Buyer Beware: Why are we suddenly choking on a slew of drawstring recalls?

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Five times this week and once more earlier this month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued notices to the public that hooded sweatshirts were being recalled because they had drawstrings. Drawstrings, the CPSC, has said, is a leading cause of strangulation among children.

Of 38 recalls of children's clothing by the CPSC since last year, 28 have been due to drawstrings. The strangulation death of a 3-year-old from Fresno, Calif., preceded a large recall of sweatshirts in February.

The issue of drawstrings has been a sticky one. The United Kingdom banned their use 33 years ago while the U.S. has been operating with guidelines since 1996 recommending they not be used. A decade later, the agency said drawstrings in kids clothes would be regarded as a product defect. The CPSC says drawstrings should be removed from children's clothing. Wisconsin went the way of the Brits in 2000 when that state banned the sale of kids jackets and sweatshirts for sizes 0-16 with drawstrings in the neck or waist . New York banned drawstring in kids clothes altogether.

The CPSC has gotten into a practice of having the distributors recall sweatshirts and jackets that have drawstrings, but have yet to ban their use. The voluntary program started in the mid-1990s to get companies to stop using them was hailed as a huge success, but primarily Chinese exporters have been shipping the offending hoodies to this country.

So, if you want to buy cheap Chinese hooded sweatshirts, remember to follow the CPSC's guidance: Take a pair of scissors and snip off the drawstrings.

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