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


NY Times:

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

WASHINGTON — Rarely has the concept of happiness caused so much consternation in public health circles.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.

“This threatens the F.D.A.’s ability to take strong actions against tobacco,” Frank J. Chaloupka, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said of the Food and Drug Administration. “If they can’t demonstrate that there is a significant economic benefit to doing it, then it makes their job much harder.”

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.

Veddy, veddy interesting.
Not sure how they measure happiness or quantify it in $$$.


Not certain how they can quantify or even define happiness.


As a former smoker looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I would say that there is a lot more pleasure in not-smoking than there was in smoking.


[quote=G.K. Chesterton]A fairly large majority consume it so that one may roughly form the opinion that they would be better in health if they smoked less, just as one forms the opinion that they would be better if they took a shade more exercise or ate a shade less meat. A mere dot on the map of this minority is a very small minority of people who are so constituted that they should not smoke at all; and a smaller dot marking a yet tinier minority who actually induce illness by smoking. Those are about the proportions of peril in the thing. It is about as dangerous as sitting in a draught. It is about as questionable as eating pork. If a policeman can take away my cigarette, there cannot be the slightest rational objection, on a warm day, to his taking away my overcoat. In wet weather he might change my boots for me violently in the street, or suddenly garrott me with a muffler. The thing is a typical mild human indulgence, enjoyed by most people and over-enjoyed by a few people, a thing like scent or sweetmeats. Realize that the reality which we all know it to be, and then measure that mad abyss of disproportion, on the other side of which are the eight States holding up their streets with policemen and treating every man who is carrying a cigarette as if he were carrying a bomb. Thus all our cranks of culture are leading us back (or onward) into barbarism. For the essence of barbarism is idolatry; that is the worship of something other than the best reason and justice of the Universe. Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice. The Moslems say, ‘There is no God but God.’ The English Moslems, the abstainers, have to learn to remember also that there is no Satan but Satan


Well, we’ve learned a few things about the harm of smoking since Mr. Chesterton made these comments.

Those suffering “illness” from smoking are not a “dot” as he claims It is a large proportion.

And as an aside- my mother is dying from COPD- from smoking.

Congratulations to those who have quit- I know it’s not easy.


Chesterson died at age 62 of congestive heart failure, which could have been brought on by the physical pleasures that he so obviously enjoyed. Perhaps if he had done a little abstaining, we might have had him for a few more years, perhaps into the 1940s. I would love to be able to read his thoughts on WWII.


I am very glad you are an ex-smoker!:thumbsup:

FWIW: my older sister took up smoking as a teenager–she was a pack to pack and a half day smoker (depending on her stress level). She used say (as she lit her cigarette) that we are all going to die eventually, you might as well enjoy yourself. :blush:

She said that when she was in her early 20’s. Fast forward to her mid 50’s when she finally was able to quit…She experienced severe chronic health problems that were brought on by a life time of bad health habits–including smoking. Eleven years after she quit smoking, she died–never recovered from heart valve replacement surgery. :frowning:

She admitted, as her health was getting worse, that smoking was not worth it. She had trouble quitting. Her quality of life deteriorated.

Every time I see someone smoking, I say a prayer that that they quit.


Further to post #4 and my response in post #6, Chesterton’s comparison of those who promote abstaining from habits that lead to health problems with Muslims was very bad form.


Well, to be fair to Chesterton, the people of his day who were against smoking were quite unscientific about it. They really disliked it on subjective grounds (“It looks dirty and stinky.”) and not on solid medical grounds. The claims about detrimental health were not backed up by objective evidence. So he was quite right in criticizing them for their methods and motivations. (“You must be clean according to what I think is clean”.)

That those people turned out to be right in light of modern research is no credit to them. They just guessed lucky. Those who say smoking is dangerous to your health today are on much more solid grounds, and if Chesterton were alive today and was aware of that research, I doubt that he would have criticized the health warnings at all.


Me too, as an ex smoker. It is (smoking) pleasant at first. But then you become addicted and wake up with a morning hacking cough. Not so pleasureable then!


As did my mother, dad just died of lung cancer.

The number of people who die of smoking related illnesses is about a half-million a year. No dot is that!


I’m sorry for the loss of your parents, and may God rest their souls. That said, the “half-million” figure is vastly inflated. The morbidly obese man who eats 12 sticks of butter daily and once sneaked a cigarette behind the gym in high school, never smoking again, dies of a heart attack? That’s counted as “smoking related” if the doctors know about that one cigarette.


That is an unjustified insult to the integrity of the medical profession and researchers who take their job very seriously.


I too quit smoking, about 40 years ago.

One of the ways to break the psychological addiction was to learn what the enjoyments of being a non-smoker were. It wasn’t long before the enjoyments of being a nonsmoker outweighed the desire to smoke and before I knew it, I was a nonsmoker and happy for it.



You can survey those who died from cancer caused by smoking. There may be quite a big of overestimation. Also, the number of years one has been smoking and quit smoking may make a difference. One may have fond memories of smoking in a bar or cafe but that’s illegal in many places now so even if they hadn’t quit, they might not derive the same enjoyment these days. Also, with fewer smokers today, the fond memories of everybody taking a communal smoke break don’t apply anymore. And one who recently quit might find it a greater struggle than one who hasn’t smoked in years. There may also be geographic differences. Smoking outdoors in the snow is not fun.

Finally, quitters may be unhappier but those who never started smoking in the first place aren’t.


Take a look at this. It’s a 1998 article from the Cato Institute showing exactly how the data has been cooked.


First give me a reference that isn’t to some libertarian think tank, then I will consider it seriously.


Then I can accept that the article is irrefutable, as the only argument against it is to attack the source. Thank you.


I did not even look at the article, so I cannot comment on whether or not it is refutable.


It’s easy. Economists do it all the time. Just like they measure the value of a life in monetary units for wrongful death suits.

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