Friday, 21 November 2014

Prohibitionists forced to retreat

The anti-smokers of Westminster, Massachusetts had to demand prohibition before the townspeople finally realised that they were dealing with prohibitionists, but when the penny finally dropped it was bedlam.

Firestorm erupts in anti-smoking US town

The fury – and make no mistake, it is white-hot fury – went way beyond the ordinary wrath of offended citizenry. A plan to ban the sale of tobacco has ignited a call to arms in Westminister, Massachusetts.

The outrage is aimed at a proposal by the local Board of Health that could make Westminster the first town in the United States where no one could buy cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco.

The uproar stems not from a desire by town residents to smoke: only 17 per cent do (a smidge higher than the statewide average). Many say they have never touched tobacco and find the habit disgusting. Rather, they perceive the ban as a frontal assault on their individual liberties.

...As shoppers come and go, they feed one another's fury.

"They're just taking away everyday freedoms, little by little," said Nate Johnson, 32, an egg farmer who also works in a car body shop.

"This isn't about tobacco, it's about control," he said.

"It's un-American," said Rick Sparrow, 48, a house painter.

Nearly 500 people packed a hearing at a local elementary school held by the three members of the Board of Health. Passions ran high, and the hearing became so unruly that the board chairwoman could not maintain order and shut down the hearing 20 minutes after it began.

The crowd started singing God Bless America in protest as the board members left under police protection. Angry residents circulated petitions demanding a recall election for the board members.
The crowd listened, but once the hearing was opened for public comment, people began to hoot and holler.

"You people make me sick,” one man growled at the board as the audience cheered.

Wayne R. Walker, a town selectman, said that the selectmen had voted unanimously to oppose the ban. “I detest smoking and tobacco in all its forms,” he told the health board, but such a “unilateral and radical approach” as banning all sales would “create a significant economic hardship.”

A resident named Kevin West said that smoking was “one of the most disgusting habits anybody could possibly do,” but added: “I find this proposal to be even more of a disgusting thing.” The shouts after his statement prompted Ms. Crete, who had issued several warnings, to declare the hearing over.

I love it when 'public health' meets the public.

Opponents of the ban blame "outside groups" that want to make the town a test case, conjecturing that because it is so small, no one would care.

By Jove, they've sussed it out. That is exactly what's been going on. As Walter Olson explains, 'grass roots' tobacco control in Massachusetts has long been driven by government sock puppet groups (sound familiar?). Why else would a tiny town of 7,400 people have its own Tobacco Control Officer?

In other words, an extra reason for the townspeople of Westminster to be angry is that they have been paying to lobby themselves. And it’s worth knowing exactly how the game plan works, because similar ones have been rolled out to localities in various states not only on “tobacco control” but on “food policy,” environmental bans and other topics. Grass roots? If so, most carefully cultivated in high places.

Alas, for prohibitionists testing the water, Americans are not yet ready for the 'endgame', the 'tobacco free generation', 'abolition' or any of their other euphemisms and so a hasty retreat has been beaten.

Westminster drops proposal to ban tobacco sales

The local board of health on Wednesday abruptly dropped a controversial proposal to ban all tobacco sales in this small central Massachusetts town, one week after hundreds of angry residents forced a public hearing on the plan to come to raucous close.

Opponents had said the proposed ban, which would have been the first of its kind in the state, was a sign of excessive government interference in private life. Some also expressed concern that a ban would harm the local economy. Board member Edward J. Simoncini Jr. made it clear the reaction had affected his vote.

“It’s no longer under consideration -- thank you, you made the difference,” Simoncini said after a brief meeting Wednesday in which the three-member board, without opening the question to the public, voted 2-1 to kill the proposal.

The audience of about 40 offered muted round of applause.

“It is obvious the town is against it and therefore I am against it,” Simoncini said. Board member Peter M. Munro also voted to withdraw the proposal. He made no public comment.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The cost of obesity again (already)

From the Telegraph:

Cost of obesity 'greater than war, violence and terrorism'

Obesity is a greater burden on the UK's economy than armed violence, war and terrorism, costing the country nearly £47 billion a year, a report has found.

... The report found the economic impact from smoking in the UK was £57 billion in 2012, or 3.6% of GDP, while the country suffered a £43 billion annual loss from armed violence, war and terrorism or 2.5% of GDP.

