Tuesday, 23 August 2016

In the end bans usually make things worse - the case of cigarettes

The problem with banning things is that it seldom stops them. Even when you take the sort of extreme and violent steps we've seen recently in The Philipines. Yet politicians, policy-makers and their friends in academia still champion bans - de facto or de jure.

One of those bans - although it doesn't look like one because no-one's passed a law with the word 'ban' in it anywhere except Bhutan - is that of tobacco. This is a ban by stealth implemented by steadily raising the price of fags to the point where more and more people can't afford to buy them. Or at least this is the theory.

The problem is that the bigger the gap between the cost of production and the post-tax retail price, the bigger the incentive for people to (illegally) arbitrage that gap. Why take the risk smuggling heroin or cocaine when you can smuggle tobacco! Check out your local paper and you'll see a steady stream of stories about illegal cigarettes (interspersed with stories about cannabis factories). With each increase in tobacco duty, we see an increase in criminal activity around tobacco.

And this is where it ends up - with violence:

The BAT manager was stabbed and bashed by at least three men, after he refused their order that he get into a car. The kidnappers arrived at the man's Sydney home at around 10pm on Saturday June 4.

A source said the manager was forced to "fight for his life" to ward off the kidnappers, who have not been identified. He was rushed to hospital after the attack.

The attack appears to be an unprecedented escalation in the struggle between policing agencies and the syndicates driving the illicit tobacco trade. Evidence suggests the attack was linked to BAT's support of police inquiries.

The manager in question was employed (by that source of all evil, a tobacco company) to support the police in investigating smuggling and illegal tobacco. Why? Quite simply because it's a billion dollar plus criminal business.

Right now, our one-eyed approach to smoking is creating a new international criminal business smuggling cigarettes and tobacco. In the UK, trading standards departments are advised that tobacco companies are the bad boys:

Tobacco companies continue to approach local authorities and local Trading Standards teams in particular with offers to support their tobacco control strategies primarily around tackling illicit tobacco but also in relation to other areas of enforcement including age of sale regulations. Local Authorities are recommended to examine such offers critically in the light of Article 5.3 and its guidelines and only engage in any collaborative work with the industry where this is considered strictly necessary.

That's right folks - the Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Partnership (essentially a bunch of trading standards officers) thinks it just fine to refuse to work with tobacco companies - businesses selling a legal product - in catching criminals.

So what we have is a new and lucrative business for organised criminals created entirely by policies designed to promote public health. And, rather than recognise the problem, public health and its agents refuse to co-operate with the tobacco companies in reducing the criminal impact of their (public health that is) policies.

Now I call this stupid.


Lisboeta said...

I rather like the acronym that suggests itself: TITs for Better Health.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing seeing a sign in 'The Gents' on motorways reading "Buying smuggled cigarettes helps Organised Crime," or words to that effect. Prompting the response: 'And buying taxed cigarettes helps Disorganised Crime; i.e. the State!"