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Government says removing backpack stops hungry dolls

December 31, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If you’re looking to stop one of those pesky hair-eating dolls before it chomps on your daughter’s hair, the government has this advice: Pull off the toy’s backpack.

Doing that will deactivate a lever, preventing the doll from making its chewing action. Sounds simple enough, but the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids have been alarming parents across America, some of whom have looked on in horror as the apparently insatiable dolls try to make a meal out their child’s hair.

On Monday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued its recommendation, and announced that it would continue to investigate complaints about the Mattel Inc. product, of which more than 700,000 have been distributed since August.

The CPSC stopped short of issuing a warning about the dolls _ the most lenient action it could have taken.

Nor did it issue a recall on the toy, which would be the most severe penalty the agency could impose.

But in a statement, the CPSC said its examination of the doll is ongoing. Parents have reported the pie-faced dolls have started dining on children’s hair after gobbling down meals of ersatz carrots and french fries.

The CPSC said it knew of 35 such incidents from around the country, a higher number than previously known. No serious injuries have been reported.

To stop the doll’s relentless chewing, consumers should pull on the toy’s backpack and disconnect it from the body, the CPSC said. When the backpack is removed from the toy’s body, the backpack can no longer press a lever that activates the chewing motion. Thus, the doll no longer chews. The batteries are not stored in the backpack.

More than a half-dozen hair-eating episodes have been reported since Christmas in Florida, Indiana, Connecticut and South Carolina.

Connecticut’s consumer protection agency Monday called on Mattel to place a warning on the toy’s packaging about the hair-eating danger, along with instructions on how to disconnect the batteries.

``I think it’s very important for Mattel to put appropriate warning on this doll,″ said Mark A. Shiffrin, Connecticut’s consumer protection commissioner. ``There is plenty of space on the box.″

Mattel has said its products undergo rigorous safety testing.

Mattel’s El Segundo, Calif., corporate offices were closed until Thursday. Spokesman Glenn Bozarth did not return messages left at his office and home.

Diane McMasters of Campbell, Ohio, is keeping the doll she bought for her 4-year-old daughter, Ariana, in November, even though Mattel offered her a refund when she informed the manufacturer that she had to cut off a hank of Ariana’s hair after it became snarled in gears located in the doll’s throat.

``She still plays with it,″ Mrs. Campbell said. ``We just make sure her hair is pulled back.″

___

Consumers with questions should call Mattel at 1-800-524-TOYS. Company representatives will provide instructions with further information.

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