Friday 15 November 2013

A reply to the Irish Heart Foundation

Following the smoking debate in Dublin and my article in the Irish Independent last month, the neo-prohibitionists of the Emerald Isle have been scrambling to show that, despite all the evidence, their tax-and-ban agenda has been a roaring success and definitely isn't responsible for Ireland's endemic black market, oh no.

Last week, the Irish Independent published an op-ed from Chris Macey of the Irish Heart Foundation which was full of ad hominem, inaccuracies and wishful thinking. It required rebuttal, so I wrote a letter to the newspaper on Monday. As far as I can tell, they haven't published it so I will reproduce it here...


In his op-ed (Nov. 7th) defending Ireland's tobacco control strategy and denouncing the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Chris Macey accuses me of offering "no solutions for people wanting to quit". If he had attended our debate at the Royal College of Physicians last month or read my paper (tellingly titled Free Market Solutions in Health), he would know that I endorse low-risk nicotine products such as e-cigarettes. This 'harm reduction' approach is rooted in solid real-world evidence and is espoused by health professionals around the world.

Like Senator John Crown, who spoke at the Dublin event, Mr Macey prefers the Irish government's smoking prevalence estimate of 22 per cent to the EU's estimate of 29 per cent figure. The latter figure comes from the Eurobarometer on behalf of the European Commission and has been adopted by the OECD. It is the only independent and methodologically consistent measure of smoking prevalence in Ireland and Europe. Nevertheless I am accused of "selective use of statistics" for citing it. The same allegation should be levelled at [Irish health minister] James Reilly who said in February of this year, "A Eurobarometer survey showed that 28% of the EU population smoke. The overall prevalence rates for Ireland are more or less similar to the EU average with 29% of Irish adults being current smokers. This is simply not acceptable."

Acceptable or not, it suggests that Macey's preferred regime of "high taxes and tough regulation" has not achieved it stated goal. Whether the true figure is 29 per cent, 22 per cent, or somewhere in between, it is undeniable that countries which have eschewed "tough regulation", such as the USA (19.8 per cent), or have adopted less hazardous nicotine products, such as Sweden (13 per cent), have enjoyed more success with fewer unintended consequences. Mr Macey does not deny that Ireland has the highest tobacco taxes and the biggest black market in tobacco of any Western European country. Anyone who has an elementary understanding of economics would predict the latter following the former.

I am sorry that Mr Macey finds it peculiar that a UK-based think tank would hold an event in another country. If he would like to join us in Maastricht on Saturday for my next overseas debate I will be happy to explain the tenets of economic liberalism and the benefits of personal freedom in person.

Yours faithfully,

Christopher Snowdon
Institute of Economic Affairs


Dr Evil said...

Are 29% of the population idiots? I would give up or convert to e-cigs purely to ensure the gov had less tax from me as I think we are all overtaxed like hell as it is.

Ivan D said...

Macey's piece is sadly typical. He and his self-righteous colleagues seem to be incapable of producing anything that is not littered with trite slogans, non sequiturs and a liberal dollop of bile laden spite. Why would anyone support a "charity" run by such people?