Smoking Warning Labels

In his blog post on Libertarian Paternalism Judge Richard Posner writes:

The dangers of smoking are well known; indeed, they tend to be exaggerated–including by smokers. (The increased risk of lung cancer from smoking is smaller than most people believe.)

Does this mean that government mandated warning labels on cigarettes should read "Smoking is probably not as dangerous as you think."

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  • James, the argument usually given is that smoking is very hard to stop, and it is started by young people who undervalue their future, an effect that outweighs people overestimating the chances of cancer. Smoking regulation is said to represent the interests of the future versions of those young people.

  • No, James, because our goal is to get smokers — by any means necessary — to voluntarily accept what we want them to do so that we don’t have to force them to quit.

  • “our goal is to get smokers … to voluntarily accept what we want them to do …”

    Who’s “we”? I certainly don’t have the goal of getting smokers to quit. I want everyone (including smokers) to have the freedom to choose whether to smoke or not, and to accept the consequences if they choose to smoke.

    Robin’s point about discouraging younger people from making a mistake they might later regret is valid, but it has to be weighted against the damage done to personal responsibility; people will get the idea that unless the government warns them that something is bad for them, then its ok to do it, and its the governments fault if something goes wrong. I think we have reached and gone beyond this point.

  • Hehehe. I love that idea.

    And yes, they should. It would make the AG much more trustworthy and reduce a smoker’s bias against the propagana (manipulating/aggrivating an addict’s emotions is likely to make it harder for them to quit due to the stress and a person’s natural tendancy to act against someone they know is trying to manipulate them).

  • Robert, yes of course you raise a relevant consideration.

  • I agree that if the goal were to give the most accurate information to individuals based on the statistically established expectation what they think and assuming that they will evaluate this information rationally in order to fix their perception of the risk and adjust their behavior, James’ labels would be exactly correct.

    In the real world, however, there are other factors that influence what should be on the labels. Combining various contributions here and above, the correct label would probably say:

    “Smoking is probably not as dangerous as you think. However, you – the average consumer – probably overestimate the importance of your good feelings in the short term in comparison with your long-term possible problems with smoking. This could lead us to justify a harsher warning than what can be justified by science. However, there are other factors involved, such as profits of our company that are good for the global economy, which is why we finally recommend you to try the taste of America anyway. Enjoy it – greetings from the CEO and the health secretaries.” 😉