W. Kip Viscusi

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

W. Kip Viscusi

William Kip Viscusi is a Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School. His research focuses on the economics of individual and societal responses to risk and uncertainty. Professor Viscusi has published numerous books and articles on these topics.

Biography

W. Kevin ('Kip') Viscusi is described on Vanderbilt University Law School's Web site as "University Distinguished Professor at Vanderbilt University, with primary appointments in the Law School, Owen Graduate School of Management, and Department of Economics.[1] Prior to joining Vanderbilt, Viscusi was Cogan Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School, Consultant to Philip Morris--Defense Expert-Economist." [2] Kip Viscusi was a Duke University economist in 1994. His research focuses on individual and societal responses to risk and uncertainty. He has written extensively on the economics of smoking. The Washington Post designated him the "Reagan Administration's expert on the value of life." [3][4] Viscusi doesn't think that smoking in the workplace is all that expensive to employers. He has said,

If you want to look at the costs imposed by smokers, you have to look at all insurance costs, not just health costs. At least from a societal standpoint, smokers actually save us money because they die sooner, and if you have a pension plan, they're a bargain. It's a morbid thought, but that's the way it plays out.

Viscusi was scheduled to testify at the September 1994 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hearings on a proposed workplace smoking ban [5]

Viscusi has stated that “As measured by short-run price responsiveness, people are no more addicted to cigarettes than they are to lawyers or the opera”people are no more addicted to cigarettes than they are to lawyers or the opera.”[6]

He was used as an expert in Mississippi's lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

Involvement with the tobacco industry

Professor Viscusi has served as both a consultant and expert witness for the tobacco industry on secondhand smoke issues. According to a 1995 Tobacco Institute budget, he was paid a total of $32,810 for comments and testimony he gave on the industry's behalf during 1994 and 1995 to help the industry counter Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to address secondhand smoke issues in the workplace. [7]

Professor Viscusi's writings on smoking issues--costs, taxation, secondhand smoke and youth smoking--have invariably been supportive of the tobacco industry.

Economic arguments involving smoking

In October 1994, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER, an organization which received support from Philip Morris) issued a paper by Viscusi called "Cigarette Taxation and the Social Consequences of Smoking" in which Viscusi argues that smokers actually save society money by dying earlier than nonsmokers. Viscusi said that smokers live long enough to pay taxes, but not long enough to draw retirement pensions, nursing home costs, for example. Viscusi claims that every pack smoked saves Americans $1.19 in pension and social security payments (in 1994 dollars).[8][9][10]

Viscusi's primary argument in support of the tobacco industry -- that smokers save society money through their early deaths, as well as a corresponding argument that nonsmokers cost society more by living longer -- has persisted into 2009. In an April, 2009 Associated Press article, reporter Erica Werner wrote that

House members described huge health care costs associated with smoking as they approved landmark legislation last week giving the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products. No one mentioned the additional costs to society of caring for a nonsmoking population that lives longer ... However, smokers die some 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, according to the CDC, and those premature deaths provide a savings to Medicare, Social Security, private pensions and other programs ... Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi studied the net costs of smoking-related spending and savings and found that for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country reaps a net cost savings of 32 cents.

Viscusi himself describes his argument that smokers' early deaths saving money as "ghoulish."[11]

Tobacco industry documents

Viscusi's claims that smokers save society money by dying early have been quoted by a number of tobacco industry supporters, and have been utilized by the tobacco industry's public relations firm Arnold & Porter.

The following passage is taken from a Feb. 5, 1999 "privileged and confidential" Philip Morris document titled, Smokers Pay Their Own Way According to Various Commentators:

George Will: "Most important, users of cigarettes -- the world's most heavily taxed consumer good -- save society money because one in three of them dies prematurely, thereby minimizing the drain on public pension and nursing home entitlements, see "From Cash Crop to Cash Cow:How Tobacco Profits State Qovernments"in regulation quarterly, by W.Kip Viscusi of Harvard Law School"

Business and economics columnist Robert Samuelson has said,

Nor do smokers -- and the tobacco industry -- impose huge economic costs on the rest of society. Just the opposite: Smokers more than pay their own way. They already pay steep cigarette taxes and, by dying early, create future savings in health costs, nursing home care, Social Security, and pensions. Even without the taxes, the savings smokers create by early death may exceed the costs they impose by 40 percent, estimates Harvard economist W . Kip Viscusi. Just because this argument is freakish and awkward is no reason to ignore it.

James Glassman has said:

Understand that careful analysis by Harvard's Kip Viscusi and other scholars has found that, already, 'smokers save society 32 cents per pack,' because they die earlier and don't incur Social Security costs."

In a June 25, 1997 article in the Washington Times Patrick Buchanan stated,

Smokers already pay Medicare and Medicaid taxes; they already pay extra for any problems created by smoking in the 23-cents-a pack federal tax on cigarettes. And since they die younger, smokers receive less in health benefits than all the rest of us."[12]

Publications by Kip Viscusi

Contact

W. Kip Viscusi, Ph.D.
Harvard Law School
Hauser 302
Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: (617) 496-0019
Fax: (617) 495-3010
Email: kip AT law.harvard.edu (substitute "AT" with an @ sign)

External Resources

Sourcewatch Resources

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