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'Tis the season to be wary of children's toys

children play with toys In this story: November 25, 1997
Web posted at: 8:59 p.m. EST (0159 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the eve of the Christmas shopping season, two public interest groups warned parents Tuesday about violent and dangerous toys they say should not be found under the tree -- or anywhere else -- this year.

The Lion & Lamb Project released its "Dirty Dozen" list of violent toys to avoid. It also announced it is sponsoring trade-ins and buy-backs of violent toys in a number of cities during the coming weeks to draw attention to the link between such toys and violent attitudes.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), meanwhile, announced its 12th annual survey listing 18 dangerous toys.

A L S O :

Lion & Lamb Project's list of dangerous toys
PIRG's list of dangerous toys

Many of the toys on PIRG's list have small, removable parts that might be swallowed by small children. One such toy was recalled last year but was still available in some stores.

Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for PIRG, said that although things have improved, children choking on small objects continues to be one of the most common toy-related injuries. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, at least 259 children have choked to death on children's products since 1980.

The 1994 Child Safety Protection Act banned toys that contain small parts for children under 3 and ordered choke hazard warnings for those between 3 and 6.

"Even though there is less trouble in toyland, it's important for toy-givers to understand they need to shop around," Mierzwinski said.

'Parents have to inspect the toy'

The group recommends buying a choke tube -- which are available at toy stores -- to determine whether toy parts are too small for young children.

As an example, the group listed Mattel's 101 Dalmatians -- toys that feature hard, fuzzy dogs with accessories -- as dangerous because of concerns that the accessories might be removed and swallowed by small children.

Mattel spokesman Sean Fitzgerald objected to the PIRG rating and pointed out that the toys come with warning labels. "In terms of packaging the product and informing the consumer," he said, "we don't believe we can do any more."

Stomp rockets

"Parents have to inspect the toy first, read the box and explain it to their kids," said Nikki Galvan of D&L Company, which makes a rocket launcher called the Stomp Rocket. PIRG reported that a child suffered a detached retina because of the product this year.

But Galvan said the product itself is not dangerous when directions are followed.

"It's like with any other toy. Used incorrectly, you are going to get hurt," she said.

Buy-backs to include law enforcement groups

Ironically, the Stomp Rocket considered an eye hazard by PIRG was touted by the Lion & Lamb Project as a non-violent alternative toy.

Project Executive Director Daphne White said some of the buy-backs her group would sponsor are modeled after similar events for guns and would involve local law enforcement authorities.

"Toys that glorify violence encourage children to act out that violence -- violence which appears fun, cool and amusing," White said.

Along with its "Dirty Dozen" list, Lion & Lamb also listed 20 products that parents and other gift-givers could use for ideas on creative, exciting and non-violent toys.

Topping its list was the Laser Challenge mobile blaster made by Toymax Inc., which fires a 360-degree laser burst over 25 feet and has two delay modes.

White said the toy encouraged children to play out premeditated attacks on their friends.

"These toys and games suggest that shooting, killing and maiming are fun, and violence is a harmless, entertaining pastime," White said. "This merchandising of violence to children is a totally new phenomenon."

'It requires constant vigilance'

Toymax spokesman Barry Schwartz said he was surprised at the criticism, citing praise for the Laser Challenge line of toys from consumer magazines and organizations running activities for children.

Parents say that while they do what they can to protect their children, locating the hidden dangers in toys can be difficult.

"The biggest problem is that we are not kids. We don't look at toys the same way," said Lou Nemeth, a Washington father of a 13-month-old daughter. He noted that some toys that look harmless can be disassembled into small dangerous pieces. "There are so many hidden things. It requires constant vigilance."

Reporter Kathleen Koch and Reuters contributed to this report.


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