Tobacco Smoking: Rational Theory of Smoking
According to (Klien, 1993), in rational choice theories of smoking, agents make purposeful, reasoned choices consistent with given preferences. Rational agents evaluate cost and benefits, and respond to changes therein, so rational explanations logically allow that one can be better off smoking, i.e. that the costs smokers risks can be exceeded by the benefits of smoking.
The taste and feel of tobacco smoke can be pleasurable; smoking’s ritual are often social, and can be comforting, even sensual; and nicotine, rare among drugs, has a homeostatic affect on mood it calms when one is nervous, stimulates when one is sluggish.
Smoking introduces two complications for the rational choice theorist:
- Intertemporal effects; and
- Nicotine addiction
Intertemporal effects arise because smoking decisions and utility consequences are partly separate in time. Current and prior cigarette consumption (the consumption ‘stock’) increases future health risks and withdrawal costs. The consumption stock also affects future benefits:
The pleasure of smoking can increase or decrease with past consumption depending upon the relative effect of tolerance and reinforcement. Since smoking entails future costs and benefits, the rational agent must form some expectations and a means for evaluating them in present terms.
It is thus not merely future prices and income that the agent must forecast, but also dynamically contingent utility effects, along with a method of discounting projected consumption paths. The accuracy and completeness of expectations and models, but all rational smoking theories make agents forward looking in some measure, not myopic.
Rational smoking theories treat nicotine addition in different ways, but all make it at least partly internal to the cost-benefit decision process. In some models addiction is chosen, eye open (Becker and Murphy, 1988), while in other models addiction is more a by product of a exante uncertainty as to whether one is the ‘addictive type’ (Opganides and Zervos, 1995) or of dynamically inconsistent preferences.
But in rational theories of smoking nicotine addiction is not regarded as a mistake and neither is it seen as ‘external’ to decision making, i.e. as an a volitional compulsion that overwhelms the ability to choose rationally. Addition unambiguously makes smoking hard to quit, but rational choice or a career (Viscusi, 1992) or failing to maintain a low-fat diet and an exercise regimen.