Better Late Than Never or Better Never Than Late?

If Lewis Carroll had not already posed this question, I’m sure he would have when he saw CPSC’s current effort to define the term “children’s product.”

This exercise is important because how we define a children’s product will determine what products are subject to stringent provisions of the CPSIA, including those relating to lead content, third party testing and tracking labels.  While our mission is to protect consumers, the CPSIA has given us little flexibility to do that in a sensible way and, as I have written here and here and here, a majority of my colleagues have chosen to ignore what little flexibility we do have under the statute to come up with sensible solutions. 

In the current proposal up for a vote next week, we are being asked to make a number of nonsensical determinations.  For example:

 How should we treat home furnishings? 

  • A pink lamp on one bedside table in a child’s room is not a children’s product but a pink lamp embellished with a fairy sitting on the other bed side table is.  No difference in use but a very big difference in outcome from the standpoint of the maker.  How does this make sense? 

 What about common everyday products? 

  • Paper clips are not children’s products even if a teacher hands them out to students to clip homework assignments.  If that same paper clip, purchased at an office supply store, is packaged in a “hands-on” science kit to help teach a child about how magnets work, it is miraculously transformed.  How does this make sense? 

 What about DVD’s?

  • Our proposed rule says that DVD’s may be subject to third party testing because of the content embedded on them.  Apparently, “Animal Planet” does not pose a risk of lead poisoning but “Dora the Explorer” does.  How does this make sense?

I could go on and on with other strange examples drawn from the proposed rule.  We are not required by the statute to put out a rule defining children’s products.  We are choosing to do this because we want to add clarity and consistency to a confused process.  I fear we are just making the situation even more muddled.  The proposal we will consider next week could add a whole new chapter to “Through the Looking Glass.” Lewis Carroll would be proud.


5 Responses to “Better Late Than Never or Better Never Than Late?”

  1. 1 Dan Marshall September 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm


    Thank you for this post. We agree that the Commission’s definition of a children’s product is unhelpful and will only serve to create more confusion. Our post on the subject is at .

    We are also greatly disturbed that Commission staff ignored, refuted, or rejected nearly every concern raised by stakeholders who submitted comments on this definition, including ours. We find this extremely frustrating and worry that the Commission is adopting a new stance of illogical intransigence.

    The CPSIA is a sprawling and confusing piece of overreaction that the CPSC should choose to simplify, clarify, and reign in. Instead, this document makes it clear that the Commission is seeking the opposite by enlarging the law’s scope and obfuscating its terms.

    Needless to say, our members are disappointed.

    • 2 Commissioner Nancy Nord September 14, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      Dan, thank you for your comment. Please know that I share your frustration with the fact that a majority of my colleagues here at the commission do not seem to want to use what little flexibility we have to bring some rationality to CPSIA implementation. Please let your members know that, in spite of this, their comments are being read and discussed internally so it is not an entirely empty exercise. Your thoughts, insights and experiences certainly inform my views and help focus the discussion with other commissioners. It is essential that we keep hearing from those who actually make products, create jobs and make payrolls (experiences that many here have not had). Working together perhaps we can make some headway. Thanks to you and your members for all you do.

  2. 3 Sarah Natividad September 11, 2010 at 11:22 am

    They could have saved hard drive space, several forests of trees, and a lot of time and effort by just making the rule say “It’s a children’s product if we say it is, so just ask us and if we feel like it, we’ll decide for you.” Because that’s what it boils down to. Now, besides the fuzzy line between kids and adults, we also have the fuzzy line between infants and kids and whether a child might reasonably be assumed to touch and use a lamp or a piece of furniture. Why on earth did they think TWO fuzzy lines constituted clarification?

    • 4 Commissioner Nancy Nord September 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm

      Sarah, As you rightly point out, the real problem with the proposed rule is that the law allows the CPSC to second guess judgments that are made at the beginning of the manufacturing process. The consequences of making a judgment that we deem wrong are severe even when there was no impact on safety. Please know that I will continue to try to being some rationality to this process but I do need the help and support of those like you who are working hard to make safe products but are being confounded by this law. Thanks for reading and for your support.

  1. 1 To Interpret or Not to Interpret? That is the Question… « Conversations with Consumers Trackback on September 29, 2010 at 4:19 pm

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