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Scotland’s minimum alcohol pricing will help criminals and make life worse for problem drinkers

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Scotland’s minimum alcohol pricing

Earlier this week, Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce a minimum price for alcohol. After a lengthy legal battle with the drinks industry, the Scottish government on Tuesday made it illegal for any alcoholic beverage to be sold for less than 50p per unit. As a result, Scottish drinkers now find themselves having to fork out a minimum of £4.50 ($6) for a bottle of wine, a similar amount for a four-pack of continental-strength lager, or at least £14 for a bottle of standard whisky. For most, these prices will not sound too extortionate. In fact, only those who can barely afford the very cheapest forms of alcohol are going to be hit by the new pricing floor. After its introduction, anybody looking to vail themselves of a three-litre bottle of cider with an alcoholic content of 7.5% will need to part with £11.25, which is a considerable increase on the £3.50 they would have paid before the new rules came into force.  As a result, only the very poorest of drinkers are going to be affected by the price hike.

In many cases, anybody who pays £3.50 for a large bottle of strong cider will not be doing so to savour the flavour of the drink. It will also be highly unlikely they only indulge in a couple of glasses at the end of a long day at the office. Almost exclusively, the price increase is going to impact the types of products that are purchased by problem drinkers and alcoholics, who in most instances will now be more interested in finding ways in which they can continue to afford their current levels of alcohol consumption rather than cutting down their intake. While the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield estimates that the new pricing model will save 60 lives after its first year, fears have been raised that increasing the cost of alcohol in Scotland could have a number of unintended, if not unforeseen, consequences.

It is likely that problem drinkers and alcoholics in Scotland will now simply look for new ways to get the money they need to fund their habits, or seek out alternative ways to achieve the oblivion they crave. While the former option might result in them turning in greater numbers to petty crime, experts have warned that making cheap alcohol prohibitively expensive for low-income drinkers could persuade some to experiment with former so-called legal highs such as Spice. Speaking with the UK’s Daily Telegraph earlier this week, Director of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs said heavy drinkers could replace low-price booze with new psychoactive substances, which have devastated vulnerable communities such as the homeless across the UK. As well as exposing already vulnerable people to substances that are considerably more dangerous than alcohol, making previously cheap booze all but unaffordable for certain sections of society creates an opportunity for the organised crime gangs that now sell new psychoactive substances in Britain since they were outlawed last year.

On top of potentially encouraging drug use, the new minimum pricing in Scotland will also almost certainly result in a new cross-border smuggling market emerging. Just as Norwegians attempt to avoid the high levels of duty they are forced to pay on alcohol at home by driving to Sweden to stock up on drinks, Scots will inevitably look to make regular trips over to England to get round the new law. But while many of those who smuggle alcohol across the Norway/Sweden border do so to get hold of cheaper booze for personal use, organised criminal gangs could look to take advantage of the fact that it is only the very cheapest forms of alcohol that are being targeted in Scotland. Some may look to import these types of drinks in bulk, and sell them on to the vulnerable people who consume them. Other criminal organisations might seek to produce counterfeit versions of these drinks, posing an even greater risk to the health of heavy drinkers.

Targeting low-income drinkers in this way is as pointless as it is regressive. Aside from the fact that a recent UK government survey suggested high earners are more likely to be regular drinkers than those further down the income scale, hiking the price of products such as alcohol and tobacco has routinely been shown to result in an increase in illicit trade. New York, which levies the highest level of cigarette taxation in the US, was last year named as America’s capital of illicit tobacco in a report from Washington DC-based think tank the Tax Foundation. Customs officers in Australia have seen a spike in the seizure of smuggled and counterfeit tobacco after the country’s government repeatedly increased cigarette taxes. Scotland’s minimum alcohol price law is lazy policy making, which allows the government to look as though it is doing something while actually doing very little at all. If Scotland’s politicians were serious about reducing the harm caused by alcohol abuse, they would invest more money in treatment, counselling and public information campaigns rather than putting the most vulnerable drinkers at greater risk.

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Crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system to con buyers into purchasing bogus and dangerous items

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crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system

Buyers on eBay are being duped into purchasing substandard and counterfeit products due to a flaw in the online auction platform’s seller feedback system, according to an investigation conducted by UK consumer group Which?

The watchdog found that dishonest vendors can take advantage of these flaws by linking positive reviews of genuine products manufactured by companies such as Apple and Samsung to fake and low-quality items.

Which? found that crooked sellers are able to link thousands of positive reviews to eBay listings they have nothing to do with.

The organisation discovered that real reviews can be associated with fake products that are potentially dangerous, such as counterfeit mobile phone chargers that can pose a fire risk.

Sellers are able to do this by using “product IDs” associated with genuine items when adding their products to eBay, subsequently benefitting from the positive reviews those items have attracted.

The system is intended to make the process of listing products on eBay quicker and easier by allowing sellers to pull information from similar items that have a linked product ID.

