8 Excessively Cautious Consumer Safety Warnings

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iStock

Earlier this year, consumers were reminded of the necessity of issuing stern and obvious warnings about misapplication of common household items. That’s when children around the country were getting sick in increasing numbers after biting into Tide Pods, the globs of laundry detergent that became a test of an adolescent’s gastronomic courage. Both Procter & Gamble, makers of the pods, and consumer agencies warned against the practice, adding to a long list of cautions issued by manufacturers and state or federal agencies over the years.

Ironically, plastering warnings over everything may actually make us less safe, as consumers tend to overlook the risk of handling truly dangerous items while under the deluge of cautions. Have a look at some of the more perplexing products that have had to explain to consumers what not to do with them.

1. DON’T BURN CHARCOAL INDOORS.

Stacks of Kingsford charcoal sit on a shelf
Daniel Oines, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If a manufacturer doesn’t feel the need to caution consumers about misuse of their product, various consumer advocates can step in. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) can mandate warning labels where necessary. In the 1990s, their concern was aimed at bags of charcoal, which were required to warn users not to burn the item indoors. The resulting smoke and lack of ventilation can, of course, cause death. In 2006, former CPSC executive director Pamela Gilbert told The Seattle Times that the warning—which came in the form of an illustrated man burning charcoal indoors with a line over it to indicate it was a bad idea—was the result of people not realizing it was an unsafe practice. “A lot of people were bringing [charcoal grills] indoors to keep their families warm,” Gilbert said. Today, charcoal distributors like Kingsford warn consumers to “never barbeque indoors.”

2. DON’T REUSE CONDOMS.

A person holds a condom over their fingers
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Even the most sexually inexperienced among us can likely manage to open and don a prophylactic to reduce the chances of disease transmission. However, not all of us appear to be capable of throwing it out after it has served its single-use purpose. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an alert reminding people that condoms cannot be washed and saved for future application. In addition to being absolutely disgusting, recycling condoms can increase the likelihood of breakage—soap weakens latex—and risks re-exposure to infectious materials present on the surface. “We say it because people do it,” the CDC tweeted. Who admitted to this and how remains a mystery.

3. DON’T CONSUME THE IPOD SHUFFLE.

The iPod Shuffle rests near a pair of headphones
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Do you like to eat your expensive electronics devices? You might have pica, or the urge to devour the inedible. That may have been on Apple’s mind when their legal department decided to urge buyers of their iPod Shuffle not to swallow the unit. Measuring just 1.8 inches by 0.7 inches and weighing .38 ounces, the music player was apparently small enough to be considered a choking hazard. Intrigued by the prospect, Gizmodo asked sword swallower Heather Holliday to attempt to swallow the device in 2009. It proved virtually impossible, as the iPod was too light to force down with her esophageal muscles and too unwieldy to gulp by accident.

4. THE HAIR DRYER SCOURGE.

A hair dryer warning label appears on the dryer cord
Dan Ox, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Hair dryers have long been the most maligned of small appliances, with cord labels admonishing users not to use while bathing or sleeping. Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit that tests products and recommends safety standards for manufacturers, told The New York Times in 1988 that such tags were needed because most polled adults believed that hair dryers were safe to leave near water, even if they were plugged in, as long as they were turned off. (This is not the case.) Roughly 110 deaths and 50 injuries were reported between 1977 and 1982 as a result of consumers knocking the dryers into standing water. Thanks to the warnings and improved safety measures—like a switch cutting power once the appliance is immersed—the mortality rate of blow-dried victims fell to just one in 2000.

5. A FEDERAL WARNING TO STOP READING KIDS’ BOOKS.

A litle girl reads while sitting on a park bench
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The boogey-mineral of our times, lead has long occupied the attention of consumer advocate agencies. (Ingestion during childhood has been associated with neurological issues.) That concern stretched to the banning of lead in printing ink in 1986 and later extended to a nationwide word of caution from the CPSC in 2009 that librarians and parents should try to keep books printed prior to the ban out of the hands of children. Tots gumming the affected books could, conceivably, ingest the lead in the ink. The CPSC later walked back their comments, while the Centers for Disease Control estimated that a kid ingesting part of The Cat in the Hat was “like a 0.5 level of concern” on a scale of one to 10.

6. A TOY CAPE DOES NOT ENABLE YOU TO FLY.

A child poses while wearing a superhero cape
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Children can often have a gross misunderstanding of consequences. But has a child ever been so lost in the grip of fantasy that they’ve scaled a building and jumped off on the assumption that a superhero costume would give them the ability to fly? Apparently, toy industry lawyers believed so. In 1997, The New York Times observed that a Batman play costume came with the following warning: “FOR PLAY ONLY: Mask and chest plate are not protective; cape does not enable user to fly.”

