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Note - Trading Public Nuisance for Product Safety: Reviving the Office of Technology Assessment


Tobacco, lead paint, prescription opioids, and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), once revered as innovative products, are now regarded as public nuisances. These public health epidemics share a similar history that has time and again repeated itself. In a sentence, the industry markets products with unanticipated long-term safety risks, combats or discredits emerging evidence of harm associated with the product, evades liability in personal injury or products liability lawsuits, and finally accepts responsibility when government officials file public nuisance lawsuits. While public nuisance lawsuits successfully respond to public nuisance products, this last resort, resource-intensive, backward-looking intervention fails public health. History does not have to repeat itself again. This Note proposes a technology assessment solution to break the epidemic cycle of public nuisance products at the first phase: revive the Office of Technology Assessment in the United States Patent and Trademark Office to proactively, cost-effectively, and preventively monitor long-term safety risks of consumer products.