OPINION: Company ‘Treats’ Public to Premature Death

By Cory Robison

Another normal day in America: People were going about their lives and experiencing the normal aches and pains associated with it.

A grandmother on vacation to her son?s house suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. A young little-league ballplayer pitched a great game and had a sore arm afterward. A mother was hosting a neighborhood birthday party with a pounding headache.

All of these people took aspirin for their pain, and they?re all dead now because of it.

Fortunately, this never actually happened. But most Americans never knew how close we came to having a national health scare of gigantic proportions.

James Burke, a product director and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, received a tip that a maniac had tampered with bottles of aspirin and put cyanide in them. How many bottles, no one knows. Which bottles, no one knows.

But Burke responded in a heroic way by making a nation wide sweep of all aspirin products off store shelves. He responded by placing tighter security restrictions on products used for human consumption. He even introduced the ever pesky, yet ever-useful, safety cap.

Burke didn?t wait to find out where the cyanide was, or for positive proof that it was there. Nor did he wait for the FDA to tell him what to do. He simply did the ethical thing and pulled the product in the interest of public safety.

In keeping with the interest of public safety, what is to be done with companies that manufacture non-lethal products that still kill people? Taiwan-based company Shen Hsang Jen is finding itself under public scrutiny for manufacturing a candy product that is being sold here in Utah and in other states. Japanese consumers called the candy “The Deadly Mouthful,? and perhaps rightly so.

The fruit-flavored, gelatinous substance has been linked to 11 reported choking deaths (three in the United States) and 80 reported choking incidences since the candies? introduction to the public in 1995.

In the interest of journalistic integrity, I thought I might try this candy myself to see if it does clearly pose a threat.

The candy comes in a pleasing assortment of flavors and didn?t taste all that bad to me. However, I must admit that I used to eat chalk in grade school, and that didn?t taste all that bad to me either.

The candy is about an inch long and looks like a huge rubber nipple (hey, that?s exactly what it looks like). They are packaged in little plastic cups that resemble coffee creamers. To eat them, you peel back the tin lid, tilt the cup back and let it slide into your mouth?the same way you?d drink out of a shot glass.

Of course, I was hoping for a choking incident, knowing that it would make for a great column. No such luck. However, it is notable that the candy is very difficult to chew due to its consistency, which is more rubbery than a Goodyear tire.

Another problem is that it doesn?t dissolve easily. You could put this candy in your mouth on Monday and still be sucking on it Thursday. The candy is both the perfect size and shape to slide snugly into a windpipe never to be extracted.

The candy, dubbed by lawyers of the victims? families as “Killer Candy,? has had its name changed by Shen Hsang Jen at least three times in an effort to disassociate the candy from the controversy. The names “Fruit Poppers,? “Jelly Yum” and “Fruity Jells” are among the litany of titles.

Shen Hsang Jen?s lawyers have argued that the company cannot be held responsible for people who choke on their product. In truth, all of the choking deaths reported were among young people under the age of five. Each candy has a clearly marked warning label on the side stating the dangers of choking and telling parents not to give a whole candy to a child under five.

Legally, Shen Hsang Jen is probably in the clear. They cannot be held responsible for parents who stuff a sugar flavored rubber stopper into a kid?s throat and set him on a jungle gym.

The bothersome aspect of this candy problem is that Shen Hsang Jen continues to push a product that has killed 11 people. This product is a candy. It?s not an airframe on a passenger jet or a tire on a Ford Explorer.

Those products come with unavoidable risks that the consumer understands. This is candy. Candy should never kill people?no matter whose fault the law says it is. And if it does, the product should be pulled until a safer product can be introduced.

The ethical line is drawn, and Shen Hsang Jen has stepped over it.

Shen Hsang Jen continues to hide behind its lawyers rather than face accountability. After 11 deaths and many close-calls, the product?s warning label is clearly not enough.

Shen Hsang Jen could be the hero in this situation. They could pull a product that may kill a child today, like James Burke did with aspirin. Proper modifications to size and shape would be very easy to do.

Instead, Shen Hsang Jen hides cowardly behind FDA regulations that bounce in their favor and change their products? name without changing their product, as to not damage their credibility.

If Sheng Hsang Jen is that worried about their image, they should stop making a product that kills people.

Cory Robison welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].