Economists: FDA's tobacco rules underestimate health benefits

Economists say the Food and Drug Administration is drastically underestimating the health benefits from its tobacco regulations to account for the "lost pleasure" of people who quit smoking.

The FDA proposed new regulations for electronic cigarettes in April, but according to comments that a group of nine renowned economists submitted to the agency, they underestimated the health benefits to the public by 70 percent.

The economists argue that underestimating the health benefits makes it more likely that the White House's Office of Management and Budget will shoot down the rule, and also makes it more vulnerable to legal attacks from the tobacco industry.

"Continued reliance on this deeply flawed approach would undermine the FDA's ability to issue effective regulations to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who is working with the economists to distribute their message.

This isn't the first time that has happened, according to the economists.

In a 2011 rule requiring tobacco companies to post graphic warnings on their cigarette packaging, the economists say the FDA underestimated the health benefits by more than 50 percent.

The economists say the FDA is reducing the potential health benefits from these tobacco regulations to account for the abstract notion that smokers will feel less pleasure by quitting, but they disagree with the agency's reasoning.

"A large majority of smokers regret having started smoking and wish they could quit," Myers said. "Such smokers do not derive pleasure from smoking. They smoke primarily to avoid the effects of withdrawal."