This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, August 8, 2014:
In its zeal to proclaim that everything is inherently dangerous and therefore illegal, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – the Goliath in this story – has just run into its David. Shihan Qu, the 27-year-old founder of Zen Magnets, notified the agency that he wasn't going to take it anymore through a letter on his company's website:
Take this as official notice that Zen Magnets LLC is going All-in.… We will not settle for any sort of stop-sale of magnets that are perfectly safe when not misused….
We vow to continue this legal, awareness, and lobbying battle until our very last drop of cash-flow blood. We will combat CPSC's magnet prohibition until triumph, or until a glorious death of insolvency on the legal battlefield….
Zen Magnets are little round silver magnetic balls that people have found useful and entertaining. They can be built into various shapes and sizes, can be constructed as art deco, can be worn as jewelry and shaped to illustrate molecular structures in classrooms. They can also be swallowed. And so the CPSC has mounted a campaign to rid the marketplace of them entirely, to keep the people safe from themselves.
When swallowed, claims the CPSC, they can clump together in a person's digestive tract causing some to have to undergo surgery to remove them. There have been thousands of these cases, the agency avers, and warning labels provide no protection: either the people don't read them, or they don't understand them, or they don't care. The implications of this story are huge, and go far beyond whether people swallow these things or not. Wrote Qu:
The paramount issue in this case is the CPSC's argument that warnings don't work. [They allege] that “no warnings or instructions could be devised that would effectively communicate the [ingestion] hazard so that warnings and instructions could be understood and heeded by consumers to reduce the number of magnet ingestion incidents….”
[The agency assumes that] people are unable to follow or understand instructions … [and] makes the judgment that the American population is not worthy or capable of deciding for themselves.
This is the Nanny State in microcosm. The agency knows what's best and is determined to enforce itself onto consumers by removing those tempting little balls from their reach. What's revealing is that this campaign against tiny magnets has been going on for years and every other maker or seller has folded in the face of similar threats from the CPSC. First there was the Buckyball company, which “voluntarily” agreed in May to recall its products and promise not to sell any more of them. In August Magnicubes folded its tent as well, and the CPSC celebrated its victory:
The settlement resolves CPSC staff's allegations that the Magnicube Spheres and Magnicube Cubes create a substantial product hazard. Star disputed these allegations, but has agreed to the recall in settlement of the allegations….
In its defense, the agency justified its existence by noting that others have backed down when challenged by it and that it was just following its mandate: “protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction.” It also claimed that its harassment of business owners has already “contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 40 years.” For that reason, apparently, the agency expected Qu just to roll over and die.
They picked the wrong guy. In an interview with Brian Doherty, a journo at Reason who has been following the agency's long war against dangerous magnets, Qu explained why he has decided to fight back:
I have two very distinct but related motives for continuing this fight.
The first one is obvious. I want to win. I want to keep selling magnets. I want to continue seeing the passion, joy, and inspiration they bring. I want to stay in business. I want to see a victory for magnets.
But number two, I want the CPSC to LOSE. I really really want them to lose. They need some humility and to be reminded of the standard of liberty in this country.
If the CPSC can just issue edicts from on high regarding little magnetic balls without worrying about Constitutional restraints or for that matter, common sense, then what's to stop it from making every product offered for sale in the country illegal? After all, said Qu, “anything can cause harm if it is misused.” It's the state versus the individual, he added:
By assuming that people cannot follow … instructions to keep magnets away from children and mouths, they are assuming the American Population is not capable of deciding for themselves. They are taking your right to consent, and fleecing your freedom to do as you will.
The agency's lawsuit goes before an administrative judge later this fall, followed by an appeal to the CPSC board, if necessary. Failing that, Qu, if he is still in business and financially viable, can take his case to federal court. His case is getting national attention and he has set up at least two online petitions to protest the CSPC's overzealous demands. In addition, Qu is modifying his marketing strategy by putting his offending magnets for sale in marijuana dispensaries and “smoking accessories” stores in Denver where customers by law must be 18 or 21 years of age and presumably are by then smart enough to read and understand warnings about not swallowing them. He continues to market them online as well, at least until the judge hears his case in November.
Qu told Doherty that his challenge has far-reaching ramifications:
If Zen Magnets doesn't stand up, the CPSC gains a remarkable amount of power … they show the ability to determine behind their closed walls what America can and can't have….
They set the precedent of creating of creating an all-ages, nation-wide ban [under] the assumption that an American cannot be expected to understand or follow warnings.
David had just five smooth stones in his bag when he met Goliath's challenge. Qu has millions but, like David, will need only one to end the threat.
PRNewswire: Zen Magnets Vows to Fight CPSC
Qu's challenge: We Will Fight Until The End
Reason: CPSC Still Trying to Crush Small Round Magnet Toys; Last Surviving American Seller Zen Magnets Fights Back
CPSC: Star Networks USA Recalls Magnicubes Due to Ingestion Hazard; Firm Settles Administrative Lawsuit
Washington Post: Buckyballs founder agrees to product recall in settlement with federal regulators
Fox News: Feds sue to take Zen Magnet toys off market
Denver Post: In battle with feds, Denver's Zen Magnets sells at pot dispensaries
Online petition: Save Magnets
Online petition: US CPSC: Cease Magnet Prohibition!