Laser pens have safety-minded seeing red
November 30, 1998
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- Those nifty pocket pointers executives often whip out to highlight their power presentations may be too powerful -- even dangerous -- in the wrong hands.
Laser light pens increasingly are being used for unintended uses, a trend that is beginning to make many people see red.
Michelle Vincent of the Sharper Image says most customers buy key laser light key chains at her store to create an electronic version of catnip for their pets.
"Cats will chase them. You put them on the ground, they go wild. They love them," she says of the novelty laser, which emits a thin, red beam at least 500 yards.
But many inadvertent viewers of laser pen lights have grown to dislike them, like when mischievous users at movie theaters aim at the big screen.
"It annoys not only the other customers, but destroys the whole movie, the whole setting," says Kris Ajel of AMC Theaters.
The price has fallen below $10 for some laser pointers, putting the gadgets high on the list of distractions that classroom teachers have to combat.
"Kids are pointing at each other. They're pointing at the teacher. You know how fast those things dart around. They're flashing them all over the classroom," says Trish Bascom of the San Francisco Unified School District.
Petty pen use has created scares at more than schools. In San Jose, California, a police officer cut his lights and jumped for cover when he saw a laser beam coming through the back window of his home.
"The next thing I imagined was that my windows would start shattering and my house would be riddled with bullets," says Sgt. Derek Edwards, who feared the light might be a sighting device for a high-tech weapon.
The culprit turned out to be a kid with a laser pen.
Other encounters with the lasers have created more serious close calls.
The operator of a roller coaster ride in a Hershey, Pennsylvania, amusement park claimed a laser flash temporarily blinded him last July.
Authorities determined that the incident put 32 roller coaster riders at risk, and charged laser user Michael Woods with reckless endangerment.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and eye doctors warn that the human eye can suffer serious damage as the result of lasers, a modern version of the classic poking-someone's-eye-out warning from teachers.
"When it hits the retina, it can cause damage if the intensity of the light, the energy level of the light, is very great. And if it's for a long enough duration. So I think the potential exists for permanent visual loss," says Dr. Robert Neger.
Correspondent Don Knapp contributed to this report.
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