Government agencies regulate myriad consumer goods from foods to medicine to car seats. At the same time, there are entire categories of goods that remain unregulated. An Ipsos study found most Americans are less than clear in their understanding of which products get the official stamp of approval and which ones do not. This, in turn, leads to a false sense of security when it comes to believing products are safe.
Take e-cigarettes and cigars, for example. As of August 2016, the FDA regulates most tobacco products, including the growing-in-popularity e-cigarette and hookah smoke, but that wasn’t always the case.
You think you know, but you don’t…
The public largely does not know what products and ads the government regulates, especially when it comes to newer products, such as e-cigarettes. At the time this survey was conducted, the government did not regulate e-cigarettes. Yet, two-thirds of people either were unsure or mistakenly thought that the government did regulate the items, which are variously called “hookah pens” “e-hookahs” or “vape pipes.” And at the time of the study, even more people (73%) were unclear about the rules surrounding e-cigarette ads.
That’s an important misconception because most Americans feel that government regulations make products safer – even tobacco products that are widely known to be harmful. While most people are still not willing to trust tobacco and e-cigarette products fully, even with government regulations, government’s involvement is more likely to lead to consumer trust in other products, such as prescription drugs.
Do we trust products more than we should?
Results from a National Institutes of Health study support the peril in this perception, finding that smokers were less likely to quit smoking if they thought that the FDA regulated cigarettes for safety.
The FDA recently began oversight of e-cigarettes, but prior to those efforts, 52% of those surveyed felt the devices would be safer with government regulation. This introduces a catch-22: The new rule could grant people a false sense of security, and in turn, they may be more likely to use e-cigarettes.
So what’s the takeaway? To paraphrase Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben: With great governmental regulatory power comes great responsibility to be transparent about health and safety.