Federal regulators??? war on toys strangles businesses

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This month, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) proposed new rules governing toy magnet sets, in response to seemingly rare accidents involving accidental ingestion of the products.

Almost exclusively marketed to adults, such products contain small magnetic objects intended to be used as puzzles, sculpture building sets, and stress relievers.

First spurring the regulatory agency into action in 2012, 100 cases of children eating the magnet were reported to the CPSC between 2009 and 2011. However, examination of the data suggets that the agency???s apparent panic over magnetic toys may be misplaced.

According to data from the United States Census Service???s 2010 Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics, there were 20,201,362 children 5 years old or less.

Safe, Illegal, and Rare

With this in mind, magnet ingestion???s incidence rate per population may be calculated, to give an estimate of the risk to the population. Using these statistics, however, toy magnets are significantly less dangerous than one man estimate, as roughly 5 cases were reported per 1 million individuals.

To contrast, national healthcare statistics suggest that a child in the United States is 2,500 times more likely to visit a hospital to be treated for juvenile diabetes.

Additionally, out of the aforementioned 100 emergency room cases involving these toys, only a single fatality has been reported during the same three-year period.

In spite of the vanishingly small incidence rate, the agency has continued to press to regulate these products out of existence, under the banner of protecting people.

In 2012, the CPSC first targeted Buckyballs, a manufacturer of small but powerful magnetic toy balls, for elimination by regulation. Buckyballs, like other similar products, can be attached to one another, forming various shapes. Regulators argued that warning individuals that magnets were not intended for consumption was insufficient.


While the product was not officially banned from sale in the United States, the commission???s actions did convince most retailers to stop selling the product, by issuing a statement suggesting that the product was a substantial product hazard, claiming the existence of a serious health risk.

The chief executive officer of Buckyballs, Craig Zucker, fought back by continuing to sell their magnets on their website, until the company???s dissolution in 2013. However, CPSC proceeded with individual prosecution of Zucker.

He eventually reached a settlement with the CPSC, agreeing to enact a voluntary, expensive recall of the products.

In his statement regarding the settlement, Zucker stated that his ???life has been consumed with defending both an overreaching lawsuit and the rights of small business owners. At this point, I have spent more on legal fees than I will on the settlement.

Zucker???s statement continues, explaining that ???the law does not support an individual being named in a case like this and I hope that this settlement will discourage the CPSC from wrongfully pursuing individual officers and entrepreneurs again in the future.???

In addition to the disruption of domestic companies??? legal business activities, the CPSC also closed down the sales activities of companies importing and selling such toys.

Last Gasp

Currently, a single vendor for these imported products remains, as CPSC has effectively killed off or discouraged the remainder of the market.

That company, Zen Magnets, has announced plans to continue to defend its right to exist as a business, saying in an August 6 statement on their website that they ???will not settle for any sort of stop-sale of magnets that are perfectly safe when not misused.???

The company???s statement continues, saying that CPSC regulators are effectively claiming ???that the American population cannot be trusted to ever keep magnets out of the mouths of their children.???

The statement, written by company founder Shihan Qu, concludes by vowing to ???continue this legal, awareness, and lobbying battle, until our very last drop of cash-flow blood.

Qu promises to ???combat the CPSC???s magnet prohibition until triumph, or until a glorious death of insolvency on the legal battlefield.

Noting that the company’s day in court occurs at the end of this year, Qu’s letter concludes that, ???at the very least, we???ll have one more holiday season of availability.”

Matt Hurley ( writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.


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