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An analysis of the FDA’s press release warning against laser toys that “commonly” cause eye injuries

(Note: this page provides some additional supporting evidence and discussion for the page “Are laser toys an actual hazard?”)

On August 6 2013, the Food and Drug Administration issued a press release entitled “Laser Toys: Not Always Child’s Play.” This was one of the sources referenced in the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s December 3 2013 press release stating that laser toys exist and cause eye injuries.

The FDA article was written in support of the agency’s August 2013 proposal to regulate children’s laser toy products. In the press release, FDA gives the following examples of laser toys:

1) “Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for ‘aiming’.” An online search by LaserPointerSafety.com has been unable to find any such toy aiming lasers. We did find guns which use LEDs for aiming or targets, and which use the word “laser” in their description (e.g., toy laser tag guns). But we have not found any toy guns online with actual lasers.

2) “Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin.” This is a reference to a dreidel that emits laser beams only when it is spinning. The dreidel’s laser actually appears to be safe, although it may not have required FDA labeling and thus is a non-compliant laser product. More on the dreidel is on this page.

3) “Hand-held lasers used during play as ‘lightsabers’.” This is a reference to standard laser pointers or general purpose handheld lasers being used as toys. Of course, lasers should not be used in this way. But this does not mean that the lasers were sold or marketed as toys. (And this may be the laser equivalent of warning against buying long, pointy objects since they could be banged together like play swords. As discussed elsewhere, if a child starts waving a screwdriver around and lunges at his or her playmates, this does not mean the screwdriver becomes a toy or was marketed as a toy. It is a misused tool intended for adults.)

4) “Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room.” We have seen laser “star projectors” that emit hundreds of low-powered beams. These seem to be primarily sold in stores such as Spencer Gifts, or online catalogs through Amazon and other retailers. We have not seen these marketed to children, or described as toys for children. (They may be “geek toys” or otherwise indicated as gadgets for adults.) Similarly, we have not seen other types of optical-effect lasers being marketed or indicated as being for children: they are not toys.

It may be that the paucity of laser-containing toys is due specifically to FDA warnings and actions. For example, a number of laser dreidel links to online stores stated “this item is no longer available.” If so, that is encouraging and the FDA is to be commended.

Finally, even the FDA press release is incorrect when it states that “it’s often children who are injured by these products” (toys with lasers). As noted here, there appear to be no documented cases of children being injured by toys with lasers in them. (Misuse of laser pointers, by waving them around like lightsabers or in playful fashion, does not turn a general-purpose laser pointer into a “toy with a laser.”)