Reefer Madness, Frank the Tank or Pretty Woman: To What Extent do Addictive Behaviors Respond to Incentives?

John Cawley, Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, and of Economics, and co-Director of the Institute on Health Economics, Health Behaviors and Disparities, Cornell University, USA

Co-presented with the School of Economics

30 October

There is considerable public health and public policy interest in risky health behaviors, many of which exhibit habitual or addictive qualities. I describe three common models of addictive behavior and illustrate them using movie clips: the irrational addict model (illustrated by the movie Reefer Madness), the rational addict (as in Pretty Woman) and the imperfectly rational addict (illustrated by the character Frank the Tank in the movie Old School). I then summarize the research evidence in support of each model and discuss the implications for public policy, such as taxation and provision of information.

Professor John Cawley

John Cawley is a Professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management, and the Department of Economics, at Cornell University. John is co-Director of Cornell's Institute on Health Economics, Health Behaviors and Disparities, and co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal Economics and Human Biology.

In addition to his affiliation with Cornell, John is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and a Research Fellow of the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). He was a member of the Institute of Medicine Committee "Prevention of Obesity in Children and Youth" and has served on advisory boards and expert panels for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies.

John's primary field of research is health economics, with a focus on the economics of obesity. He studies the economic causes of obesity, the economic consequences of obesity, and economic approaches to obesity treatment and prevention. Examples of research projects include: the effects of food advertising on diet and of income on weight; the impact of obesity on labor market outcomes such as wages; the effect of physical education on youths; and the effectiveness of financial rewards for weight loss.