W. Kip Viscusi

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AEA Papers and Proceedings

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child resistant packaging, social regulation, hazardous products


Consumer Protection Law | Food and Drug Law | Law


In 1972, the Food and Drug Administration imposed a protective bottle cap requirement on aspirin and other selected drugs. This regulation epitomizes the technological approach to social regulation. The strategy for reducing children's poisoning risks was to design caps that would make opening containers of hazardous substances more difficult. This engineering approach will be effective provided that children's exposure to hazardous products does not increase. If, however, parents leave protective caps off bottles because they are difficult to open, or increase children's access to these bottles because they are supposedly "child proof," the regulation may not have a beneficial effect. Indeed, in this case there was no significant impact of the regulation on aspirin poisoning rates, but there has been an alarming, upward shift in the trend of analgesic ingestion rates since 1972. The source of this pattern appears to be attributable to a general reduction in parental caution with respect to such medicines, which has had an adverse spillover effect on unregulated products. The economic mechanisms involved can be best understood by considering the nature of individuals' response to regulatory protection.



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