This article offers a bold new idea for confronting the staggering level of death, injury, and disease caused by five consumer products: cigarettes, alcohol, guns, junk food, and motor vehicles. Business leaders try to frame these negative outcomes as “collateral damage” that is someone else's problem. That framing not only is morally objectionable but also overlooks the possibility that, with proper prodding, industry could substantially lessen these public health disasters. I seek to reframe the public perception of who is responsible and propose to deploy a promising approach called “performance-based regulation” to combat the problem. Performance-based regulation would impose on manufacturers a legal obligation to reduce the negative social costs of their products. Rather than involving them in litigation or forcing them to operate differently (as “command-and-control” regimes do), performance-based regulation allows the firms to determine how best to decrease bad public health consequences. Like other public health strategies, performance-based regulation focuses on those who are far more likely than individual consumers to achieve real gains. Analogous to a tax on causing harm that exceeds a threshold level, performance-based regulation seeks to harness private initiative in pursuit of the public good.

You do not currently have access to this content.