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Consumer activism pays big dividends in USA
  1. Angela D Mickalide
  1. National SAFE KIDS Campaign, 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA tel: +1 202 662 0600, fax: +1 202 393 2072, e-mail: amickalide{at}

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    Homer said that “The mark of wisdom is to read aright the present, and to march with the occasion”.1 In this regional report from the US, I commend those businesses and media outlets in America who have had the wisdom to listen to the concerns of injury prevention advocates and to either voluntarily withdraw their questionable products from the market and/or to change their advertising strategies. A few examples from various injury risk areas follow.

    Newsweek (choking prevention)

    In spring of 1997, Newsweek published a special edition entitled, “Your Child From Birth to Three”.2 One chart called “Building Health Habits” contained a serious error. It said that 5 month old babies could hand feed themselves zwiebacks or raw carrot chunks—a clear choking hazard for young children. In response to the concerns of the safety community, Newsweek published a correction in a subsequent issue, promising to send corrected versions of the early childhood issue to newsstands, hospitals, and doctors' officers. Any subscriber who wanted a corrected version of the chart was invited to call a toll-free number.3

    Mattel (toy safety)

    In 1996, Mattel introduced the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids who were supposed to munch on plastic cookies and French fries. About 500 000 dolls were sold. In response to more than 100 reports that the snacking doll preferred to eat children's hair and fingers, Mattel pulled the dolls off the toy store shelves, ordering retailers to return any unsold dolls and offering $40 refunds to any dissatisfied consumers who had bought the dolls.4

    Haggar pants (fire prevention)

    In 1997, Haggar Clothing Manufacturers produced a commercial in which a man re-enters a burning building to retrieve his pants. Upon seeing this ad, a New York fire chief called Haggar to complain that the fire safety community spends considerable time and energy trying to teach the public to “get out and stay out” of a burning building (personal communication). The fire chief alerted the National Fire Protection Association as well, and working together, they convinced Haggar to pull the ad immediately.

    Northwest Airlines (drowning prevention)

    On 26 April 1997, USA Today published a Northwest Airlines ad which depicted a child bending over with his head in a five gallon bucket.5 The copy read, “Great summer savings on Northwest Airlines. Looking for a new vacation spot?” Ann Brown of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission called the Chief Executive Officer of Northwest and he agreed to pull the ad immediately. As a result, the ad ran only once anywhere—in that issue of USA Today. In addition Northwest published an article on hidden hazards in the home in its September 1997 in-flight magazine, World Traveler.6 Unfortunately, the same stock photo ran again in an advertisement for Nature's Solutions herbal supplements in the February 1999 issue of Parenting. The editor printed an apology in a later issue, stating that “we regret that the picture slipped though our normally stringent ad review process. Nature's Solutions has stopped using the ad, and has appointed a child safety advocate to review all of its promotional and advertising materials”.7

    My thesis is that every single one of us in the injury prevention community can make a difference in influencing corporate America.

    Taking five minutes to communicate our concerns about a new product or its promotion in writing or by telephone is no little thing, but rather can produce tremendous results in the safety arena. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things—a chance word, a tap on the shoulder, or a penny dropped on a newsstand—I am tempted to think there are no little things.1