Friday 20 May 2011

The Portuguese experience

From the International Harm Reduction Conference, this short video offers a succinct case for drug liberalisation. Portugal decriminalised drugs ten years ago and according to many people, this has successfully reduced both drug consumption and, more importantly, drug-related harm. (This, of course, has been contested).

The speaker is Joao Goulao, president of the Portuguese Drug Institute.


nisakiman said...

The comments on the cps link are more interesting than the original article. I found one comment particularly chilling:

"We don't need laws to prevent US from using drugs. We need them to prevent OTHERS from indulging in irresponsible addictive behaviour...

Unfortunately, this is the mindset we are up against.

Mark Wadsworth said...


How did I know from the post title that this is exactly what you'd be writing? And how did I know that the CPS, as intellectual wing of the Daily Mail would inspire the sort of crap which Nisakiman highlights?

Angry Exile said...

Apologies, CS, because this is off topic. I looked for a contact link or email for you but if it's there I'm afraid I missed it.

In The Age today there's an article suggesting the anti-smoking brigade may succeed in getting tobacco completely outlawed in Australia. 10-15 years, one of them hopes. There's a suggestion that licensing along the lines of the gambling nannies' pre-committment gambling smartcards may be an interim step. But what caught my attention was this bit:

"About 17 per cent of Australians smoke, and a ban would cost the government about $6 billion a year in lost revenue. This would be offset by health savings, as the annual smoking-related medical burden tops $31 billion."

That's interesting because I've never before heard that smokers cost five times as much as they produce in tax, and to be frank it sounds a bit suspect - doubly so since the writer, health reporter Jill Stark (profile), hasn't given a source for it. Every other time I've seen a cost estimate, even one produced by the most zealous section of the anti-smoke lobby, it's been much less than the tax revenue. Now suddenly revenue is five billion, which is about half what I've previously heard, and costs - just medical costs, not pulled-out-of-our-arses extra socio-economic costs - are over thirty. I'm sure the rank and file antis will be frothing away over this, and I don't doubt that that's the idea, but does anyone seriously believe that if those figures were even half accurate cigarettes wouldn't already be taxed at least twice as heavily as they are already?

I'm sure it's bullshit propaganda and I'd try to find out more so I could call bullshit properly, but unfortunately I have a project to crack on with this week and a paying customer waiting. CS, if you've the time to look into I can't think of anyone better I know of to deconstruct this claim. If not then perhaps one of your other regular readers could tackle it?

Christopher Snowdon said...

Mr Exile,

The study responsible for that figure comes from 2004. It accepts that:

"Tobacco tax revenue in 2004/05 exceeded tobacco-attributable costs borne by the public
sector by over $3.5 billion. Of this surplus $2.7 billion accrued to the Commonwealth and around $800 million to state governments." (p. 72)

It gets a much higher figure by including estimates for lost productivity both at work and at home. That adds up to $8 billion (p. 64). Aside from the obvious problem of coming up with a suitable cash equivalent for domestic work, all lost productivity figures are questionable because they rely on an assumption that an individual is capable of a set amount of work in a lifetime and that he/she has a DUTY to fulfill that quota, otherwise they are somehow COSTING society money. I don't see how that can be legitimately be called a cost any more than people who retire early or refuse to work on Sundays is a 'cost'.

Still more dubious is the remaining £19.5 billion which is made up of 'intangible' costs (p. 65). This relies on the entirely arbitrary valuation of a life at £2 million, or a loss of one year's living of $53,267. This kind of psychological evaluation is practically meaningless and has no place in economics. You might as well say that the value of life is priceless and, therefore, the costs of smoking (or alcohol, or drugs) is infinite.$File/mono64.pdf

James Higham said...

The issue is not legalization or not - it's the values of the parents which then passes onto the kids.