(Reuters) – The U.S. government is preparing to roll back a widely criticized approach to public health, in which the “lost pleasure” people might suffer if they quit smoking or chose to eat healthier foods was used to reduce the projected benefits of new regulations, government officials told Reuters.
Kenneth Warner, a University of Michigan economist who participated in the HHS working group, said it was incorrect to apply lost consumer surplus to an addictive behavior such as smoking. The vast majority of smokers say they regret having started and wish they could quit, he noted, so they would experience more satisfaction, not less, if they did so.
“The traditional understanding of consumer surplus assumes a rational consumer, and that becomes strange for a behavior that you start in adolescence or that’s addictive,” said Harvard economist Joseph Newhouse, also a working-group participant.
In the case of calorie counts, the lost-enjoyment analysis doesn’t account for the pleasure consumers may get from making healthier choices, such as enjoying a sense of virtue, or shedding enough pounds to wear a favorite pair of jeans again.
“That’s just not in the (FDA) analysis, and it should be,” said Warner.
The full Reuters article can be read here.
Tobacco Control recently published a related academic critique and editorial of the FDA’s analysis of the costs and benefits of the graphic warning label regulation on tobacco products. Perhaps this cartoon best captures the ludicrous notion that the pleasure of smoking offsets the costs by 70%.