Five Myths About the Federal Incandescent Light Bulb Ban

When General Electric blamed “a variety of energy regulations that establish lighting efficiency standards” for the closing of incandescent light bulb factories in Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, its PR team left out a critical detail: General Electric and fellow light bulb manufacturers Phillips and Osram Sylvania had lobbied for those regulations.

Ignore claims that the incandescent light bulb ban was imposed to fight global warming. The motive behind the bulb ban is money: Incandescents have a low profit margin.

Let’s shatter a few other myths.

Myth 1: “There is no light bulb ban.”

The most effective lie is one with a kernel of truth, and this example of that maxim is based on the fact that not all incandescent light bulbs are banned. Just the ones Americans buy most.

January 1, 2012: Goodbye to standard 100-watt incandescents.1

January 1, 2013: Goodbye to standard 75-watt incandescents.

January 1, 2014: Goodbye to standard 60- and 40-watt incandescents.

By 2020: Say goodbye to, among others, Halogen incandescents, such as Phillips’ EcoVantage. These bulbs often are cited as “proof” there is no light bulb ban because they are incandescents and public will be able to buy them after January 1, 2012. Bulb ban backers rarely volunteer that these bulbs are banned also – just a bit later.

Myth 2: “Alternative bulbs are better.”

Alternative bulbs are different. Whether they are better depends on the individual consumer’s needs.

Most alternatives to incandescents use less energy. Some, a lot less. But energy use is not the only concern a typical consumer has. Here are some others:

• People prone to seizures should avoid CFLs, as their flickering can cause seizures.

• Seniors often find it difficult to read under fluorescents.

• People with Lupus and other auto-immune disorders can get a severe rash from fluorescents.

• LED lighting tends to have a narrow beam, requiring more lamps to light a room.

• LED and CFL lighting is cooler than incandescent and renders colors differently. When Europe banned incandescents, art galleries and restaurants complained. The art didn’t look right, and CFL and LED lighting isn’t romantic.

Myth 3: “Alternatives to incandescents are just as safe.”

No. CFLs contain sufficient mercury for the Environmental Protection Agency to recommend a tedious 10-to-11-step process for cleanup of broken CFLs. Consumers also are supposed to take discarded bulbs to a special disposal center, but it is unlikely that most people are bothering. This places dangerous mercury in the air when the bulbs inevitably break in trash cans or garbage trucks.

LED bulbs contain lead and nickel, exposure to which can be a health risk – although the danger is more long-term than immediate and one broken bulb shouldn’t harm you.

Myth 4: “You’ll save money.”

Most alternatives use less energy, some substantially less, although the bulbs cost more up front and don’t last as long as consumers may expect. A CFL, for example, wears out sooner if it is turned on frequently, is used in freezing weather or is used with a dimmer.

LEDs have particularly expensive up front costs now, although manufacturers say the price will come down after their main rivals have been banned for a while. They say that’s because more will be sold; others say that’s not how supply-and-demand works.

Myth 5: “The bulb ban creates jobs.”

In China, sure. 75% of CFLs are made in China. No major CFL brand is made in America. When the last remaining U.S. plant making ordinary incandescents closed in 2010, the Washington Post blamed the bulb ban.

Ban-backers say research into LED lighting made possible by the ban creates jobs, but many of these jobs came from tens of millions in research grants paid for by taxpayers, not the ban.

Defenders of the light bulb ban claim people are better off with alternatives to incandescents, but if the public agreed, Congress wouldn’t need a ban to get the public to switch.

Who knows the needs of your household better: You, or Congress?



Amy Ridenour is the Chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research. A version of this paper has appeared as an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sacramento Bee, Duluth News-Tribune, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Portland Oregonian, Kansas City Star and nearly 30 other newspapers.


1 A note on dates: California state law requires that all federal incandescent light bulb restrictions go into effect one year earlier than the national deadline in the state of California.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.