Tobacco kills 5 million people every year . Covid probably won't pass 5 million this year regardless of our policies or behavior. And yet, Covid has been the focus of far greater scarce political attention than Tobacco. We have accepted an increase of 150 million people in global severe poverty and the trillions in economic damage to prevent Covid deaths. Tobacco eradication has received far less attention. What do you think are the biggest reasons for this difference?
- Covid is new, people over-react to new threats.
- Covid affects the most politically organized and powerful world demographics: Old people in rich countries. Tobacco affects poor old people in poor countries.
- Covid is more tractable than Tobacco (the cost of preventing a Covid death is lower than preventing a Tobacco death). This seems unlikely, but I'm open to an argument.
- The tax incentives cause governments to neglect the Tobacco problem.
- People individually do not mind staying at home and watching Netflix. They therefore share/read/write more about Covid.
- The world's policy elite knows people with Covid but knows very few tobacco addicts in Lebanon or China.
- Policy Elite believes people can rationally decide to consume tobacco (hurt themselves) but not decide to social distance (hurt others)
- The Covid attention results from a massive availability cascade. Once an issue becomes available enough to the policy elite, it's salience is self-reinforcing.
- Individuals can affect Covid but organizing Tobacco policy NGO's for developing countries is a more complicated model.
- WHO (World Health Organization). 2012b. ‘‘Why Tobacco Is a Public Health Priority.’’ www.who.int/tobacco/health_priority/en/.
That's fairly compelling in the US.
But globally it is definitely false. For a trillion dollars, a fraction of he Covid economic loss so far, we could double the government budgets of the highest tobbacoo consuming countries (Egypt, Tanzania, Lebanon). The GoE would happily burn every tobacco farm in the country for a few billion dollars. The cost per life of paying Egypt to enact anti-smoking policy would inevitably be lower than Covid (not that its the most efficient cost per life).
So if we model Americans as rationally pursing QALY's for other Americans,... (read more)