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The latest great advertising lie -- easy to open
Scripps Howard News Service


July 12, 2007

Is there any greater lie in American marketing than "easy to open"?

Products today are tamperproof, childproof, moisture-resistant, safety-wrapped and vacuum-sealed, but easy to open they're not.

Many of the foods we eat are sealed so tightly, you could starve to death before you get them open. Every time I wrestle with a bottle of medicine, I think how it's a good thing my life's not depending on an emergency dose. Opening over-the-counter remedies requires scissors, a sharp knife and manual dexterity, and that's just the box. To free one of the individually entombed "caplets," you might need a small explosive.

How many minutes out of the average day do we spend trying to open packages? How much American productivity goes down the tubes while workers search for box cutters or letter openers? How much heartburn is caused daily by the phrase "Open Other End"?

I know the manufacturers of consumer products are trying to keep us safe, so we won't sue them, and much of the security packaging is required by government regulation. But it's hard to keep all that in mind when opening a simple bottle of water requires pliers.

People over a certain age can remember when the biggest obstacle between them and an aspirin was that little cotton ball the manufacturers stuffed inside the bottle to keep them from rattling around.

The Tylenol Killer changed all that back in 1982 by planting cyanide in packages of Extra Strength Tylenol in the Chicago area, causing seven deaths. The killer was never caught. (And, no, I can't believe it has been 25 years since that horror, either.)

The Tylenol scare resulted in new rules for over-the-counter medications. They now come with multiple layers of tamper-resistant packaging. First, you've got to remove that plastic film that's wrapped around the childproof cap (and good luck managing that without a sharp instrument of some kind). Then you've got to line up the little arrows to pop off the cap. Inside, there's a foil seal that must be punctured and removed. By the time you get through those layers of protection, you're either not sick anymore or you're dead.

I had a cold recently, and took over-the-counter decongestants so I could function until the bug ran its course. Which meant four times a day, you could find me cursing and sniffling and working my fingers to the bone, trying to remove the tablets from their individual paper-foil-plastic containers. There's a reason it's called a "blister pack."

Resealable packages are all the rage at the supermarket, but what's the point of "resealable" if you can't get it open in the first place?

Here's how they're supposed to work: Tear off an outer strip of plastic, and what's left is a zipper arrangement like those on sandwich bags. Does that plastic strip ever tear off straight? Once you do rip it off, how do you get the package open? There's nothing left to grab hold of. Most kitchens aren't equipped with tweezers.

My wife recently ran into this problem with a package of cold cuts. After repeated attempts to get it open, she turned to me and said: "You bought these. How do you open them?"

"I slice the package open with scissors," I said, "then put the meat in a Ziploc bag."

"You don't even 'try' to use the package it came in?"

"Who needs the aggravation? I'm crazy enough already."

There's probably a pill for such madness, but imagine how hard it would be to open.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Monkey Man."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska