Nov. 25, 2010 — -- 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."
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.
The Academy also noted that many other small round and oval objects are not subject to the larger ball size requirement, even though they pose the same risk, because technically they are not balls. The paper singled out cylinders as another shape that could pose a heightened risk of suffocation because of the way they fit in a child's airway.
ABC News asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the toy industry if they would be willing to revisit the existing small parts standard.
"I'm always open, as chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, to making our standards stronger and keeping our children safe," said Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "It's a really a partnership. We do believe that parents need to supervise their children at play, but ... we've made very clear that companies cannot blame parents or children. They have to take responsibility and make sure that they follow all the safety rules and the mandatory standards."
"It's always important to reassess our standards to determine whether we are protecting children the way we want to be," said Joan Lawrence of the Toy Industry Association. "Toy Safety is the No. 1 priority for the toy industry. If you think about it, toy companies go into the business because they want to create fun, safe, playthings for children and so toy safety will always be the No. 1 priority."
Click HERE to read the Toy Industry Association's Statement to ABC News.
In the meantime, safety advocates recommend that parents test toys with a toilet paper tube, because it gives a larger measurement than the CPSC's test cylinder. Any toy that passes through the tube is not ideal for kids under age 3.
Safeguards implemented by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, along with steps taken by toymakers and toy sellers have led to a sharp decline in toy recalls since 2008, according to a report released Nov. 18 by the CPSC.
In 2010, there were 44 toy recalls, down from 50 in 2009 and 172 in 2008, the CPSC said in a release. Toy recalls related to lead were down to three in 2003, compared with nine in 2009 and 19 in 2008.
Toy related fatalities also fell in 2009, the release said. The CPSC found that there were 12 reports of toy-related deaths of children younger than 15 years old, down from 24 reported deaths in 2007 and 2008.
Here are some tips from the CPSC for how you can keep your child safe at play: