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Tag: European Union

E-cigarettes: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

  • September 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

E-cigarettes: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Vaping, Allowed, E Cig, Vaporizer, Green, Electronic

Source: Pixabay

E-cigarettes have a strong role to play in public health; knee-jerk regulation could derail that progress


This week, US President Donald Trump announced a crackdown on flavoured vaping products such as e-cigarettes, in the light of recent lung conditions that the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have referred to as ‘Vaping-Associated Lung Injury‘. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pains, trouble doing daily activities, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, but not all patients experienced all those symptoms. The mechanism of infection remains unclear, but nearly all of the cases involved patients who used THC [the cannabis component responsible for the ‘high’ effect] in their vaping pens.

As such, the evidence we have appears to point to illicit vapes rather than standard, legal e-cigarettes. Some of them contain a thickening agent used to mislead consumers, vitamin E acetate, which has the potential to be harmful to the lungs. Banning perfectly legitimate flavoured vaping liquids will not resolve issues related to black-market products. On the contrary, it is a knee-jerk response designed to seem proactive.

That runs a serious risk of doing far more damage to public health in the long run. E-cigarettes have the potential to reduce tobacco-related harms. Ordinary cigarettes produce carcinogenic by-products when they burn, but e-cigarettes heat up a liquid containing nicotine to produce an aerosol. It is too early to say what long-term effects they have. They are not risk free, but they are clearly less risky than traditional cigarettes.

It is, therefore, beneficial for public health if smokers turn to vaping, even if they initially continue to use cigarettes in a gradual changeover. Flavours have a role in helping adults make that change. In a study of those using e-cigarettes to reduce or quit smoking, early adopters stated that the first-generation devices they used were less appealing and noted that the flavours gave e-cigarettes an advantage over nicotine patches, gums and sprays.

Harm reduction principles involve accepting that drug use is part of our world. Their main goal is risk mitigation, as opposed to eliminating drug usage.  Applied to e-cigarettes, this means valuing individual wellbeing over ending nicotine addiction. This is how the United Kingdom has chosen to respond to the rise of vaping: by recognising its public health potential.

The Nanny State Index, produced by the EPICENTER think tank network, includes an indicator on e-cigarette regulation at EU level. It is composed of four elements: product bans, taxation, advertising, and vaping bans. The EU’s Tobacco Products Directive has set out some legal requirements surrounding tank sizes, nicotine concentration, purity, packaging, cross-border advertising bans and monitoring and reporting requirements. This means that all Member States score a certain number of points on product regulation and advertising. However, there is substantial disparity between the Member States.

The UK, having chosen a harm reduction strategy, is the least restrictive country in the index. The worst offender is Hungary, which has gone to the opposite extreme: banning advertising, cross-border sales, and including vaping in public smoking bans unless medically prescribed (which is unlikely.) It also bans all e-cigarette flavours other than tobacco.

Proponents of such flavour bans suggest they are designed to prevent a ‘gateway’ effect, in which children and non-smokers take up vaping. The WHO suggested its members should ban fruit, candy, and alcohol flavours until it was proven they were not attractive to minors. Not only does this fail to take into account the potential opportunity cost of failing to incentivise adult smokers to switch, it is also not borne out by the few studies that have been done.

The UK, having the most liberal rules on e-cigarettes in the Nanny State Index, can be used as a case study. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) carried out a survey in 2019, which allowed for comparison between the period before and after UK and EU regulations were introduced. They showed that the vast majority of 11-18 year olds either had not tried or did not know about e-cigarettes. Among those who had never smoked, 93.8% had never tried or were not aware of e-cigarettes. Only 0.1% of them vaped more than once a week.

 

In line with harm reduction principles, regular use was limited to current or ex-smokers. The flavours were a more important factor in trying vaping for current or ex-smokers than for never smokers, and all those groups most commonly tried them to find out what they were like. Of particular note was that this survey included 18 year olds because otherwise there would have been insufficient data for analysis – 90.4% of 11-15 year old respondents had never used or were unaware of e-cigarettes and 1.1% of them used e-cigarettes more than weekly. Other ASH data showed that in 2016, 2.7% of 11-15 year olds smoked more than one cigarette a week.

It is clear, therefore, that the UK’s openness to e-cigarettes has not led to widespread use by children and teenagers. On the contrary, usage numbers seem to align with the theory that it is mostly smokers who take up vaping.

Overall, e-cigarettes have the potential to revolutionise public health across Europe, if the regulatory environment allows for it. Beyond the basic, sensible measures on purity, monitoring, and consumer information that have already been taken, there is no need for additional knee-jerk regulation or taxation at Member State or EU level. To do so would run the risk of pushing smokers back to traditional cigarettes, which are known killers. Where the EU and its members can help is through conducting additional research to debunk myths, learn more about health impacts to help individuals make informed choices, and to develop evidence-based smoking cessation programmes involving e-cigarettes. The European Commission has requested a scientific opinion on these issues, and it should use that research to encourage its members to open themselves up to the full potential of this technological innovation.

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This Is New Africa: EU-Africa relations after Cotonou

  • September 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

This Is New Africa: EU-Africa relations after Cotonou

Source: Pixabay

The EU and Africa have a chance to build a rebalanced, modern partnership of equals if they tackle tough issues together.

Before we start talking about Africa, trade, and development, take a few minutes to go and take this quiz. A quick highlight, if you don’t have the time: in the last 20 years the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has halved.

How did you do? Most people do not do very well. They actually do worse than a computer randomly selecting the answers would (do). That is because us humans come with pre-existing biases, from charity appeals and songs and endless images of people in extreme poverty worldwide. A lot of people assume that extreme poverty is getting worse, when the opposite is happening.

The Africa that the EU is negotiating its future relationship with is not the Africa of Live Aid (which was incredibly patronising even in 1984, and bears no resemblance to the modern-day continent.) It has exceptional growth potential, as well as a young population, and seeks to enact the right policies to ensure that growth leads to jobs for those young people. That’s where the EU-Africa relationship comes in. The renewal of their partnership will provide an opportunity to build a true partnership of equals: one that should aim to consign misconceptions and stereotyping to the past.

Indeed, when the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) – EU Partnership Agreement (more commonly known as ‘Cotonou‘) was signed in 2000, the African Union (AU) was still known as the Organisation of African Unity. Just as Africa’s governance has changed, so has Europe’s, and, naturally, Cotonou has evolved to take into account changes over the last 20 years.
The rise of the AU is something that will specifically have to be considered. The ACP group was developed by its Member States for development and negotiation purposes, primarily with the EU. The pressing question today is whether continuing with centralised negotiations at the ACP-EU level would sideline Africa’s own regional and continental institutions – as well as North African countries, which are in the AU but not the ACP as they fall under the EU Neighbourhood Policy. In turn, centralised negotiations risk reducing regional engagement with and interest in African-EU affairs. The EU must make sure that both the AU and regional groups are treated as important, relevant actors (not just in Africa, but in the Caribbean and Pacific) and that their knowledge and expertise is recognised and valued in the negotiations.

Trade is just one of the areas where African regions are especially relevant. The EU, being a trade power, has used its Generalised Scheme of Preferences classifications as well as trade deals to ensure that the vast majority of African countries benefit from reduced or entirely eliminated tariffs. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU cover different regional groups within the ACP. However, there was little additional benefit to African countries from negotiating these deals where they already had almost complete access to the Single Market. A side-effect of these regional deals has been that groups of African countries have signed up to different trade terms and commitments. As the AU recently ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), it is attempting to move towards a single African market for goods and services, which is made more complex by those divergent trade practices.

