“Mr. Yuk® is mean … Mr. Yuk is green.”
— 1970s television commercial featuring Mr. Yuk
For more than 50 years, a sick-looking green face has appeared on stickers attached to potentially hazardous items. His scrunched eyebrows, closed eyes, and stuck-out tongue deliver a simple message: This stuff is bad for you.
His name is Mr. Yuk.
The Pittsburgh Poison Center created Mr. Yuk in 1971 to teach children and adults about poison prevention. You can place Mr. Yuk stickers on poisonous and otherwise harmful products around the house, warning people not to consume them.
The stickers also contain the national toll-free Poison Help phone number, 1-800-222-1222. This helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help in a poison emergency. Licensed health care providers who have training in toxicology, such as nurses and pharmacists, are available to provide recommendations and answer questions.
Mr. Yuk has as much relevance today as he did when he first appeared. Each year, the Pittsburgh Poison Center distributes millions of Mr. Yuk stickers all over the world.
“Mr. Yuk is obviously a core part of how we operate at the Pittsburgh Poison Center and has been a core message for a lot of years,” says Amanda Korenoski, PharmD, director, Pittsburgh Poison Center.
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Mr. Yuk History
Mr. Yuk stickers debuted in 1971 to raise awareness about poison prevention.
In the late 1960s, Richard Moriarty, MD, noticed a high number of poison-related emergency department visits at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Dr. Moriarty, the hospital’s chief resident, worked to update and improve the Pittsburgh Poison Center, which based itself at UPMC Children’s then.
Before Mr. Yuk, a skull and crossbones image appeared on materials that might contain poison. But in western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Pirates used similar imagery — prompting concerns that some might confuse the two images.
Dr. Moriarty held focus groups with children. Out of those focus groups came the idea of Mr. Yuk — that his face would deliver a better warning on hazardous materials.
In the half-century since Mr. Yuk’s birth, he has traveled far beyond western Pennsylvania. Mr. Yuk stickers have traveled all over the world, including to Asia, Europe, Iceland, and beyond.
In summer 2023, a new Mr. Yuk mascot debuted. The mascot continues to deliver the message of poison prevention.
“We’re looking for ways to be more innovative, so we partnered with UPMC Children’s Hospital, and they volunteered to help get us the mascot,” Dr. Korenoski says. “We’re hoping that it really starts as a conversation piece for anyone who might not be aware of who Mr. Yuk is. And we can use that opportunity to explain to them the mission of the Poison Center.”
Why Mr. Yuk Is Important
Poisoning is a major health concern in the U.S. Poisoning is the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Hundreds of thousands of people make emergency department trips related to poisoning each year. And according to Poison Control, U.S. poison control centers fielded more than 2 million calls about poisonings in 2021.
Although children have a lower rate of poison-related deaths, they are still the most vulnerable to accidental poisonings. According to Poison Control, poisonings in children under 6 represent a disproportionate number of cases it fields. The United States Product Safety Commission estimates there are more than 60,000 emergency department visits each year for pediatric poisonings.
Mr. Yuk stickers can help prevent unintentional poisonings, especially in the home (where most accidental poisonings happen). Putting Mr. Yuk stickers on potentially harmful products can help children know which ones are bad for them.
The toll-free Poison Help phone number on Mr. Yuk stickers also serves an important purpose. In a poison emergency, people can call the number for help instead of making an unnecessary trip to the emergency department.
Poison Control can make a quick assessment of your case and let you know what steps to take.
“The mission of the Poison Center is really to be here as a resource for anyone that may have been exposed to something that could be dangerous and provide them recommendations on what to do,” Dr. Korenoski says.
“I take a lot of pride in how we care for patients, and a lot of times, we keep people at home and avoid them having to come into the hospital and be treated unnecessarily. So, we can actually keep people at home, call them, follow up on their symptoms, and prevent an unnecessary hospital visit.”
How to Use Mr. Yuk Stickers
You can request a free sheet of Mr. Yuk stickers by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Mr. Yuk, Pittsburgh Poison Center, 200 Lothrop Street, PFG 01-01-01, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Place Mr. Yuk stickers on household items that are harmful if ingested. Those items can include:
- Bleach and other household cleaners.
- Cosmetics or other personal care products.
- Dietary supplements and vitamins.
- Laundry detergents.
- Topical substances.
Talk to your kids about what the Mr. Yuk stickers mean and how important it is to stay away from products with his sticker on them. Also, post the toll-free Poison Help number somewhere accessible in your house or save the number to your phone. In a poisoning emergency, Poison Help is there for you.
More than 50 years after his creation, Mr. Yuk continues to serve as a worldwide reminder of poison prevention.
“Mr. Yuk is there to serve as our symbol, our mascot — an icon to remind people that we exist and we’re here for them — and also as a tool to promote poison prevention and medication safety,” Dr. Korenoski says.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FastStats, Accidents or Unintentional Injuries. Link
Poison Control, National Poison Control Call Statistics, 2021. Link
United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, Annual Report on Pediatric Poisoning Fatalities and Injuries. Link
UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Mr. Yuk. Link
UPMC, Poison Center, Learn About Mr. Yuk. Link
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