24 June 2010

what wouldn't happen if government was designed by scientists and engineers

(in theory, anyway)
Reason: Hit & Run | Jacob Sullum | Flavored Cigarettes Are Gone, but Teenagers Still Smoke. Go Figure.

You may have noticed that you can no longer buy clove cigarettes in the United States. That's because the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act [...] forbids them to sell cigarettes that have a "characterizing flavor" other than tobacco or menthol. The official aim, as I explained back in 2004, is to protect the youth of America from "candy-flavored cigarettes" that would otherwise lure them into a lifelong tobacco addiction. Which sounds perfectly persuasive to your average "think of the children" knee jerker, except that there is no reason to believe such cigarettes have ever played a significant role in introducing teenagers to smoking. They are not quite as mythical as strawberry-flavored meth. [...]

Last fall FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg claimed "flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers." In the same press release, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Howard Koh made an even bolder assertion, implying that the ban will stop all underage smoking:
Flavored cigarettes attract and allure kids into lifetime addiction. FDA's ban on these cigarettes will break that cycle for the more than 3,600 young people who start smoking daily.
The hypothesis is that flavored cigarettes contribute lure youths into smoking, and from there to addiction.  Unlike many other propositions made by politicians, this one is actually measurable and testable.
Siegel, a longtime anti-smoking activist who thinks exempting menthol from the ban shows Congress was not serious, asks Waxman, Hamburg, and Koh to stop making shit up:
It is demonstrably false that flavored cigarettes are a gateway to cigarette smoking, that they contribute significantly to addiction of youths to tobacco, [and] that the tobacco industry uses these flavored cigarettes to hook children...Prior to the implementation of the law...the overall market share of flavored cigarettes among youth smokers was less than 0.1%....The removal of flavored cigarettes from the market by the FDA will have no impact whatsoever on youth smoking.

I challenge Dr. Hamburg, Dr. Koh, and Representative Waxman to name the actual cigarette brands—the brands of candy-flavored cigarettes—that they allege were the source of youth addiction to cigarette smoking just prior to the implementation of the flavored cigarette ban in September 2009 and which are no longer being smoked by large numbers of youths as a result of that ban....If they are unable to name such brands, then clearly their public assertions were false.
Our just and noble leaders ignored Mr Siegel, of course, and pressed ahead with the ban. (You can't let facts get in the way of decision making, after all.) Now we have a nice little experiment on our hand. Congress and the White House are claiming that A is the cause of B, where A = flavored cigarettes and B = underage smoking. We now have less A. If their theory is right we will soon have less of B.  Does anyone want to wager whether we will actually have less B in, say, three years?

I don't think we will.  But more importantly, no one will care whether we do or not three years from now. We will never measure A --> B and use the testing of that hypothesis to refine our understanding and our laws.

We just make guesses about the effects of legal interventions, and then shut our eyes and ears to the world, assuming our predictions were right. Even when we recognize that things turned out differently, we never step back and re-evaluate. Instead we just press on with the next stab in the dark. I find this more than a little bit insane.

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