I love being associated with people that are considered experts in their field. It allows me to utilize their expertise to make the work that I do for my clients more successful.
In an online discussion group that I belong to, the following question was posed today:
If I give a product to a child, whether a grocery tote or lanyard, even though the product is not a children’s toy, the fact that my client is handing it to a child makes it a children’s product and thus subject to all the additional crazy rules. Correct?
I am fortunate to have one of the top experts in our industry on product safety as a supplier and as a friend. Below is the answer that he gave to the group. Please note that this information refers specifically to CPSIA regulations in the US and we would need to look at the differences between that and CCPSA in Canada, but as a whole, the information below is good for both countries. Let us work with you to make sure that your marketing promotions hit their mark and Get YOU Noticed without causing you the embarrassment of a Public Relations nightmare.
Rick Brenner, MAS
CEO of Prime Line, Co-chair of 2011 PPAI Product Safety Summit in Denver, Committee member of PPAI Product Responsibility Action Group (PRAG), Founding board member of QCAlliance.org, board member PPAI.
The answer to your question is “no” – giving a product to a child does not make it a children’s product.
Congress provided some guidelines to define a children’s product in the text of CPSIA in August 2008. The key thing they said is that a children’s product had to be intended primarily for children 12 years and younger. CPSC expanded on the original guidelines in 2010 with a document entitled “Final Interpretive Ruling on Definition of Children’s Products”.
According to that document CPSC said a children’s product has to be mainly for 12 and under, that it has to have declining appeal to older children and they noted various characteristics that were typical of products for young children – large buttons, bright colors, cheap price, etc.
Most importantly, CPSC said there are many products young children use regularly which are not children’s products according to this definition because the products appeal just as much to older kids as to younger ones. That is, they are not mainly for 12 and under – they’re for all age kids and maybe even for everyone, kids and adults. CPSC came up with the term general use product to refer to items used by everyone – including young kids. They said even if the product is given directly to young kids – say a water bottle for a 3rd grade little league team or a string backpack for second graders – and it is designed or decorated in such a way that it appeals as much to older kids, parents and coaches as it does to the younger kids then it’s a general use item. And these general use items are not required to comply with CPSIA. (There is a technical question about whether or not general use items still must comply with the lead-in-surface-coating requirements because those regulations apply to articles intended for the use of children without specifying an age. These requirements apply to painted surfaces and many types of promotional products imprints – pad printing, silk screening, heat transfers, etc. The ruling is referred to as 16 CFR 1303.)
CPSC says it is aware that kids use many products every day that are not regarded as children’s products – such as the ones I mentioned or ball point pens, a toilet, etc. CPSC says it is not worried that those products are not covered by CPSIA because they have other statutory authority to remove products from the market which they deem harmful.
So all of this has made our job much more complicated than it would be if there were a bright line definition. For example, if string backpacks were distributed to 2nd graders with a simple text imprint of “XYZ Elementary School” they would be considered general use items because CPSC would say the bags appeal to kids, teachers, administrators and parents alike. But if the same bags were imprinted with something very juvenile like Winnie the Pooh or Hanna Montana, then they would likely be considered children’s products.
The criteria for children’s toys are even more complicated because Congress did not include the word “primarily” in that definition. It said a children’s toy is a product intended for use by children 12 years of age or younger while at play. That wording leaves open the question of whether “executive toys” could be considered as children’s toys. At the recent PPAI Product Safety Summit in Denver, a senior staffer from CPSC told me that CPSC was working on an enhanced definition of toys similar to the one they did for children’s products. This could be a significant issue because toy testing is usually much more expensive than children’s product testing. Children’s products simply require lead testing – substrate and surface coating, which together cost around $100.00. Toys, on the other hand, require the full toy safety standard testing ($500-$1800 per toy) plus phthalate testing which can add several hundreds of dollars more.
In my view, separate from these “legal” definitions are the strategic questions. It is my recommendation – for the benefit of our businesses and of our industry – that any time we know children will be involved with promotional products, the products should be 3rd party tested to comply with CPSIA irrespective of whether the product fits the technical legal definition I explained above. Other than the obvious safety issues involved, there are many consumer advocacy groups testing products just looking for an opportunity to embarrass a Fortune 500 company. I like to think of our role in this industry as acting as fiduciaries for our end buyer’s good name – since it’s their name going on the product, not ours. You may remember the grocery bag incident last year where a TV station in Florida decided to test several reusable grocery bags from one of the big grocery chains. They discovered that the bags contained 200 or so ppm of lead. Then, over that weekend there must have been 1 million stories written about those bags. Safeway, Wegman’s and others voluntarily recalled millions of bags and Senator Schuman got on the Senate floor Monday morning demanding that FDA regulate these bags. And that was for an instance where it is arguable whether there is even any existing regulations that were violated. But regulations didn’t matter. The negative PR did all the damage to the grocery chains whether the bags were compliant or not.
Hope this helps.