Friday, July 27, 2012

Quick, ban everything!

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is trying to get Buckyballs off the market. Buckyballs are small magnetic ball-bearings that can be sculpted into all manner of shapes. They're a desk toy for your office (and look pretty neat to boot), but unlike some desk toys that just have a magnet base and metal shapes, each individual Buckball is a magnet. Sounds cool to me, but where's the problem? Turns out that some children have been consuming them, and that doing so requires surgery to remove them. Cases run from the very young, to those that are certainly old enough to know better. So the CPSC is now pressuring retailers to stop selling Buckyballs, as well as filing suit against the makers of Buckyballs in order to force them to stop selling and recall them. The CPSC is calling them a "substantial product hazard" to children who may consume them. They also had this to say:

"Notwithstanding the labeling, warnings and efforts taken by (Maxfield and Oberton), ingestion incidents continued to rise because warnings are ineffective"

You see, Buckyballs are already labeled with a warning that reads:

WARNING - Keep away from children! Do not put in nose or mouth. Swallowed magnets can stick to intestines causing serious injury or death. Seek immediate medical attention if magnets are swallowed or inhaled.

Sounds like they have everything covered to me. The CPSC is complaining that kids are getting them, and that they are ingesting them. Well, the warning clearly states that they are not for children, not to consume them, and the serious danger that exist should you not head the warning. Yet, the CPSC is taking action against them anyway, stating that the warning isn't working. The whole point of a warning is to warn the consumer, and also free yourself from liability. But for some reason, the CPSC still feels that Buckyballs are at fault even though the warning is made very clear on the package, and the fact that they are marketed to adults and not children. What is the point of a warning if you are going to punish the product if the consumer decides to ignore it? Buckyballs are only dangerous when used for something it is explicitly not intended for. Actually, they directly tell you not to use them for these uses. How is the product maker in any way responsible for obvious misuse? Shall we ban kitchen knives as well? Sometimes people are careless and cut themselves. And sometimes people actually use a kitchen knife to stab or kill someone. Obviously that's not the intended use of a kitchen knife and warnings tell you it's sharp and not to use as a weapon. But guess what, people do it anyway. So according to the CPSC's argument, kitchen knives should be banned as well. What about over the counter headache pills? If I ignore the directions that say only to take two, and instead take the whole bottle, does that make the pill maker liable. No! ...or at least it shouldn't. In that hypothetical, it would be my actions that made a generally  benign product dangerous. In fact, every product would need to be banned. Warning or no warning, there are ways to use every product that could be harmful in some form or fashion. 

When you get right down to it, this is not a failing of the company or a failing of the product. What it is is a failing or parenting. First, these are not toys for kids and should not be given to kids. Secondly, parents need to watch their kids. There is a chance that a child will still get a hold of them on their own, but an attentive parent will be there to keep the child from eating them. True, parents can't watch their children 24/7. But the latest generation of parents seem far to lax, and far too comfortable being absent for extended periods. In many cases, the parents/child will probably be at fault. With older 'victims', the fault will lie with the consumer. And in some cases accidents will happen that couldn't have been avoided. But in none of these cases are the Buckballs, or their maker to blame. If there was no warning and they were being explicitly marketed to kids, then there would be an argument there. But as the facts stand, Buckyballs are blameless, and the CPSC is doing nothing but blaming an innocent party, whilst propping up the notion that being an inattentive parent isn't a problem.


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