Harry Clarke On economics, politics & other things

July 11, 2013

Plain packaging effective

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 10:33 am

Plain packaging of cigarettes (or better, aversive packaging since the “plainness” is dominated by a scary graphic health warning) is effective.  Those who smoke claim the cigarettes “taste worse” with such packaging.    So branding does affect the desirability of smoking and not only brand choice.

Interesting that the link delivering this message is in the NYT where figures comparing slightly lower smoking rates in Australia with those in the US are cited – originally there was parity in the rates.

The carcinogen producers (mass murderers of the modern age) are hopefully shaking in their boots as they construct new lies to tell and plot to capture and kill new groups of potential smokers!

September 28, 2012

What will kill our kids

Filed under: environment,smoking,tobacco — hc @ 1:34 pm

I have acquired something of a reputation as the economist who is obsessed with the harm of tobacco products. “There he goes again….”  There might be an element of truth to this but maybe, because it reflects a reality, it is a relatively healthy obsession.  I’ve been reading a report by the OECD (2012) on forecast environmental problems to 2050.  It’s a good read – all the well-recognized villains are here – climate change problems, water supply and water quality issues, marine and terrestrial biodiversity destruction.  

One of the (to me) surprising entries into this select club is good old-fashioned “air pollution” (particulates, ozone etc).  Indeed, air pollution turns out to be one of the worst villains of all. (more…)

September 2, 2009

Smoking & booze policy proposals

Filed under: alcohol,smoking,tobacco — Tags: — hc @ 12:46 pm

The proposals for increasing the tax on cigarettes by 17.5 cents per stick and for introducing a minimum price on booze are worthy of analysis.   Proposals are also developed for dealing with obesity but I will not discuss those here.

The report by the National Preventative Health Strategy is here. (more…)

November 28, 2008

Refusing to consult foxes on welfare of chickens

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 9:57 am

160 countries have refused to admit cancer producers into discussions on limiting the global spread of cigarettes.  The countries argued there is a fundamental conflict between the interests of public health and those of cigarette producers.  That is obviously true.

Meanwhile, the Lancet reports that, at current smoking rates, 100 million Chinese men will die as a consequence of smoking between 2000-2050.  Many will destroy family finances vainly seeking a cure for their ailments.

Cigarette producers generate far more human misery than international terrorism.

September 7, 2008

More deceit from big tobacco

Filed under: smoking,tobacco — hc @ 8:28 pm

This article in The Age suggesting that tobacco companies knew that ciarettes contain a pollonium isotope that makes smoking a packet and a half of cigarettes equivalent in radiation exposure to 300 chest X-rays per year.  They kept quiet about it as they have with some many of the other deadly features of this habit. The more I look at the evidence the more I back my radical plan to get really tough on smoking – let’s end this outrageously dangerous and stupid practice within one generation.

Thanks for The Age reference Damien Eldridge

July 30, 2008

A break from blogging

Filed under: blogging,smoking — hc @ 11:55 am

Apologies to readers for the recent lack of posting. I have been busy lately with preparations for forthcoming teaching and have been travelling. Hopefully things will normalise over the next week or so.

On Friday this week I am presenting a seminar on ‘Policies for Reducing the Costs of Cigarette Smoking in Australia’ (a much earlier version here) at the University of Queensland from 11-12pm in the Colin Clark Building Room Level 6. I’ll be in Brisbane Thursday-Saturday morning and would like to meet blog readers in Queensland. I’ll be staying at Hotel Ibis on Turbot Street.

The good news this morning is that the much-maligned Premier Iemma has moved decisively in NSW to ban the public display of cigarettes in stores and to fine the 10% of smokers who insist on smoking while driving when there are young children in the car. This follows similar moves in other states such as South Australia.

Passive smoking is particularly injurious to kids and lurid displays of cigarette products are primarily designed to attract young kids into this disgusting habit (a source of Phillip Morris’ disgraceful opposition to this move).

Well done Morris and brickbats to those hideous corporates who continue encouraging our kids into making a premature visit to the morgue.

Update Sunday:  Brisbane was sunny and University of Queensland a pleasant destination.  Saw old friends and had a great few days. Now back in freezing Melbourne.

