For years, cancer-causing products such as cigarettes have come with warning labels, but consumers at a Calgary-area hardware store were left scratching their heads when they picked up a home décor product and found a label warning of its possible health risks.

Graham Bond was shopping at a Lowe’s store recently, when he noticed a decorative snow globe with a label that read: “Warning: May cause cancer! May cause an allergic skin reaction.”

The notice left Bond perplexed.

“Is it the paint, is it the liquid? Is it all of the above?” said Bond. “Which cancer is it … I mean, it brings up so many questions about what you’re about to purchase.”

Lowe’s Canada spokesperson Valerie Gonzalo told CTV Calgary the labels are there to satisfy a California law that requires manufacturers to put warnings on products containing any of 800 chemicals that state deems carcinogenic, even if they’re found at safe levels.

Gonzalo said the snow globe passed Lowe’s testing protocols. While it does contain lead, the levels are deemed safe. In fact, Gonzalo said the labels were actually supposed to be removed from the stock, “but it appears some remained by mistake.”

Health Canada spokesperson Andre Gagnon says federal law requires labels for certain hazardous products. As for the others: “Industry has the (legal) obligation to identify existing or potential (chemical) hazards in (the products) they market and properly mitigate them.”

Information design expert Glenn Ruhl says warning-label rules can vary. “It can be overkill in some jurisdictions, maybe not as much in others,” Ruhl said in an interview with CTV Calgary.

California’s lawmakers opted to inform consumers when a product contains a carcinogen and let them choose whether or not to buy it.

The Canadian system asks consumers to trust manufacturers to only sell safe products unless otherwise labelled.

In terms of the snow globe warning, Ruhl says, “perhaps it was a little bit over the top in terms of California regulations, but maybe that’s a good way to start because it is creating the dialogue.”

Health Alberta says it has no plans to extend its product-warning rules beyond federal requirements.

With a report from CTV Calgary's Lea Williams-Doherty