7. THE SUPER SLED THAT MAIMS.

A child goes for a ride on a plastic sled
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Personal injury cases can frighten corporate attorneys to the point where they will leave nothing open to chance. While marketing their Snow Works Super Boggan sled in 1997, Empire Industries opted to put so many warning labels on the sled that they practically obscured the item itself. Among the cautions: always wear a helmet; don’t allow more than three riders; don’t ride on your stomach; avoid obstacles; don’t use near streets. Most importantly, be aware that “this product does not have brakes.” Empire Industries senior vice president Howard Younger told The New York Times that the warnings were generated after studying sled-related accident statistics.

8. THE SERIOUS RISK OF KEYBOARDS.

A person types on a computer keyboard
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During the personal computing explosion of the early 1990s, consumers were apparently caught unaware of the significant health hazards posed by keyboards. Too much typing led to repetitive strain injuries and soft-tissue swelling, prompting some people to file lawsuits against manufacturers like Compaq. To stave off litigation, Compaq and Microsoft added warnings to their keyboards in 1994, directing users to review their safety and comfort instructional manual. Later, concern turned to keyboard cleaners—those cans of compressed air marketed as a way to blow out crumbs and other debris. Teenagers huffed the inhalant in a practice called “dusting,” forcing Dust-Off to increase the size of its product label warning.

In some cases, lying works just as well. When attorney Victor Schwartz was asked to try and remedy household cleaner inhalant injury claims in the 1980s, he decided not to enlarge the warning, which might make kids believe there was more propellant in the can. Instead, he directed manufacturers to say that misuse could cause facial disfigurement. Kids stopped huffing the products.

5 Clues Daenerys Targaryen Will Die in the Final Season of Game of Thrones

HBO
HBO

by Mason Segall

The final season of HBO's epic Game of Thrones is hovering on the horizon like a lazy sun and, at the end of the day, fans have only one real question about how it will end: Who will sit the Iron Throne? One of the major contenders is Daenerys of the thousand-and-one names, who not only has one of the most legitimate claims to the throne, but probably deserves it the most.

However, Game of Thrones has a habit of killing off main characters, particularly honorable ones, often in brutal and graphic ways. And unfortunately, there's already been some foreshadowing that writers will paint a target on Daenerys's back.

5. THE PROPHECIES

Carice van Houten in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

What's a good fantasy story without a few prophecies hanging over people's heads? While the books the show is based on have a few more than usual, the main prophecy of Game of Thrones is Melisandre's rants about "the prince that was promised," basically her faith's version of a messiah.

Melisandre currently believes both Daenerys and Jon Snow somehow fulfill the prophecy, but her previous pick for the position died a grisly death, so maybe her endorsement isn't a good sign.

4. TYRION'S DEMANDS FOR A SUCCESSOR

Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke in a scene from 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

A particular scene in season seven saw Tyrion advising Daenerys to name a successor before she travels north to help Jon. She challenges him, "You want to know who sits on the Iron Throne after I'm dead. Is that it?" But that's exactly it. Tyrion is more than aware how mortal people are and wants to take precautions. He's seen enough monarchs die that he probably knows what warning signs to look for.

3. A FAMILY LEGACY

David Rintoul as the Mad King in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Daenerys is the daughter of the Mad King Aerys II, a paranoid pyromaniac of a monarch. More than once, Daenerys has been compared to her father, particularly in her more ruthless moments. Aerys was killed because of his insanity and arrogance. If Daenerys starts displaying more of his mental illness, she might follow in his footsteps to the grave.

2. HER DRAGONS AREN'T INVINCIBLE

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

The fall and subsequent resurrection of the dragon Viserion was one of the biggest surprises of season seven. Not only did it destroy one of Daenerys's trump cards, but it proved that her other two dragons were vulnerable as well. Since the three-headed dragon is the sigil of her house, this might be an omen that Daenerys is next on the chopping block.

1. THAT VISION

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

All the way back in season two, Daenerys received a vision in the House of the Undying of the great hall in King's Landing ransacked and covered in snow. Before she could even touch the iron throne, she was called away by her dragons and was confronted by her deceased husband and son. This is a clear indication that she might never sit the throne, something that would only happen if she were dead.

