The history of product warning labels began in 1938 with an act of the United States Congress that requires food products to have a list of ingredients on the label. Since then, Congress has enacted a number of laws concerning product labels.
Originally, the purpose of warning labels was to increase consumer awareness of health risks. However, since the early 1990s, warning labels also have the purpose of protecting manufacturers, retailers and insurance companies from lawsuits.
The federal government began regulating cigarette packages in 1966 by requiring manufacturers to put the Surgeon General's warning on individual packs of cigarettes. In 1971, manufacturers began disclosing tar and nicotine information in advertisements.
Also in 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring warning labels for oral contraceptives, and it enacted further pharmaceutical label requirements over the next five years. In 1975, the FDA began requiring nutrition labels on packaged processed foods. In the same year, the federal government started video piracy warnings.
In 1992, MacDonald's began labeling their coffee cups with warnings after a customer burned herself with hot coffee and successfully sued the restaurant. This incident started a trend in which businesses, fearful of lawsuits, began creating warning labels for obvious risks. These warnings include labels indicating that ovenware gets hot when it used in the oven and that Tide laundry detergent is not a good food source.