The letter acknowledged that FDA has promised to exercise discretion in enforcement, but asserted that, “This does not provide the degree of certainty necessary for businesses who have complied with all relevant regulations and have not received authorization due to processing delays by FDA. If an extension is not granted, there could be devastating consequences for businesses, particularly small businesses. Furthermore, any potential reduction in the supply of safe alternatives to tobacco could have a negative impact on public health across the United States and lead to an increase in tobacco-related mortality.” 

The letter continued, “There is no final rule in place governing the PMTA process and therefore it is possible that a significant number of products may be removed from the market following the deadline. Millions of consumers who depend on ENDS products for their health and thousands of businesses who depend on these products for their livelihood are threatened by this needless bureaucratic uncertainty. The only sure way to avert a disastrous outcome is for the FDA to obtain a court order allowing it to extend the existing moratorium on enforcement by another year.” 

The vaping industry,” the letter notes, “unlike many others, was created by small businesses, and these same small businesses continue to drive innovation in the market. Without these entrepreneurs, the vape industry will be consolidated into a few large corporations, causing prices to rise and consumer choice to decrease.” 

The letter concluded by drawing attention to the science on vaping, which shows e-cigarettes to be 95% safer than combustible cigarettes and two to four times as effective at helping smokers quit than traditional nicotine replacement therapies. With the potential to save 6.6 million American lives, according to an analysis from Georgetown University Medical Center, and reduce socioeconomic disparities in healthcare, adult access to vaping must be preserved.  

The full letter and list of signatories can be read here

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Banning Flavored Vapes in Canada Will Increase Cigarette Smoking and Harm Small Businesses

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Posted by Karl Abramson on Tuesday, June 29th, 2021, 3:12 PM PERMALINK

Earlier today, Americans for Tax Reform wrote to Health Canada, urging the agency to not move forward with a proposed ban on flavored vaping products. Tim Andrews, ATR’s Director of Consumer Issues, wrote the letter, drawing the Canadian government’s attention to real-world evidence showing the damage that flavor prohibitions cause to small businesses and the public health. The full letter can be read below. 
 

Dear Minister Hajdu, 
 
On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a non-profit organization which advocates in the interests of taxpayers and consumers throughout the United States, we wish to draw your attention to recent evidence from United States directly relevant to your decision to ban flavored reduced risk tobacco alternatives such as e-cigarettes in Canada. In the interests of public health, it is imperative that the prohibition on flavored vaping products is not enacted. 
 
As demonstrated in a study coordinated by Yale University and published last week in the world’s leading pediatric journal, JAMA Pediatrics, empirical data now demonstrates conclusively that flavor bans, such as the one under, consideration have one effect only – drastically increasing the rate at which young people will smoke deadly combustible cigarettes. When a ban on flavored vaping products was introduced in San Francisco, California, youth smoking rates doubled, demonstrating that this policy is a clear public health disaster, and should serve as a cautionary tale to you as you consider enacting a similar measure in the Netherlands. 
 
In the study, Dr. Abigail Friedman of the Yale School of Public Health examined smoking rates in San Francisco school districts and compared them to rates in other major school districts like New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles. In the years before the flavor ban was enacted, San Francisco’s youth smoking rate was consistently declining and was lower than the rates in comparable districts. After the ban was implemented, San Francisco’s youth smoking rate skyrocketed to 6.2%. In the comparable districts, the smoking rate had fallen to 2.8%, an all-time low. This shows the distinct difference in smoking rates between a city that banned flavors in tobacco and vaping products and cities that followed the science and allowed flavors. 
 
Your proposed flavor ban is aimed at reducing youth vaping, even though flavors play no role in youth uptake of vaping. Academic studies have found that teenage non-smokers “willingness to try plain versus flavored varieties did not differ” and a mere 5% of vapers aged 14-23 reported it was flavors that drew them to e-cigarettes. National Youth Tobacco Survey results have shown no increase in nicotine dependency among youths since flavored products entered the market. 
 
