SB763 Threatens the Credibility of Product Safety Regulations & Consumer Communications
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Posted by: Lauren Schoener-Gaynor
By Anne M. Northup
Former Congresswoman and Former US CPSC Commissioner
We are fortunate to live in a country with a strong commitment to consumer safety.
Unlike some places in the world, Americans have a high degree of confidence that the products they see on store shelves or buy online have been evaluated by a trusted regulatory body and are safe.
One such regulatory body is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), whose mission is to regulate more than 15,000 consumer products, keeping the public safe from preventable injuries and deaths caused by unsafe and defective products.
During my time as a commissioner at the CPSC, we worked to improve the safety of consumer products, such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters and household chemicals. I also understood that compliance requirements should not be unjustly burdensome on the manufacturers and small business owners who produced these products. When a regulation becomes overly burdensome, that raises the costs for Americans that need these products for their families. At the CPSC, we had to prove the benefits expected from any rule bore a reasonable relationship to its costs, and that the rule imposed the least burdensome requirement on manufacturers to reduce the risk of injury.
California is currently considering state legislation, SB 763, whose stated purpose – to help ensure the safety of children’s products – is a noble one. As a mother and a grandmother, I recognize how important it is for parents to know that their children are safe. But SB 763 seeks to impose a labeling requirement on already safe products, undermining consumer confidence and imposing a costly and unnecessary requirement on businesses.
Specifically, SB 763 would require twenty children’s products, which are already exempt from having to meet California’s flammability standard, to be labeled as containing flame-retardant chemicals or not containing flame-retardant chemicals. Imagine the confusion from expectant parents shopping for needed items when they see that the high chair is labeled as being free of flame-retardants and the crib mattress being labeled as containing them. What are they to conclude about which product is safe?
Numerous state and federal agencies already regulate product testing, formulations and warnings based on exposure and risk. In this case, the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), administered by the CPSC, establishes categories of hazardous substances, and labeling requirements for these same consumer products. SB 763 would simply duplicate these efforts, creating confusion and unnecessarily raising their cost.
Additionally, warning labels have proven to be an ineffective mechanism for detailed consumer communication. Studies have repeatedly shown that consumers’ attitudes and beliefs are not influenced by the more specific information contained in warning labels. In fact, scientists reviewed more than 400 articles concerning warning labels on products such as seat belts, health products, and household chemicals and concluded that labels on product warning had no measurable impact on user behavior or product safety, not to mention the practical limitations of requiring more and more information on limited amounts of space.
Implementation of this proposed legislation would also be costly for California businesses. Local businesses and those businesses wishing to sell their products in the state would be required to spend significant time and resources to design and re-label their products.
Unfortunately, laws and regulations with the best intentions can have negative, and unintended consequences. SB 763’s labeling requirements are unnecessary, counter-productive and burdensome because of already existing consumer safety regulations, the confusion the proposed law will create for consumers and caregivers and the additional cost Californians will have to pay for these products.