Toy regulations affect direct retailers

Toy catalog and Internet retailers are scrambling to meet deadlines for new regulations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding the banning of lead and phthalates in toys, as well as how they inform consumers about toy safety warnings.

A number of highly publicized prod­uct recalls in 2007 ? many of them for toys ? left consumers, toy retailers and the nation’s product safety watchdogs rattled. While many in the direct market­ing industry agree that the new law is an important step toward ensuring the safety of children, there are some concerns over how it is being implemented.

“My biggest concern is what we are required to do and what we aren’t,” said Michael Wagner, CEO of The Parent Com­pany, which operates eToys and My Twinn Doll. “The legislature has put the law in place, but all the details aren’t there.”

Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. While many of the regulations will take effect December 12 for Internet retailers and February 10 for catalogers, the CPSC was still taking comments from the cata­log industry until October 15, and into November from the Internet side. The final rule regarding exactly what catalog­ers will be expected to do is supposed to be released on November 12. The pos­sibility of a 180-day grace period has been raised by the CPSC.

“Many catalogers have their catalogs planned well in advance, so these restric­tions could be very problematic,” said Ham­ilton Davison, executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association.

The law contains a section that deals specifically with toys sold via catalogs and the Internet. It states that when a toy carries a cautionary statement regarding choking, any advertising providing a direct means of purchase also must contain an appropriate cautionary statement.

“This is an area where you want to protect children,” said Jerry Cerasale, SVP of government affairs at the Direct Mar­keting Association. Still, the association raised several concerns in its comments to the CPSC, including suggesting that symbols be used in catalogs instead of a full warning statement.

“The real estate is very important in a catalog,” said Cerasale. “If you have lots of warnings, it uses up space that could be used to sell other products.”

The DMA also is asking that catalog­ers be given an 18-month grace period to comply with the new regulations and that business-to-business catalogs be exempt from the regulations.

The labeling requirement isn’t as big a concern for The Parent Company as the phthalates issue, said Wagner. Phthalates are ingredients found in some plastics.

“If there is a warning on a manufac­turer’s package, we put it on our Web site ? this is something we’ve done for some time,” he said. Some Internet retailers aren’t currently doing this, however.

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