How do you quantify happiness levels? The question has relates to a longstanding requirement — first codified under the Clinton administration — that every set of federal regulations with more than a $100 million effect on the economy needs an analysis to prevent the adoption of regulations with high costs and low benefits.
Now it is being applied to the government’s new tobacco regulations proposed this past April, specifically to a cost-benefit calculation which 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.
Is this a problem? Well, yes, according to many, as the proposed regulations could water down the agency’s ability to regulate tobacco products. If the formula for assessing costs and benefits remains unchanged in the final version of the regulations, it could set a dangerous precedent that would constrain public-policy making for years to come.
“This is the single biggest obstacle facing the F.D.A. in executing the job Congress gave it,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group. “There’s no way the F.D.A. can do its job if this is applied.”
An F.D.A. spokeswoman, Jennifer Haliski, said that there was “still a great deal of uncertainty” surrounding the calculation, and that the agency was helping fund research to explore the issue. So far the Food and Drug Administration has received at least 69,000 public comments on the new regulations, some quite high profile. Earlier this month a group of economists, including one Nobel Prize winner, weighed in, asking that the calculation be changed before the ruling takes effect. Read more…