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Effectiveness of Warning statements on Labeling

December 22, 2016

Warning Statements are seen in Foods, Drugs, Medical Devices, Cosmetics, Food Supplements, Kids Toys and practically everywhere.

The purpose of a warning statement is to warn the consumer about the potential risk(s) of using the product and decide for themselves whether the benefits outweigh the risks of using the product. Warning statements also provide details of the precautions to be taken and so the consumer is expected to make an informed decision after reading it.

Effectiveness of a label warning can be measured using five factors:

Attention is the first dimension of effectiveness. It assesses whether consumers notice or see a warning label that appears on a product. Once the warning label has attracted consumers’ attention, the next question is whether or not they proceed to read/understand its information. Then, consumers must be able to remember/recall the information presented in the warning label. Next, warning labels need to influence consumer judgments concerning their perceptions of how hazardous and dangerous a product really is. Finally, a warning label is effective if it successfully influences consumer to engage in behaviors that comply with the safety precautions conveyed in the label.


So are warning statements effective? Have they helped consumers make an informed decision?

Richard Zeckhauser from Harvard University published a paper titled “Efficient Warnings, Not “Wolf or Puppy” Warnings” ( ). Richard argues that the present system treats all the risks as equal, even though they are not. The current labeling regulations do not distinguish between the risk levels. For example, California’s Proposition 65 says that businesses selling products to people in California must provide “clear and reasonable warnings” before knowingly exposing people to any chemical on a published list, unless the expected level of exposure would pose no significant cancer risk. This warning is often in the form of a label on the product or its packaging. The Prop 65 labels only tell you that a product has something in it that might cause cancer or affect reproduction. They don’t say what the substance is, where it is in the product, how you might be exposed to it, what the level of risk is, or how to reduce your exposure. Not surprisingly, individuals homogenize abundant warnings, and often fail to respond to the small minority that impose grave risks.

The current regulations fail at distinguishing between large and small risks. When a risk is truly present, people all too often ignore the warning, having been conditioned to believing that such warnings rarely connote a serious threat for them. Moreover, the way an individual perceives the risk is different from others. This can vary depending on that person’s social status, age, frequency of product use, etc. However companies do not take into account different people profiles and issue blanket warnings for all consumers.

So do you take warning statements seriously?

Image Credits: Dailymed

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