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Social Cost Economic Group


A group of academic economists, led by Professor Robert Tollison, which was recruited to counter the political claims that the tobacco industry was a burden on tax payers because of the high cost of health-care it imposed on the community — together with related costs such as social welfare needed to support families without a wage earner, and the cost of forest fires, urban firefighting, litter and butt clean-ups in streets and public venues, etc.


The tobacco industry seems to have had more success in recruiting economists to serve their cause than they did experts from other academic or scientific disciplines. Economists had the advantage of being able to arguing obviously-stupid positions because most of the free-market fundamentalism that was then the fashion appeared to outsiders to be even more ridiculous.

An economists arguments could end up as illogical and convoluted chains of assumptions and interpretations, and end up in ways that no non-economist could evev follow ... and no other economist could ever duplicate. So unlike biomedical scientists or chemists, they could never be proved by later research to be wrong.

The only intelligent argument this group of economists ever managed to mount with any degree of credibility was that the smoker, through dying early, reduced the cost of supporting him/her in their geriatric years. They then claimed that the additional taxes on tobacco.put the industry onto the profitable side of the government's income-expenditure ledger.

1988 July: The Issues Manager of the Tobacco Institute, Susan Stuntz, told her executive audience at the annual knees-up that they had recruited a group of Social Cost economists to assist them with countering claims that smoking was a burden on the economy

The overall objective of our program is to show there are no social costs of smoking. First, we've established a core group of social costs economists from respected academic institutions across the country. They will take the lead in arguing against social costs economics ... testifying [and] dealing with the media [and] conducting briefings ... and producing research.

A new wave of research will be ready by the end of August.
• For instance, a report using Japan as evidence against the Social Cost argument.
• A study which shows how dangerous Social Cost methods could be to other industries, such as Sugar, Coffee and Beef. We can anticipate this research will help us generate support from other industries to oppose Social Cost Economics.
• A study on Absenteeism and smoking to demonstrate that absenteeism is related to job characteristics and income levels, not smoking behavior.

We'll also be promoting these studies as well as other materials produced by our economists — such as the Tollison/Wagner book — that your probably all seen by now, which analyses Social Cost Economic and its application to tobacco.

Our team of economics will be addressing their colleagues at the Atlantic, Southern and Western Economics Association meetings. We will promote the final reports from these meetings.Also, an academic symposium of the social cost issue will be held this fall at George Mason University.

[Some of these hot-links should work]

Robert Tollison
Richard Wagner
social acceptability
social cost/value
George Mason University
George Mason Law and Economics Center