FDA Drafts Laser Pointer Restrictions - The UpStream

FDA Drafts Laser Pointer Restrictions

posted Sunday May 4, 2014 by Scott Ertz

FDA Drafts Laser Pointer Restrictions

Here's a weird one for you folks. The Food & Drug Administration has published a new draft guidance on acceptable consumer laser products. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Why does the FDA care at all about lasers?" While this is a good question, I do not have a good answer. There are a lot of agencies who might be interested in regulating lasers. Let's look at the reasons and what agency might have an interest there.

The most likely reason for this document is the increasing threat of laser strikes on aircraft. While a $5 laser from the drug store probably isn't going to cause a lot of harm, a $600 4-watt laser has a lot of potential. Currently there is a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of someone involved in a laser strike. Obviously, the desire to protect aircraft, both big and small, is a high priority. This would, of course, fall under the jurisdiction of the FAA, which has regulations against shining a laser at a plane, and the FBI, who is tasked with finding and prosecuting those who disobey. No FDA to be found here.

Another fear would be the types of lasers to be found at laser light shows. Often these come from previous medical equipment and, therefore, have the capability to cut through some pretty substantial materials. One of those materials is you. Now, the use of these lasers is currently regulated, and not just anyone can own one. If someone were to get ahold of one, however, their actions would be considered an attack with a deadly weapon, meaning that the regulation and laws regarding this usage would come from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, not the FDA.

So, why would the FDA weigh in now? I'm still not sure, other than to try and plant their flag at a time when government agencies are overstepping their bounds on a regular basis. For example, remember when the FCC declared war on the Internet and Congress fought back? The Supreme Court ruled that they were out of line, but it might have prompted this kind of power-grab mentality.

Patrick Murphy, the editor of LaserPointerSafety.com told Ars Technica,

In my personal opinion, FDA is wrong. First, pointers do not fit the existing FDA regulations which clearly define SLA lasers. Second, if you look at any lasers used for surveying, leveling, or alignment, they do not look like or operate like handheld laser pointers...

I'm not saying that (high-powered lasers) shouldn't be banned. I'm saying that (the FDA doesn't) have the authority under current law. You need to go through Congress to get the authority.

The FCC has learned that lesson the hard way, and the FDA might be the next government agency to take a trip to the Supreme Court.


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