Cohen and Nocera

In “Iran and American Jews” Mr. Cohen says Netanyahu makes another unsubtle pitch for Congress to undermine Obama.  Netanyahu is as subtle as a rubber crutch…  Mr. Nocera has found someone else to carry water for — the e-cig gang.  In “Lowering a Tobacco Tax to Save Lives” he babbles that we should learn from the Swedes’ approach to nicotine.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Earlier this month, Roland Moskowitz, a Cleveland physician, and Sandra Lippy, a retired health care executive of Boca Raton, Fla., got on the line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. As two people who have been active in major Jewish organizations, they were among thousands of American Jews invited to watch a webcast whose message was: oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

Moskowitz and Lippy listened as Netanyahu claimed the deal would give Iran “hundreds of bombs tomorrow”; turn any terrorist group backed by Iran into a “terrorist superpower”; allow Iran to “have its yellowcake and eat it, too”; cause a nuclear arms race in the Middle East; provide Iran with billions of dollars; and pave Iran’s path to a bomb.

The Israeli prime minister was contemptuous of the view, expressed by President Obama, that those who oppose the deal favor war, calling it “not just false, but outrageous.” Netanyahu insisted, against all evidence, that he rejects the deal “because I want to prevent war.”

Lippy was not impressed. She thought all the doomsday lines were tired. She’s not about to get on the phone to her representative to press for Congress to condemn the deal and then gather enough votes to override Obama’s inevitable veto of the resolution. That’s what Netanyahu wants to achieve, the deal’s demise, using American Jews as a vehicle.

“It’s not a great deal, but it’s enough of a deal to postpone the nuclear situation and maybe give us time to work things out,” Lippy told me. “While they’re being sharply reduced in their nuclear capacity, we can sit down again over the next several years and talk about the Holocaust, Israel and human rights, and that is why I go along with it.”

She’s right. A merit of this deal is that it would condemn the United States and Iran to a relationship — hostile, but still a framework for airing differences and doing business — over the next 15 years. Most young Iranians no more believe in “Death to America” than they believe the Hidden Imam is going to show up tomorrow.

Moskowitz was left feeling uneasy. On balance, not worrying enough for the United States to walk away. Nor does he want the family strife that would arise if he sided with his fears. His wife, Peta Moskowitz, is a firm supporter of the deal and a member of J Street, the largest Jewish organization to back Obama’s Iran diplomacy. These strains are not unusual. Within families and across the American Jewish community, discussion of the Iran deal is fiery.

A few things must be said. Netanyahu’s performance was of a piece with his habit of intervening in American politics, evident at the time of the last presidential election, when his preference for Mitt Romney was clear. His relations with Obama are bad. He tries to circumvent Obama, often in clumsy ways, further undermining the relationship. It’s enough to imagine Obama calling thousands of Israelis to encourage them to oppose a piece of sensitive legislation in the Knesset to gauge how inappropriate Netanyahu’s behavior is.

The Netanyahu webcast was co-sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (an umbrella organization so resistant to the age-old fertile cacophony of Jewish opinion that it rejected J Street’s application for membership last year) and the Jewish Federations of North America.

Several leading Jewish groups — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League — have come out against the Iran deal. This is unsurprising; they tend to move in lock step with Israel. But it’s troubling because it’s unclear how representative of American Jews as a whole these organizations are.

Some polls have suggested a majority of Jews favor the Iran deal; certainly the community is divided. It’s no service to Jews, or Israel or Middle Eastern peace, for major Jewish organizations to be unreflective of this wide diversity of opinion within American Jewry — or for them to give airtime to Netanyahu on Iran rather than Obama.

The alternative to this deal, as Obama said, is war. Why? Because sanctions on Iran will fall apart as Russia and China conclude the United States is not serious about a compromise with Tehran that increases the distance between Iran and a bomb, ring-fences its nuclear program, and subjects it to intense international inspection. Centrifuges, slashed in number by America’s diplomacy, will increase again, as will Iran’s uranium stockpile. The war drumbeat will resume. Folly will loom.

Rather than listen to Netanyahu, American Jews should listen to the longest-serving Jewish member of the House, Sander M. Levin, who supports the agreement because it is “the best way to achieve” the goal of preventing Iran from advancing toward a nuclear weapon, so making the Middle East and Israel “far more secure.” They should note that five Jewish senators have come out in favor.