7 Tips for Winning an Arm Wrestling Match

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iStock

Geoff Hale was playing Division II college baseball in Kansas City, Missouri, when he sat down and started flipping through the channels on his TV. There—probably on TBS—was Over the Top, the 1987 arm wrestling melodrama starring Sylvester Stallone as Lincoln Hawke, a truck driver who aspires to win his estranged son’s affections. And to do that, he has to win a national arm wrestling tournament. Obviously.

Neither the worst nor the best of Stallone’s efforts, Over the Top made Hale recall his high school years and how the fringe sport had satisfied his athletic interests, which weren't being met by baseball. “I had never lost a match,” Hale tells Mental Floss of his arm wrestling prowess. “The movie reminded me that I was good at it.”

That was 13 years ago. Now a professional competitor known as the Haleraiser, the full-time petroleum geologist has won several major titles. While you may not have the constitution for the surprisingly traumatic sport (more on that later), you might still want to handle yourself in the event of a spontaneous match breaking out. We asked Hale for some tips on what to do when you’re confronted with the opportunity to achieve a modest amount of glory while arm-grappling on a beer-stained table. This is what he told us.

1. KNOW THAT SIZE DOESN'T MATTER.

A child uses books to help in arm-wrestling an adult
iStock

Well, it does. But really only if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Otherwise, having a bowling pin for a forearm isn’t anything to be wary about. If anything, your densely-built foe may have a false sense of confidence. “Everyone has arm-wrestled since they were a kid and thinks they know what it is,” Hale says. “It looks easy, but there’s actually a very complex set of movements. It’s good to check your ego at the door.”

2. PRETEND YOU’RE PART OF THE TABLE.

A man offers to arm wrestle from behind a table
iStock

When you square up with your opposition to lock hands—thumb digging into the fleshy part, fingers wrapped around the back—don’t lean over the table with your butt in the air. And don’t make the common mistake of sitting down for a match, either. “It limits you from a technique standpoint,” Hale says, and could even open you up to injury.

Instead, you want to plant the foot that matches your dominant hand under the table with your hip touching the edge. With your free hand, grip the edge or push down on the top for stability. “Pretend like you’re part of the table,” Hale says. That way, you’ll be able to recruit your shoulders, triceps, and biceps into the competition.

3. REMEMBER TO BREATHE.

Two men engage in an arm wrestling match
iStock

If you’re turning the color of a lobster, you’re probably holding in your breath. “Don’t,” Hale says. Remember to continue taking in air through your nose. There’s no benefit to treating the match like a diving expedition. The lack of oxygen will just tire your muscles out faster.

4. BEAT THE HAND, NOT THE ARM.

Two hands appear in close-up during an arm wrestling contest
iStock

There are three basic techniques in arm wrestling, according to Hale: the shoulder press, the hook, and the top roll. The shoulder press recruits the shoulder right behind the arm, pushing the opposing appendage down as if you were performing a triceps pressdown. The hook is more complex, varying pressure from all sides and incorporating pulling motions to bend the wrist backward. For the best chance of winning, opt for the top roll, which involves sliding your hand up your opponent’s so your grip is attacking the top portion nearest the fingers. That way, he or she is recruiting fewer major muscle groups to resist. “When you beat the hand, the arm follows,” Hale says. Because this is more strategy than strength, you might wind up toppling some formidable-looking opponents.

5. IN A STALEMATE, WAIT FOR AN OPENING.

A man and woman engage in an arm wrestling contest
iStock

While lots of arm wrestling matches end quickly, others become a battle of attrition. When you find yourself locked up in the middle of the table, wait for your opponent to relax. They almost always will. “In a neutral position, it’s good to stay static, keeping your body and arm locked up,” Hale says. “You’re just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake.” The moment you feel their arm lose tension, attack.

6. TRY SCREAMING.

A woman screams while winning an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestlers play all kinds of psychological games, and while some might be immune to trash talk, it’s likely your rival will be influenced by some selective insults. “You can make someone lose their focus easily,” Hale says. “In a stalemate, you can give them a hard time, tell them they’re not strong. It’s intimidating to be out of breath and to see someone just talking.”

7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GO SECOND.

A man struggles while losing an arm wrestling contest
iStock

Arm wrestling exacts a heavy toll on winners and losers alike: The prolonged muscle contractions can easily fatigue people not used to the exertion. If you fear a loss from a bigger, stronger opponent, conspire to have them wrestle someone else first, then take advantage of their fatigue.

If all goes well, you might want to consider pursuing the sport on more competitive levels—but you probably shouldn’t. “It takes a toll on the body,” Hale says. “I’ve got tendonitis and don’t compete as much as I used to. On the amateur level, it’s common to see arm breaks, usually the humerus [upper arm] bone. The body was not really made for arm wrestling.”

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