As part of its investigation, Which? purchased 20 bogus Apple and Samsung accessories such as chargers and USB cables that were supposed to be official and shared the same reviews as products manufactured by the two technology firms

Calling for online ecommerce platforms to be held accountable for flaws in their seller feedback systems that allow dishonest vendors to pull the wool over buyers’ eyes, Head of Home Products and Services at Which? Natalie Hitchins said: “Our investigation has uncovered yet another example of online reviews being manipulated to mislead people.

“eBay’s product review system is confusing for consumers and could even direct them towards counterfeit or dangerous products sold by unscrupulous sellers.

“Online reviews influence billions of pounds of consumer spending each year.

“The [UK Competition and Markets Authority] must now investigate how fake and misleading reviews are duping online shoppers, taking the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle the problem.”

Responding to the findings of Which?’s investigation eBay said in a statement: “The research does not fully consider that there are distinctions between product reviews (which provide buyers with a holistic review of the same product), and seller feedback (which can be used to see specific reviews of a seller’s performance and may reflect the item’s condition).”

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that US politicians had called on lawmakers to hold ecommerce companies such as eBay and Amazon to account if they fail to prevent third-party vendors selling counterfeit or substandard products on their platforms.

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Major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang broken up by coalition of European law enforcement agencies

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major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang

A Romanian human trafficking and prostitution network that used the “lover boy” method to entrap young women before forcing them into sex work has been broken up a coalition of European law enforcement agencies.

The lover boy method, also known as the “Romeo pimp” method, involves young men seducing victims with the objective of coercing them into prostitution.

Lover boy traffickers groom their victims to believe they have entered into a serious romantic relationship before using emotional, psychological and sometimes physical abuse to intimidate them into working in the sex services industry.

Investigators from Spain, Romania, the Czech Republic and several other European nations were involved in the operation that resulted in the dismantling of the gang, which is said to have groomed and exploited at least 10 young women by forcing them to work as prostitutes.

The operation resulted in the arrest of 14 people in Romania and Spain, the safeguarding of 10 trafficking victims, and the confiscation of a number of items, including a quantity of cash, jewellery, expensive vehicles and several electronic devices.

In total, the agencies taking part in the effort raided 16 properties in the Czech Republic, Romania and Spain.

Having groomed their victims, Romanian members of the network would develop manipulative dependent relationships with the young women they targeted before forcing them into sex work.

Once under the traffickers’ control, victims would be abused and drugged before being sold onto other members of the network for as much as €6,000 ($6,632) each.

The women would then be moved between locations and countries on a regular basis as part of the gang’s efforts to avoid the attention of police.

Profits made by the network were laundered through the purchase of property, expensive jewellery and high-value cars.

Ongoing investigations into the network’s activities are focussed on the theory that it was working in cooperation with another gang.

Enquires have already resulted in the identification of more than 40 additional women who fell victim to the two criminal organisations.

In a statement, Europol said: “Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, provided coordination support and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to give leads to investigators.

“Europol conducted a financial analysis based on the information provided which highlighted the extension of the criminal activity of the group and the presence and flow of illicit profits to other jurisdictions.”

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Taking cocaine will not cure people struck down with the coronavirus, French government warns public

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taking cocaine will not cure people infected with coronavirus

Authorities in France have been forced to inform the public that taking cocaine will not cure people infected with the coronavirus.

Taking to Twitter on Sunday, the French Ministry for Solidarity and Health told its followers that cocaine is not only ineffective when it comes to fighting the coronavirus, but is also a highly addictive drug that can cause serious harm to users’ health.

The government department was seeking to counter fake news circulating on social media that taking the drug could cure or prevent the virus, including doctored news stories that appeared to confirm the drug’s effectiveness at fighting the disease.

The ministry’s Twitter post included a link to a government information page that provided further guidance on disinformation circulating about the coronavirus outbreak.

As well as encouraging those worried about the coronavirus to start taking cocaine, online trolls have also suggested that bleach can also help fight the disease.

In a post on Twitter that has attracted many thousands of engagements, @Jordan_Sather_ told his followers: “Would you look at that. Not only is chlorine dioxide (aka ‘MMS’) an effective cancer cell killer, it can wipe out coronavirus too.

“No wonder YouTube has been censoring basically every single video where I discuss it over the last year.”

In August of 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about that dangers of consuming bleach, noting: “Drinking any… chlorine dioxide products can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.”

As well as warning about cocaine’s inability to fight the coronavirus, the French government has also told members of the public that spraying bleach or alcohol on their bodies will not neutralise viruses they have already been infected with.

Elsewhere, US Vodka maker Tito’s Homemade was last week forced to urge people not to make DIY hand sanitiser out of its products.

Responding to one of its customers who said they had done just that, the company said on Twitter: “Per the CDC [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention], hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC. Please see attached for more information.”

For its part, the World Health Organisation, which today officially categorised the coronavirus as a pandemic, has published a webpage dispelling misinformation about the disease, noting that the virus cannot be killed of avoided by taking a hot bath or using hand dryers.

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