Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Governments Addicted to Tobacco Money

   Mounting evidence shows that governments need radical new thinking to stop the contraband cigarette industry. The latest evidence comes from New York City where the city health department reports that the number of adult smokers has risen to 16.1 per cent from 14 per cent in the last three years. That is the highest percentage since 2007.
   Taxes on a pack of cigarettes in New York City now total close to $7. The price for a legal pack of cigarettes in the city is $10.50 to $12. Contraband packs cost about $5.
A new U.S. Tax Foundation study shows that 57 per cent of cigarettes smoked in the State of New York are contraband.
   The studies join stacks of others illustrating how contraband cigarette trafficking, one of the world’s most extensive and profitable industries, continues to foil extensive efforts to reduce smoking rates.
   Governments and anti-smoking groups refuse to accept that the most effective weapon against contraband tobacco is lowering tobacco taxes. They say that lower tobacco taxes encourage smoking. Perhaps, but no one has tested the question of whether taxes can be lowered to reduce contraband while at the same time instituting programs that will help ensure a continuing decline in smoking.
   Governments won’t reduce tobacco taxes because they are addicted to the revenue. In the U.S., federal and state taxes on tobacco bring in $35.3 billion a year. In Canada, the annual tax take is roughly $7 billion, not including sales taxes on tobacco.
   Contraband tobacco not only encourages smoking but the futile law enforcement fight against it costs huge amounts of money.
   New York City is just a recent example of the folly of high tobacco taxes. Contraband tobacco is in your neighbourhood, making it cheaper for people to smoke while building new criminal organizations. Governments need to try new approaches but addiction to the taxes and the constant shouting of narrowly focussed anti-smoking groups ties them to the same old thinking.
   More on contraband and the history of tobacco can be found in Smoke Signals: The Native Takeback of North America's Tobacco Industry. (Dundurn Press)

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Anthropocene — the Human Age

So much to read. So much to absorb, but so little time. Never in human history has there been so much information and so little time to consume it. For those who won’t have time to get into the new book, The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, here are some snippets of fascinating information. They are taken from the New York Times book review of The Human Age by Rob Nixon, author of Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.

1.    Concentrated body heat from 250,000 daily commuters is being harvested at Stockholm’s Central Station to warm a 13-storey office building nearby. 
2.    Incessant texting prompts a child’s brain map of the thumbs to expand.
3.    Studies of young people in Shanghai and Seoul reveal that 95 percent are near-sighted. This epidemic might be caused by the shift from children playing outside to indoors, hunched over screens.  
4.    Fruit flies share 70 percent of human disease genes, including those associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s
5.    Reintroduction of mammoths to Siberia is envisioned by some de-extinction proponents.

That’s interesting fuzzy stuff. Here are some icy bits to suck on:

1.    The net worth of the world’s 85 wealthiest individuals in 2013 equalled that of our planet’s 3.5 billion poorest people.
2.    Ninety corporations, primarily oil and coal companies, have generated two-thirds of humanity’s CO2 emissions since 1751.

And, a chilling comment that Nixon makes in his review:

“A technology’s emergence is no guarantee that its benefits will trickle down to humanity at large. When men attacked two teenage girls and hanged them from mango trees in India this May, the atrocity drew attention to the fact that the women had to defecate in the forest at night. Two and a half billion humans still lack access to a rudimentary latrine, a venerable technology developed over 3,000 years ago.”

The book is:

The World Shaped by Us
By Diane Ackerman
344 pp. W. W. Norton & Company. $27.95.