Children’s ‘happy pills’ toy comes under fire

A Port Melbourne cafe and children’s toy shop has come under scrutiny from health experts and the state’s consumer affairs body for selling “Happy Pills” to children.

The toy, sold by Junior Republic in Port Melbourne, has been reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission by Consumer Affairs Victoria.

The small glass jar of pseudo-pills mimics the appearance of Panadol or Nurofen, but when the children remove a pill from the jar it contains an inspirational quote.

Experts have rallied against the toy, suggesting it promotes a pill-popping mentality and also poses a choking risk to small  children who may accidentally swallow the fake pill.

Consumer Affairs Victoria director Dr Claire Noone said the novelty toy was not suitable for small children.

“Consumer Affairs Victoria has conducted an initial assessment of this item in relation to labelling and product safety standards, and has referred this matter to the ACCC for further assessment,” she said.

Each year Consumer Affairs Victoria recalls and destroys toys which fail to meet certain safety standards.

Toys which are routinely confiscated by the consumer body include those which pose a choking hazard, projectile toys which can hurt children’s eyes, toys containing lead or poisonous elements and toy-like novelty cigarette lighters.

The toy is advertised on the retailer’s Facebook page with only one side effect listed: “may cause contagious smiling”.

But Melbourne University consumer psychologist Dr Brent Coker was worried the pill could cause detrimental side-effects.

“Young people learn how to associate objects with feelings and emotions and then tie that to behaviour,” he said.

“The association it teaches children is there is something good about pills. It’s a learned behaviour and as they get older they don’t realise that all pills should be treated with caution.”

Dr Coker said this can lead to fears the children will be more likely to abuse prescription drugs or illegal narcotics.

“If it was adults buying this toy it wouldn’t be such a big deal because adults don’t form the same associations,” he said.

“I was quite surprised these were able to be sold.”

In the 1990s lolly “cigarettes” known as FAGS or FADS were popular with children, but public pressure saw the red tip removed from the white sticks.

Dr Coker said he expected the Happy Pills would eventually be banned.

“It’s possible the product has just been packaged wrongly. Toys with surprises inside work really well for children and manufacturers have made a lot of money out of them,” he said.

The Age contacted Junior Republic but received no response prior to publication.

Port Melbourne Primary School warned parents not to allow their children to bring the pills to school in its September newsletter following a complaint from a parent.

“Given that they appear identical to medication, it is not appropriate for students to have these at school, as children may become confused between the happy pills and prescriptions medications,with unfortunate consequences,” school principal Peter Martin said.

Happy Pills creator William Du  said his product was designed to spread “strength and wisdom”.

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