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Christmas Shopping Dos and Don’ts

MANILA, Philippines—The hankering to splurge strikes the average person once in a while. But that changes during the holiday season when everyone starts to scramble around shopping centers, especially when the countdown to Christmas day begins. Gift giving is a great big deal and no slump in the economy could stop even the financially challenged lot from purchasing simple but meaningful presents for their friends and family.

For mall-adoring countries such as the Philippines, shopping (and well, window shopping mostly) is a list topper among favorite activities. It is unfortunate though that the festive season is also a magnet for criminals from all corners of the country and malls turn into their hub. The animated scene in these places makes it easy for consumers to become less mindful of their belongings, making them susceptible targets for thieves, robbers, and con artists of all sorts.

So here are a few things to remember before heading out to shop:

  • Dress accordingly and avoid wearing flashy jewelry.
  • Place money inside your front pocket where it’s most safe.
  • Attractive and chunky wallets are not the best accessories while Christmas shopping.
  • Carry just the right amount of cash.
  • Be wary of strangers who approach you. It’s not the best time and place to meet new friends.
  • Carrying too many things at once will make you lose track of all your baggage. It will also make it easier for thieves to snatch things from you.
  • It is best not to shop alone, especially in very crowded malls.

Besides keeping oneself safe from brigands, there are other safety issues that consumers have to make themselves aware of.

Senior Inspector Errick S. Derro of the Makati City Fire Department reminds shoppers to first explore the area they’re in before they start shopping. “It is important for shoppers to know where the fire exits are. That is especially true when they are in the upper levels. As soon as they enter the mall, they have to take mental notes of fire exit signs, staircases and hallways,” he said.

In case of a fire breakout, shoppers should not wait for officials or security to call for help. Derro said that anyone can call the Nationwide Hotline number 117 and they will be promptly entertained. “Everyone should have this number on their mobile phones at all times,” he reiterated.

Derro also reminds consumers of the following when it comes to purchasing electrical products:

  • Never buy substandard electrical products. They come cheap but they can cost you your life.
  • Make sure the product has an Import Commodity Clearance (ICC) hologram. Stickers are not reliable because there are counterfeit ICC stickers in circulation.
  • Check with the Department of Trade and Industry the names of electrical products that are tested and proven safe.
  • Thin wires burn easily. Buy the ones under trusted brand names.
  • At home, limit to three sets of Christmas lights per outlet to avoid electrical overloading.

The adage “It’s the thought that counts” could fittingly pertain to something more than just the price of gifts. In this day and age when there is an influx of gift items from varied and unreliable sources, be mindful of the gift items that you give.

There are different kinds of toxins found in items sold in shops, especially ones that are from stalls or what is popularly known in the Philippines as “tiangge.”

Lisa Tapang, Public Information Officer of the Kalikasan Partylist, walks us through the truth about toxic materials in gift items and what consumers can do to avoid them.

According to her, toxic materials could either be synthetic (manmade) or natural, but it has been found that more harm are caused by synthetic ones. Some can cause more specific risks, such as carcinogenic or cancer-causing substances.

There are ten chemicals or groups of chemicals that cause public health concerns as released by the World Health Organization (WHO). The list includes inadequate or excess fluoride, cadmium, benzene, lead, mercury, highly hazardous pesticides, chemicals from air pollution, arsenic, asbestos, and dioxin and dioxin-like substances. Of all these, lead and mercury are the ones commonly found in gift items.

But consumers could protect themselves from these toxic materials by being informed. Tapang reminds consumers that they should do the following when purchasing gift items:

  • Know the source. If possible, know where the gift items were manufactured and sourced. If there are other reports of unsafe items originating from these places, then be wary.
  • Buy green and local. Choose gifts that encourage others to be more ecologically conscious.
  • Screen it. Check the labels for the presence of toxins listed above, especially for consumable items and cosmetics.
  • Create with love. Be creative and make your own personalized gift items so you have better control over the materials and substances that go into the making of your gifts.

Once consumers begin to doubt that they have purchased unsafe gift items, they should keep it away until tests are done. Remember that children are especially susceptible because they are more inclined to touch or play with the items. Many children have gotten sick or even died in some cases that were monitored. To have materials tested for toxicity, consumers can bring them to the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) or any other appropriate government agency.

Through different investigations initiated by consumer groups, the following gift items, often sold cheap, contain potentially dangerous levels of toxic materials:

  • Plastic toys
  • Stuffed toys
  • Whitening cosmetics
  • Painted drinking glasses
  • Painted mugs
  • Ornaments, accessories or faux jewelry such as bracelets, chains, rings, arm cuffs, anklets, and hair accessories

People gravitate towards bargains, but imagine the harm that gift-givers could pass on to other people if they don’t choose gift items with much thought. Lastly, Tapang said, “We give gifts because we love our family, friends, relatives or colleagues and wish to express our care for them. Ironically, these same gifts may bring harm and even affect our health if these contain toxic substances or materials.”

After all, the thought really does count.