A new book, The Future of Risk Management, features a chapter by CHDS researcher Lisa A. Robinson and co-authors W. Kip Viscusi and Richard J. Zeckhauser on the problems associated with consumer product hazard warnings. In “Efficient Warnings, not Wolf or Puppy’ Warnings,” the authors note that ideally warnings should empower individuals to take precautions that reflect their own circumstances and preferences. However, warnings currently fail to distinguish between large and small risks; that is to say between wolves and puppies. Such an approach is of little value, since people quickly learn to ignore a warning, given that puppies, which pose little danger, are many times more plentiful than wolves. When a wolf is truly present, people all too often ignore the warning, having been conditioned to believe that such warnings rarely connote a serious threat. The authors illustrate the problem with examples related to cigarette labeling, mercury in seafood, trans fat in food, and California’s Proposition 65. They argue that the decision to require a warning and the wording of the warning should be designed to lead consumers to more accurately assess the risks or at least distinguish between serious and mild risks.
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