ATR further submits that in addition to the public health disaster that reducing access to reduced risk tobacco alternatives will unleash, these proposals would also have devastating consequences on businesses, at a time when they can afford it least. At a time of great hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this bill which would effectively outlaw sections of the Canadian economy. It would kill thousands of jobs and would cost business owners their livelihood. The total economic cost would be devastating
 
It should be noted that traditional combustible tobacco remains one of the leading preventable causes of death in Canada. The negative health effects of combustible tobacco come from the chemicals produced in the combustion process, not the nicotine. While highly addictive, nicotine is a relatively benign substance like caffeine and nicotine use “does not result in clinically significant short- or long-term harms”.  
 
Nicotine replacement therapies such as nicotine patches and gums have helped smokers quit for decades. In recent years, advancements in technology have created a more effective alternative: vapor products and e-cigarettes. These products deliver nicotine through water vapor, mimicking the habitual nature of smoking while removing the deadly carcinogens that exist in traditional cigarettes.  
 
Vapor products have been proven to be 95% safer than combustible cigarettes and twice as effective at helping smokers quit than traditional nicotine replacement therapies. As such, Vaping has been endorsed by over 30 of the world’s leading public health organizations as safer than smoking and an effective way to help smokers quit. 
 
Further, flavored vaping products are proven to be more effective at helping smokers quit the deadly habit of combustible cigarettes than un-flavored ones. A study from leading researchers on cancer prevention, tobacco control, and public health found that smokers who use sweet-flavored vapor products were 43% more likely to quit smoking than those who used unflavored or tobacco flavored vapor products. Of those who quit smoking, 48% quit nicotine use entirely. 
 
Your own agency has admitted that this proposal will substantially increase cigarette use among adult vapers. Going ahead with the flavor prohibition, knowing it will increase cigarette consumption, is incredibly irresponsible. Long-term combustible tobacco use is deadly, and you have acknowledged that this policy will lead to more smoking, and a result, more deaths. There is, in fact, evidence from Canada that shows this. Nova Scotia enacted a flavor ban in 2020 and cigarette sales increased by 21% within six months. A poll of vapers in Nova Scotia showed that 29% of them were at risk for relapsing to combustible cigarettes. 
 
Flavor bans also increase illicit, black-market activity when a product is banned. This drives down tax revenues from the sale of vaping products and increases the revenues of the multi-million-dollar crime syndicates that smuggle these goods. These same criminal organizations use their profits to fund terrorism while engaging in money laundering and human trafficking. Because of this, the U.S. State Department has determined that tobacco smuggling is a “threat to national security”. 
 
Additionally, banning flavors in e-cigarettes will have a tremendously negative impact on public health and would fail to decrease socioeconomic disparities by reducing access to products proven to help people suffering from mental health issues. A University of Glasgow study showed that e-cigarettes particularly help disadvantaged persons quit smoking and another new study demonstrated that high-strength electronic nicotine products are particularly helpful for smokers with mental health issues quit smoking, like people with schizophrenia who smoke at rates more than three times the national average. 
 
Policy making must be grounded in evidence. Dr. Friedman's study, along with the countless others that demonstrate the importance of e-cigarettes, is further proof that a flavor ban would be a disaster for public health in Canada and lead to increased smoking rates among teenagers. With so many advocates of this proposal claiming that this will combat youth vaping, I urge you to consider what will truly occur if this bill is enacted. The evidence is clear. Youth smoking will increase, fewer adults will have access to lifesaving reduced harm products, and as a result, more people in Canada will die from tobacco-related illnesses. 
 
If you are interested in reading an overview of the study, Americans for Tax Reform published a short summary you can read here. If you would like to read the full study, it can be accessed here.
 
Policy must be enacted on the basis of evidence, not emotion, and the evidence is clear: Flavor bans are a public health disaster. We strongly urge you to not go ahead with this proposal.  
 
Sincerely, 
 
Tim Andrews 
Director of Consumer Issues 
Americans for Tax Reform 
 

A downloadable version of the letter can be accessed here

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