Federal Regulators Continue War On Fun, Issue Warning Over Lighted Holiday Decorations

Jesse Hathaway Research Fellow, Heartland Institute
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Just in time for the holiday season, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is gearing up what can only be called a war on fun, persecuting legitimate foreign and domestic businesses for selling legal products to consumers, under the guise of protecting children.

Last month, the federal agency tasked with “protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of types of consumer products” announced proposed rules banning the sale of “pre-lit artificial trees, wreaths, menorahs, lawn figures, light sculptures, and other decorative outfits and accessories incorporating light sets” with wires less than 0.64 millimeter wide.

Regulators also continued their quest to outlaw the toy-magnet industry by proposing banning the sale of magnets with field strengths exceeding 50,000 gauss — 50 times the strength of a small iron magnet.

Such magnets are often marketed for use in sculpture building sets or puzzles. CPSC regulators argue warning labels advising against ingesting the items are insufficient prevention, responding to 100 reported cases of small children ingesting such products between 2009 and 2011, as well as a single fatality.

National healthcare statistics indicate a child is 2,500 times more likely to receive health care treatment for juvenile diabetes, with only five cases of magnet ingestion occurring per one million children aged five or under.

Over the past four years, the CPSC has expanded its prosecution of toy-magnet manufacturers to include foreign companies, leaning on retail companies to stop buying them from vendors. Since its first attack on a toy-magnet manufacturer, Buckyballs, in 2012, the regulatory commission has effectively killed the entire market by expanding its prosecution to include foreign companies.

Currently, only one of these companies, Zen Magnets, remains open for business. The company’s founder, Shihan Qu, has vowed to “combat the CPSC’s magnet prohibition until triumph, or until a glorious death of insolvency on the legal battlefield.”

Qu’s open letter, published in August, grimly notes, “At the very least, we’ll have one more holiday season of availability.”

Christmas lights are even less dangerous than the benign toy-magnet industry targeted for elimination by the CPSC. Between 2008 and 2013, Christmas lights killed at an “unreasonable” incidence rate of three people per one billionindividuals. In other words, you are 21.5 times more likely to be killed by a lightning bolt than dying from the “unreasonable risk” incurred by decking the halls.

Reduced to banning popular products enjoyed safely by millions of consumers every day in the name of literally saving just one person’s life, the CPSC has clearly outlived its usefulness. These federal meddlers should leave confiscating Christmas toys and decorations to the Grinch.

Jesse Hathaway (jhathaway@heartland.org) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.