As the House continues to dicker over how to amend the CPSIA (yes, they will give it a go soon, rumor has it), I thought the website Woot.com neatly illustrates the absurdity of the arbitrary and over-protective age grading rules inspired by Congress and the maniacal CPSIA. [Thanks to loyal reader Ben for this story!] In this case, the subject is the magnet rules spawned by the 2007 Magnetix deaths.
Perhaps you remember that last year the CPSC "in cooperation with" a company called Maxfield and Oberton LLC announced a recall of "Buckyballs", a magnetic ball toy for age grading issues. What age grading issues, in particular? To quote the CPSC: "The high powered magnets sets were labeled "Ages 13+" and do not meet the mandatory toy standard F963-08 (effective August 17, 2009) which requires that such powerful magnets are not sold for children under 14. Magnets found by young children can be swallowed or aspirated. If more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets can attract each other and cause intestinal perforations or blockages, which can be fatal." [Emphasis added]
Woot.com sells this product and I love their spin on this safety "issue":
"Buckin’ Magnets, How Do They Work? If you’re 14 or older, Buckyballs promise hours of addictive magnetic fun! If you’re 13 or under, they promise fatal intestinal blockages!"
They continue to explain:
"When exactly does a child become an adult? Different societies have answered this question with different milestones . . . . Now the Consumer Product & Safety Commission has settled it once and for all: a child is an adult when they can be trusted not to accidentally swallow tiny but powerful magnets. This past spring, the CPSC told the Buckyballs people that they had to yank their compulsively play-withable little magnetic to- uh, 'desk decorations' to re-label them 'Keep Away From All Children'. It seems the previous label of 'Ages 13+' did not comply with consumer guidelines that 'such powerful magnets are not sold for children under 14', because even 13-year-olds were liable to swallow them and suffer perforated or blocked intestines. Yep, that year from your 13th birthday to your 14th makes all the difference. 'Consumers should take the Buckyballs® high powered magnets away from children under 14 immediately,' quoth the CPSC. Kids swallow the darnedest things!" [Emphasis added]
Of course, this illustrates the U.S. safety mania at its worst and its most damaging. Is this product actually dangerous? If it is, why does the CPSC allow it to remain on the market? Does labeling actually "solve" the problem? If there really is a difference developmentally between a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old on mouthing toys, I think it is incumbent on the CPSC to tell the public what it is. In the CPSC publication, "Which Toys for Which Child", the agency acknowledges what is generally accepted as true, namely that children over three don't put objects in their mouth: "Most children in [the 3, 4, 5 age group] can begin using toys with smaller components. If child is still mouthing objects, select toys with without small parts." Duh. But 13-year-olds? This is regulatory hypocrisy at its worst.
As long as the mania continues, and as long as Congress continues to try to meddle either legislatively or by applying political pressure to the agency, we will continue to see economic victims and economic losses. Jobs will be lost. And the safety zealots will never be able to prove that anyone is safer.
The only thing that will be beyond dispute is that there are fewer companies making fewer products for sale into a smaller market. In other words, the law and the CPSC will have engineered their very own mini-recession.