I read an interesting article recently regarding soda cans. Dr. Lane F. Donnelly, radiologist-in-chief at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, has found that kids, mainly teenagers, are swallowing the pull tabs on the tops of soda cans. Pull tabs for cans were introduced in 1963 and were first used for soft-drink cans by the Royal Crown Cola Co. However, the tabs detached easily and were occasionally swallowed. A revised version, called a stay tab, which generally stays attached to the can, was introduced in 1975.
Unfortunately, accidental ingestions still occur, says Donnelly. After he saw a child who had swallowed a stay tab, Donnelly decided to investigate how often such accidental ingestions happen. “I was surprised that this happened with the stay tabs, but I guess I shouldn’t have been, given that you can wiggle them off and inadvertently drop them in the can,” he says. Lane and his colleagues identified 19 cases over a 16-year period. The Can Manufacturers Inst., as you would expect, refutes the claim. Robert Budway, president of the Can Manufacturers Inst., says, “We’ve never heard this before. These tabs stay on unless you tear them off, and they don’t come off readily. They’re manufactured and designed to stay on.”
At first glance, 19 cases in 16 years seem like an inconsequential number. However, this might be only a small fraction of the actual occurrences, since aluminum doesn’t usually show up on X-rays. All of the cases identified by Lane were witnessed or self reported, and only four were visible on X ray. Most of the accidental swallowers were teenagers. “This makes sense because the kids who are sitting around drinking out of soda cans are going to be older,” says Lane. “They fiddle with the tab, break it off, drop it in the can, forget they’ve dropped it in the can and then swallow it. Or play with it in their mouth and swallow it by mistake.”
According to Donnelly, parents should be educated that stay tabs pose a swallowing hazard, and they should warn their children to be careful. Radiologists can learn from this, too, he adds. “Just because you can’t see the tab doesn’t mean it isn’t there, so you should not doubt that someone has just swallowed one of these, just because you can’t see it on an x-ray. Those kids should be monitored as you would any child who swallows a foreign body.”
Last night, I decided to make the sacrifice and have a few beers as an experiment, just to see for myself how difficult it is to remove the tabs. It turns out that it only took three or four twists to break them off. My daughter was visiting with her children, who were drinking soda, so I urged them to try to remove the tabs. The younger ones, age three and five, couldn’t do it, but the older ones, 10 and up, had no problem, so my assessment is that this is not an unfounded concern.
Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft… and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. Werner von Braun.