Tobacco Smoking: Non-Rational Choice Theory
Non-rational choice theories of smoking, as the name suggests, are a family of approaches that quarrel with one or more aspects of the rational choice approach. They are far more diverse than are rational choice theories, but all make assumptions which imply that harmful behaviours are decision making incapacitation (temporary incompetence), or both.
Decision making incompetence arises, notably, when the agent is immature or otherwise incapable of rational choices with respective to smoking. Children, for example, may be unable to fully contemplate life-threatening risk, or may lack an adequate means of discounting future costs, or may be especially susceptible to suasion, such as tobacco promotion or peer-pressure.
This is not inconsistent with rational choice per se; but it raises the difficult question of when children become mature enough to be deemed rational policies that aim to protect these incompetents from risky endeavours (driving, soldering, sex, truancy, gambling, drinking, marriage are sometimes referred to as ‘soft’ paternalism (see New, 1999; ‘hard’ paternalism in non-consensual interference in the self-regarding decision making of a competent adult, intended to further his welfare, while ‘soft’ paternalism is reserved for incompetent adults or children).
Intervening to protect adults from themselves is more controversial. Adults may be deemed incompetent when they are entirely myopic. Chaloupka and Warner (1999) identify a class of ‘myopic models of addictive behaviour’. Kin these models, behaviour is non-rational because it is forward looking (following pllacks, 1975:22): ‘An individual recognizes the dependence of current addictive behaviour decisions on past consumption, but then ignores (what logically must follow) the impact of current and past choices on future consumption decisions when making current choices.
Incapacitation holds that adults, who are ordinary competent decision makers, have their rational faculties overwhelmed by nicotine addiction makers are in effect deprived of the choice to stop smoking (Sullum, 1997).
The primrosepath’ model (Herrnstein and Prelee, 1992) combines incompetence and incapacitation in life-cycle story. Smokers take up smoking as youths owing to incompetence. When mature enough to properly ascertain a poor choice, they are already looked and the preferred choice is foreclosed by addiction (incapacitation).
Classifying diverse perspectives on smoking using a simple ration/non-rational dichotomy has obvious limitations. However, both because it is revealing in itself, and because it helps to motivate a subtler taxonomy, we consider the question of how one might choose between the rational choice and non-rational choice alternatives can evidence or data be used to show that one theory is clearly superior.