Friday, February 14, 2014

Unhappy Valentine's Day

1. Background
Red Hots! Cinnamon candy, I've always associated them with Valentine's Day.
Red Hots! Shiny-red, pretty, sweet, and 7/16ths of an inch across!
Tylenol! Shiny-red, pretty, sweet*, and and 7/16ths of an inch across!

2. The Problem
How is a little kid to discern the difference? Like Red Hots, the adult-strength pain pills don't come in a strongly child-proof container, just line up the arrows and flip off the cap:
Awfully easy for a curious, dexterous child to investigate.
Could they be easier to confuse?

Given how toxic the slightest overdose of Tylenol (or in this particular case, its generic acetaminophen [fully intentional] look-alike) is, especially to a small child, and how ubiquitous Red Hots candy is, I believe the appearance and weak packaging of the pain medication is highly irresponsible. Red Hots got there first, it's the responsibility of McNeil-PPC, Inc., makers of Tylenol (and the makers of its numerous generic knock-offs) to find a distinct, and not nearly so charming, look for its popular pills. I'm not the first one to notice the similarity: packaging Red Hots in the guise of a gag "prescription for love" is an appalling misjudgement.
Gag Valentine gift image from
It's billed as a "lighthearted prescription." There will be no light hearts in a home in which a child comes to the conclusion that the pretty red pills in the Tylenol bottle in the medicine cabinet are candy.

3. The Solution (six actually)

Simple, most likely very cheap and easy to deploy, effective for distinguishing a Red Hot from a pain pill, and possibly life-saving.

For much more, utterly unsettling information about the history of irresponsible marketing, and irresponsible FDA oversight of acetaminophen, I strongly recommend the episode, "Use Only as Directed" from This American Life, originally aired on public radio.

 *Of its candy coating I'm sure; I put one on my tongue to test it out and although it's not a red hot, it's definitely sweet and entirely palatable


  1. Yikes Not good. Anything for profit is always the bottom line these days.