Here are some highlights from my reading for the week.

  1. Jacob Grier, “It’s Not a Cigarette. It’s Not a Vape. And It’s Big in Japan,” Reason, January 9, 2024.

Grier is one of my favorite authors on tobacco. It’s not because I like tobacco; I dislike it intensely.


The first time I saw an IQOS, the innovative tobacco product on which Philip Morris International is betting billions of dollars to replace cigarettes, was at a wedding in 2016. A friend had excitedly pulled me outside to try this new device that had enabled him to finally kick his smoking habit. Not quite a cigarette because it didn’t ignite, not quite a vape because it used actual tobacco, supposedly less toxic than conventional cigarettes but satisfying enough to compete with them, it seemed that this heated tobacco might be the future of nicotine.

Neither the device nor the specially treated tobacco was yet available in the U.S., so my friend sourced his supply via discreet shipments from a connection in Europe. Seven years later, despite its availability in more than 60 other countries, the technology is still on hold in the United States. First regulation by the Food and Drug Administration slowed its arrival, then the rollout of IQOS was cut short by a patent dispute with R. J. Reynolds that culminated in a ban on imports.

2. Severin Borenstein, “Our Carbon Footprint,” Energy Institute Blog, January 8, 2024.

A numerate analysis by one of the leading economists who worries way more than I do about carbon footprints.


This year, I did some calculations about our household’s GHG footprint. I got to thinking about the subject while writing a paper on “energy hogs”, which I discussed in two blog posts in August. After analyzing our utility bills, odometer readings, and air travel, what I found made me rethink the best steps to reduce our contributions to climate change. (I considered using one of the many online carbon calculators, but they are so opaque and embed so many simplifying assumptions that I decided to do some calculations myself.)

3. Elizabeth Nolan Brown, “The Big Flaws In That Study Suggesting That China Manipulates TikTok Topics,” Reason, January 8, 2024.


Take, for instance, the finding that there were vastly more Instagram hashtags related to Tibet or the Dalai Lama than there were on TikTok (37.7 on Instagram for every one on TikTok). The NCRI reads this as evidence that TikTok hid posts related to these subjects. But Instagram had seven additional years to rack up posts related to Tibet. And those were years in which Western interest in Tibet was generally higher than in more recent years. (“A quick peek at Google trends data show that public discourse about Tibet in the US has been in a general decline throughout the 2000s and 2010s, albeit punctuated by exponential spikes…in April 2008 and December 2016,” noted Matzko.) It’s only natural that there would be many more Tibet-related posts on Instagram than on the more recently-launched TikTok.

4. Romina Boccia and Dominik Lett, “Curbing Federal Emergency Spending,” Policy Analysis No. 966, Cato Institute, January 9, 2024

Amazing excerpt:

Congress has designated $12 trillion in spending for emergencies over the past 30 years. Poorly designed emergency spending rules allow Congress to routinely designate non‐​emergency line items as emergencies, increasing wasteful and excessive spending. High deficits, an escalating federal debt, and the insolvency of major entitlement programs mean that Congress is facing several budgetary challenges that will only grow in importance. It’s time for Congress to rein in emergency spending and its abuse.

This paper provides the first comprehensive estimates of emergency spending, with data going back to 1992. According to our estimates, Congress designated 8 percent of federal budget authority as emergency spending during that time. Emergency spending is roughly equal to the amount that Congress has spent on Medicaid and veterans’ programs combined.

5. Gary Leff, “Exposed: The Fierce Battle Over Cockpit Privacy–Unveiling Pilot Union Resistance to Key Safety Reforms,” View From the Wing,” January 8, 2024.


Last January an American Airlines crew headed to London taxied on the wrong runway as a Delta 737 began its take off roll. This was nearly a disaster of epic proportions, as the American jet crossed right in front of Delta, and the Delta plane hit the brakes.

The Delta flight stopped less than 1000 feet from where it would have intersected with American’s plane. The transatlantic 777 didn’t follow air traffic control instructions.

The incident wasn’t immediately reported to the airline. The pilots decided to continue flying to London, despite being almost certainly shaken by what had (almost) happened. And we’ll never really know what was going on in the cockpit, because the pilots continued flying and the voice recording was written over. In fact there is speculation that the pilots decided to continue to London so that the recording of what happened would be written over.

Leff goes on to examine ways that the pilots’ union represents special interest lobbying as concern for public safety.