A Catalogue of Grievances

Question: I was looking over the faculty mail and came across two high school prom catalogues: Anderson's Prom Catalogue 1985 from White Bear Lake, Minn., and prom souvenirs by Moderne from East Liverpool, Ohio. I could hardly believe my eyes. As a parent and teacher I find both catalogues' promotion of wine glasses, champagne glasses and beer mugs as gifts for a high school prom most inappropriate and upsetting.

Conscientious people throughout the country are working to educate young people about the dangers of alcohol and here are two companies promoting alcohol glassware to students who haven't even reached the legal drinking age. In my opinion, these companies should carefully weigh where their values lie. What do you think?

Answer: I think you are right! Particularly when statistics show that one of the worst times for teen-age automobile fatalities is after proms and graduation celebrations.

Q: You once wrote a column that explained the difference between commercially available cinnamon-flavored toothpicks and oil of cinnamon. This was apparently a follow-up to an earlier column about the dangers of cinnamon oil, which I missed.

Could you please tell me how I can get a copy of the original column or where I can get more information about cinnamon oil? My son had friends over to spend the night and one boy brought a bottle of the oil with him. I did not realize it could be dangerous and would like something to give the boys to read about it.

A: A number of readers have written asking the same question, so here's a summary of information about cinnamon oil.

Oil of cinnamon is one of a number of volatile oils that are poisonous in quantities of more than a few drops. Ingestion of as little as 15 grams (a little over one tablespoon) can cause coma or death. It is quite safe to use a few drops as a flavoring agent in cooking. The problem comes when school children buy the oil, dip cotton swabs or plain toothpicks in it and then suck on them. If a little bit tastes good, children may reason, then more ought to be better, right? Wrong! We've had several reports from teachers and parents about youngsters who have gotten into serious medical trouble by swallowing too much cinnamon oil--and too much was just a little more than a few drops.

My advice to parents is to keep the volatile oil out of the hands of children altogether. Buy them commercially flavored toothpicks to suck on instead. These must pass rigid safety standards set by the U.S Food and Drug Administration, which is an entirely different matter from youngsters self-administering a substance that can be poisonous and even lethal in very small amounts.

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