Are you having trouble keeping your kids from ingesting Tide laundry pods?
I thought not. But you can't be too careful. Christian Britschgi of Reason quotes a New York legislator who has just introduced a bill to make Tide pods ugly so as not to tempt young people to swallow them:
"As the parent of two young kids, I'm very concerned about the safety of liquid detergent packets," [state Sen. Brad Hoylman] Hoylman said in a press release. "It's way past time to fix these products or remove them altogether from store shelves."
It's way past time to fix thee products or remove them altogether?
The Tide Challenge has kids daring each other to eat laundry pods. It's a fad and one of the dumber ones.
But no, it's not way past time to fix these products. It's time to realize that some people do dumb things and we don't need to reorganize society on their behalf.
Consumer safety activists also released statements of support for the bill. "By clearly marking individual packages with a warning message, I hope teenagers will rethink their self-harming behavior," said Shino Tanikawa, a member of Community Education Council District and clearly a master of how teens think.
The fear expressed by proponents of a Tide Pod ban is that the product looks and smells dangerously like candy, thus leading children to consume them.
Yet the actual number of fatal poisonings resulting from children consuming these items is quite small. From 2012 to 2017, only two children died from consuming liquid detergent packs. That's compared to the 16 kids under the age of 6 who died from exposure to batteries between 2012 and 2016, according to the National Poison Control Center. Batteries, you may have noted, do not resemble candy.
The text of Hoylman and Simotas' bill does its best to hype this danger nonetheless, informing us that "from 2013–2015, there were over 49,000 reported cases of young children ingesting or inhaling the contents of liquid detergent pods." The American Association of Poison Control Centers puts this number lower, counting 34,479 children under 6 being exposed to liquid detergent packages.
These numbers include all manner of exposures, including kids who merely get it on their skin. The fact that almost no children are dying from these exposures suggests that most are manageable medical incidents.
And would the bill really cut down on those exposures? Proctor and Gamble—the makers of Tide Pods—sells less flashy all-white detergent packs, and it says its already makes the packages child-resistant. The company has also already launched a safety initiative in response to the reputed plague of people consuming its products.
But if the legislation won't cut back on dangerous behavior, it certainly is bringing more publicity to Hoylman and Simotas. So in one sense at least, the bill is already doing the job its authors wanted it to do.
Throughout history, college kids have engaged in nutty fads. But in the past, we assumed they would grow up and outgrow this kind of behavior. It is a distinct feature of our times that many people seem to feel that the poor dears must have legal protections–against their own dumb behavior.