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A Snus Conundrum

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: pellesten

60 Minutes recently ran a story about snus, smokeless tobacco that is not messy and that may be a substitute for cigarettes. An anti-tobacco activist talked at length about how it might worsen tobacco’s hazards by addicting more people to nicotine, leading to more smoking.
This is a standard problem whenever the damage from undertaking a risky activity is reduced: Offer a life raft and more people will jump off a sinking ship. Many will be saved, but some will drown off the life raft. Mandatory seat belts do this-lives are saved, but people also drive faster and more accidents occur. Sex education does this-there are fewer pregnancies per sexual encounter, but more sexual encounters are undertaken. Unemployment insurance does this-it is a life raft for the working, but it attracts people into the workforce who are more likely than others to be unemployed. I’ll bet that snus, like the other examples, will reduce the total damages of the risky behavior, but more people will engage in the behavior because they expect its costs to be lower.