Nudging Smokers - The Behavioural Turn of Tobacco Risk Regulation

European Journal of Risk Regulation, Vol. 3, p. 1, 2012

20 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2012

Date Written: February 16, 2012


At a time when policy makers want to change the behaviour of citizens to tackle a broad range of social problems, such as climate change, excessive drinking, obesity and crime, a promising new policy approach has appeared that seems capable of escaping the liberal reservations typically associated with all forms of regulatory action. After having relied on the assumption that governments can only change people’s behaviour through rules and regulations, policy makers now seem ready to design policies that better reflect how people really behave, not how they are assumed to behave as rational agents. The approach, which stems from the increasingly ubiquitous findings of behavioural research, is generally captured under the evocative concept of ‘nudge’. Inspired by ‘libertarian paternalism’, it suggests that the goal of public policies should be to steer citizens towards making positive decisions as individuals and for society while preserving individual choice. This contribution aims at critically examining the application of nudging approaches to the current efforts of regulating lifestyle choices, such as tobacco use, excessive use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and lack of physical exercise. In particular, it discusses the viability of nudges approaches as applied to current tobacco control policies. After providing an account of the range of tobacco control policy tools that have developed over time, the article discusses the regulatory philosophy currently underlying anti-tobacco efforts by focusing on the mainstream concept of ‘de-normalisation.’ It then illustrates how most of the policies aimed at de-normalising tobacco today rely on ‘nudging’ approaches via behavioural change rather than via the provision of information. It finally argues that – due to the actual approach towards tobacco – most of the flaws generally identified with this alternative regulatory approach seem overcome in the context of tobacco control. However, despite its potential for providing a philosophical base justifying the current ‘permit but discourage’ approach typical of tobacco control and other lifestyle policies, it cannot be ruled out that ‘nudging’ might encounter some of the same obstacles it faces in other less contentious areas of policy-making.

Keywords: Nudge, Libertarian Paternalism, Behavioral, Lifestyle, Risk Regulation, Tobacco control, Warnings, Plain Packaging, Visual Display

JEL Classification: I12, I28, J18, K00, K20, K23, K32, M00

Suggested Citation

Alemanno, Alberto, Nudging Smokers - The Behavioural Turn of Tobacco Risk Regulation (February 16, 2012). European Journal of Risk Regulation, Vol. 3, p. 1, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Alberto Alemanno (Contact Author)

HEC Paris ( email )

1 Rue de la libération


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