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Tylenol case unlikely to affect nondrug packaging

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The current heightened interest in tamper-resistant packaging isn't likely to spread beyond the over-the-counter drug industry.

In a spot check with several marketing experts, all doubted that the contamination of the drug Tylenol, apparently while it was on store shelves, would have an immediate effect on the packaging of food or other products.

''People still have confidence in what American companies manufacture and in the distribution system,'' argues Robert Young, associate professor of marketing at Northeastern University in Boston. He says it is unlikely that drugs will be moved behind the counter. ''I think six weeks from now, maybe 1 in 100 customers will be saying 'I only want a product that's been behind the counter.' If 50 out of 100 demand such a change, he says, then stores would have to respond.

''We have gotten to the point where advertisers count on products being available on the shelf'' rather than behind a counter, says Steven Coelen, associate professor of marketing and social forecasting at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Packaging often helps to sell by explaining the product, he says. For example, a shampoo package may tell in detail how to use the contents and spur confidence to make the purchase.

Some consumer groups are concerned that the Food and Drug Administration is letting too many drugs be shifted from prescription to over-the-counter status, moving them from behind the counter to drug and supermarket shelves. Neil L. Pruitt, president of the retail druggists association, has called for keeping more drugs in the hands of pharmacists to reduce the possibility of tampering.

Rep. Edward Madigan (R) of Illinois has announced he will introduce legislation requiring over-the-counter drugs to be sealed with a warning label. The drug industry has offered to help the Reagan administration establish new standards for drug packaging, partly to avoid the development of a patchwork of local and state regulations. Cook County in Illinois, which includes Chicago, already has enacted a law requiring seals on drug and medicine containers that will take effect in 90 days. The Massachusetts Legislature opened hearings Oct. 12 on a similar measure.

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