Would You Risk a $10,000 Order to Raise Product Safety Questions?
Let's frame the discussion between mandatory standards—what's required by law—and voluntary standards—what may be required by your customer's own policies, by market pressure or by some other non-legal reason.
The word "mandatory" should guide you when it comes to asking questions. In both of the examples—the tote bags and the flashlight—if the final decorated product is determined to be a children's product and it doesn't comply with applicable regulations, then you could be risking an expensive recall and a public embarrassment. Best practice is to learn the mandatory compliance regulations for products in our industry and then ask enough questions of your customer to enable you to quote properly—to know what to ask of your testing lab and what to require of your supplier or factory. As the law is currently written and enforced, ignorance of the intended audience does not appear to be a defense. You will not likely get much sympathy from CPSC by saying, "I didn't know it was a children's product and I didn't know they were going to hand it out to kids." It could be a very expensive discussion.
Voluntary standards are a different matter. McDonald's recalled millions of Shrek glasses because of cadmium in the decoration even though there was no mandatory regulation that applied. A few years ago, when the Today Show created a frenzy about the chemical BPA in polycarbonate bottles, hundreds of corporations stopped buying them. Yet BPA is still perfectly legal, even today. Many corporations have policies about toxins like these that go beyond regulation. Some, like Nintendo, borrow standards from ASTM F963—the toy safety standard—and apply those requirements to products that are not toys. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) bans children's toys if any of six phthalates measure more than 0.1% but Nintendo applies this standard to every promotional product it purchases, not just children's toys. Other companies require the fabric in products like tote bags and string backpacks to comply with the Flammable Fabrics Act even though that law applies primarily to apparel and not to tote bags or string backpacks.