The most dangerous toy this Christmas season is also one of the most popular, according to a group that asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday to recall the Cabbage Patch Koosa Doll.
The Consumer Committee of Americans for Democratic Action said that a removable collar on the doll, introduced last year by Coleco, poses a serious risk because it can fit snugly around the necks of young children. In one incident, a 6-year-old girl nearly choked before a doctor cut the collar off, according to the ADA.
The group's 14th annual toy quality survey also found that some portable, hook-on high chairs can cause young children to fall, and asked that voluntary standards be drafted.
For 1985, plush toys are making a big comeback, according to the ADA, whose survey also spots trends. Teddy Ruxpin, an expensive (up to $89) teddy bear whose lips move as it tells recorded stories, was rated the most innovative new toy. Chubbles, a light-activated, plush animal whose lighted eyes and nose twinkle, was judged the surprise hit of the season.
The group's ratings ranged from the stupidest toy (Ideal's "Rocks & Bugs & Things" game) to the yuppiest (the "Get in Shape Girl" by Hasbro and the "Barbie Work Out Center" by Mattel). Kenner's "Upsy Baby" was voted the worst doll of the year.
The toy industry expects to sell 2.2 billion toys this year, reaping $12 billion in sales -- more than half of that during the holiday season, according to Douglas Thomson, president of the Toy Manufacturers of America.
He listed the Cabbage Patch gang, Teddy Ruxpin, robots, Transformers and the Masters of the Universe collection of superheroes as among the nation's most popular toys.
ADA's claims that some toys are unsafe came on the heels of an announcement last week by CPSC Chairman Terrence Scanlon that the commission had found no compelling new safety problems among this year's batch of Christmas toys.
"Toys are generally safe this year," Scanlon repeated yesterday, saying that if the CPSC finds the Koosa doll poses a threat, "we'll discuss it with the manufacturer."
Coleco officials said the Koosa doll was one of the top sellers in the Cabbage Patch group, which had sales of $540 million last year.
"People are lulled into thinking everything is fine by people saying there are no dangerous toys out there," said ADA committee Chairwoman Ann Brown.
The ADA consumer committee results were based on a year's survey of 60 nationally advertised toys. The likes and dislikes of children who tested the toys were compiled for the ratings. The ADA began testing toys 14 years ago as one of its nonpolitical local projects and now conducts a national survey.
Several incidents in which adults found it difficult to remove the tight-fitting collar of the Koosa doll from the necks of children who tried to wear them have been reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a spokesman there said yesterday, but most involved scares and not serious injuries that would warrant a recall.
A recall requires two to three weeks of testing of several random samples "so you know its not one flukey toy," according to Scanlon. "You have to have some injuries before a recall," he added.
Coleco officials said the Koosa doll collar had been changed this year to make it easier to play with, and the company said both collars meet federal safety standards. However, the original collars, deemed dangerous by the ADA, are still being sold. "They're still out there," said ADA spokeswoman Judy Newman.
ADA also singled out portable baby seats that hook to tables, which are used instead of high chairs, as having locking devices that frequently fail.
In some cases, peeling metal chips from the seats themselves have been eaten by toddlers, the ADA found.
ADA called for voluntary standards for the baby seats. The most popular among them, The Sassy Seat by Sassy Inc., had a faulty lock on the left side that did not click into place, ADA found.
According to the CPSC, Sassy Seat is already issuing kits that correct the problem.
Douglas Noble, a CPSC spokesman, said the government was drafting voluntary safety standards for the chairs, as well as for gates used to block off stairs and rooms from babies.
ADA has called for warning labels on baby gates that use springboard pressure to keep them in place. Gates that use suction cups cannot be held safely in place against walls with baseboard moldings. Upon finding that they don't fit, some parents may try installing them above the baseboard or use cardboard to fill in the gap left by the molding.
An active child could shake the gate loose in either case, according to the ADA.
The group relegated Panosh Place's "Voltron Skull Tank" to its Trash Box, calling it "an overpriced, misleading piece of junk" that doesn't reach out and grab its enemies as the product package states. Panosh President Richard Weissman said "price is a relative thing" and that "obviously, it's a fantasy toy. A child could actually grab something with it."
Mattel's "Modulock" was judged unworkable by the group. A company spokesman said it is a popular toy and functions properly.
Toy Box items were deemed to be safe, durable and have realistic packaging, advertising and play value. Toys targeted for the group's Trash Box rated poorly on safety, construction and play value and were found to be messy or misleading in their packaging or advertising.