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Consumer Reports

The good (consumer) news | (UPI) -- If you check any Internet files or media stories labeled "consumer" you'll find tons of recalls and problem stories ... but there is some good news. In the area of consumer electronics, for example, things are much cheaper on many items than in past years. There is more diversity of product and new gimmicks and gadgets are being added every day.

The folks at the national consumer electronics groups are quick to remind us the world of electronic merchandise is one of the few in which prices have consistently fallen over the years.

The blank VHS video cassette, once more than $25 and capable of recording only two hours, now is available for far less than $1 in many stores (for name brands) and each can record up to six hours.

The microwave oven, once the domain only of large restaurants and companies, is now a staple in most kitchens. Many merchandisers were selling them this season for less than $40.

The recordable CD is here, letting audio enthusiasts put hours and hours of material on one small disk.

With the development of the MP3 player, hours of music can be downloaded into a player smaller than a package of cigarettes.

Speaking of cigarettes, an increasing number of cities are getting on the no-smoking bandwagon, providing a clean environment for consumers and employees in many areas -- including bars, restaurants and taverns. On the other side of the coin, though, cigarettes themselves continue to skyrocket in price and many smokers find themselves having to buy lower quality and poorer-tasting smokes.

Even with the much-publicized cases of bacterial poisoning on cruise ships and the recall of tons of meat this past year, America's food supply continues to be the most sanitary in the world, considering the volume of food handled.

Amid all of this the consumer has some responsibilities:

-- Be accurate in the appraisal and return of equipment. Cheating on the process jacks up the cost for all of us. Remember you are the final quality control inspector; companies want to know when something is wrong.

-- Follow manufacturers warnings and instructions on the use of all items.

-- Practice food safety at home, both in the storage and preparation of foods.

-- Calmly alert companies (and Washington, if necessary) when things do go wrong with products. And stand your ground if you think you have been seriously wronged.

-- Make this the year to find a way to save the receipts for all major purchases.

-- If you buy anything over the Internet as a short-term sample or membership, make sure you know how to cancel the membership before the real charges kick in, if you don't like what you see.

-- Become a crusader for consumer rights in your area. Follow recycling rules. Make sure no-smoking rules are enforced to the letter. Point out problems quickly; go directly to the manager, if necessary.

Manufacturers have the responsibility to make good and safe products. We, as consumers, have the mandate to follow directions, play fair, but also to make the law work when it's on our side.

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