Thursday, August 7, 2014

Calculating the "value" of smoking.

Article: In New Calculus on Smoking, It’s Health Gained vs. Pleasure Lost

I feel stupid writing this, but...
1) I don't smoke tobacco and haven't smoked in my life except for some roll-your-owns in college and few cigars.
2) Smoking is a great way smell bad and die young.
Buried deep in the federal government’s voluminous new tobacco regulations is a little-known cost-benefit calculation that public health experts see as potentially poisonous: the happiness quotient. It assumes that the benefits from reducing smoking — fewer early deaths and diseases of the lungs and heart — have to be discounted by 70 percent to offset the loss in pleasure that smokers suffer when they give up their habit.

Experts say that calculation wipes out most of the economic benefits from the regulations and could make them far more vulnerable to legal challenges from the tobacco industry. And it could have a perverse effect, experts said. The more successful regulators are at reducing smoking, the more it hurts them in the final economic accounting.
Why does the government need to write "voluminous new tobacco regulations" for a private habit and a private pleasure? They do not have "voluminous old tobacco regulations" enough?
On Wednesday, Professor Chaloupka and other prominent economists, including a Nobel Prize winner, publicly took issue with the analysis. In a paper submitted to the F.D.A. as the period for public comment on the regulations neared its end on Friday, the group said the happiness quotient was way too high and should be changed before the regulations take effect.

“There’s reason to believe that number is much too big,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was an author of the paper. In his view, the agency’s analysis cited his past work erroneously.
Over the years, a hundred million people have made billions of personal decisions to extract pleasure from smoking tobacco in all of its myriad forms. We call these people "smokers." They know why they are smoking.

A handful of experts come along, with brilliant minds and the most advanced computers known to man, apply their theories and algorithms to the smokers. We call these people social scientists. They try to figure out how much value smoking is to the smokers so they can put it into their calculations. 

This is an version of what is called "the knowledge problem." The hundred million smokers know why and how much they value smoking. The handful of scientists can only guess.

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