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The health risk of swallowing Buckyballs is more serious than just swallowing a marble. If you swallow two or more magnets, they can get stuck together as they wind their way through your intestines and pinch holes through your intestinal wall.

Lets be honest, unless you are a toddler (and these magnet toy companies are very careful to make it known these are not for children, so if a child gets a hold of these an adult is to blame...), you are probably not in the habit of eating things just because they are small. What are they going to do, jump down your throat?

Let's be honest, virtually no teenager in the world could be trusted to ensure that no 2 out of the 216 tiny rolling metal balls that come in one of these sets ever got lost in their house. Meanwhile, yes, putting shiny metal things into their mouths is essentially the full time job of a toddler.

The problem isn't that magnets are inherently unsafe, or even that tiny round magnets are unsafe. It's that this particular packaging of tiny round magnets is unsafe.

There's a lot of really fun things a conscientious person can do with fire, electricity, strong acid, or liquid nitrogen. But nobody's been dumb enough to put them in colorful packages with "Not For Children Under 14" on the label.

There are a hell of a lot of things that we could ban if we wanted to make sure children never found dangerous things. The only reason small magnet toys get grief is because they are new and novel enough to stand out from the crowd and get the attention.

That's a viewpoint I probably can't talk you out of. But just to give a concise repetition of my viewpoint: the reason small magnet toys get grief is the gap between how dangerous they actually are and how not dangerous they appear to be.

There are thousands of poisoning deaths every year^. Yet we still market children's vitamins that look like candy in drug bottles similar to those used for prescription medication, and we still sell industrial cleaners with colouring that should make kool-aid jealous.

Nobody cares, because everybody is used to these things. We are satisfied when manufactures put nasty labels on the bottles.

There is a gap between how dangerous magnets technically can be when ingested, and the actual harm they are causing. Yeah, if you swallow them you are pretty much due for an ER visit... but in reality this is an edge case that we should not be wasting our time worrying about.

^ http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/Poisoning/poiso...

Parents do not think cleaning chemicals are safe for children, and keep vitamins in the medicine cabinet.

Candy shaped vitamins are not dangerous in and of themselves, but they train children to think that candy comes from medicine bottles. You could make a similar argument for tick-tacks and any number of other candies that look like medicine capsules.

Parents give their children tick-tacks (because it's just candy, so why not?) and children see their parents getting "candy" out of medicine bottles. When some of them inevitably come across dangerous medication (which happen to be small and easy to lose...), some of them will pop it in their mouth with the fairly reasonable expectation that it will taste good.

How parents perceive the danger of any of these things is not particularly relevant, particularly in the case of medication. The question we should be asking is how much harm are they actually causing.

Cleaning supply marketing and children vitamins cause far more deaths than magnets could ever dream of causing.

I understand that you find this argument to be compelling, but as a parent and a friend of many other parents, you're just not going to convince me that parents think cleaning chemicals are safe, or that parents think children's vitamins are safe. I am terrified of children's vitamins (iron poisoning!), and they're not even empirically dangerous to my middle-school-aged kids.

Incidentally: I just looked it up, and it looks like children's vitamins? Also less dangerous, epidemiologically, than rare earth magnets. I find that surprising; maybe you can find a better study that shows how often they kill kids.

You seem to be misunderstanding me. Maybe children vitamins are dangerous themselves, maybe they aren't. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming they are relatively safe.

The damage done by children vitamins, primarily the ones that are dressed up to look like candy, is actually dealt out by the prescription medication that children swallow and die. The danger children vitamins pose would still be present if they were nothing but sugar pills (and sugar pills that look exactly like medication are dangerous as well).

How many parents of poisoned children have heard "I thought it was candy!"?

That you and the other parents you know are reasonably paranoid about the danger of vitamins and other medications is commendable, but thousands of kids are still being lethally poisoned. If the injuries to children from magnets are enough to concern us, then the poisonings should concern us even more so.

If your argument is that parents are cavalier about medicine, and not just candy-flavored vitamins, I'm sorry to say I'm even less persuaded.