July 3, 2008

Last words: Environmental tobacco smoke

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 1:00 am
‘Last twinges of a coffin posting this book where the awning flaps a distant thank-you’. (William S. Burroughs)

The US Surgeon General’s ‘Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoking’ is a massive 19MB document with a reasonably accessible Executive Summary. The evidence is mainly for the US but many arguments apply to Australia. It is a 2006 report but I have only just had the chance to pour through it with care.

Forget about the lies the tobacco companies (and their allies in the libertarian movement) tell you about the freedom you have to kill yourself and those about you.

Life itself is a somewhat sick joke. We survive for 3 score years (and perhaps ten or twenty) then our bodies and our frantic concerns about income and status turn into dust. But we want to live – or at least I do! That’s the funny bit.

Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) has fallen dramatically in the US mainly because of near total restrictions on smoking in the workplace – cotinine concentrations (a metabolite of nicotine) have fallen 75% in 10 years.

Still in 2005 ETS in the US killed more than 3,000 people from lung cancer, approximately 46,000 from heart disease and 430 newborns from SIDs. And still about 60% of non-smokers in the US show exposure to ETS.

The argument that cigarettes mainly cause internalities (market failures due to ignorance, youthful impulsivity) rather than externalities is true. A wonderful paper on internalities by Gruber – that demolishes the ludicrous ‘rational addiction’ model – is here.

Smokers reward non-smokers by paying more in taxes than they recoup in medical benefits simply because they die earlier. Perhaps non-smoking spouses who marry spouses cannot complain of 20-30% higher lung cancer death rates and 20-30% higher risk of heart disease. Perhaps too you can stretch it and say that workers in bars get better salaries that compensate them for higher heath risks. But what do you say about kids who suffer respiratory problems, slower lung development, higher rates of asthma and much higher rates of mid-ear infections because their parents smoke.

There are externalities from ETS and no-one should be forced to experience them.

June 16, 2008

No need for moral panic over drugs

Filed under: alcohol,illicit drugs,smoking — hc @ 10:51 am

I have pointed out repeatedly that drug use in Australia is under control. Cigarette, heroin, amphetamine and cannabis consumption are declining and alcohol consumption is roughly stable. It is the reason I don’t support moves to reform drug laws on the grounds that current laws have failed – they have not failed at all.

An article in today’s Age makes the same points about alcohol.
Alcohol consumption has costs and benefits – to an economist this suggests trying to get the balance right in consumption and to persuade consumers not to drink in risky situations – such as prior to driving a car.

Proposals to redefine ‘binge drinking’ (meaning socially excessive drinking) to mean the consumption of half a bottle of wine (3 standard drinks) do not seem wise. All activities involve some level of risk but this risk must be balanced against benefits. Telling people who are not driving that they should not enjoy a half bottle of wine is destroying too much enjoyment and not addressing dangerously high levels of drinking and situations of drinking before driving or operating machinery.

The moral panic that is developing needs to subside a bit and the very real problems of drinking that do exist should continue to be addressed. As usage of dangerous illicit and licit drugs decreases then efforts to further reduce harm will need to become more focused – targeting indigenous Australians makes much sense – but this does not mean further coercion across the whole community.

May 21, 2008

Do higher cigarette prices make smokers better off?

Filed under: economics,smoking — hc @ 2:04 am

Economists have long searched for goods they can tax which impose no deadweight losses (DWLs) on society. Henry George supposed that assets like land which are in fixed supply can be taxed without social costs since customer demands will not change and supply will not change – the only effect of a tax on rents would be to shift rental income from land owners into the pockets of government. Such taxes produce large transfers but impose no DWLs. George in fact argued that all taxes should be based on taxing land. He wasn’t quite right because he ignored quality improvements in land – these are less likely to be made with hefty land taxes – and anyway a tax base that was based on land would be too small to fund Labor Party wish lists. (George’s idea was quite smart however and led later economists, such as that legendary genius Frank Plumpton Ramsay, to suggest focusing taxes on goods in inelastic supply and demand to avoid allocative losses).

