Thursday, 13 October 2011

No EU 'ban' on blowing up balloons

On Sunday, MailOnline reported:

The story ran in Monday's papers under headlines such as 'Brussels bans toys' (Mail), 'Now Euro killjoys ban children's party toys' (Express) and 'Children to be banned from blowing up balloons, under EU safety rules' (Telegraph).

Have children been 'banned' from blowing up balloons by the EU, as all the papers claimed? No. The stories refer to the Toy Safety Directive and what the explanatory guidance to that actually says is:

For latex balloons there must be a warning that children under 8 years must be supervised and broken balloons should be discarded.

It's about an 'age suitable' warning on the packet. It's not about the EU 'banning' something.

How, exactly, do these papers think such a ban, if it did exist, would be enforced anyway?

In response, Antonia Mochan of the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom said:

The EU rules can regulate how things are put on the market, but not how they are used in the home. So they recommend supervision for use of balloons etc that children could choke on, but don’t ban children from using them.

The official statement from the Representation's office says:

Several newspapers have claimed that “Brussels” has imposed new rules on the UK banning children from blowing up balloons or using party whistles. This is wholly untrue.

EU legislation on toy safety aims to protect young children from death and injury and reflects expert medical advice – and simple common sense.

Balloons and other toys placed in the mouth can and do cause death and injury.

The EU rules referred to date from 1988. They state that ballons made of latex must carry a warning to parents that children under eight years should be supervised. Stronger plastic ballons do not need to carry this warning.

They also state that all toys aimed at children under three should be large enough to prevent them being swallowed.

Despite this, the claims were repeated by former Express editor Peter Hill:

There are certain types of public official in this country who make it their life's work to think of things to ban.

They are only happy when making other people's lives a little less free and a little less rich.

Now they've teamed up with others of their ilk in obscure offices of the EU, whose latest fatuous decision is to ban children from blowing up balloons and playing penny whistles.

Can anyone recall a case of a child being killed doing either? It's interfering for interfering's sake.

There's a certain type of journalist who make it their life's work to report on things being banned when they aren't really. Since there is no such 'ban' in this case, it's Hill who is being fatuous.

And he asks if anyone can recall a case of a child being killed blowing up a balloon. The parents of Clarice Harron can - their daughter choked to death while blowing up a balloon in 2009. And in 2008, the Mail reported that a 5-year-old had died after choking on a burst balloon.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):

Of all children's products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death, according to CPSC injury data. Since 1973, more than 110 children have died as a result of suffocation involving uninflated balloons or pieces of balloons. Most of the victims were under six years of age, but the CPSC does know of several older children who have suffocated on balloons. 

Indeed, the Child Safety Protection Act, effective in the US since 1 January 1995, states that balloons must carry the following warning:


CHOKING HAZARD - Children under 8 yrs. can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Adult supervision required.

Keep uninflated balloons from children. Discard broken balloons at once.

So the warning outlined by the EU's Toy Safety Directive is much the same as the one that has been used in the US for 16 years.

It wasn't just the facts about balloons that the papers got wrong. The Mail's article states, at the start:

Many traditional filler toys are being banned because they do not conform to tough regulations imposed by Brussels.

Party blowers...are among the favourites deemed too dangerous.

But towards the end, that changes to:

Party blowers...are categorised as unsafe for under-14s under rules governing toys that children put in their mouths. EU officials claim bits of blower could come off and cause choking. They can no longer be sold unless they pass strict new tests.

So not actually banned either, the article eventually admits. Just subject to safety tests - as all toys that kids put in their mouth are - and given an 'age suitable' warning.

Is trying to make toys as safe as reasonably possible really such a strange thing to want to do? It seems unlikely that the papers would be so misleading, or take the same snide tone, if this didn't involve the EU.

(More from Full Fact)


  1. I got into a discussion with some people on another site over this, and ended up reading a fair amount of the supposed directive that's been ill-used in this. On the whistle front, I couldn't actually find out what was being used for the claim, but I did note that, by definition, toys are meant for 14s-and-under. I would not be surprised if such whistles are simply not considered to be toys in the first place (and, to be fair, they aren't exactly the most edifying toys in the first place).

  2. I wish the EU would ban shit newspapers.


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