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California, coffee, cancer, and kooky regulations

Breanne Kincaid uses a Real Clear Science column to expose the absurdity of a California regulation.

“Requiring a cancer warning on coffee, based on the presence of acrylamide, would be more likely to mislead consumers than to inform,” the federal agency’s statement read. That’s because scientists are in near uniform agreement that coffee doesn’t cause cancer – its safety is reinforced by some of the most comprehensive data available. But since coffee contains a chemical called acrylamide, California’s Proposition 65 law requires the beverages to bear a warning. The law is broken, and its inconsistency is just part of the reason why Californians pay these warnings little mind.

So in August’s waning days, the rules governing Proposition 65 warnings changed to make them more informative. Now, rather than vague notices about cancer and reproductive harm, California law requires manufacturers to identify which specific chemical on the state’s list of roughly 900 carcinogens and reproductive toxins an item might expose consumers to.

The change is both good and wholly insufficient for addressing Proposition 65’s failures. …

… This whole coffee brouhaha speaks to the most dangerous failure of Proposition 65, one which these more elaborate notices fail to rectify: overwarning.

It’s no exaggeration when pundits call these warnings ubiquitous. As a youngster in Southern California, I remember reading the notices that Disneyland’s parking garage and my local mall contained chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. Better yet, I remember my mother dispelling my alarm with the first rule of being Californian: Everything is made up and the warnings don’t matter.

The signs were so common, appearing on everything from mugs to flip flops, that I also began to tune them out. Unfortunately, there’s evidence that this kind of warning fatigue is taking its toll.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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