My colleague at Monash University, and by far the best welfare economist in Australia, Professor Yew-Kwang Ng, has suggested taxing diamond-like goods whose value is seen to be higher in the eyes of consumers when they are more expensive. Again the basic idea is that noone loses with such an excise tax. The government gets revenue and diamond consumers get more satisfaction by being able to display even more expensive diamonds.

Now I have found a third twist to the possibility of taxes without DWLs that involves taxing naughty or sinful goods that consumers really know they should not consume. FXH sent me a link to this attractive piece in Slate that reviews a relatively old paper by Jonathon Gruber and Sendhil Mullainathan arguing that excises on tobacco products made consumers better-off in both the US and Canada by increasing their ability to resist the temptation to indulge in the filthy habit of cigarette smoking.

Its a fairly complex argument but basically this paper argues that higher taxes and hence higher prices give consumers greater motivation for self-control. Higher prices reingage the cognitive parts of the brain and make it easier for smokers to cut back or stop smoking

It is worth noting that this argument augments traditional Ramsay-George arguments for levying hefty taxes on cigarettes because their demands are relatively inelastic. From these perspective taxing cigarettes both punishes a sinful activity and delivers loads of dough to the Treasury.

Thanks FXH for the Slate reference.

May 16, 2008

Smoking bans deter the initiation of smoking

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 10:30 am

I have posted many times on the value of smoking bans. These stop passive smoking externalities but also increase the user costs of smoking which encourages quitting. They also improve financial returns in businesses subject to the bans. They also provide libertarians with a no-brainer way of padding out their blogsites with attacks on ‘nanny-staters’ which is probably a socially safer activity than advocating legal gun ownership or the legalisation of herpoin for toddlers. This piece from NewScientist suggests they also deter teenagers from taking up the habit.

Restaurant smoking bans don’t just protect diners and staff from other people’s smoke, they help stop young people becoming habitual smokers.

‘In 2001, Michael Siegel* and colleagues at Boston University surveyed 3834 Massachusetts youths, with follow-ups two and four years later. In towns where restaurants had no smoking bans or kept smoking areas, 9.8% had smoked over 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes, compared with 7.9% in towns with smoking bans.

Once the researchers corrected for factors such as whether their parents smoked, those in towns with bans were 35% less likely to be habitual smokers (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, vol 162, p 477).

Bans don’t make teenagers less likely to try cigarettes, but seem to stop them making it a habit, perhaps due to less contact with smokers or because smoking seems less socially acceptable.’

The full article by Siegel is available free at the link. BTW Michael Siegel has a very active and interesting blogsite here. Via it I came to this interesting report on tobacco control in Canada – one of those countries most successful in encouraging less smoking.

May 5, 2008

Putting your money where your butt is

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 2:52 pm

This paper (that I learned about indirectly by reading an Andrew Leigh post) by Xavier Gine, Dean Karlan & Jonathon Zinman uses short-term incentives to deter people from smoking. It is an intriguing idea:

Abstract: We designed and tested a voluntary commitment product to help smokers quit smoking in the Philippines. Individuals who sign a Committed Action to Reduce and End Smoking (CARES) contract deposit money into a savings account and agree to let the bank forfeit their entire balance to charity if they fail a urine test for nicotine and cotinine six months later. Bank marketers offered the product by approaching smokers in public places. Marketers administered a short survey, provided a standard pamphlet with information on smoking’s harmful effects and how to quit, and then made one of three randomly assigned offers: (i) CARES; (ii) aversive “cues”: graphic, pocket-sized pictures of the deleterious health effects of smoking, modeled on Canada’s cigarette packaging mandate; (iii) no intervention (control group). 11 percent of individuals offered CARES accepted. 6 months after marketing, the bank marketing team returned and administered urine tests to participants from all three groups. Subjects offered CARES were 3.1 percentage points more likely to pass the test than the control group (a 38.8% increase); this intent-to-treat effect rises to 4.3 percentage points for those who reported in the baseline survey that they wanted to quit smoking at some point in their lives. Treatment-on-the treated estimates suggest that those who signed a CARES commitment were 29 and 33 percentage points more likely to pass the test than the control group.

This proposal has advantages over the one I analysed a few weeks ago which simply gave rewards to those who abstained from smoking. This scheme isolates those with specific incentives to quit. It is less open to manipulation.