Again: I perceive your argument to be that if the government is going to regulate products, it should sort products by the number of injuries or fatalities they cause and proceed from the top of the list downwards.

My argument is that this isn't the government's M.O.; they don't see it as their mission to eliminate all risk, or even the risk of bad parenting. Instead, their issue is with products that appear to be much much safer than they are. Their concern is literally constrained to marketing, and nothing else. I do not see how you get around the fact that tiny round rare earth magnets sold in sets of 200 are, in actual fact, way the hell more dangerous than their colorful fun packaging makes them seem. Zen Magnets appears to suggest wearing them!

No, my argument is not that parents are cavalier about medicine.

I think I have done all that reasonably I can to make my point of view clear, short of writing an essay, but it is still not understood. I'm not continuing this.

Pills are specifically formulated to cause vomiting if overdosed. Obviously it's not perfect, but medicines have a significant necessary purpose, unlike tiny magnets.

I think prescription medicines probably save more lives than tiny magnetic desk toys, but I don't have the stats handy to prove that.

Do you think I am making a case against prescription medication? Have I failed to communicate that thoroughly?

Maybe? I'm honestly not sure what your thesis is.

In the same way that magnetic toys are a novelty that can cause injury or death to young children, vitamins that look like candy (but is treated like prescription medication: packaged the same and stored in the same place. Treated with the same paranoia by parents.) and candy that looks like prescription medication (think: tick-tacks) cause harm. Specifically they cause harm by contributing to confusion between candy and medication among children.

This is not a concern I have invented: http://www.ncpoisoncenter.org/body.cfm?id=115 http://voices.yahoo.com/separating-candy-medicine-prevent-me...

They specifically call out parents calling medication "candy". This is apparently something that parents do with enough frequency to warrant calling out. As far as I am concerned, candy-like vitamin supplements are no better.

I would suggest that prescription medication manufactures stop making medicine in bright colors and fun shapes, however I suspect the harm done by such a suggestion in the form of accidental adult poisonings would outweigh the benefits.

I would therefore argue, were I inclined to, that candy and vitamin companies should modify their products. I would not advocate prescription medication companies altering anything.

So my thesis: confusion between medication and candy kills thousands of children every year. There are trivial things we can go after in an attempt to curb this phenomenon (to repeat: tell vitamin and candy companies to knock it off). Nobody is calling for these trivial measures, even though they seem greatly concerned about a problem with much smaller magnitude. The reason for this incongruity is that candies and vitamins are familiar, while magnet toys are new and striking.

Apart from those dastardly chemistry set manufacturers, anyway. Especially some of the older models were really quite dangerous! Good thing nobody sells them anymore.

Chemistry sets packaged as consumer products are regulated, as are their constituent chemicals whether they're packaged for consumers or for industries. Meanwhile, parents and teenagers are more terrified of chemistry sets than those products actually deserve. As a result, there appear to be fewer incidents of chemistry set accidents than there were accidental ingestions of rare earth magnets. (It turns out the search term you're looking for here is [chemistry set poisoning]).

I feel like this kind of makes my case for me: Buckyballs was marketing a desk toy that turns out epidemiologically to be more dangerous to children than leaving a chemistry set unattended on a desk.

I'm aware. I don't expect to be able to change your point of view on this particular issue, so I'm just making my point for any interested third parties.

I'll also make the further point that chemistry sets aren't actually that dangerous (and never were). 'More dangerous than chemistry sets' is a largely meaningless statistic.

Just so we're clear: I think most parents are unreasonably afraid of chemistry sets. I agree with you on that. But --- bear with me here --- that's also a reason why we don't have to crack down on companies marketing chemistry sets.

I understand what you're saying. I just think that the benefit of over-protectiveness (no need for heavy-handed regulation to prevent some deaths) isn't enough to counteract the lost benefit from, for example widespread comfort with chemistry and chemicals. The level of risk-aversion is too high.

As an aside, I don't see much effective difference between a legal crackdown and one caused by fixing the social context.

