Toothpick toy bows out of market after authorities take aim

Updated 2017-06-30 10:58:25 Xinhua

A new toy that panicked parents and teachers has vanished from shelves almost as fast as it emerged.

The "toy" in question is the toothpick bow -- a palm-size crossbow made of plastic or metal that fires toothpicks as arrows.

The toy can easily penetrate paper, pop balloons, and stick in cardboard boxes. When replaced with needles, it can even leave a dent on glass or pierce a tin can.

The miniature crossbows first surfaced in mid June in kiosks near schools in several provinces. Parents and school administrators quickly raised their concerns on social media, many of the messages were shared widely and the topic quickly started trending.

"This is more a time-bomb than a toy," said a Beijing parent surnamed Geng. "It should be banned and removed from all stores."

The government has since banned the device and organized shop raids across the country.

In less than two weeks, hundreds were confiscated, while others have crept out of sight both in retail stores and on the Internet.

In Beijing, the municipal bureau of commerce said its teams has raided nearly 600 kiosks, shops, toy wholesale markets, mall stalls but found only three toothpick crossbows. One vendor who sold them was punished.

"We couldn't find them in any market. We think the toy was never that popular in Beijing, which we learned from schools," said an inspector who did not give his name.

"Kids are being watched by teachers and parents. Playing with such a toy will not be tolerated. It is too dangerous," he said.

Across the country, only one injury has been reported in connection with the toothpick crossbow.

In Guizhou Province, inspectors found 75 mini crossbows in a raid at a toy market in the city of Zunyi.

"Retailers bought the toys for 3.50 yuan [51 cents] each and sold them in school kiosks for 5 to 10 yuan," said Jiang Yuandong, an inspector with the district commerce bureau of Bozhou, under Zunyi. "The market is now clean. We found nothing more in the city."

In neighboring Yunnan Province, police were mobilized to assist the crackdown. They, however, found just 134 crossbows.

The toy has also been removed from major online retail sites.

Alibaba's taobao.com said it had banned all miniature or toy-like crossbows and had urged vendors to ensure none slipped through the net.

In addition, searches containing "toothpick crossbows" will return no results, it said.

JD.com, another online retailer, did the same more than a week ago.

Previous photos shared online of parcels containing the crossbow revealed that some had been manufactured in Yiwu, the city in Zhejiang Province known for its giant wholesale market.

The address on the packaging led inspectors to stationary and luggage factories. The owners denied producing the toys and said that they had never even heard of them.

After the investigation, local market regulators concluded that all information on the packaging -- address, certificate, telephone, website -- was fabricated.

Zhejiang market regulators said they found 528 crossbow toys in 7,744 retail shops.

"The toy was never been popular in Zhejiang. But we will work with the police to trace the manufacturer," said a provincial commerce official.

An anonymous toy trader told a Beijing newspaper that technically plastic mini crossbows are very easy to make but it is not a sustainable business.

"The manufacturers can only make money in first few orders. Then copycats emerge, profits shrink, and the business is over," he was quoted by Legal Evening News as saying. "Now with the ban, no one will mess with the authorities. It is not worth it."

China's toy safety regulation provides that toys shall not pose harm to children.

Legal experts, however, say toothpick crossbows should be classified as crossbows, rather than a toy.

The public security administrative punishments law says that crossbows cannot be carried around without a permit. Violation can lead to five days in detention and up to 500 yuan (74 U.S. dollars) fines.

Chen Lei, a lawyer in the central province of Hubei, said the toothpick crossbow is not the only item that blurs the boundaries of a toy and a weapon.

There have been many assault cases, especially on campus, linked to such "toys," Chen said.

The situation warrants tightened supervision over toys, he said.

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