Lars Noah


Americans are being inundated with warnings in the labeling of consumer products. Congress, at least half a dozen federal agencies, state lawmakers, and the courts all demand that warnings accompany consumer goods. In this Article, Mr. Noah argues that there are too many decisionmakers pursuing too many different purposes, and paying too little attention to the serious information costs that may result from the overuse of warnings. In particular, he notes that indiscriminate and cumulative warnings about trivial risks may be counterproductive. Consumers either will begin to ignore product labels altogether, thereby missing other important information, or they will become alarmed by risks that were judged insufficient to warrant any more direct attempts to curtail use. Such inappropriate responses to risk labeling may outweigh the anticipated benefits of warning requirements, especially when the primary purpose of such efforts is nothing more than fulfilling an amorphous "right to know." Thus, Mr. Noah concludes that there is a pressing need for a more coherent risk communication strategy. Without one, he argues, manufacturers of consumer products will continue to face increasing and sometimes inconsistent demands to include warnings in labeling, even if the net effect of those warnings is public apathy and confusion.

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