You're saying they're being heavy-handed, but to be clear, all they are saying is that you can't market rare earth magnets as a "consumer product intended or marketed by the manufacturer primarily as a manipulative or construction desk toy for general entertainment, such as puzzle working, sculpture, mental stimulation, or stress relief". They're not banning magnets; they're banning one specific marketing of them.

Which, again, I think is problematic. I'm hardly going to worry about being able to purchase magnets for engineering applications.

'Some degree of danger reduction' just doesn't qualify as a catch-all justification for regulatory action. At least not with me.

Chemistry sets vanished due to anti-terrahrism BS, not safety concerns.

And in the magnet case, larger magnets are plenty fun while still being much safer.

Some people use strong magnets as fake tongue or cheek piercings.


I'm not saying this is a valid reason to ban the sale of these items. (Sell anything, so long as you make clear warnings about non-obvious risks. Thus, a chainsaw doesn't need much warnings, because it's a chainsaw. But little magnetic balls which are very appealing to children but also dangerous - yep, give them some clear warnings.)

There has to be a point where we just throw our hands up and say the person deserves a darwin award. I don't think there has really been any epidemic concern over teenagers swallowing these though, and I don't think younger children use these as fake piercings.

Well, that escalated.

I kind of agree. That's why I mentioned chainsaws. This instruction manuel for a Stihl chainsaw is, I think, good. There are many pages of warnings. Most of them are informative and address real problems - page 4 talks about why this chainsaw is a special use saw. There are no "Don't hold the wrong end" warnings here.


Some things are dangerous. Everyone can reasonably know they're dangerous, and we don't need to withdraw those items from sale. Other items are dangerous, but those dangers are not obvious, and even though we put warnings on the objects we still find people being harmed.

Again, I'm not sure that harm is enough to force some items off the market. Maybe just bigger, better, warnings.

Well then you're proposing that we should have issued 1,700 "Darwin awards" since just 2009, almost all of them to small children.

I think it's much less likely that you actually mean this, and more likely that you haven't read much about the CPSC's side of this story.

I think it is pretty clear that I am refering to teenagers eating magnets getting a Darwin award, not children..... Talk about uncharitable interpretations.

I think it's pretty clear that I don't think you're OK with little kids being hurt by magnets.

Is being obtuse a sport for you?


Yes. I thought saying "I think it's unlikely you actually think little kids should get Darwin awards" communicated that he wasn't writing callously, but just hadn't considered the CPSC's side.

Given your continued insistence on trying to change the argument to one about the elimination of all small round magnets, I can only assume that you're either trolling or just completely unwilling to think about other people's positions. You certainly don't come across as stupid enough for it to be anything else.

That is to say, given the rather high quality of your other contributions to the site, I can't imagine that your posts here are only accidentally coming across as obtuse. Perhaps I'm wrong! It's been known to happen.

Mostly I just got the impression of someone trying to invoke condescension. Have you just never heard of cost-benefits? Otherwise, elaborating a bit more might make your points less opaque.

cost/benefit? There are plenty of affordable substitute goods for toy magnets.

That's one source of negative utility in this case. A general cost-benefit analysis of this policy decision would need to take into account quite a few more.

Anyway, I was referring to tptacek's apparent failure to consider that someone might think some finite number of deaths acceptable.

I have no problem with that. The only issue I have is when people cast a data-driven policy decision about a relatively dangerous novelty item as some kind of ignorant overreach.

'Ignorant overreach' is a value judgment, even if it doesn't sound quite like one. We can disagree about which data is relevant and how it should drive policy, and end up right back where we started.

The only ways out (that I can see) are to either talk about the disagreement itself or ignore each other and go back to lobbyist fights.

I'd wager that a small but significant fraction of people will play with these things in their mouth (sticking them on either side of their tongue, for example) and accidentally swallowing them at that point is not hard to accomplish.

And no, people shouldn't be doing this, but these things look completely harmless. They're not poisonous and they're small enough to pass without harm, so what's the big deal?

I think that's what it comes down to. The danger these things pose isn't terribly large, but it's far larger than what a typical reasonable person would perceive as the danger.

Well it's a good thing I tend to not put non-edible items in my mouth.

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