The report in question - by McKinsey and Company -  doesn't go into much detail about how these astronomically high figures were arrived at, but they do admit that 70 per cent of the cost is due to lost productivity and that 71% of that is due to premature mortality. This is, at best, an opportunity cost for individuals. It does not represent a bill that has to be paid by anybody, least of all the government which typically makes savings from the lower healthcare costs of people who smoke or are obese.

You might as well say that early retirement or refusing to work at the weekend - or, for that matter, not having children - incurs a cost on society. Furthermore, their cost of each life year rises in line with GDP thereby putting a higher value on the life of people in rich countries than in poor countries and making it a mathematical certainty that costs will rise as societies get wealthier.

The authors are aware that they're on thin ice:

Some critics may argue that lost productivity should not be included, as it does not generate a direct cost. 

That's right, it doesn't - unlike the war, violence and terrorism that you directly compare it to.

However, we believe that, while not a direct cost to society, it should be included because it has a negative economic impact.

Weasel words. How much of a negative impact does it have and who picks up the tab? Alas, they give no answer to this question.

Monetising lost years of life and then collectivising them as if they belonged to society is one of the public health lobby's more ingenious methods to make it appear that personal behaviour - such as getting fat, which is none of the government's business - should be a matter of public policy. It's a bluff and McKinsey and Company's report isn't actually a cost study at all. It's a policy paper about reducing obesity which happens to contain a few unexplained tables with big numbers on it. They were shrewd enough to realise that they would get blanket news coverage if they came up with a Trojan number. This is a phenomenon I have previously termed 'bullshit inflation'. It doesn't matter how the figures are arrived at so long as it produces a scary number that is bigger than the last scary number.

The authors do mention that their cost figures relate to the 'social burden' rather than a monetary cost but, as discussed yesterday, there is no chance of the media picking up the subtle (read: enormous) difference between a social cost to individuals and a financial cost to the taxpayer.

There's a lollipop for the first person to find a politician claiming that obesity costs the taxpayer £47 billion a year and two lollipops if you find someone claiming that smoking and obesity costs the NHS £104 billion (ie. virtually the entire NHS budget). It will happen.

By the way, the favoured policy of McKinsey and Company is something they call 'portion control'. A natural successor to gun control and tobacco control?



Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Wages of French Sin Taxes

If you wanted to mislead without actually lying you could do worse than create a list of ‘social costs’ and present them to the media as the price paid by society for any given activity. No matter how explicitly you state that your study only looks at costs - not benefits or savings - and no matter how clearly you state that many of your costs are paid by individual consumers - not by the government - you can be sure that politicians and journalists will assume that you are talking about net costs to the taxpayer.

I have written at length about the various claims about smoking, drinking and obesity ‘costing’ the UK and US governments eye-watering sums of money. Upon closer inspection, the underlying figures invariably show that the bulk of these multi-billion dollar ‘costs to society’ are dominated by direct costs to the consumer, such as lost productivity and forgone income, but neglect to offset the costs with benefits, such as the heavy taxes paid by consumers. They are squeamish about the cold fact that premature mortality often results in significant savings to the government (by reducing pension payments and elderly healthcare, for example). In short, they are a one-sided assessment of a balance sheet, focusing on the debit side without acknowledging the credit side, and they treat costs to individual consumers as costs to society.

There is nothing technically wrong with compiling a list of costs that excludes savings, benefits and consumer surpluses. Nor is there anything wrong with including private costs to individuals as part of a ‘cost to society’ estimate. The authors of such studies usually make it plain that this is what they are doing. The problem is that very few people will ever read the study. They will only hear that alcohol, for example, ‘costs society’ $100 billion a year and assume that this is a direct cost to the state that should be paid for by drinkers. The conclusion is obvious: alcohol duty should be increased until it can raise $100 billion a year. Obvious, but wrong.

This confusion is not confined to English-speaking countries. Last month, a group of French MPs claimed, contrary to all evidence, that taxes on tobacco do not cover the costs of smoking and even a peer-reviewed journal has published the insupportable assertion that ‘France spends €47 billion a year treating smoking-related illnesses’. Both claims are based on a misreading of a 2006 study by Fenoglio et al. which estimated that the ‘social cost’ of tobacco was €47 billion, the ‘social cost’ of alcohol was €37 billion and the ‘social cost’ of drugs was €2.8 billion.

