2008-12-12 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER We all remember the joy of opening holiday presents as a child. The satisfaction of unwrapping packages containing new playthings after weeks of diligent list-making, cajoling gift givers, and breathless anticipation is an exciting childhood ritual. The recent spike in toy recalls, however, has added a new dimension to holiday gift giving and receiving. In order to keep this season fun and safe for children, those shopping for toys should keep the following tips in mind.

The first, and most obvious, rule is to avoid potentially dangerous toys. Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website for the latest product recalls and warnings. The federal government has set up an easy-touse website to alert consumers to unsafe, hazardous, or defective products. You can find the site at http://www.recalls.gov/. Second, be aware of the top five toy hazards identified by the CPSC, namely scooters and other riding toys, small balls and other toys with small parts, balloons, magnets, and toys with chargers and adapters. Toys in these categories are not necessarily dangerous, but they may be unsuitable for younger children who may be unable to control the speed of riding toys, are more likely to swallow small parts or magnets, choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons, or burn themselves by improperly using toys that require electricity.

Choosing toys that are well suited to a child's developmental level is critical to ensuring that children will enjoy playing with your gift while remaining safe. Most toys are labeled with a "recommended age" sticker, but this should be seen as a starting point in the purchasing process. Toys that incorporate projectiles may be labeled as age appropriate for children over the age of four, but if the child is an immature six-year-old, a different toy might be more appropriate despite the toy's label. Similarly, if you are shopping for a three-year-old who still places toys in his or her mouth, it would be best to not purchase toys that include small parts, regardless of the age recommendation on the label.

Lastly, when shopping for infants and toddlers, there are several things to consider. In order to avoid possible choking hazards, children under the age of three should not be given any toys with removal parts smaller than their mouths. If you are unsure, try to pass the toy or toy part through a toilet paper roll. If the item passes through, it is not safe. Also, make sure that all toys are well constructed and in good condition.

All stuffed animals should be sewn together securely, and should not have any decorations or parts that could easily be removed by a child and put into his or her mouth. Avoid toys that incorporate cords longer than twelve inches; such cords can pose a potential choking hazard. For more information on safe holiday toy shopping, you may want to visit the Consumer Reports website at http://www.consumerreports.org/. For more information on toy safety, consider visiting the Consumer Protection Board's toy safety webpage. Point your browser to the Board's website at ht tp://www.consumer.state.ny. us/, click on "CPB's Publications, Audio and Videos" on the left-hand side of the page, and then click on "Toy Safety Tip Card" under the "Child Safety" heading.

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