May 2, 2008

Social interactions & smoking

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 7:39 pm

This paper by David Cutler and Edward Glaeser is worth a look.

Abstract: Are individuals more likely to smoke when they are surrounded by smokers? In this paper, we examine the evidence for peer effects in smoking. We address the endogeneity of peers by looking at the impact of workplace smoking bans on spousal and peer group smoking. Using these bans as an instrument, we find that individuals whose spouses smoke are 40% more likely to smoke themselves. We also find evidence for the existence of a social multiplier in that the impact of smoking bans and individual income becomes stronger at higher levels of aggregation. This social multiplier could explain the large time series drop in smoking among some demographic groups.

The basic idea is that smoking is a social activity – people like to smoke with others. It confirms other work already cited on this blog that eliminating smoking by individuals has positive direct effects and positive indirect effects of stopping others to smoker.

Incidentally I find it strange that the Cutler/Glaeser study does not refer to earlier work published in a widely-respected journal. I have noticed this before among US economists.

April 30, 2008

Indigenous smoking yet again

Filed under: aboriginals,health,smoking — hc @ 1:28 am

I have been ridiculed at public fora for suggesting that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island (ATSI) smoking rates are an overwhelmingly important cause of the discrepancy between indigenous and non-indigenous mortality rates. The general response has been: ‘Harry you have a bee in your bonnet about smoking that ‘clouds’ your judgement’. It is true I do dislike this destructive habit but my claims about aboriginal health and smoking stand – indeed I have posted them explicitly on this blog.

This very helpful report is the most accurate and up-to-date study I have seen on ATSI health issues and read what it says about ATSI smoking:

Tobacco smoking was the leading cause of the burden of disease and injury for Indigenous Australians in 2003, accounting for 12.1% of the total burden and 20% of all deaths….In 2004-05, half (50%) of the adult Indigenous population were current daily (or regular) smokers. While smoking rates have decreased slightly for the total Australian population over the ten years to 2004-05, there has been no significant change in smoking rates for the Indigenous population in this period….

Many of these 2003 findings seem to come from here. The incidence of smoking is just under 3 times that of non-indigenous populations so the significant health effects do not surprise me. Also note that ATSI die on average at around 17 years earlier than non-ATSI populations. Thus, as a rough approximation, aboriginals die in their late 60s rather than their 80s – this is rough since it ignores significant ATSI mortality at much younger ages which will reduce the discrepancy between ages of death at older ages. However the bulk of lung cancer deaths occur in people in their 60s and 70s – for US data see this Table 3. Thus many of the deaths from smoking among ATSI will now not appear because ATSI have generally worse mortality than non-ATSI for various reasons not necessarily related to cigarette smoking.

Thus with a successful attack on ATSI health problems increased effects of smoking on ATSI mortality will become apparent unless such efforts include a clear focus on reducing ATSI smoking levels.

April 28, 2008

Australian drug use trends

Filed under: alcohol,illicit drugs,smoking — hc @ 2:42 pm

The 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey has just been released (here). This is by far the most useful and accurate study of drug use trends in Australia.

Tobacco consumption continues to fall – less than 1 in 5 Australians smoked over the past 12 months. There is a very significant reduction in daily alcohol consumption – from 8.9% in 2004 to 8.1%. The most common illicit drug in Australia is cannabis – 9.1% of those aged 14 years and over had used cannabis during the last 12 months with strong continued decline in use among youth – use from 2004 to 2007 dropped from 11.3% to 9.1%. There is a significant* reduction in use of amphetamines/ice from 3.2% to 2.3% over this same period.

Heroin use remains very low at 0.2% in 2007 compared to 0.8% in 1998. The big supply reductions that occurred during the heroin drought of 2000 as a response to increase police interdictions seem to have permanently and significantly reduced heroin demands.

These are very positive signs which show that the campaigns against dangerous licit and illicit drugs do work. The only negative features are that ecstasy use remains high at around 3.4% of the population and cocaine use has increased significantly* since 2004 from 1% of the Australian population to around 1.6%.

An excellent report that isn’t too long. It is good reading if you wish to be informed about drug issues rather than adopting partisan views in the media and the drug treatment industry.

