Brian Lee Crowley

Is abstinence or harm reduction the right tobacco policy?

On 18 Oct 2017 I had an op-ed in the Sun newspaper chain arguing that technolgical innovation has rendered tobacco abstinence the wrong policy if we want to reduce the harms caused by tobacco use.  Since the scientific evidence is eloquent that most tobacco-related harm is caused by combustion, not tobacco per se, the emerging technologies that allow people to use tobacco at greatly reduced risk are likely to produce better health outcomes than an abstinence policy honoured more in the breach than in the observance.


Innovation-obsessed Ottawa tackling a problem that doesn’t exist

In the lead-up to the federal budget, Ottawa was desperately signalling its commitment to fostering innovation in Canada. As the bard might have said, indeed did say, how weary, stale, flat and unprofitable. As I remind people in my Globe column for the ROB, there is nothing magic or special about innovation as an economic activity. Like all such activities, we make ourselves better off when we specialise in those we do well and let others do the same. In areas where we possess comparative advantage, we innovate just fine. In the others, why this mania to innovate at home as opposed to just doing what everybody else does: free ride on their innovations? After all we are one of the world’s wealthiest economies and the obsession with our “poor” innovation performance has for decades gone hand in glove with rising prosperity.

What Uber and health care teach us about innovation

You might be of the view that Uber and Canadian health care have nothing in common. How wrong you would be!

They are both classic instances of how governments’ rhetorical support for “innovation” is belied by their shameless kowtowing to vested interests who are threatened by disruptive innovations. Here is a little foretaste of the argument:

In Canadian health care, which may soon represent nearly a fifth of the economy, innovation must go cap in hand and beg to be allowed to help patients. And in doing so it will be opposed by those in the system whose power and livelihood might be threatened, just like those taxi owners fighting Uber.

This is inevitable in a system where the amount of money available is determined in advance through government budgets. Every innovation accepted is a charge against a fixed pie, meaning established interests may be damaged to accommodate the innovation. And it is those established interests who are the system’s gatekeepers.

It is as if Henry Ford, in his drive to bring the automobile within reach of the average person, had to get his assembly line ideas approved by a government committee composed of buggy makers, stable operators, horse breeders and hay growers.

The full piece was published in the Economy Lab feature of the Globe’s Report on Business on 13th May 2016.

Brian Lee Crowley
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