Consumer Affairs Minister Simon Bridges has announced a ban on the sale of sets of small high powered magnets that have caused serious injuries in New Zealand and at least one reported death in Australia.
The magnets are sold in New Zealand under a variety of brands in stores and over the internet. These magnets - known as 'rare earth magnets' - are up to 50 times stronger than conventional ferrous magnets of a similar size.
"These magnets are harmless to play with but if swallowed can cause serious internal damage that can require major surgery," says Mr Bridges.
If two or more of these magnets are ingested they can become joined up in the digestive system and the pressure they exert can cause serious inflammation and ulceration. Left untreated, this can quickly lead to major tissue damage, perforations and potentially infection sepsis and death.
"Because of their strength, older children have been known to use these magnets as mock jewellery, such as mouth or tongue studs. Young children swallow them out of natural curiosity.
"As a result children have been seriously harmed overseas, including many hospitalisations in the United States and Australia and the death of an 18-month-old in Queensland. In December a New Zealand toddler was admitted to Auckland's Starship Hospital after ingesting some of the magnets. Officials are aware of at least two other serious cases here involving hospitalisation and surgery.
"Though these magnets tend to be marketed at adults as office toys and many brands carry strict safety warnings, it is clear from the cases here and overseas that they pose too great a risk to children."
The Unsafe Goods Notice for these small powerful magnets will mean that from tomorrow no one will be allowed to import or sell these magnets in New Zealand. The notice is issued under section 31 of the Fair Trading Act 1986 and will be enforced by the New Zealand Customs Service at the border and the Commerce Commission in the marketplace.
The magnets are sold all over the world and New Zealand is believed to be the third country, following Australia and the US, to formally ban them from sale.
Mr Bridges urges anyone who already owns sets of these magnets to ensure they are used safely and to be particularly careful where they are accessible by children.
"Regulation is only one measure to protect children. The most significant protection is for parents and other adults to make sure that young children cannot access these magnets and that older children are made aware of the dangers of misusing them."