The Fenoglio study was based on data from 2000 when smoking prevalence was higher than it is today, but that is the least of the problems with using it as a guide to tobacco’s cost to the government in 2014. The €47 billion grand total is dominated by an €18 billion sum for healthcare and another €18 billion sum for lost productivity. The €18 billion cited in this study is much higher than the £2.7 billion (€3 billion) that smoking is said to cost the British healthcare system, but it is true that there are significant costs incurred by smoking-related diseases on publicly funded healthcare systems. The question is whether smokers require more healthcare - or more expensive healthcare - than nonsmokers.

This question has been repeatedly answered in the academic literature over the last thirty years. Van Baal et al. (2008) found that the lifetime healthcare costs of smokers were 21 per cent lower than those of nonsmokers. Similar conclusions have been drawn in many other studies from around the world, most recently by Kampen et al. who confirmed that ‘Elimination of diseases that reduce life expectancy considerably increase lifetime health care costs.’ This is true of smoking-related and obesity-related diseases, although there is much less evidence about alcohol-related diseases.

Clearly, there are many reasons why governments would want to reduce the prevalence of disease, but saving money is not one of them. It may be true that the treatment of smoking-related diseases costs France €18 billion, but the evidence strongly suggests that healthcare costs would be even higher in the absence of smoking. Smoking cannot, therefore, be said to create an excess cost that requires a Pigouvian tax.

The €18 billion cost of lost productivity would also not feature in a calculation of net costs to government. In the case of premature (working age) mortality, the government loses a taxpayer who was paying into the communal pot, but also loses someone who was taking from the communal pot. There is, on average, neither a net gain nor a net loss.

In terms of absenteeism or sub-standard work (as a result of alcohol or drug use), there is a cost to employers, but it is a cost that is ultimately paid by the employee. As Crampton et al. note:

‘Employer and employee are bound by a contractual nexus; the worker’s reduced productivity is internal to his relationship with his employer. A less productive employee is less likely to receive future promotions and salary increases; he bears the burden of his reduced productivity. Firms that fail to detect worker productivity and promote workers beyond their worth will eventually go under.’

Since wages are closely linked to productivity, the cost of lost productivity is already dealt with by normal economic mechanisms without the need for Pigouvian taxes which would, in any case, go to the government rather than the employer.

It could be argued that lost productivity incurs a cost on government by lowering wages and therefore lowering income tax. The logical extension of this argument is that if citizens do not work as hard as they can for the longest possible hours, they are a burden on the state. This is a morally dubious claim, but even if it were true the cost of lost productivity would be a tiny fraction of the figures cited in the Fenoglio study (€18 billion for tobacco, €16 billion for alcohol and €812 million for drugs).

The other major cost of tobacco and alcohol in Fenoglio et al., which makes up €8 billion and €7 billion respectively, is ‘loss of consumer revenues’. The authors provide no explanation of what this consists of but it seems that most of it is incurred by the users of the product and therefore cannot be an externality. Other costs cited, including ‘insurance spending’, ‘private associations’ and ‘other private costs’, are obviously private costs which are not paid by the government and, in most cases, are paid by the consumer of the product.

The study also includes substantial figures under ‘loss of tax’ (€3.7 billion for tobacco, €3.5 billion for alcohol). It is unclear what this refers to, but it is wrong to count lost tax without balancing the ledger with received tax. Tax revenues from alcohol and tobacco (but not, of course, from drugs) are very substantial. France receives €14 billion in tobacco duty and €3 billion in alcohol duty. Tobacco duty certainly exceeds any reasonable estimate of the net costs to the government from smoking and it is possible that alcohol duty does likewise.

This leaves only a small number of costs to the state. €1.78 million is cited as the cost of smoking-related fires, but most of these take place in the smoker's own home and are therefore private, internal costs. The external cost of smoking-related fires to the state is confined to the cost of publicly funded fire services. A further €87 million for alcohol and €740 million for drugs is listed as costs of administration. Although these figures are not explained in the text, they may involve the public sector and could therefore be considered worthy of Pigouvian taxation.

€2.8 million is listed as the cost of tobacco prevention. This could be interpreted as a legitimate cost of smoking, but could equally be seen as a cost of anti-smoking policy.  Similarly, the cost of enforcing drug laws is given as €145 million. The authors note that this is higher than the cost of enforcing alcohol laws (€56 million) and it could be argued that these higher costs are a consequence of drugs being illegal, rather than drugs being consumed. Regardless of whether these costs are seen as genuine costs of tobacco and drug use, they remain a very small part of the overall cost estimates.

