Toys that Kill

Be afraid, be very afraid! A flood of cheap novelty cigarette lighters could turn your toddler into an unwitting arsonist!

According to fire prevention specialists with the Harrisonburg fire department, one child in Chesterfield County — or it could have been Henrico — was playing with a cigarette lighter in the shape of a toy purse, set a fire and nearly burned the house down. A child in Harrisonburg was caught clicking another toy lighter in his pants pocket. Fortunately, an alert teacher caught him before the child set his pants ablaze.

The Harrisonburg fire fighters were tending a booth in the General Assembly building this afternoon in support of legislation submitted by Del. Matthew J. Lohr, R-Harrisonburg, which would ban the sale of the lighters to anyone under the age of 18. The booth displayed some 40 or more novelty lighters. There were dolphin lighters and pig lighters, cow lighters and turtle lighters. There were lighters that masqueraded as wrist watches and tiny cell phones. There were lighters in the guise of guns and cars, beer cans and poker chips, footballs, hand grenades and jack o’ lanterns. One lighter looked like a tiny fire extinguisher.

“They look like toys,” said M.V. Messerly, a fire prevention specialist. But appearances are deceiving. Picking up a lighter in the shape of a pink pig, Messerly gave it a flick with her thumb so that flame shot out of its nostrils. “It’s been hard enough keeping children away from Bic lighters,” she said.

The cheap, novelty lighters — many of them made in China — represent a grave threat, said Wanda Willis, a lieutenant in charge of fire prevention.

Would you say they constitute “a national menace?” I asked.

Yes, she would, she said. Children can’t tell the difference between the novelty lighters and toys. Kids can take them to school, and teachers can’t tell the difference either, unless they inspect them closely.

So, stay alert, parents! That dime-store trinket in your child’s hands could pack a deadly surprise.

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