3 Questions: Jonathan Gruber on the cost of smoking
Leading health care economist weighs in on a proposed cost-benefit analysis of smoking.
“One study asked high school seniors smoking one pack or more per day whether they would be smoking in five years. Among those who said that they would be smoking, 72 percent were smoking; among those who said they would not, it was 74 percent.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new regulations for e-cigarettes, and in so doing developed a much-debated cost-benefit analysis of smoking — one that discounts the benefits of quitting smoking by 70 percent due to the loss of pleasure involved. MIT’s Jonathan Gruber, a high-profile health care economist, is among the skeptics of the new calculation: He has conducted research on smokers and is co-author of a new piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine, published this week, suggesting that the “lost pleasure” is smaller than the government is currently estimating. Gruber, the Ford Professor of Economics, discussed the issue with MIT News recently.
Q. Cigarette labeling and smoking have been the subject of political debate for decades. What is new and surprising in these debates that have sprung up in 2014?
A. The major issue at stake is the reach of the FDA in regulating self-damaging activities such as smoking. This is an important and controversial area. The FDA has, for the first time, included in its cost-benefit analysis of regulations the “lost pleasure” of those who stop smoking due to regulation. I think that this is inappropriate and a misreading of the evidence on how smoking decisions are made.