ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–America has become famous for its warning labels. Some are helpful and urge caution concerning some hidden dangers or possible side effects of certain products. Others, however, seem obvious if not downright absurd.
Consider the following ludicrous labels compiled by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch:
— A label on a public toilet reads, “Recycled flush water unsafe for drinking.”
— A washing machine in a Laundromat warns, “Do not put any person in this washer.”
— A label on the gas cap of a personal watercraft warns, “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.”
— A laser printer cartridge advises, “Do not eat toner.”
— A household iron cautions, “Never iron clothes while they are being worn.”
— A cardboard sunshield that shades the dashboard advises, “Do not drive with sunshield in place.”
— A baby stroller tells parents, “Remove child before folding.”
One reason for warning labels is that manufacturers want to avoid lawsuits. As odd as it might sound, the personal watercraft carries the warning on its gas cap because some “bright” individual might actually check the fuel level with a match. And even worse, a lawsuit could follow.
The United States government demands some products to carry warning labels. Cigarettes, for instance, have for decades been required to carry a fairly strong statement indicating the health risks posed by smoking.
State-sponsored lotteries carry information on their products that cite the addictive possibility of gambling. Tickets and scratch-off games also include a toll-free number for those who might need help for a gambling problem.
Alcohol manufacturers carry the following warnings: “According to the surgeon general, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. The consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.”
Whether a label cautions against the foolish misuse of a product, as in the caution never to iron clothes while they are being worn, or indicates probable health problems, like those associated with cigarettes, the intent is to alert consumers of potential harmful problems.
Even condoms carry warning labels these days. I visited a local pharmacy to check out the “cautions” carried on condom packages. The consistent message was: “If used properly, latex condoms will help to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV infection (AIDS) and many other sexually transmitted diseases.”
A couple of packages even added that condoms are not 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy or STDs. But even with the additional sentence, the condom warning did not come across like much of a warning.
According to a report carried on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, condoms are only 85 to 87 percent effective against HIV transmission. However, a revised estimate carried in a bulletin of the World Health Organization sets the estimate of effectiveness at 80 percent.
For some, 80-plus percent effectiveness sounds good. Yet would you eat a restaurant that served food free from E. Coli bacteria only 87 percent of the time? Would you fly in an airline that advertised that 87 percent of its flights landed safely?
When the stakes are high, 87 percent does not sound so good, does it? When a condom fails to protect against HIV, which is somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of the time, a life is forever changed and cut short.
I think an effective condom warning would be: “No study has proven condoms to be 100 percent effective at preventing STDs. In reference to HIV, condom effectiveness rate at preventing transmission is, at best, 87 percent. Use this product at your own risk.”
I did a quick and informal survey of pharmacy patrons concerning the effectiveness of condoms in combating sexual transmitted diseases. The six people I queried said they understood that condoms were almost 100 percent effective in preventing disease transmission.
While my survey is purely anecdotal, I think it points to the reality that the warnings on condom packages are even less effective than the condoms. Even a household iron carries a stronger warning. And just how many people actually do consider ironing their clothes while they are still wearing them? I can tell you, a lot less than those that consider having sex outside of marriage.
The consequences of sex outside of marriage are such that condoms need to carry an honest and urgent warning. As it stands, a weak warning is no warning at all.