In the real world, this is the best achievable deal for America and the ally, Israel, it would never forsake.

Now here’s Gunga Din Mr. Cohen:

A smokeless tobacco product called snus, which a user puts between his gums and his upper lip, has a long history in Sweden. At the start of the last century, it was the most common way Swedes ingested nicotine. By the early 1950s, however, sales of snus had been overtaken by cigarettes, a trend that continued for two decades.

But in time, snus made a comeback, while cigarette use steadily declined. As of 2012, only 13 percent of adult Swedes smoked, less than half the European Union rate. Meanwhile, 19 to 21 percent of Swedish males use snus, which is now more prevalent than cigarettes. (Swedish women, for some reason, stuck with smokes.)

The result? Even though tobacco use in Sweden is comparable to its use in the rest of Europe, Sweden’s preference for snus means that it “has Europe’s lowest tobacco-attributable mortality among men,” according to a paper in the latest issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. Indeed,a 2012 study by the World Health Organization found that tobacco caused 152 deaths per 100,000 men in Sweden, versus 467 deaths per 100,000 men in Europe.

It’s hard to know exactly what caused snus to regain its popularity. There was no explicit government policy promoting it. David Sweanor, one of the authors of the paper, told me that Sweden’s predominant tobacco company took it upon itself to market snus once the dangers of cigarettes had become irrefutable. (That company, Swedish Match, sells mainly snus today.) But another likely reason was a huge price differential between cigarettes and snus; at one point a pack of the former was taxed so heavily that it cost twice as much as a can of snus.

Sweanor, a tobacco policy expert at the University of Ottawa, and his co-authors, Kenneth Warner, a University of Michigan economist specializing in public health, and Frank J. Chaloupka, an economist focused on public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, would label snus a “harm reduction” product. Although it contains tobacco and allows users to get their fix of addictive nicotine, snus poses far less risk than cigarettes, as the statistics amply show.

All three men are big believers in the virtue of harm reduction policies to reduce the illness and death caused by cigarettes. Thus the point of their paper: The tax policies that worked in Sweden — raise taxes on the killer product while lowering them on the harm reduction product — should be applied today to electronic cigarettes and other noncombustible nicotine delivery systems.

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I think this is a terrific idea. Because it contains tobacco, snus has traces of nitrosamines, a cancer-causing agent found in tobacco. Electronic cigarettes, by contrast, contain no tobacco at all. Instead, they vaporize nicotine, which gets to the user’s brain far quicker than, say, a nicotine patch, thus more closely replicating the nicotine hit delivered by a cigarette.

As Warner pointed out to me, nobody can say for sure how much safer e-cigarettes are because the products haven’t been around long enough for long-term studies. But it is plain as day that they are far less risky than cigarettes. Countries use tax policy all the time to affect behavior. Using tax policy to move people from cigarettes to e-cigarettes would, to be blunt, save lives. The e-cigarette has the potential to be the greatest tobacco cessation device ever invented.

Yet, as the authors note, because most of the tobacco-control community believes that “all tobacco products are seriously deleterious to health, conventional wisdom … has long been that all products should be taxed similarly.” Indeed, the World Health Organization has described “comparable” taxation on all tobacco products as a “best practice for tobacco taxation.”

As irrational as this is, it is easy to understand where it stems from. Health claims about e-cigarettes remind anti-tobacco activists of the days when Big Tobacco marketed low-tar cigarettes as a “healthier” smoking choice. E-cigarettes come in many flavors, which could appeal to kids. Their marketing aims to make e-cigarettes look cool — just like Big Tobacco once did. Despite a complete lack of proof, the tobacco-control community fears that young people who use e-cigarettes will eventually gravitate to combustible cigarettes.

Which is all the more reason the authors’ tax idea deserves consideration: It puts the emphasis on moving smokers to e-cigarettes, which is where it should be. “Studies have … shown that changes in the relative price of tobacco products lead some tobacco users to switch to less expensive products,” the authors write. A big tax differential is a way to take advantage of the lower risk of e-cigarettes without ever having to acknowledge it.

Not that I expect rationality to take hold any time soon. After all, you know how the European Union reacted to the Swedish snus experience, don’t you?

It banned snus.

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One Response to “Cohen and Nocera”

  1. F. E. Says:

    Anecdotally, for me the e-cig is much healthier and much less expensive. I am an ex-smoker of many years, user of e-digs for about four years. I’m glad he wrote on the subject.

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