Prop 65 cancer warnings do more harm than good

I first saw a prop 65 “Cancer and reproductive harm” warning a few years ago on a product I bought in Europe. Never having seen it before in my life, I was confused and contacted the manufacturer.

All I bought was a pen, so how could the pen cause cancer? They told me they sell the pens to people in California so they just put the warning on all the pens they make, and that the pen itself was totally safe. If, however, I ground up the metal and ate it, it could increase my risk of getting cancer.

Ridiculous, right? Nobody grinds up and eats the metal from pens. Why would manufacturers have to warn you about it?

For a long time I just thought this was a ridiculous liberal legislation pushed by California, one of the most regulated states in the U.S. Every time I saw one of those stickers, I took it less and less seriously, until eventually (having moved to the US) they became ubiquitous, and I started ignoring them entirely.

And then I realized: that’s the point! The government doesn’t care about your health, or they wouldn’t be fluoridating water and subsidizing High-Fructose Corn Syrup until it was in almost every product imaginable. If they cared about putting cancer warnings on products, they’d only put them on products where the risk of getting cancer was actually substantial, e.g. lead paint that your kid or pet might eat when it chips off the walls. Not on everyday items like pens and mugs that require grinding them up and eating them (instead of how the product is meant to be used).

And what about all the products that can cause cancer and reproductive harm, like cell phones and WiFi, which the government steadfastly ignores to the benefit of industry?

The only reason to put those warnings on everything is to get you to stop caring. To get you to ignore the warnings. If every product we use has a cancer warning on it, then you’re helpless. Might as well just give up.

None of this should come as a surprise. Everything the government legislates ends up having the opposite effect. Ask legislators to protect you from cancer-causing products and they’ll make businesses put the label on everything until you can’t distinguish between what is and isn’t safe anymore.

By desensitizing you to cancer warnings, the government has made it much more likely that you won’t take measures to avoid the really bad stuff, and simultaneously given manufacturers a simple out: no matter how bad the product they make is, they just stick a label on it that nobody cares about and if they ever get sued, they can say, “Well, we warned you”

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