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Sale of Syringe-Shaped Pencils to Stop : Drug prevention: Importers agree to halt distribution after parents and teachers complained that children brought them to South-Central school.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two importers said Friday they have gotten the point of a schoolyard controversy and will stop selling novelty pencils that closely resemble hypodermic needles.

Outraged parents and teachers had demanded that the two import companies scrap the mechanical pencils, which work like medical syringes. They first surfaced two weeks ago at a South-Central Los Angeles school.

The pencils’ writing lead is enclosed in fluid-filled, clear-plastic tubes marked in milliliter measurements. The tubes are topped with a thumb plunger that forces the lead through a needlelike opening at the tip.

“I’ve seen a lot of things that are appalling, but this is the worst,” Dorothy L. Collier, a senior investigator with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said Friday.

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Parents complained that the pencils glorify the use of narcotics and could tempt children to pick up real hypodermic needles discarded in streets and alleys by drug users.

Authorities said the Taiwan-made “Gold Doctor” pencils were apparently marketed at a South-Central swap meet by a vendor who sold them for $1 each.

Product safety officials in Washington have been asked to determine whether the pencil can be classified as a toy and whether the colored liquid is toxic, Collier said.

If either is the case, the pencils can be permanently banned from this country, she said.

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Officials said the pencils were traced to two downtown Los Angeles import firms and both have voluntarily agreed to stop selling the items. Operators of the companies said Friday that they were caught by surprise by the pencil controversy.

“We never thought about it being no good,” said Jason Lu, manager of Brandy Trading Corp. “But many people came here and said they are no good.”

Paul Wen, manager of Mirage Imports, said his firm has also dropped the syringe pencil.

The 200 vendors at the Alameda Swap Meet, where the pencils first surfaced, have been instructed not to sell them, said K.C. Kim, general manager.

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“It was a short-lived phenomenon,” said Darrell Hughes, principal of Carver Middle School, where some pupils brought the pencils to class and pretended to “inoculate” classmates.

Hughes said students decided on their own that hypodermic pencils are a dumb idea when health-science teacher Mabie Settlage led a series of discussions about the dangers of playing with real syringes.


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