It summary, many of the costs listed in the Fenoglio study are not externalities incurred on government by the users of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Some of the costs, such as healthcare, are genuine costs to public services, but they disappear once savings, benefits and existing Pigouvian taxes are accounted for.

To be clear, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the way the authors have conducted their research. They explicitly state that they are studying gross costs, not net costs, and they make it plain that they are including costs to smokers/drinkers/drug users as costs to society. The problem lies with the way the study has been interpreted. Politicians and journalists routinely confuse ‘gross societal costs’ with ‘net costs to the taxpayer’. Whilst their confusion is understandable, it cannot be said too often that there are vast differences between the two.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

CAMRA's "historic victory"

The Campaign for Real Ale is celebrating this evening after persuading lots of Lib Dem and Labour MPs to vote for an effective end to the beer tie. This will mean that large PubCos such as Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns will have to allow their tenants to buy their beer on the open market instead of at their own inflated rates.

Three cheers for that, right? Sticking it to the man and allowing the free market to reign!

Actually, no. The reason PubCo tenants pay more for their beer is that they have signed up - contractually and voluntarily, in a free market - to a business model that is essentially a franchise.

On the one hand, they get the benefits of the PubCo's economies of scale (bulk insurance, fixtures, fittings, televisions, glassware and so on) and, generally speaking, a lower rent. This gives people a low cost entry into the pub trade without needing to acquire the capital with which to buy the pub outright.

On the other hand, they have to buy their alcohol from the PubCo at a higher price than is available on the market. This is known as the 'wet rent' and together with the dry rent (the property rental), it makes up the slice that the PubCo takes from the business. The tenant keeps the rest. The idea is that if a pub is selling lots of beer, both parties share in the prosperity. If the pub is doing badly, both parties suffer and the PubCo has an incentive to help out (unlike the average landlord who just wants his rent).

A lot of people don't like the PubCos and I'm not particularly keen on them either. CAMRA really hates them, but it is partly thanks to their suicidally counter-productive pressure group that they exist, as one of their members explained in 2005:

Roger Protz, beer writer and leading light in the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), grins sheepishly when I ask what happened next. "Basically, we were naive," he says. "The Beer Orders said the big brewers couldn't own more than 2,000 pubs, and we thought, 'They'll be happy with that.' But they weren't happy, because they weren't prepared to open up their pubs to other brewers' beers." Instead of selling some pubs and keeping the rest, the big brewers created something new - pub companies - to which they sold all their pubs. And because they didn't brew beer themselves, these companies, known as PubCos, were exempt from the legislation.

This is not the only example of CAMRA shooting themselves in the foot. They were "naive" again in 2007 when they confidently predicted that there would be an "invasion" of millions of people flocking to Britain's pubs as a result of the smoking ban, including 840,000 people who didn't currently go to pubs at all. As we now know, what actually happened is that 10,000 pubs closed down in the biggest wipe out in the history of the British pub trade.

Not to be deterred by their inglorious track record, CAMRA have recently been using some highly dodgy figures to pretend that PubCo pubs are closing at a faster rate than independent pubs in an effort to get legislation to shatter the PubCo model. They have now succeeded.

CAMRA's hapless members believe that the new legislation giving tenants the legal right to source their beer from wherever they like will make publicans rush out and order casks of foaming real ale, thereby finally winning a battle in their forty year war against kegged lager. In fact, it is vastly more likely that tenants will buy big sellers like Fosters and Smiths, thereby leaving the PubCos needing to find revenue elsewhere.

What will the PubCos do to balance the books once they have lost their 'wet rent'? The obvious step is to jack up property rents, but - in another statist move - the government is setting up an agency to adjudicate on rental disputes. Put simply, the government will decide whether a PubCo is charging a "fair" rent, ie. a rent that is not higher than that of an equivalent pub in the independent sector.

How this will work in practice, God knows. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has tried to warn the halfwits of Westminster about the "unintended consequences of requiring transactions involving lettings, to be based on a valuation, as opposed to market supply and demand interaction." An adjudicator will have no way of knowing what a "fair" rent would be anyway because no two publicans are the same, no two pubs are the same, and he wouldn't be able to see the accounts of the other pub even if they were.

Either the adjudicator will agree with the PubCo that the rent should be higher, in which case the tenant will face much the same costs as before, or he will decide that the PubCo isn't allowed to charge enough to make it worth their while, in which case the PubCo will throw in the towel and sell the pub.

