How to Solve the Tobacco Problem
This idea is set out in an eighty-two page Guidebook commissioned by the Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control (FCA for short), written by an outfit modestly calling itself Sovereign Border Solutions.
The latter name reminds me of a company proclaiming it deals with ‘fluid transfer solutions’ instead of saying they sell hosepipes.
Let’s take a further look at Sovereign Border Solutions. Their self-description makes them a splendid candidate for inclusion in the Pseuds’ Corner column of the British satirical magazine, Private Eye:
Sovereign Border Solutions is a boutique consultancy that brings together real-world experience, progressive thinking and proprietary tools and methodologies to deliver tangible results for our clients.
If we remove the pompous unnecessary words, there’s nothing left. Presumably they’re not an unstylish consultancy that brings together unreal-world experience, unprogressive thinking and generic tools and methodologies to deliver intangible results for their clients. This being the case, there’s no need to emphasise the obvious.
Apart from this unpromising start, parts of the Guidebook are so badly written as to be almost incomprehensible. Here’s a sample:
In an effort to best serve its reader and explain a sophisticated mechanism in straightforward terms, this guidebook will be broken up in multiple chapters. This first part will provide a general overview and intends to be a starting point for a longer conversation that is just beginning and, hopefully, provide orientation for Parties to the Protocol implementation process that is now due to begin.
Presumably they’re addressing themselves to more than one reader, and what they’re trying to say is something like this:
The first part of this Guidebook is intended to provide an overview and act as a starting point for discussion.
I should add that it’s not just the anonymous copywriter of Sovereign Border Solutions who is guilty of producing this gobbledegook, but it seems it is co-written by a Dr Hana Ross of the University of Cape Town, who ought to know better.
Now let’s turn to the FTA. We’re told that it
works to rid this world from the devastating health, social, economic, and environmental consequences of tobacco and tobacco use.
Well, bully for them. Note well: they want to rid the world of tobacco. (If the world is rid of tobacco that means there will be no tobacco around for anyone to use, so the last three words are redundant.) But why, then, as declared at the top of the first page, does the FTA have a protocol only to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products? Or is it their plan, when they have eliminated trade in illicit tobacco products, they will then concentrate their minds on eliminating the licit trade in tobacco products as well?
All right, Dr Symonds, that’s enough nit-picking. Let’s get down to brass tacks.
This Guidebook, then, focusses on the illicit tobacco trade, that is, cigarettes that smokers might obtain without paying duty on them. So if people wish to smoke and run the risk of killing themselves in the process, they’ve jolly well got to pay their governments tax for the privilege.
This idea is explained as follows:
Illicit tobacco makes cigarettes cheaper, or more accessible, resulting in more people smoking, which in turn has negative health consequences and associated higher healthcare costs.
Thus, if illicit cigarettes were eliminated, then only more expensive and less accessible ones would be available, so there would be fewer negative health consequences and associated lower healthcare costs. Splendid!
The illicit trade in tobacco has implications for tax policy: not only does it deprive governments of tax revenues; it also undermines the public health role of tobacco taxation aimed at curbing smoking. (My emphasis.)
So the public health role of tobacco taxation is to curb, that is, reduce, smoking—not eliminate it.
To put it another way, if the illicit trade was stamped out and only lily-white law-abiding smokers remain, then governments would have more money to spend on persuading people not to buy cigarettes in the first place. But if they were to succeed in this, their tobacco tax income would disappear!
Governments are as much hooked on tobacco tax revenue as smokers are on cigarettes.
Text © Gabriel Symonds