E-cigs: man talks sense

Dave Dorn of VapourTrails TV – an e-cigarette user and enthusiast – explains e-cigs and goes through some commonly held misconceptions. Continue reading “E-cigs: man talks sense”

Reduce harm or protect the cigarette industry? Briefing to MEPs for European Parliament public hearing

European Parliament: heading for an own goal?

On Monday 25th February 2013, the European Parliament committee that is scrutinising the proposed EU Tobacco Products Directive holds a public hearing, and take evidence from invited witnesses. The committee is the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (known as ENVI).  This post provides links to the hearing details and my tobacco harm reduction briefing sent to all ENVI committee members in advance of the hearing. The committee needs to take the harm reduction agenda seriously – if they get it wrong, they will harm health and protect the cigarette industry. 

Continue reading “Reduce harm or protect the cigarette industry? Briefing to MEPs for European Parliament public hearing”

Heads you win, tails I lose – the City explained

Imagine your job is taking huge gambles with other people’s savings and pensions. Imagine also that the bets are arranged so that you are paid a fortune when things turn out well, but you don’t lose anything much when they go wrong. How would you behave…?

I think you might rapidly develop a hog’s appetite for wild risk taking. And that is, in essence, what is wrong about the financial markets – the incentives of individual traders and managers are not aligned with the interests of those whose money they manage. Continue reading “Heads you win, tails I lose – the City explained”

Emissions trading – notes on a scandal

Another day, another broadside against carbon emissions trading. The FT’s Martin Wolf offers advice to the new Chancellor, including:

While simplifying tax, he should also take a close look at green taxation. Simple taxes that apply across-the-board are what is needed. The grant of valuable rights to big polluters through systems known as “cap-and-trade” is a scandal. [here]

This is an increasing theme, with even American giants like Alan Greenspan and Paul Volker coming out against cap ‘n’ trade and in favour of a carbon tax [see article]. I have to say I’m ever more swayed by this view, see my posting To Cap or to Tax.

But is the EU system ‘a scandal’, as Martin Wolf says? Continue reading “Emissions trading – notes on a scandal”

England goes smoke-free – wider lessons

Long awaited 1st of July arrives, and most enclosed workplaces (including pubs and restaurants) in England will go smoke-free today [BBC]. It’s a triumph for all involved – both campaigners and government insiders – following a sustained struggle. It’s also a vital next step in dragging down smoking rates – see chart based on ONS and Tobacco Advisory Council data care of Cancer Research UK, [XLS]. Still at about 25%, that’s a huge number of people using an addictive product that kills one in two long term users – and does a lot of damage before death.

The ban on smoking in public places has always been justified around protecting non-smoking workers, for which there is the strongest civil liberties and legal basis, but its biggest public health benefit will come from ‘denormalising’ smoking – removing the societal support for smoking as a normal activity and role-modelling effects – and raising the cost of smoking in terms of time and hassle. The effect should be an acceleration in quitting and fewer starting. There are many wider lessons that can be drawn from this measure. Continue reading “England goes smoke-free – wider lessons”

Mass killing machine making lots of money

Hopes that Big Tobacco might be in retreat are looking pretty forlorn. I came across BAT’s share price data showing a huge gain over the last seven years, including a sharp and sustained rise following agreement of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – an attempt by 146 governments (so far) to establish a common approach to regulating this industry and pushing a public health agenda. The FCTC text cover advertising, product labelling, smuggling, smoke-free environments, taxation and so on – much more useful information at the Framework Convention Alliance. Continue reading “Mass killing machine making lots of money”

Atrocity exhibition

There is something stunning in the brilliance of Google Earth [download] – a streaming map of the world in the form of satellite photography with the mean to zoom from planet to street level in scale. ‘Layers’ are overlaid on the map images showing an ever expanding range of surface features: national boundaries, roads, video stores, government offices, monuments – with 3D buildings, flights through the Grand Canyon etc. Each year the images increase in resolution and the coverage of higher resolution photography increases.

But potentially interesting political uses are also emerging: take the pictured map of conflict in Darfur… Continue reading “Atrocity exhibition”

Food miles… wrong idea, stop using it!

I do occasionally enjoy an early morning BLT sandwich at Paddington station en route to the Bristol head office of my employer – a small comfort before what inevitably lies ahead. But imagine my horror to be informed that the humble bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich may have 31,000 “food miles” embodied in it (and much more besides) – see Ecologist article here. Horreur!

This is one of the more nonsense applications of the concept of food miles – for example, it turns out that 5,961 of these ecologically destructive miles were accounted for by the yeast that would be used to make the bread…! Presumably a single freight container of yeast shipped by sea would keep the UK in bread for months and have minimal environmental impact. This is a bit of a weakness in the food miles concept, isn’t it…? Especially when applied to specific products that may have only tiny quantities of ingredients shipped many miles. Many of the international food miles are done in bulk by container ships that have very low economic and environmental costs per kilogram-kilometre of freight movement.

What’s the real story…? Continue reading “Food miles… wrong idea, stop using it!”

Diamonds – curse or charm?

Saw Blood Diamond – an action-movie-with-a-message, though laced with clichés (mercenary with a heart of gold, pouting female journalist as searcher after truth, silly shoot-outs etc). But also brutal depiction of what the very dirty end of the diamond business looks like – militarised slave-labour , child soldiers, violent abuse like amputations and, of course, an illegal trade funding arms and militias fuelling conflict that reaches up to the comfortable cities of London, Antwerp, Jo’burg and New York. The film had a good airing for the excellent Global Witness and Amnesty diamond campaigns, and their joint venture Blood Diamond Action.

Despite the horrors of the film, conflict diamonds are one aspect of Africa’s habitual miseries where things are getting better and there may even be cause for optimism… Continue reading “Diamonds – curse or charm?”

Climate change? What climate change? Brown addresses the CBI…

What does Gordon Brown really feel about climate change and the Stern review? Right at the moment of the Stern launch, the Chancellor weighed in with what I felt was a kind of relief mixed with complacency, an assertion that, fundamentally, not much needs to change: “the world does not need to choose between averting climate change and promoting growth and development” [see Stern review speech].

But to be fair, he did announce that his entire economic framework was to have a new third strand: “[Stern’s] report confirms that if in the 20th century our national economic ambitions were the twin objectives of achieving stable economic growth and full employment, now, in the 21st century our new objectives will be threefold: growth, full employment and environmental care”.

You could be forgiven for expecting to see some development of the major new idea: Continue reading “Climate change? What climate change? Brown addresses the CBI…”