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A full court press to ban baby bath seats.

There appears to be an intense media campaign to help Chairman Ann Brown achieve her goal of banning baby bath seats. In 1994, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted 2-1 against considering a ban on baby bath seats.

But Chairman Brown has kept the issue alive. She mentioned in a speech to the National Press Club last year that she would really like to have the votes to ban "baby bath seats." Since then, adverse publicity about the product has multiplied.

Baby bath seats are devices to hold infants who cannot yet sit up alone in a sitting position in a bathtub, so that parents can more easily bathe them. If left unattended in the seat, an infant might slide down and drown. Manufacturers warn against leaving children unattended in the bath seats.

In July of this year, the Consumer Federation of American (CFA) officially petitioned the agency to take the banning action--arguing that consumers are "lulled into a false sense of security and safety," because the devices look safe. Parents sometimes leave the baby alone for only a few minutes in the seat to perform another chore, and expose the infant to the danger of drowning.

CPSC data show that an average of nine infants a year drown while using bath seats; but that 41 babies drown each year in bathtubs without using bath seats.

Caroline Mayer of the Washington Post (better known for her aggressive attack on Underwriters' Laboratories about a year ago) wrote a news item Oct. 18 highlighting the bath seat issue.

Then, the November 2000 issue of Atlantic Monthly published a lengthy article by E. Marla Felcher that listed baby bath seats as one of the products that CPSC has wrongly failed to regulate. Felcher cites lack of adequate funding for the agency and the restrictive CPSC statutes for these and other failures in the baby products area.

In a letter to the Washington Post Oct. 23, Frances Smith, Executive Director of Consumer Alert, suggested the real cause of bath seat-related drownings is that parents leave infants in bathtubs unattended.

"Attempts to force products to be `safe' under all circumstances, including misuse, can lead to behavior that increases risks," Smith wrote.

Consumer Alert also submitted comments to the Commissioners arguing against granting the CFA petition to ban bath seats.

Noting that the petitioners based their request on the theory of "risk compensation," Smith observed that this concept theorizes "that people adjust their behavior to compensate for changes in perceived risk. That is, if a product is perceived as decreasing a certain risk, people may engage in behavior that offsets the reduced risk--they may act to increase the risk."

Smith cautioned the CPSC that granting the petition on those grounds "would open to challenge a host of CPSC mandates for design of consumer products."

"There are innumerable examples of products under CPSC roles that would lead consumers to think the products protect them or their children and thus lead them to engage in risk-taking behavior," Smith wrote.

"... While every single drowning death of an infant in a tub is regrettable, and preventable, banning the bath seat seems to be a peculiar remedy. Faulting a product--bath seats for babies--because it is `too safe' seems to be an odd position for both CPSC and CFA.

"... The concept of banning a product because it is too safe also flies in the face of many other CPSC mandates for the redesign of products never intended for use with small children."

Smith explained that Consumer Alert has observed that too often regulators avoid looking at the tradeoffs inherent in safety regulations or in attempts at risk reduction--by reducing one set of risks, you may increase others. "... Devices and products designed for increased consumer protection may have some unintended consequences," she wrote.

"Increasingly safer products can lead to increased risk taking," Smith said.

"... CPSC as a regulatory agency can't have it both ways--mandating `safer' products and trying to ban other `safer' ones. Whether attempts to force products to be `safe under all circumstances' can lead to behavior that increases risks is indeed a serious question that the CPSC needs to grapple with in relation to its own actions. But banning products like the baby bath seats that have no manufacturing and design. defects flies in the face of reason and commonsense."

The baby bath seats issue now joins upholstered furniture flammability as one of the leading regulatory issues of the coming year at CPSC.

Truth in Regulating Act Becomes Law; Report Issued on Guidance Documents

Culminating two years of legislative work, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs has succeeded in enacting the "Troth in Regulating Act of 2000." The new law establishes a congressional office of regulatory analysis within the General Accounting Office (GAO) so that Congress can assume more responsibility for agency rulemaking, according to a news release from the office of Rep. David McIntosh of Indiana, chairman of the subcommittee.

The President signed the law Oct. 17.

The GAO will conduct independent evaluations of agency major roles, including costs and benefits, and report findings to congressional committees.

"The law is intended to enhance congressional responsibility for regulatory decisions developed under the laws Congress enacts," Rep. McIntosh said.

CPSC observers hope the GAO input will serve as a restraint on some of CPSC's more unreasonable product safety regulatory proposals.

McIntosh's subcommittee report on agency "guidance documents" was also released last month. The report was adopted by the Committee on Government Reform on Oct.5 and transmitted to the Speaker of the House Oct. 26.

The report says government agencies' advisory opinions and guidance documents are sometimes confusing to the regulated public. The documents should clearly state if they have binding legal effect or not, the report concludes. When the legal effect of these documents is unclear, they become dangerously coercive. In some cases, the subcommittee's investigators found that the guidance documents were intended to bypass the rulemaking process and expand an agency's power. The congressional report called that type of guidance "backdoor" rulemaking and "abuse of power and a corruption of our constitutional system."

The subcommittee's report dealt mainly with abuses by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Labor, and the Department of Transportation. But the lessons learned from those agencies should be applied to guidance documents issued by CPSC as well.

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Title Annotation:reactions to Consumer Product Safety Commission's failure to ban baby bath seats
Publication:CPSC Monitor
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Previous Article:CPSC chairman Brown announces yet another `initiative'.
Next Article:Will Gall become CPSC chairman--and will Ann Brown resign or stay?

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