Keep balloons from kids? European edict stirs debate

balloon, kid, party, child, stock, 4x3
istockphoto
balloon, kid, party, child, stock, 4x3
balloon, kid, party, child, stock, 4x3
istockphoto

(CBS) What do you call a child's latex balloon? European Union (EU) officials call it a choking hazard and are implementing new regulations aimed at stopping children under age 8 from blowing up balloons without adult supervision.

And balloons aren't the only target of the new toy safety regulations. The regs also crack down on popular stocking-stuffers and party favors like whistles and magnetic fishing games, the Telegraph reported.

Take balloons away from kids? Word of the regulations left some critics choked with rage.

"EU party poopers should not be telling families how to blow up balloons," Paul Nuttall, a member of the European Parliament's consumer safety committee, told the Telegraph. And British toy makers expressed concern that the regulations would drive up the price of Christmas presents because of the cost of safety testing, according to the paper.

Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent in England, chimed in, saying "Toys and activities, such as blowing up balloons, are part and parcel of the type of children's play that helps them become independent and self-reliant."

Maybe so. But while the choking risk posed by balloons appears small, there's no doubt that young children - especially those under three - sometimes do choke to death on balloons, toys, coins, and hot dogs and other foods.

Between 1972 and 1992, 449 American children under age 14 choked to death on nonfood items, according to a 2010 policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Twenty-nine percent of those choking deaths were caused by balloons. Between 1990 and 2004, at last 68 kids died in the U.S. from choking on latex balloons.

The balloons are potentially risky, as uninflated pieces of latex can "conform to the child's airway and form an airtight seal," the statement said. Shiny Mylar balloons might be a better bet, according to Safekids.org. That's because they don't break into pieces when deflated or popped.

What do you think? Does the balloon edict make sense? Or is it evidence of a "nanny state" run amok?