*Significance here means statistical significance at a 95% confidence level.

April 24, 2008

Radon & lung cancer

Filed under: medical,smoking — hc @ 12:27 am

This is the first of several posts that I will make on lung cancer. They are related to my work on cigarette smoking.

I am interested in the fact that the incidence of lung cancer was very low prior to cigarette smoking but that, these days, around 10-15% of lung cancers seem to be unrelated to cigarette smoking. What is the source of these new lung cancers*? In part the finding could be related to early non-recognition of lung cancers but other factors seem to bear on the higher incidence of non-smoking related cancers that has emerged recently.

In the US the second largest cause of lung cancer is exposure to the element radon – most usually as it seeps through the floor of the family home. Radon kills 15,000-22,000 people in the US annually and is responsible for 12% of all lung cancer deaths. Services are available for testing and reducing radon levels in the family home . There is concern if radon levels exceed 4 pico Curies per litre (4pCi/L).

Puzzling recent findings suggest that radon at low concentrations in the home is hermetic for lung cancer – at low enough dosage levels radiation might help repair damaged DNA. These claims don’t challenge the 4pCi/L standard but the fact is that most households are below that level in any event.

By the way, radon concentrations in Australian homes are low – for most households they are marginally above concentrations in the atmosphere. There is however evidence of heightened health risks from radon in the Australian uranium mining industry.

*Of course passive smoking, asbestos and air pollution also cause lung cancers but their effects seem less important than radon exposure. Smoking and radon exposure are however probably synergistic in promoting lung cancers.

April 4, 2008

US presidential candidates: Win votes by getting tough on smoking

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 11:36 pm

This article in the NYT urges candidates in the current US presidential campaign to move with pace to adopt the urgings of the FDA with respect to tobacco regulation. Specifically they urge that nicotine be registered as an addictive drug and be regulated by the FDA on this basis.

I strongly concur. For 50 years the tobacco companies have understood ciogarettes to be a vehicle for delivering the addictive drug nicotine. It is tiome that public policy makers came to the same realisation which is in accord with the facts.

I have already stated my own preferences with respect to the design of a prohibitive regulatory regime that would end ciogarette consumption in one generation. The surge in lung cancer deaths in the twentieth century would come to be viewed as a historical mistake that sensible legislators acted to prevent continuing.

BTW: I am making my views known tomorrow for a class of students at La Trobe University’s Wodonga campus. in some seminars on public health economics. I’ll try to put the Powerpoints online.

April 1, 2008

Paying aboriginals not to smoke

Filed under: aboriginals,smoking — hc @ 11:19 pm

Andrew Leigh comments on Simon Chapman’s interesting proposal to pay aboriginals to stop smoking. Why not give such schemes a trial? They are cheaper and probably more effective than active treatment programs including use of NRTs. There is quite a deal of data on incentive effects of such programs in encouraging abstinence among users of illicit drugs such as cocaine.

The main idea is that drug users have short-term time horizons (they are ‘hyperbolic discounters’) and these programs provide small short-term rewards for remaining abstinent over short periods. This helps deal with short-term incentives to use and helps build up will-power and commitment.

We need to build up an inventory of experience of alternative means of trying to induce aboriginals to control their consumption of harmful drugs. Reading the published literature in this area my impression is that we don’t know much. My impression is that there is a lot of verbiage but not much hard evidence and experience. (If I am wrong let me know, please!)

I quote Simon’s argument.

Kevin Rudd has announced a $14.5m injection of funds to lower smoking in Indigenous communities. Indigenous Australians smoke at around 2.5 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians, with rates being as high as 80% in some communities.
That prevalence is one of the key reasons that Indigenous Australians are twice as likely to die within five years of a cancer diagnosis than non-Indigenous people, says the Cancer Council Australia. That’s because “cancers caused by smoking are among the most difficult to treat successfully.”

Few will see this investment as anything but overdue. But how could it be spent most effectively rather than squandered on legions of endless rounds of tiny interventions?
A paper in last week’s Lancet poses an intriguing question.

In a report from Mexico, the Oportunidades program, which sees dirt poor Mexican villagers given “Conditional Cash Transfers” (CCTs) if they comply with a set of requirements such as attending health care, using free food supplements and enrolling kids in school, has seen remarkable improvements in increased height for age, reduced stunting, and reduced obesity.

