The state regulatory environment for manufacture and sale of consumer products is growing in number and complexity every year. The problem with this growing patchwork is not only the multiple, duplicative paperwork and deadline tracking duties this imposes on businesses, but the fact that each state legislature chooses to define basic key words just ever so slightly differently to make planning and compliance difficult.
For instance, each state defines “children’s product” slightly differently. The term is usually defined as a product marketed to a child under a certain age, with some specifications of products that are excluded (e.g., footwear or sports equipment). The age threshold can differ from state to state – some states pick age 12, others age 3 and a few age 8.
Just last week, on August 1, 2014, Minnesota’s new ban on the sale of certain children’s products containing formaldehyde took effect. Minnesota’s law has a unique definition. “Children’s product” means a product primarily designed or intended by a manufacturer to be physically applied to or introduced into a child’s body (Minn. Stat. 325F.177). (Minnesota House Bill 458) Many are reading this to mean that the law only applies to products meant be applied to the skin, such as suntan lotion. Others are reading this to mean that the law applies to any product that can touch the skin, such as apparel. (Commerce cannot speak to the veracity of this statement or the one prior.) The legislative history does not clarify this dispute and the state statutes offer no further definition. At this point, Minnesota has no plans to issue regulations to provide clarification. However, due to numerous inquiries, there is hope that some informal written guidance may be forthcoming. In the meantime, businesses are on their own to interpret the term and determine whether the products they manufacture and sell are subject to the ban.