Manufacturer needs chewing out for this toy beeper

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

August 25, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Youngsters already can buy a toy replica of virtually any gun made -- including the most popular brands of automatic weapons.

They can buy fake blood. And they can buy funny money.

Now some stores are selling toy beepers filled with bubble gum.

Pretty soon, children will be able to purchase everything they need to play at being a drug dealer.

And why not?

If we are unwilling to invest the money to educate them, and if we don't want to take the steps necessary to provide them jobs when they grow up, why not encourage the small ones to start thinking about a career as a pusher?

Why not sell plastic vials of rock candy colored to look like crack cocaine? Why not sell toy hypodermic needles filled with fruit juice?

I suppose it would be a way of exposing young people to career alternatives -- like giving them a toy stethoscope for Christmas.

Since the early 1980s, drug dealers have been equipping their young "employees" with beeper pagers, partly as a way of making them feel important and partly, of course, so that they can be constantly on call.

The fad caught on even among children not involved in the drug trade -- so much so, in fact, that Baltimore City schools, as well as other school systems, have banned beepers on school

property.

But toy companies and candy pushers apparently are not so finicky.

Thus, in June, Amurol Products Co. of Naperville, Ill., introduced its "Bubble Beeper," a colorful plastic clip-on toy pager with 17 sticks of gum inside.

Baltimore, Philadelphia and Chicago were among the first cities to get Bubble Beeper and a spokesman for the manufacturer said the company sold millions within a few short months.

Some parents were outraged, of course, but Gary Schuetz, vice president of marketing for Amurol (be careful not to pronounce this "a-moral") claims other parents were delighted.

"We've had glowing testimonials from adults who had children buy Bubble Beeper because they wanted to be like dad," said Schuetz. "You have to remember that 99 percent of the people who use beepers are positive role models -- doctors and lawyers, salesmen and even journalists.

"To link our toy beeper to a drug problem in the inner city is rather unwarranted. We are not naive and we don't live on the moon. We know what is happening with drugs. That's why we used a bright, fluorescent-colored package and a colorful name -- Bubble Beeper.

"We in no way condone or support what is happening in the inner-city drug traffic. But at the same time, people look at it from the viewpoint of their own specific neighborhoods."

About this neighborhood question, Schuetz insisted Bubble Beepers were not targeted specifically for black communities, as some critics have charged.

But while I found the candy in stores in predominantly black sections of West and East Baltimore yesterday, I did not see them in any of the convenience stores I visited in integrated neighborhoods in Howard or Baltimore counties. Don't they have doctors and lawyers in the burbs?

Meanwhile, protests from city parents have led some of the larger chains, such as 7-Eleven, to take them off of the shelves. Last weekend, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke urged parents to pressure the smaller, independent store owners to stop selling Bubble Beepers, as well.

Parental pressure, of course, is the only proper response when such outrages occur. This is a "family values" kind of thing.

But I'm still shaken by the fact that these things were ever manufactured and sold in the first place. Beepers have become drug paraphernalia and everyone knows it. No one expressed much surprise when school systems started banning them. I don't recall anyone complaining that educators were denying their children the right to emulate Dr. Dad.

And I'm still stunned by the possibility -- and I admit it is only a possibility -- that someone would be so hateful as to target black neighborhoods and black children for ersatz drug paraphernalia.

My idea of family values is to treat other people's children the same way you would want them to treat your own.

The manufacturer of the toy beeper, as well as the store owners who bought them, have violated this standard of right and wrong. There is no way not to conclude that they have treated other people's children with the utmost contempt, whether or not those children are distinguishable by race.

Since family values have become one of the battlegrounds for this election year, I considered asking the spokesman for the manufacturer of Bubble Beeper which party he planned to support in November.

That way, I could be sure to vote for the other side.

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