Are mature smokers misinformed?

While there are many reasons to continue to smoke in spite of its consequences for health, the concern that many smoke because they misperceive the risks of smoking remains a focus of public discussion and motivates tobacco control policies and litigation. In this paper we investigate the relative accuracy of mature smokers' risk perceptions about future survival, and a range of morbidities and disabilities. Using data from the survey on smoking (SOS) conducted for this research. we compare subjective beliefs elicited from the SOS with corresponding individual-specific objective probabilities estimated from the health and retirement study. Overall, consumers in the age group studied, 50-70, are not overly optimistic in their perceptions of health risk. If anything, smokers tend to be relatively pessimistic about these risks. The finding that smokers are either well informed or pessimistic regarding a broad range of health risks suggests that these beliefs are not pivotal in the decision to continue smoking. Although statements by the tobacco companies may have been misleading and thus encouraged some to start smoking, we find no evidence that systematic misinformation about the health consequences of smoking inhibits quitting.