Release date: March 22, 1990
Release number: 90-055

Release Details

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that its current toy safety regulations intended to prevent choking by young children are effective in preventing all but a small number of the choking incidents that these regulations were designed to address. Specifically, the Commission decided that the toy-testing cylinder used since 1980 does not need to be changed. The cylinder is used to determine whether toys or components of toys are small enough for children to choke on if they place them in their mouths.

However, in the same decision, the Commission directed the staff to propose regulatory alternatives to prevent choking incidents caused by small human figures and other round ended toys of similar dimensions that pose choking hazards.

In taking the action, CPSC Chairman Jacqueline Jones-Smith said, "While I believe the Commission's current toy safety regulations are effective, and the toy-testing cylinder is doing its job, I am concerned that four of the six known deaths from items that pass the small parts test were caused by a single type of toy, small human figures. I would like to explore possible alternatives for dealing specifically with this narrow product category."

The Commission also took action to address choking hazards posed by balloons, small balls, marbles and other products not covered by the Commission's existing regulations. The Commission voted to issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), the first step in the three stage rulemaking process, that may result in mandatory labeling or other requirements for these products. The purpose of an ANPR is to solicit comments from consumers, industry, the medical community, and other interested parties.

The Commission's action was based on information showing that between 1980 and 1989, 146 children died from choking on toys or other children's articles. About 70 percent of these incidents involved balloons, small balls, or marbles.

Specifically, the Commission:

- Voted two to one (Commissioner Dawson dissenting) to begin a rulemaking proceeding and issue an ANPR to address the choking hazards associated with toys and other articles intended for children three to six years old. This proceeding could result in mandatory warning labeling requirements .

- Voted unanimously to begin a rulemaking proceeding and issue an ANPR to address the choking hazards presented by small balls sold as part of games of skill. This proceeding could result in mandatory warning label requirements.

- Voted unanimously to begin a rulemaking proceeding and issue an ANPR to address the choking hazards presented by small balls not sold as part of a game of skill but intended for use by children. This proceeding could result in a prohibition of certain small balls.

- Voted two to one (Commissioner Dawson dissenting) to begin a rulemaking proceeding and issue an ANPR to address the choking hazards presented by marbles. This proceeding could result in mandatory labeling requirements for marbles.

- Voted unanimously to begin a rulemaking proceeding and issue an ANPR to address the choking hazard presented by balloons. This proceeding could result in mandatory warning labeling on balloons.

Chairman Jones-Smith said, "We want to make parents aware that children can die choking on marbles and small balls. These can be fun for older children, but young children can choke on them. A colorful balloon can brighten anyone's day, but fragments of a balloon or a deflated balloon can choke and kill a child. Keep deflated balloons and broken balloon pieces away from children under three and caution all children not to put these pieces in their mouths. The lethal nature of balloon fragments is not readily apparent to many of us. Discard balloons immediately when they break."

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