The program across Mexico involves 20 million families and the evaluated component reported in the Lancet saw 90% of families in the trial areas volunteering to participate — only 1% were refused payment for failing to comply.

Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development has said of CCT interventions “I think these programs are as close as you can come to a magic bullet in development … They are creating an incentive for families to invest in their own children’s futures. Every decade or so, we see something that can really make a difference, and this is one of those things.”

Unlike schemes that withhold welfare entitlement payments for failing to meet health and schooling goals, the CCT program is an entirely voluntary incentive scheme. Ethically, the two are therefore miles apart. With smoking, those who want to keep the habit can, while those interested in being paid to stop could sign on and be assisted with evidence-based cessation products to quit (although more than 85% of smokers stop without any formal assistance).

Payment could be staggered to ensure that temporary quitting lasted more than a few days or weeks. Smoking status is easily checked by a simple salivary test for cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine. Health insurance companies have of course been doing something very similar for decades: giving customers massive discounts if they don’t smoke.

As I have posted before aboriginals have a poor health record partly because of their high incidence of smoking.

This problem has been somewhat overlooked because of an obsession with aboriginal problems with alcohol. Little is known about specific aboriginal smoking issues. Adult males smoke at a much higher intensity of non-aboriginals so targeting aboriginal smokers has a high possible anti-smoking impact. We also know there are severe passive smoking problems in the home. Little is known of Quit campaigns since – there are comparatively few ex smokers among aboriginals so this source of moral pressure to quit is low. There is a much ignorance among aboriginals about the health consequences of smoking and a lack of engagement with ‘white-oriented’ Quit campaigns both in country and city areas.

I have a postgraduate student writing a thesis on aboriginal smoking issues so this suggestion is of great interest.

March 26, 2008

Lung cancer, who cares? Tobacco company funded research shows it isn’t much of a problem

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 11:21 pm

Last year I cited some studies by Claudia Hensche which suggested that 80% of lung cancer deaths could be avoided through use of CT scans. I suggested in an update that these studies might be overoptimistic because there were far too many false positives and in any event fast-growing tumors are likely to occur between scans.

The problems with the Hensche work might even be much worse than that – in fact sickeningly worse. The Hensche studies it turns out were financed, via a foundation, by a tobacco company (The Liggett Group) who, it is now claimed, were interested in promoting research which minimised the possible costs of contracting lung cancer.

“Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine and the author of a book about conflicts of interest, said he believed that Weill Cornell [the institute where Hensche works] had created the foundation to hide its receipt of money from a cigarette company. “You have to ask yourself the question, ‘Why did the tobacco company want to support her research?’ ” Dr. Kassirer said. “They want to show that lung cancer is not so bad as everybody thinks because screening can save people; and that’s outrageous”.

If these claims are true they are among the most disgraceful I have come across in the literature that deals with the lack of corporate morality by the tobacco companies. I draw attention to some points in an earlier post I made on related issues. Big tobacco it seems have ruthlessly sought to distort the research agenda to provide a biased picture of the damages that cigarette smoking can cause. This report suggests they are continuing these disgraceful efforts.

February 20, 2008

Academic views paid for by big tobacco

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 12:13 am

It is nothing new to reveal that the cigarette companies lied their heads off about the dangers of cigarettes for 50 years. They knew 50 years ago that smoking cigarettes definitely caused lung cancer and while they debunked a range of animal-based experiments they were carrying out their own animal experiments which confirmed the conclusions they publicly rejected. But in recent years the companies have gone a bit quiet on the lies front.

Their lies are now out in the open because of some famous whistle-blowing activities by former industry insiders.

There are profound moral issues here. It is unethical to sell a product you know kills people even if people chose voluntarily to purchase it. Attempts to expand cigarette sales by encouraging women, children and citizens in developing countries to smoke are instances of this immorality.

