Wacky Warning Labels Contest Announces Finalists

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The 14th annual Wacky Warning Labels contest, highlighting the most bizarre consumer cautions, announced its five finalists Tuesday and will select a winner in June. Robert Siegel talks to Bob Dorigo Jones, who started the contest back in 1997.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. A brief warning now for our listeners: If you turn up your radio dial, the volume will get louder.

Now that may sound obvious, but judging from some warnings you can find on product labels, stating the obvious, and overstating the obvious, are the order of the day.

Enter the 14th annual Wacky Warning Labels contest. It announced its five finalists yesterday, and it will select a winner in June. Joining us now from Detroit by Bob Dorigo Jones, a senior fellow at the nonprofit group The Center for America, which runs this contest. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BOB DORIGO JONES (Senior Fellow, The Center for America): Thank you.

SIEGEL: First, I'd like you tell us about the finalists, beginning with one. One label concerns a pen cap, or a pen on the cap of the pen.

Mr. JONES: This is an ordinary ballpoint pen, but the warning label says: Pen caps can obstruct breathing. Keep out of mouth. In other words, don't swallow the pen.

SIEGEL: Don't swallow the pen. A dust mask also has an interesting warning this year.

Mr. JONES: It just says warning: does not supply oxygen.

SIEGEL: This presumably is in case you confuse it with the thing that comes down over your seat in the airplane in the event of emergency?

Mr. JONES: That must be why.

SIEGEL: A leather handgun holster comes with a warning label that's one of your finalists.

Mr. JONES: It says warning: for gun only, not a functional day planner.

SIEGEL: You mean it's designed to look like a day planner.

Mr. JONES: And it's very clear - and the name of the product is a gun holder.

SIEGEL: Yeah, another one is for a hot tub cover.

Mr. JONES: Yes, it was found outside of a cover of a hot tub. It says warning: remove safety cover from spa when in use.

SIEGEL: Don't try to get into the hot tub with the safety cover still on top of it is what it's effectively telling us.

Mr. JONES: Yes.

SIEGEL: And a bicycle brochure came with what you would call a finalist for the Wacky Warning Label competition.

Mr. JONES: This is one of my favorites. We have the brochure. There are pictures of little children riding bikes, most of them on training wheels, but the warning label says: The action depicted in this brochure is potentially dangerous. The riders seen are experienced experts or professionals.

SIEGEL: Are they doing wheelies or something, or not wearing helmets? Is that what they're getting at?

Mr. JONES: You would think so from that warning label, but they're just -actually most of them were standing next to the bicycle.

SIEGEL: So this is a contest that you run at the Center for America. And it's part of a political case that you're making here against - well, you're a tort reform group, I guess.

Mr. JONES: We're a public education group. We want people thinking about all the ways that American culture is changing because we live in the most lawsuit-happy society on Earth.

You don't see these warnings anywhere around the world because reporters from Japan, Australia, France and Germany all come to interview us about this, and they all wonder the same thing: Why do Americans put up with all these lawsuits that lead to these types of labels?

SIEGEL: Well, back to the labels themselves, what in your experience really qualifies as a wacky warning label?

Mr. JONES: A wacky warning label is a label that's warning you about something that you already know anyway, common sense, obvious. For example, one of the past winners was a warning label on a scooter, and right on the handlebars, between the grips, it says: Warning, this product moves when used.

SIEGEL: One would hope. Well, thanks for talking with us about it.

Mr. JONES: My pleasure, thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Bob Dorigo Jones, who is a senior fellow at the nonprofit, The Center for America, and founder of the Wacky Warning Labels contest, which is now in its 14th year. He spoke to us from Detroit.

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