Toys That Meet Safety Standards Can Still Pose Choking Hazards

Video: Choking hazards and toys.
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The holiday shopping season kicks off in earnest Friday, and if there are little kids on your list, we have an important warning.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group says some toys can pose a choking hazard, even if they may meet legal safety standards.

It's a topic that hits close to home. ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper's son had a close call with such a toy.

Click HERE to get tips for keeping your child safe at play.

The cute toy train with removable wooden pegs had been in the house less than 24 hours when it happened.

"The block went into his throat like this," Jennifer Tapper, Jack's mother, said. "And Jack just looked at me with his eyes open like this -- panicking. And I bent down and I said, 'Jack, Jack.' And I could not see the block in his mouth. And that was the moment of huge terror for me, because what was I going to do?"

What Jennifer Tapper did was flip her 1-year-old son over and hit him on the back just like she had learned in CPR class. The peg popped out. It was Jack's pediatrician who told her how lucky she was that she was right there.

"She said to me, your son would not have lived."

Toy Train Meets Safety Standards

When Haba, the manufacturer, heard about Jack Tapper's close call, it responded immediately, filing a report with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and stopped shipment of the trains to stores.

CLICK HERE to read Haba USA's statement to ABC News.

But it turns out the train met the 1¼-inch wide by 2¼-inch long safety standard for small parts. The peg Jack swallowed sticks just out of the official CPSC test cylinder.

The measurement was established in 1979 and hasn't been updated since.

"The existing small parts standard is not protective enough for our kids," said Liz Hitchcock of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "We know that children have choked on parts that actually passed the small parts test."

Toy food poses a particular safety challenge. because children are even more likely to put it in their mouths. One Massachusetts grandfather made his own YouTube warning after his grandson choked on toy bacon that met the standard when laid flat. The man said his grandson must have rolled the flexible bacon up and put it in his mouth, where it then expanded in his throat.

"We just buried him a couple of days ago," the man said on the video.

The CPSC recalled Playskool's Talkin' Tool Bench nails, which suffocated two children even though the nails met the standard. The agency also recalled Little Tikes' workshop sets that had similar plastic nails that posed a choking hazard, showing a willingness to recall toys that met the small parts standard.

Pediatric Academy Calls for Changes

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a paper describing "current gaps in choking prevention standards" and called for revisions. The Academy cited a gap between the 1¼ inch width required of regular small parts and the wider 1¾ inch width required for balls. Balls are more strongly regulated because their round shape gives them the potential to be particularly hazardous -- they can completely fill up and block a child's airway.

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