Looking at the EU’s ban of two tattoo pigments as a good example for the silly and anti-scientific legislation the lawmakers in Brussels sometimes fall prey to. The EU desperately needs to fix idiotic behaviour like this if it doesn’t want anti-EU voices to sway the public against the European Project as a whole.

And now for something completely different on The Private Citizen. In this episode, I examine how stupid EU regulations can get. We have a perfect example of this right now with regulations banning certain colours in tattoo inks. As US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, famously said: Fuck the EU!

Please excuse this episode being released a day late. I’ve been really busy with writing, including working on my novel for NaNoWriMo. I’ll make sure it won’t become a habit!

This podcast was recorded with a live audience on my Twitch channel. Details on the time of future recordings can usually be found on my personal website. Recordings of these streams get saved to a YouTube playlist for easy watching on demand after the fact.

How Not to Regulate Something

The EU has decided to ban “thousands of hazardous chemicals found in tattoo inks and permanent make-up” under its REACH regulation.

The restriction covers, for example: chemicals that cause cancer or genetic mutations and chemicals that are toxic to reproduction as well as skin sensitisers and irritants. The aim is not to ban tattooing but to make the colours used in tattoos and permanent make-up safer.

The ban will affect the pigments Green 7 and Blue 15:3, which would result in only red, yellow, orange and black inks being available.

The reason for this ban is more than dumb:

Back in March 2015, the EU Commission asked the European Chemicals Agency to prepare a dossier for assessing the risks to human health to determine the chemicals contained in mixtures used for tattooing and permanent makeup. ECHA, in collaboration with Italy, Denmark and Norway, prepared a dossier stating that the risks to human health from exposure to certain chemicals in tattoo ink are not adequately controlled. In addition, Blue-15 is already banned in some cosmetics, in particular, in hair dyes. ECHA believes that substances prohibited for the skin should not get under the skin either. At the same time, Blue-15 is approved for all other fields of application in cosmetics, in particular, for cosmetics that come into contact with the mucous membrane of the eye.

Apparently, it was the lack of information about the safety of both pigments that became the main reason for the ban on their use in tattoo inks. At the same time, at the moment there are no alternative pigments whose safety would be higher than that of the current Blue-15 and Green-7 pigments.

Literally millions of people have been tattooed with these inks already (myself included). Many doctors and tattooists have gone on the record to state that they never observed any serious issues. There have been only a tiny fraction of the allergic reactions reported that, say, the SARS-CoV-2 vaccinations were reported to cause, which obviously didn’t hamper their regulatory approval. There’s no data on these inks causing cancer. Nobody has died.

On top of that, the EU’s own study that was the basis for the decision concludes that there’s no reliable data on any adverse health risks caused by these pigments. The German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung, BfR) goes even further:

The BfR concludes that the currently available data for both pigments indicate only a comparatively low level of toxicity. However, since the available data on harmful properties of both pigments are incomplete, the BfR is currently unable to provide a reliable health risk assessment of these pigments when used in tattoo inks. In particular, no assessment can be provided for the potential health risks involved in injecting these substances into deeper layers of the skin (intradermal application). The BfR recommends supplementing the available data sets for both pigments. As currently available data indicate only a comparatively low level of toxicity, however, the BfR does not see an acute need for further action at this time. In the view of the BfR, further work in this area should take into account that the pigments Blue 15:3 and Green 7 might be substituted by less well-investigated substances.

I mean it should surprise nobody that if you buy random tattoo inks on Wish.com, of all places, you might get weird shit in there. I don’t think anybody would argue against more regulation of these substances. But banning two ubiquitous substances without giving people an alternative when there is no reliable scientific data on adverse health effects, is clearly dumb. There are lots of other substances that are allowed that have proven negative health effects (tobacco, alcohol, opiates, substances used in medical procedures). And there are lots of things that have much worse effects on people’s health that the EU isn’t regulating or not regulating enough (one example would be pacemakers and ICDs with horribly insecure software). If a smoker can decide to give himself cancer, why can’t I decide to do the same with a tattoo? This shit makes no sense.