This article in New Scientist discusses the way big name scientists were paid to play down the dangers of smoking from the 1970s through to the late 1990s. Front groups funded by tobacco companies were created to suggest that smoking provided health benefits by relieving people of stress. As late as 1998 the philosopher Roger Scruton was involved in work that suggested low social damages from smoking:

‘in a 1998 piece for The Times newspaper in London, Scruton attacked arguments over smoking and health costs by noting, for example, that smokers impose less of a health burden than others because they die early. It was revealed in 2002 that he had been paid annually by Japan Tobacco International’.

Another major sponsored tobacco supporter was the very prominent psychologist Hans Eysenck.

The article is based on a paper by Anne Landman, Daniel K. Cortese and Stanton Glantz which unfortunately is subscription only. The abstract is available:

‘The multinational tobacco companies responded to arguments about the social costs of smoking and hazards of secondhand smoke by quietly implementing the Social Costs/Social Values project (1979–1989), which relied upon the knowledge and authoritative power of social scientists to construct an alternate cultural repertoire of smoking. Social scientists created and disseminated non-health based, pro-tobacco arguments without fully acknowledging their relationship with the industry. After the US Surgeon General concluded that nicotine was addictive in 1988, the industry responded by forming “Associates for Research in the Science of Enjoyment” (c.1988–1999), whose members toured the world promoting the health benefits of the use of legal substances, including tobacco, for stress relief and relaxation, without acknowledging the industry’s role. In this paper we draw on previously secret tobacco industry documents, now available on the Internet to show how both of these programs utilized academic sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers and economists, and allowed the industry to develop and widely disseminate friendly research through credible channels. Strategies included creating favorable surveys and opinions, infusing them into the lay press and media through press releases, articles and conferences, publishing, promoting and disseminating books, commissioning and placing favorable book reviews, providing media training for book authors and organizing media tours. These programs allowed the tobacco industry to affect public and academic discourse on the social acceptability of smoking’.

The study is based on the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at the University of California, San Francisco which contains over 8 million industry documents. I’ll scout around for an electronic version and if I find one I will post it.

I am not suggesting Scruton, Eysenck and others lied – indeed nicotine is a tranquilising chemical that may have a limited role in treating schizophrenia. That the tars in cigarettes can also kill you is also relevant information and surely the fact that such people received funding from a group whose views they supported is relevant to the evaluation of their views.

February 12, 2008

Smoking a major global killer

Filed under: smoking — hc @ 12:01 am

Most people have an approximate understanding of the dimensions of health problems associated with cigarette smoking. But mortality statistics make the issue clearly. It is a major killer generally and by far the major preventable cause of death in the world today with 100 million killed in the twentieth century and perhaps 1 billion to die over the next 100 years. Most of the deaths to occur will do so in China and India. In these numerical terms smoking is a much more significant cause of death than war.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control meetings occur next week and I will monitor this event. A new report on global tobacco policies has already been released which shows the overall incidence of tough anti-smoking policies globally. The MPOWER policy package proposed includes:
  • Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies
  • Protect people from tobacco smoke
  • Offer help to quit tobacco use
  • Warn about the dangers of tobacco
  • Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • Raise taxes on tobacco.
Key findings in the report include:
  • Only 5% of the global population is protected by comprehensive national smoke-free legislation and 40% of countries still allow smoking in hospitals and schools.
  • Only 5% of the world’s population lives in countries with comprehensive national bans on tobacco advertising and promotion.
  • Just 15 countries, representing 6% of the global population, mandate pictorial warnings on tobacco packaging.
  • Services to treat tobacco dependence are fully available in only nine countries, covering 5% of the world’s people.
  • Tobacco tax revenues are more than 4000X greater than spending on tobacco control in middle-income countries and more than 9000X greater in lower-income countries.
  • High- income countries collect about 340X more money in tobacco taxes than they spend on tobacco control.

My own view is that the most interesting aspects of the smoking catastrophe are about to unfold in developing countries and that this is where effort for control has the biggest potential payoffs.

BTW this is an interesting article from 2007 that I omitted to cite on industry concentration in global tobacco markets. The tobacco industry is under sustained global regulatory attack but that makes entry into the industry difficult and means that opportunities exist for market concentration to create good profits. The big prize for such global firms is, again, the Chinese tobacco market is opened up to international competition a market of 350 million is delivered.
Update: This NYT editorial sets out the policy issues confronting LDC’s in clear terms.
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