With the economy tanking, gasoline prices soaring, the war in Iraq dragging on and the war in Afghanistan heating up, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has trained his sights on ... dangerous cigarette lighters.
Actually, this is serious stuff. Wyden, a Democrat, and two other senators - Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Republican Susan Collins of Maine - have introduced legislation to ban so-called "novelty lighters," which critics claim are extremely hazardous to children.
The lighters, which look like animals, tiny cameras or other toys, "have caused tragic accidents across the country," according to a news release from Wyden's office. "In Oregon, one boy died and another sustained permanent brain damage after the two played with a novelty lighter shaped like a dolphin. A lighter shaped like a cell phone caused second degree burns to a young boy in North Carolina. In Arkansas, a two year old and 15 month old died in a fire they accidentally started by playing with a lighter shaped like a toy motorcycle."
Proponents of the ban say that even children who have been taught not to play with matches or lighters will pick up the novelty items because they don't look like lighters. They also lack child-resistant safety features, making it easy for a kid to accidentally fire one up.
The law being pushed by Wyden, Dodd and Collins would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to treat novelty lighters as a banned hazardous substance and prohibit the manufacture, importation, or sale of the lighters nationwide.
The novelty lighters already have been banned in the European Union and the states of Maine and Tennessee, and legislation is expected to be introduced to ban them in Oregon. But Wyden says a federal ban -- which is supported by the National Association of Fire Marshals, the Congressional Fire Institute, Safe Kids USA, the Consumer's Union, and the Consumer Federation of America - is needed.
"Because they are so well disguised as toys, novelty lighters have children literally playing with fire," Wyden said. "A nationwide ban, which is supported by fire fighters and consumer groups alike, is the best way to keep these dangerous products out of the hands of youngsters."