 

Think back to the quiz you just did. Poverty worldwide has dropped substantially over the last few decades. One of the reasons for this drop is trade liberalisation. To eradicate persistent extreme poverty, especially in Africa, the World Bank has called on the international community to reduce trade costs, improve the trade environment, tackle specific barriers facing remote, small traders and women, and mitigate the risks that the poor face

 

The Center for Global Development‘s recommendations to the EU identified an issue with EU rules of origin. Countries that manufacture products using components sourced from other African countries find it  difficult to prove they have sufficient domestic content to access reduced tariffs or provisions of a trade agreement, which disincentivises regional value chains. The CGD also maintains that agricultural subsidies undermine development and have little benefit for the environment. A study for the European Parliament Development Committee found that, under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), some targeted support for particular agricultural products distorted markets and there was a lack of coherence between agriculture and climate goals. The CAP goes to the heart of internal EU controversies. In a negotiation between equal partners in which one side is negatively affected by subsidies, however, the two partners will have to be bold enough to tackle it head-on.

Migration is a similarly controversial issue which the two partners will not be able to duck. Most Africans who want to move wish to do so within Africa, although 27% still wish to move to Europe. As countries get richer, migration increases, until they reach the mid-range of upper middle-income status. Out of 54 African countries, 9 currently have World Bank upper-middle income status or above and 23 have lower-middle income status. The potential for increased migration, therefore, is real. African countries have particular security concerns about the risk of youth unemployment: migration both helps mitigate the issue and allows the country of origin to benefit from remittances.

What is in it for the EU? To start with, although limiting migration is often cast as a security measure, if conflicts are exacerbated by unemployment the EU can expect additional migration flows.  Europe suffers from demographic pressures that are the opposite to Africa’s: its population is aging. Legal migration pathways have the potential to benefit both sides, and the Commission cannot sustainably continue with business as usual. Pressure from Africa may be useful in forcing it to act. The expansion of Global Skills Partnerships (GSPs), as highlighted by the CDG report, could be useful both in Africa-to-Africa migration and Africa-to-Europe.  They can be supported by the Commission, but not instigated by it. The Flanders region has already enacted a GSP: it pays for ICT training in Morocco, and some of the workers stay in the local market while others come to Flanders to resolve local labour shortages. That allows for legal, permanent migration opportunities without depriving the local markets of talent. Both sides should find the political will to discuss new migration opportunities, rather than remaining dogmatically focused on migration control and enforcement.
Overall, if the EU truly wishes to have a sibling-like relationship with Africa,  that will involve much more sharing and compromise. A solution on legal migration is of particular interest to Africa and something the EU will have to find the political will for, and the reduction of EU trade barriers would benefit both partners in the long run as Africa continues to grow and do business with Europe. Moving away from a donor-recipient relationship means that the EU will be dealing with a much more organised, powerful and assertive African Union than that of 20 years ago. The post-Cotonou dialogue is a fork in the road. Whether the two continents take the well-travelled route or dare to try something different will determine their intertwined future for decades to come.

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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

  • August 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: the EU and Trade Conditionality

The Amazon case reflects both the potential of the EU’s market power and how inconsistently it is exercised

Source: Pixabay

Most people online have probably seen the photos of the Amazon burning, as they spread rapidly across social media and developed into a hashtag. As with any online movement, it has suffered from its fair share of misleading content but has also pushed world leaders to act. The EU is no exception to this: its painstakingly negotiated trade deal with Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) hangs in the political balance.

 

Emmanuel Macron spotted an opportunity. In threatening to block the deal, he was able to challenge Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who allowed people to set fires without having to worry about being punished. France, alone, would not have the economic weight to enforce environmental norms, but the sheer weight of the EU market gives it a potentially high level of impact. Chad Damro, an academic, described this phenomenon as Market Power Europe. In other words, the vastness of the single market means that access controls, EU regulations, and interest contestation within it naturally have a knock-on effect on other countries and foreign firms. As such, the EU can and does use its market in carrot and stick measures,  and deploys it to encourage its partners to adopt EU policies and norms.

 

The reality follows the theory to an extent, concerning EU action in Latin America. It shapes the environmental agenda through dialogues, development aid, Association Agreements and environmental programmes. Its Association Agreements and Free Trade Agreements with Latin American countries are conditional on upholding certain environmental positions. However, the EU’s influence levels in Latin America are weaker than in its neighbourhood. It is also hard to detach the impact of a specific EU contribution from similar measures by other countries and international organisations. Using its single market as an incentive is often a substitute for deploying sanctions. As described in Ian Manners’ concept of a Normative Power Europe, it is the EU’s different identity (derived from its history and governance) that leads it to seek consensus and convince rather than impose.

