Is It a Toy or a Desk Accessory?

CPSC Sparks Debate By Putting High-Powered Magnets In Its Cross-Hairs

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MagnetThe biggest problem that both distributors and suppliers have had complying with the dizzying regulations in the 2008 Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act is figuring out the definition of a children's product. The CPSC defines it as: "A product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger." The CPSC further explains that the product must contain the following criteria to be considered a "children's product":

A statement by a manufacturer about the intended use of such a product, including a label on such a product if such a statement is reasonable.

A representation of the product in its packaging, display, promotion or advertising as appropriate for use by children 12 years of age or younger.

Common recognition of the product by consumers as being intended for use by a child 12 years of age or younger.

The problem now? The CPSC continues to find loopholes to its own definitions and classify items that don't fall under the above definitions as "potentially harmful to children." The items most in the government organization's sights right now are high-powered toy magnets, which are not intended for children in the first place, but are often marketed as desk accessories for adults and offices.

Over the summer, the CPSC recalled a couple of different high-powered magnet products, and even went so far as to file a lawsuit against two manufacturers of these items that refused to pull the products from store shelves. Maxfield and Oberton, the maker of BuckyBalls (which the CPSC is trying to ban from the market), is fighting the lawsuit, claiming that consumers are sufficiently warned about the product's hazards to children.

"We are not going to recall the product. We'll fight it and we'll fight vigorously," said Craig Zucker, co-founder of Maxfield and Oberton, in response to the CPSC lawsuit. "Our packaging has five warnings on it, we don't sell to stores that sell only children's products, and we don't sell to toy stores. There is a level of personal responsibility that comes into play when it comes to consumer product safety."

It's in this environment that both suppliers and distributors are forced to operate right now – a place where the CPSC is claiming that just about any item that could be hazardous to children (whether it's intended for children or not) is on the firing line. In regards specifically to high-powered toy magnets, the CPSC has proposed the development of a new federal standard for small, high-powered magnet sets. The proposed mandatory standard would set performance requirements for magnet sets based on their size and strength. Magnet sets that do not meet the performance requirement could not be sold as a manipulative or desk accessory.

The CPSC says that if swallowed, these magnets can link together inside a child's intestines and clamp onto body tissues, causing intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis and death. "Many of these magnet sets are marketed as sculptures, puzzles and stress relievers and are labeled not for use by children," the CPSC wrote in a statement released yesterday. "However, these magnet sets have strong appeal to children and pose a potential for high-severity injuries." – AC