Parental Advisory Suggested
In 1975 an 8-year-old kid could ride his blue sparkle banana-seat bike home from his friend's house, sans helmet. Upon arrival he'd slam the bike down on the driveway, walk into the unlocked house, grab an untested painted Superman glass, chug down some non-organic whole milk and play a couple of games of Asteroids on his black and white 13" TV. After saving the world from certain astroid doom, he'd hop into the front seat of his mom's wood-paneled station wagon, without a thought to buckling his seat belt. Mom, also unbuckled, would light up a very long "You've Come a Long Way Baby" Virginia Slims cigarette, (crack the window approximately 1 cm, because that will definitely ventilate the car and remove all traces of second-hand smoke) put her foot on the clutch, shift to first gear and shuffle off happily to the grocery store for some butter, steaks, heavy cream and bacon.
It wasn't that the generation before us cared less, it's simply that we have more information today than they did in 1975. Now that we understand the consequences of falling off of a bike without wearing a helmet or ingesting toxic substances like lead, our society has adjusted. My oh my, how we have adjusted. Granted, it's much to the ire of some, but it's for the better.
If anyone can speak to the benefit of product safety it is suppliers of products and toys being marketed to children. "The most important thing now is safety, safety, safety," said Rich Carollo, vice president of marketing, Lion Circle Corporation, Chicago, Ill. "Anything plastic, painted or imported right now is going to be questioned extensively by the distributor and the end-user," he said.
When the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was created in 2008, calling to "establish consumer product safety standards and other safety requirements for children's products and to reauthorize and modernize the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)," it sent the promotional products industry into a tailspin. "When the laws first came out, it was a little daunting but we quickly learned to adjust. I think everybody did," said Maria Lafichi, executive vice president, Zenith Promotions, Lawrence, N.Y. After some time and careful ongoing regulatory observation, Lafichi noted, "Now it is getting easier. We are constantly educating ourselves, constantly staying on top of the laws, especially because they are always changing. And we are strict about it. All Zenith Promotions products are tested. Everything is tested by an independent third-party testing agency." Carollo also emphasized the importance of independent third-party testing, "Every product we create in our line we have to ask ourselves, 'Could it be considered a child's product?' If so, we get it tested."
What Are They?
What constitutes as a child's product? The government states on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website www.cpsc.gov, "A 'children's product' means a consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger." As for what determines product intent, the CPSC consideres several factors. The manufacturer of the product may provide a reasonable statement of the products intended use, how the product is presented in "packaging, display, promotion or advertising as appropriate for use by children 12 years of age or younger," and if the product is "commonly recognized by consumers as being intended for use by a child 12 years of age or younger." As Carollo noted, if there is any question, the best bet is to get it tested.
What's At Risk?
While the CPSIA regulations have cost suppliers a great deal of money, the flip side of noncompliance was never even an option. Any parent or person who cares for children is well-versed in the phase of children's lives when absolutely everything ends up in their mouth. Anyone under 3-years-old is much more vulnerable to the effects of chemical substances entering their body. The result of a toy, lunch box or sippy cup laden with lead, phthalates and other toxic substances can be devastating to a child's intellectual and physical development. "It's not all about price, or money," said Lafichi, "When the phthalates issue first came out, we destroyed a lot of merchandise. There was nothing in our building that was noncompliant or that had failures, nothing," she continued.
And when a dangerous product finds its way into the supply chain, who is responsible? Simply stated, we all are. Carollo said there are measures distributors can take to protect the supply chain, their businesses and their clients. "Make sure the manufacturer can supply you with the safety documentation. Distributors have to make sure they can cover themselves, and ultimately keep the suppliers honest and bringing in safe products."
Lafichi cited the importance of having a supplier that distributors can put their faith and trust in. "It is our job [as suppliers] to babysit that order every step of the way. We take care of all the issues for them, i.e., safety, production, everything. They shouldn't have to worry about these issues," she said.
What About the Future?
With the Environmental Protection Agency releasing its expansive "Chemicals of Concern" list and its corresponding action plans, it is getting tougher for unsafe products to seep into the supply chain. It will become even more difficult when the CPSIA regulations go into full effect on December 31, 2011, requiring that "all products intended for children under 12 are tested and certified as meeting the lead limits as set forth in the law." Phthalate testing is also required for toys intended for children under 12 or "child care articles" for children under three.
For the informed and educated distributor, Carollo noted, "The sky is the limit on these items. There will always be a need for children's items, and the suppliers and distributers that can bring the safe ones to the table are going to win. There's too much uncertainty out there, so people who are worried about safety issues will go to those who are informed."
Lafichi concurred, saying, "The future for this segment is really all about safety and keeping kids active. The government is really working to eliminate potentially hazardous chemicals in these products and I do believe they are doing a good job of it."