 

Shaming and pressure only work if domestic leaders are receptive to such input. The EU has similar mechanisms relating to human rights and trade, including a ‘human rights clause’ as an essential part of trade deals which can result in the suspension of the whole agreement. Such clauses have not yet been invoked, although the EU also has a Generalised System of Preferences+ (GSP+) scheme which provides additional trade benefits on developing countries and is conditional on ratification and implementation of particular international agreements. So far, the EU has inconsistently used withdrawal threats with varying degrees of success: it succeeded in convincing El Salvador to change its constitution to ratify an International Labour Organisation convention, but could not sufficiently pressure Sri Lanka to address rights violations.

 

In Cambodia, which has duty-free access to EU markets under the Everything But Arms scheme, preferential tariffs aimed at increasing land investment inadvertently also incentivised the state to seize land and evict people against their will to facilitate sales to agro-industrial developers. This led the EU to begin to consider preference removal, which is a long process and has no coercive impact in the meantime if the Cambodian government is not receptive. This is relevant to the current situation, as Bolsonaro has made repeated remarks about developing on indigenous land and integrating the people there (who wish to maintain their current system and culture) into mainstream Brazilian society.

Indeed, the European Parliamentary Research Service notes that some suggest the EU has the most power at the stage of negotiations it has currently reached with Mercosur: “when it can still withdraw the conclusion of the agreement unless the other party improves its commitment to human and labour rights.” It, sensibly, reminds us that the Commission has to weigh up all the potential impacts of a trade agreement as to the increased openness, dialogue, and contacts between the parties that come with economic liberalisation have the potential to lead to additional progress. Indeed, civil society can also benefit from the accompanying environmental and human rights dialogues in EU agreements and obtain more opportunities to mobilise for reform at home. Free trade should not be restricted at all: as part of an effective development package, it is a vital tool for reducing poverty, and the slowing growth in global trade puts that at risk.

 

Member States know that, and value domestic economic growth highly on their priority lists. It is worth looking at the experience of the EU-Canada agreement (CETA). The European Parliament fought tooth and nail for human rights conditionality in CETA, against Canada’s wishes. Despite Canada’s traditionally strong human rights record, the European Parliament insisted on the inclusion of a human rights clause in the deal, which the Canadians initially saw as unnecessary. It has not always pushed as strongly for such clauses but chose to operate tactically as a result of growing civil society and public focus on trade deals. Macron has arguably done the same. He spotted an opportunity to fight with a populist leader on an issue which had erupted into the public consciousness, while tactically avoiding confrontation with French farmers (much to the chagrin of other Member States.)

 

Overall, this situation is a microcosm of wider EU trade policy issues. Market Power Europe could have an exceptional amount of leverage with its partners and with global markets. If it was willing to overcome its squeamishness about hard power, it could successfully push other actors to fall in line with its human rights and environmental policy priorities while maintaining its ever-more-vital role as a defender of global free trade and economic openness. It could consistently and successfully spread European economic and human rights norms to its partners, in a beneficial manner for Europeans and the planet as a whole, but instead only uses this vast potential when the stars align to make it politically convenient for a leader or institution to do so.

 

 

 

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Counter-Terrorism: We Need To Talk About The Far-Right

  • August 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Counter-Terrorism: We Need To Talk About The Far-Right

Western countries must start taking the threat from far-right terrorism as seriously as they do that of Islamist terrorism

Source: Pixabay

Defining terrorism is, perhaps surprisingly, complex and fraught with disagreements. We could assume we know terrorism when we see it, and so, it appears clear that the recent gun attacks in New Zealand, the USA, and Norway were terrorist attacks.  The Global Terrorism Database defines a terrorist act as an intentional act or threat of violence by a non-state actor, as well as two out of three of the following criteria: the act aimed to further a political, economic, social or religious goal, there was evidence of intent to coerce, intimidate or spread some other message to an audience beyond the immediate victims, and the act was outside of International Humanitarian Law.

