The Intersection of Emotion and Health Policy

At the intersection of emotion and health policy, evidence-based decision making often gets creamed. We see it all the time in the realm of obesity and nutrition. Emotions run high when the subject is sugar, salt, and fat in the food supply, or big food, or fast food — just to name a few subjects that ignite passions and dull the critical thinking.

Passions are running high right now in the realm of tobacco and nicotine. FDA just announced a much-needed regulatory framework for e-cigarettes, kicking off heated arguments about whether the proposal is too strong, too weak, or just right.

Joe GitchellA respected veteran of tobacco and health policy issues, Joe Gitchell, has just published a thorough analysis of why the emotions run so high with policies related to e-cigarettes. It ties back to a concept of harm reduction that has a bit of a tortured history in tobacco policy. Remember low-tar cigarettes? They were an elaborate scam that did more harm than good — with the unwitting help of some health policy advocates.

As a result of that debacle, emotions are running so high that evidence-based decision making is a challenge. “How can we trust the industry that’s pushing e-cigarettes, now that big tobacco is in the mix?”

Sound familiar? The same fights have played out over the food industry, taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and menu labeling in the world of nutrition and obesity. Decision quality, science, and objectivity suffer in the heat of polarized, emotional debates.

Click here to read Gitchell’s analysis. Click here and here to read more about the swirling controversy over e-cigarettes and their regulation.

Intersect, photograph © Frederic Rivollier / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.