Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Musings on effectiveness of warning labels

How effective do you think warning labels on products are? The discussion about the purpose of placing such warning labels on consumer products has been going on for some time now. Sociologists mention e.g. that we might become desensitized to warning labels, if we find them on most products we buy. Still, politicians often argue that more laws should be introduced that would force businesses to place such warning labels on many more consumer products than the ones that already have such labels.

E.g. in Denmark there have been voices raised recently about a necessity for warning labels on soft drinks (Health minister calls for warning labels on soft drinks). What's the danger that these labels should warn consumers about? High sugar content. Of course, there are already laws in place that force producers of soft drinks to publish specific content of their drinks, including revealing information on how much sugar they contain (read e.g. earlier post on new Regulation on Food Information). It is believed, however, that most consumers either ignore the list of ingredients on consumer products or will not realize how high the content of sugar in these drinks is (not to mention that some people are actually attracted by warnings, read e.g. earlier post on Morbid warnings on cigarette packs). Therefore, the Danish health minister calls for specific warning labels on soft drinks that could contribute to scaring consumers off purchasing such drinks and to fighting the modern plague of obesity. So far he calls for business to introduce such warning labels voluntarily, but it can be expected that a legislation initiative would follow. 

Do you think it could work? Personally, I doubt it, since if higher prices cannot discourage consumers from buying certain products (a tax for soft drinks was raised in the past few years in Denmark), a warning label on a bottle seems to be deemed to be ignored, as well. Most consumers, in my opinion, would read it with the first bottle of soft drink they'd be purchasing, maybe think about the high sugar content for a second, and maybe even decide that they'd limit their purchases of soft drinks... I have little faith, though, that consumers' resolution would hold for long in this case. To the contrary, just like with warnings on cigarette packs, I'm certain that consumers would quickly stop seeing them. I cannot help but think about the gyms that are full in January, with many consumers acting up on their New Year's resolution to become more fit, and how they empty again mid February... I believe that's what would happen if these warning labels were placed on soft drinks bottles.

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