Clearly, the recent attacks fit with this definition. These kinds of attackers have often been classed as ‘lone wolves’: as self-radicalised criminals who do not form part of a wider movement. Classifying them in such a way risks underestimating the threat. For example, in 2017 Europol figures, only 3% of failed, foiled, or successful terrorist attacks are attributed to the extreme right.  It is not the biggest threat to European security: the 2019 edition of the same Europol report confirms that ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism continues to be the most common source of attack attempts. However, the way it is recorded likely underestimates the prevalence of far-right terrorism. In some Western countries, it is easier to prosecute under criminal law than terrorism law – particularly hate crime legislation – and so far-right violence which would otherwise qualify as terrorism is not always reported as such. This can also have the impact of making its victims feel as if they are not taken as seriously as other terror victims.

It is understandable that they could feel that way. Technical measures, such as those used to near-eradicate Daesh propaganda from mainstream social media, have unintended consequences as a result of the limitations of artificial intelligence and machine learning and so need human oversight to correct false positives.

 

There has not been the same action against white nationalist propaganda online – even though the above-mentioned attacks stem from this ideological background. Its use of memes and misdirection alongside extremist rhetoric makes it hard for digital tools to detect, and the similarity of Trump’s rhetoric to that of white supremacists (particularly when discussing migrant ‘invasions’) means that the false positives may affect alt-right media personalities and conservative American politicians.

That, in itself, is a sign of a wider ideological current underlying these attacks. Apportioning direct blame for a particular violent act may be impossible and unwise, but the wider political discourse can and does contribute to radicalisation. It is not limited to the United States, either. The key theory which links these attackers is that of the ‘Great Replacement’, which initially came from a French author and is predominantly discussed online in French. It argues that there is a concerted effort on the part of elites – often linked by the far-right to the common anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that a Jewish elite controls the world – to replace white people through immigration and abortion policies. This often involves a ‘crisis narrative’ in which migration is described as a threat to the very existence of white people. It is an abhorrent theory in itself, but it is that rhetoric in particular which lends itself to radicalisation and terrorist acts in the name of a ‘race war’. In this regard, Islamist and far-right terrorism lend succour to each other.

What, then, can be done about it? Although alt-right activists like to hide behind a free speech defence (and would do so loudly if they became collateral damage of a social network crackdown on white supremacist ideology), there are indeed civil liberties concerns bound up in the use of AI and machine learning in content removal. As the CEO of Cloudflare signalled in his statement about ending their services to 8chan, being the arbiter of social boundaries is an uncomfortable role for technology companies and is also not sufficient to stop radicalisation and terror attacks. That requires the political will to investigate and to combat far-right terrorism with the same vigour as Islamist terrorism, both through law enforcement and through strong opposition to its ideas.

Donald Trump is a particular obstacle in this regard. He is content to permit white supremacists to operate at arms-length as part of his base, and continues to use language that incites racism and violence while failing to effectively tackle the threat with counter-terror policies. Europe fares somewhat better, with raids against a Generation Identity group which took a donation from the Christchurch attacker and the UK’s criminalisation of membership and support of a neo-Nazi group.

 

However, leaders who have deployed far-right rhetoric must consider their responsibilities as public figures. They should be wary of reinforcing theories, such as the ‘Great Replacement’, which have the potential to inspire copycat terrorist attacks. They should also fully participate in the battle of ideas against extremism, making it very clear to their supporters that battles must be won at the ballot box and not with weapons.

 

Countering Violent Extremism policies should not be perceived to focus solely on Islamism but provide for deradicalising people from various ideological backgrounds. Taking far-right terror as seriously as Islamist terror requires difficult discussions about the role of anti-immigration rhetoric in radicalisation pathways. If political expediency is used to maintain the status quo, as Bellingcat’s Robert Evans states,”[t]here will be more killers, more gleeful celebration of body counts[…], and more bloody attempts to beat the last killer’s “high score”.

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