KSJ Tracker December 11, 2012

Is it time to start taxing and regulating genes?


My favorite story of the day so far: Efficacy of Tobacco Taxes Tied to Gene Type, by Nicholas Bakalar of The New York Times

I suppose we could take this too far and note that policy makers, accustomed to regulating government, business, and individuals, should reconize that they are also regulating genotypes. And when the Senate considers Susan Rice's possible nomination as Secretary of State, perhaps it should demand to see her genome. (As I write this, it occurs to me that today's nonsensical crack is sometimes tomorrow's reality.)

The Times treated this story as a novelty item, publishing a 240-word piece in the back pages of Science Times. I would have done much more. 

Admittedly, the study's author, Jason Fletcher of Yale, "urged caution in interpreting his findings since this is the first study of its kind," as Bakalar reported. But Fletcher added, "As we get more and more convinced that people with certain genotypes may respond differently to policies, that means that alternative policies may be necessary." 

The research not only introduces a fascinating idea, but it also has important and immediate implications for antismoking policies, which must be changed or supplemented if smoking if to be further reduced--and if this study is correct.

The press release by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where Fletcher is a Health & Society Scholar, notes that antismoking policies have reached a plateau, and that his findings could help explain why.

-Paul Raeburn


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