This stupid ban will simply drive an industry that for a long time lived in the twilight and the shadows back into semi-legality. Instead of actually capitalising on the recent trend of tattooing becoming more of a mainstream artform. I personally think this regulation is due to prude assholes who don’t know jack shit about the things they are regulating and just want to ban them because they don’t like them.

It’s a good example of why EU regulation sometimes is actually extremely dumb. It’s not all Brexiteer propaganda. Sometimes the EU actually is shit. Another example are the toy safety regulations that made Lego phase out mains-powered model trains – even though millions of kids grew up fine with those things (me included) without ever seriously harming themselves.

Unfortunately, the EU often has an unhealthy impulse to protect its citizens, even against their own will, blatantly ignoring their freedoms in the process.

Producer Feedback

After some time, we hear from Evgeny Kuznetsov again. And he has a damn good reason for keeping silent for a while.

Finally caught up again. Can’t resist commenting on the “I’m not in the risk group” idea mentioned in the feedback section. I used to think that, too, yet having spent three weeks in ICU I have some new respect for the Delta (or whichever Greek letter it now is) variant. The bugger doesn’t seem to care that you’re young and healthy… I wrote about it in my blog, partly as a warning for those who don’t take the whole thing seriously. Anecdotal, sure, but I wasn’t the only person my age in that ICU.

And for the topic of episode 94 proper: I’m not that versed in German so as to do meaningful research of my own, but the first question I have after hearing the episode: Was that guy assessed for mental health? I mean, you keep reiterating how his behaviour and his reactions were illogical and obviously served to his own detriment, how his actions look unreasonable and unthoughtful, how he can not act outside of what his emotions drive him to. To me that reeks of a mental condition, and being a psychiatrist and a psychiatry teacher those are words I don’t use lightly.

Perhaps, the guy needs help. Maybe he can even get it while he’s in jail if he’s lucky…

Also, I am absolutely against any legal actions in response to the provocative words of his haters (as long as those are just words), yet I despise those people who knowingly triggered the guy out of his balance – whether for fun or out of boredom. He suffered great pain as the result of what they said and how they said it, that much is obvious. I’m not a fan of cancel culture, but in a healthy society these actions, despite being totally legal, should be punished socially. People need compassion, not trolling, and the society needs to clearly mark such behaviour as shameful and indecent.

These things differ between countries, of course, but AFAIK the current consensus in mental health assessment (especially when talking justice or disability pensions) is that what matters is the effect of the condition the person may have on their functioning. “Intelligence below average” says very little per se; the question is: Does his behaviour that leads to him having issues with people, being a burden to his community and, eventually, breaking the law result from his condition or does it have other reasons (i.e. being lazy, wanting to hurt someone, simply not caring, being a jerk generally, etc.)? Could he have avoided the situation he ended up in if he didn’t have the condition in question? Can some kind of treatment fix it so that his condition no longer has such a negative effect on his life? These questions are usually very hard to answer, but that’s what psychiatry does (among other things). And it is mostly agreed that where a bad person (i.e. a criminal) should be punished, the ill person whose anti-social activity results from the illness should be helped and treated.

Also, it opens a whole other can of worms re rights and privacy. What if the person refuses to undergo treatment? What if they refuse to undergo treatment because they fail to understand they have a condition? What if the condition itself is what doesn’t allow them to understand they have it? (That last one is tough, but comes up surprisingly often: when you break a leg, you know your leg is broken; when your brain malfunctions, it’s the very same brain that is supposed to know you’re not OK, and this ability can be affected, too). What if the condition makes them even refuse the assessment in the first place? In some countries, the court can order a mandatory psychiatric evaluation (for that very reason), in other countries such practices are deemed fundamentally incompatible with free will and thus inacceptable…

Again, I’m not saying the whole angle even applies in this case, but that’s the first thing I would like to check for.

If you have any thoughts on the things discussed in this or previous episodes, please feel free to contact me. In addition to the information listed there, we also have an experimental Matrix room for feedback. Try it out if you have an account on a Matrix server. Any Matrix server will do.

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Podcast Music

The show’s theme song is Acoustic Routes by Raúl Cabezalí. It is licensed via Jamendo Music. Other music and some sound effects are licensed via Epidemic Sound. This episode’s ending song is Serenity Now by Bladverk Band.