In a watershed moment for the fight for tobacco control, the head of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed sweeping new rules to clamp down on flavored nicotine products and hopefully keep them out of children’s hands. While some public health campaigners have argued that even this crackdown does not go far enough, it’s nevertheless an important step in the right direction. Big Tobacco has reacted with adamant resistance. The FDA will face a huge uphill battle to get its proposals past a stubborn tobacco industry, which has opposed regulation of their products at every turn. Better Late Than Never The new rules, announced by FDA head Scott Gottlieb earlier this month, would ban all menthol and flavored cigarettes in the U.S., as well as severely restrict the availability of flavored e-cigarettes. Gottlieb’s proposals came after FDA statistics revealed that there had been a 48% increase in middle schoolers and a stunning 78% surge in high schoolers who smoked in 2017. One in five American high school students now regularly smoke, a statistic which Gottlieb says “shocks his conscience”. Surveys have indicated that teen smokers are first attracted by flavored tobacco products, which is why Gottlieb is hoping that by sidelining flavored tobacco, he will eliminate a key gateway to the deadly nicotine habit. The current raft of proposals signals that the FDA intends to be more proactive in regulating the industry—the agency did not even have the authority to regulate tobacco until 2009, and has been slow to react to the exponential proliferation of e-cigarettes, even allowing e-cigarette manufacturers until 2022 to demonstrate that their products are “safe alternatives” to conventional cigarettes. The Inevitable Pushback The FDA’s crackdown has been endorsed by public health bodies and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)—since four out of five African American smokers consume menthol cigarettes, they will be particularly affected by the FDA’s clampdown—but the regulator has a long road ahead to enforce the new restrictions. The FDA is undoubtedly bracing for a full-frontal assault from Big Tobacco, which has employed an extensive and imaginative playbook of tactics to circumvent previous attempts to regulate the industry in the U.S. and abroad. Before the FDA took action, San Francisco had already instituted its own ban on flavored products, despite tobacco company R.J. Reynolds spending $12 million on an unsuccessful bid to fight it. However, the tobacco titans don’t just rely on legal battles: new research has shed light on the industry’s less above-board ways to oppose unfavorable regulation. Major industry players have repeatedly worked to water down the effects of taxation hikes, either by initially absorbing the costs themselves and passing them on to the consumer incrementally, or by reducing the number of cigarettes in a packet to disguise the price difference. The industry has also favored price-marked packaging, which forestalls shop owners’ efforts to sell them at a higher price. Big Tobacco’s tricks have been particularly aggressive in the developing world, which the industry sees as a uniquely promising opportunity for growth and expansion. Tobacco companies have tried to combat legislation there by sending threatening letters to at least eight African governments and positioning themselves as key drivers of economic growth. In South America, Philip Morris International (PMI) brought a $25 million claim for damages against Uruguay regarding graphic warnings Montevideo had placed on cigarette packages. Though Uruguay eventually prevailed, it was left with millions in legal fees, and a coalition of health campaigners warned that the case could have had a chilling effect on similar graphic warning initiatives in Paraguay and Costa Rica. Stubbing Out the Opposition With a seemingly unlimited budget and a vested interest in fending off legislation aimed at curbing its activities, it’s clear that Big Tobacco intends to use every trick in the book to keep consumers hooked on nicotine. The tobacco industry has proven itself a venerable foe, making bold moves like the FDA’s recent crackdown all the more crucial. The path forward promises to be a particularly rocky one. But Gottlieb has taken an important first step in championing public health over business interests. Given that he finds himself in an administration that appears to be pulling in the complete opposite direction, his proposals are all the more laudable. Hopefully, he and the FDA will be able to weather the inevitable backlash from his own party and the tobacco industry alike, and introduce crucial reforms in improving the health of Americans. About the author: Samuel Guzman is a policy analyst based in Washington, DC. He has extensive experience in South America, following a 15-year tour of the continent in various research and consulting positions.  

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.