04/16/2013 10:33 EDT | Updated 06/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Health Canada to stop sales of small magnets, set tighter rules for playpens

OTTAWA - Health Canada is planning to follow the lead of the United States and ban the sale of small, powerful magnets which can cause serious internal problems if swallowed by children.

Last summer, the American Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of Buckyballs, powerful little "rare earth" magnets sold as toys and desktop accessories.

In another child-related move, Health Canada said it is looking at setting stricter standards for playpens.

It's also announcing plans to work with the pharmaceutical industry on new standards for naming products to reduce the number of drugs with names that look or sound alike.

And the department says it will open another surveillance centre to track food-borne illness.

It also wants to improve the way adverse drug reactions are reported.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the measures are aimed at protecting families.

"Canadians don't want government to raise their kids, but they do want government to take action to support the health and safety of their families," she said in a news release.

The magnets pose serious risks, the department said, because if swallowed they can pinch together and create an internal blockage or perforate intestinal walls.

"The results can be very serious and even fatal," Aglukkaq said. "There have been many cases of children requiring emergency surgical treatment."

Health Canada is urging parents to "consider disposing of products containing these small powerful magnets if they cannot be sure they will be kept out out of the reach of children," spokesman Sean Upton said in a statement.

The proposed new playpen rules will bring Canada more in line with international standards.

The changes would introduce stricter standards for side height, side and floor strength and latching and locking mechanisms. There are also additional requirements for safety warnings, floor-pad spacing and thickness and safety standards for accessories such as change tables.

New standards for adverse drug reactions have been sent to hospitals and long-term care facilities.

"They will provide guidance such as how to report patients' adverse reactions to drugs, and who is responsible for reporting them."

The application of the adverse reaction reporting standard is expected to increase the quality and quantity of reporting from these organizations. Health Canada will monitor reporting to assess improvements under the new standard.

The department says the new surveillance centre will improve its ability to track food and water-borne gastrointestinal illnesses and their likely sources.

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