As U.S. health regulators consider what rules to impose on electronic cigarettes, in their tally of costs and benefits they have placed a value on the lost pleasure consumers may suffer if they used the products less or not at all.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says in a little-noticed document released alongside its proposals for regulations in April that the projected benefits of the new rules, which also apply to cigars, hookahs and other vapor products, should be cut by 70 percent to account for the deprivation consumers would suffer.
That means if the agency puts a value of $100,000 on the longer and improved life that might be achieved by deterring someone from smoking, then it would cut that benefit assessment to $30,000 because of the pleasure they lost.
The approach is regarded as radical among those who have done cost-benefit studies for regulators.
Some public health advocates warn it will help the tobacco industry argue that the cost of complying with restrictions on new nicotine products exceeds any benefit to the public, making it easier to scuttle those rules. They also fear it could be applied more broadly to regulation of products, such as food and alcoholic beverages, that is meant to protect public health.
"This makes it a lot harder to justify regulations on cost-benefit grounds," said Dr Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine and a tobacco control expert at the University of California, San Francisco, who favors tough regulation of e-cigarettes and cigars. "It will undermine anything they try to do about anything."