CONSUMING FEARS: The Politics of Product Risks by Harvey M.--Ed. Sapolsky

CONSUMING FEARS: The Politics of Product Risks

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Americans are increasingly consumed by fears of everyday products, say the editor, an MIT professor, and his graduate-student contributors, because they are confused and misled by the cacophony of claims made by the many groups involved in health disputes, all competing for publicity and scarce dollars. This ""prism of institutional interest"" tends to exaggerate health threats and distort our perception of risks. Sapolsky et al. look at six controversial products: cigarettes, dairy and meat products, salt, artificial sweeteners, tampons and urea-formaldehyde insulation. They do not state explicitly which to use and which to shun (although the editor does make it clear that, with the exception of cigarettes, longevity has little to do with avoiding the above); rather, they seek to describe the various factions involved in product disputes and the organizational imperatives that define the groups' stands on risks, and to put the risks in perspective. In the case of cigarettes, for example, the interested parties are a $27-billion industry, a couple of weak activist groups, three of the largest national disease associations (the American Cancer Society and the American Heart and Lung Associations), and government agencies which have come to strikingly different conclusions, depending on the constituency they serve. Meanwhile, the media continues to whip up hysteria over the most minute product risks. The editor is no equal opportunity critic; activists and reporters receive the biggest share of blame for the national neuroses, while scientists and industry are criticized sparingly. Sapolsky finds it difficult to understand why Americans trust activist groups more than businesses--an attitude not entirely unreasonable, given the number of instances in which companies have been far from forthcoming with information. However, the book does succeed in putting product risks in some perspective--in pointing out, for example, that using tampons is a rather minuscule health threat compared to smoking cigarettes.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1986
Publisher: Basic Books