If the PubCo decides to sell, the best case scenario for drinkers is that the pub is bought by an independent publican who keeps it as a going concern. This, however, requires aspiring publicans to have sufficient capital because the government has just destroyed the only low cost method of entry into the business.

If no publicans can afford to buy the pub, it is likely to be sold off to developers and turned into a shop or a private dwelling, as has been happened on a large scale since 2007.

PubCos currently own 19,000 pubs in the UK. Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns, in particular, are in enormous debt. What do you think they are going to do with their property portfolio now that the government has torn up their contracts and destroyed their business model?

Did your party vote for the smoking ban? Yes? Then sit down.

The Framework Convention for Food Control

Good to see that the slippery slope remains a figment of fevered libertarian imaginations...

Tobacco-style regulation needed on 'unhealthy' foods

The usual suspects have written a letter to the World Health Organisation demanding a global treaty on food. They want the marketing, production and composition of food to be regulated by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in government agencies - which is convenient since the people who wrote the letter happen to work for government agencies or their sock puppets.

Needless to say:

This could be modelled on the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control which has already proved successful in reducing tobacco use.

If the FCTC is the model, it can only be a matter of time before our dietary decisions are made for us in a closed room in Moscow from which journalists and the public have been expelled. 'Big Food' will naturally be prohibited from participating in the proceedings.

The authors of the letter say:

The governance of food production and distribution cannot be left to economic interests alone. 

Because the state has such a great track record of governing food production when economic interests have been excluded.

To achieve the necessary dietary improvements and to secure good population health, a set of policy options for healthy diets are required. This includes governments taking regulatory approaches to the operation of the market through, for example, restrictions on marketing to children, health claims, compositional limits on the saturated fat, added sugar and sodium content of food, removal of artificial trans fats, interpretative front-of-pack labelling, restaurant calorie labelling, fiscal measures and financial incentives, and public health impact assessments in trade and investment policies.

We used to use the term "food police" as a light-hearted insult. These fanatics want to make it literal. "Compositional limits on the saturated fat, added sugar and sodium content of food" means nothing less than the government banning entire recipes. "Fiscal measures" means fat, sugar and soda taxes.

The letter was signed by the likes of Mike "creative epidemiology" Daube, Barry "fruit juice is the new smoking" Popkin, Mike "Joan of Arc" Rayner, Simon "sugar is the new tobacco" Capewell and, of course, Simon "thin end of the wedge" Chapman.

These madmen must be stopped.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Two fingers

Like Dick Puddlecote and Twigolet, I popped into the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on November 4th to find out if the 'war on tobacco' can be won. They have both written excellent accounts of the meeting so I won't repeat what they've said. Suffice to say that the graph below - created and displayed by one of the speakers - gives a fair indication of how from reality these people are operating.

Graphs are usually used to illustrate evidence. Not this one. Firstly, the relationship shown between moral and financial rewards is completely made up. There is no reason to assume that morally rewarding actions cannot be financially rewarding and vice versa. On the contrary, it is easy to think of actions that are both moral and profitable (eg. creating a job, inventing a life-saving product) and it is easy to think of actions that are immoral and financially unrewarding (eg. preaching hate on the streets, punching a stranger).

The basis of the graph is, then, nonsense to begin with, but it is taken into the realms of super-nonsense by placing 'public health' at the point at which financial rewards are zero and moral rewards are maximised. As Chris Oakley has shown, 'public health professionals' are fantastically well paid. If they are not in the 1%, they are certainly in the 2%. Even a relative minnow like ASH's Deborah Arnott is in the £80-90,000 pay bracket.

As I wrote in Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, the anti-smoking lobby's portrayal of themselves as a David fighting Goliath is a politically useful fiction that helps to divert attention from the fact that it is really a battle between powerful, state-funded agencies and ordinary people who don't have much of a voice but happen to enjoy smoking. It becomes less convincing with every passing year and every passing grant cheque.

What really struck me about the 'war on tobacco' event was that those involved in the public health racket really seem to believe their own propaganda. To say that they are preoccupied with the tobacco industry would understate the degree of obsession. They seem to genuinely believe that if it was not for the sneaky machinations of 'Big Tobacco', nobody would ever start smoking. The fact that people were smoking for centuries before Big Tobacco came into being (or, in the case of the Americas, for millennia before any industry came into being) does not seem to register.

