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Take Note: City wants novelty pens capped

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First, it was toy guns that drew attention and bans from schools and parents.

Now, the dangers of intravenous drug use have made toy syringes just as unwelcome as potential playthings.

Parents and community leaders in troubled Jersey City, N.J., were alarmed when they discovered that a local store was selling novelty ballpoint pens that closely resemble hypodermic syringes.

One local councilman took up their cause, and this weekwk of 9/25 the City Council is likely to vote unanimously to curtail the pens' sale.

Council members plan to prohibit the sale of such pens to anyone younger than 18. Violators could be fined a maximum of $1,000 or be sentenced to 30 days in jail.

In a further attempt to keep the pens out of young hands, the council has sent a letter to the Jersey City public schools and to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark warning them about the pens.

The councilman who first discovered the pens, Jaime Vazquez, found them in a local store being sold alongside other back-to-school items and priced within a child's budget: $1 each.

The pens are slim, like a hypodermic syringe, and are available with various colors of ink.

They apparently had been selling briskly before the councilman arrived on the scene.

The store started with 180 of the pens in stock, but that supply was down to just 10, which Mr. Vazquez bought to get them off the shelf.

Mr. Vazquez said he and the other council members would have no problem with the pensif they were being sold as a novelty item at a local medical college.

But, he said, "When you sell to 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds, we believe we are giving mixed messages to children."

Mr. Vazquez also said he worries that if children begin to think of hypodermic syringes as toys, they could get hurt playing with a real one they find discarded on the street.

Selling such pens in Jersey City, which is made up mostly of minority groups, Mr. Vazquez said, reinforces the negative stereotype that "black people use drugs, Puerto Rican and Hispanic people use drugs, so it's OK to sell them a toy that looks like an instrument they use anyway."

--Millicent Lawton

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