One revealing exchange took place when an audience member brought up the issue of prohibition (yes, they are now discussing it openly) and one of the speakers expressed scepticism that it would work. To illustrate his point, he mentioned that the smoking age was raised from 16 to 18 some years ago and yet 'the tobacco industry still manages to get young people to start smoking'. I am paraphrasing here because I didn't take notes, but his point was not that young people can still access tobacco products, but that the industry somehow makes them do so.

How exactly does that work? For many years, public healthists portrayed advertising as the means by which the tobacco industry lured young people into the smoking habit, but that was banned fifteen years ago. At the moment, I suppose some anti-smoking campaigners would blame packaging, but - aside from this being laughable - even they do not claim that plain packaging will have a major impact on youth smoking rates. How, then, do they explain teen smoking in Australia (which seems to be on the rise)? Telepathy? Hypnotism? The evil eye?

This month, a bunch of state-funded pressure groups plus Cancer Research UK (whose CEO earns £210,000, incidentally) has launched a campaign encouraging young people to 'stick two fingers up to tobacco'. When they say 'tobacco', they mean the tobacco industry and when they say 'young', they don't mean the chiiiiiiiiildren. The age at which people start to smoke has been rising for years and so it is necessary for 'public health' to move the goalposts...

94% of smokers have started before the age of 25

25?! Most of the things people do, they started doing before the age of 25. To be frank, I'm surprised it's only 94%. So what?

Internationally, the tobacco industry makes around £30 billion in profit which is more than Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Microsoft combined

Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Microsoft are individual companies whereas the tobacco industry is an, er, industry, so the comparison doesn't hold, but it gives you an idea of the kind of people this campaign is hoping to attract. People like Teresa Goncalves, for example, who write things like this:

Over the past few years, a lot of people my age (26) and younger have been active in opposing social injustices. We’ve stood up to the government on tuition fees. We’ve reserved our right to protest on the streets. We’ve helped expose the immoral practices of big businesses through groups like UK Uncut.

Power to the people of Tooting! Russell Brand for PM!

Our message is clear – we aren’t naïve and we aren’t about to be fooled. We’re the generation of Facebook, Twitter, iEverything – we’re connected and we’re ready to go live. 


Next on the list of villainous, morally bankrupt trades, is the tobacco industry. CRUK wants to empower young people to stand up to them and say ‘no’!

How will this empowerment come about? Perhaps with a fun, motivational group? Not this time. This time, you take a selfie flicking the Vs and put it on Twitter with an obscure and little used hashtag. Viva la revolution!

“Fee-fi-fo-fum” growl the giants – they don’t want profits to drop and they’ll grind our bones to make their bread.

Yes folks, this is the standard of discourse that the plain packaging campaign - for that is what it is - has sunk to. "Fee-fi-fo-fum", bovine anti-capitalism and waving two fingers around (not unlike the soda tax campaigns in California). I dread to think how many sponsored marathons were run for CR-UK to waste money on this tripe.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Meanwhile, at the World Trade Organisation...

Things are gradually moving forward at the World Trade Organisation with regards to the plain packaging dispute...

The Dominican Republic applauded the recent preliminary ruling (WT/DS441/19) by a World Trade Organization Panel in the country's efforts to challenge Australia's plain packaging law for tobacco products. In its ruling, the Panel rejected all of Australia's procedural objections to the Dominican Republic's claims.

This dispute is being coordinated by Dr. Katrina Naut, the Dominican Republic's Director General of Foreign Trade in her capacity as a national expert, together with Luis Manuel Piantini, the country's ambassador to the WTO.

To this end, both the Ambassador and Dr. Naut have stated that the Dominican Republic has now taken the important step of filing its first written submission in the dispute, using comprehensive analysis of data from the marketplace. They have noted that, nearly two years since Australia's plain packaging measures took effect, the measures have failed to contribute to reducing smoking in Australia. Instead, the measures are threatening the position of the Dominican Republic's tobacco brands, and also the local industries that manufacture these products.

... In addition to the Dominican Republic, four other countries – Cuba, Honduras, Indonesia and Ukraine – are challenging Australia's plain packaging measures under the WTO's dispute settlement system. A record number of other countries (36) are taking part in the WTO disputes as third parties as Australia's measures threaten the way that branding has been used for hundreds of years to help consumers choose their preferred brands. The dispute could have an impact on the way that a wide range of consumer goods is sold in markets throughout the world.

Indeed it could. And that is why many industries will be crossing their fingers and hoping that the WTO supports free trade and intellectual property over the egos of a few Australian extremists.