Toothpick crossbow
Handheld crossbows that can fire out needles and nails are the latest must-have toy in China but anxious parents want them banned before a young child gets blinded or worse STR/AFP/Getty Images

Toothpick crossbow is a new plaything that is driving children in China crazy. However, parents are calling on the government to ban the popular toy before someone gets seriously injured.

Sales of the handheld crossbows are already banned in some Chinese cities like Kunming, Harbin and Chengdu, local media reports said. Parents in Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous state under the "one country, two systems" principle, have also raised an alarm.

The so-called toothpick crossbows were originally designed to shoot out only toothpicks, as its name suggests.

However, the toothpick in the toy is reported to be powerful enough to pierce through cardboard and apples, despite its small size. Besides, the toy can transform into a dangerous weapon if the toothpicks are swapped for nails and needles.

Some tests have apparently revealed that a needle shot through the toy was potent enough to crack a sheet of glass when fired straight at it, the Shanghai Daily reported.

"The 'Toothpick Crossbow' toy has spread across China like wildfire among the nation's primary and middle school children," the report said. Some shopkeepers were struggling to meet the soaring demand for the toy, the publication added.

Several shops on streets near schools lure children into buying these dangerous gadgets. Widespread parental concern is now forcing police to crack down on such shops.

However, the plastic version of the toy can still be bought online for as cheap as CN¥4 (50p, 60 US cents). The metal ones cost around CN¥10.

Following criticism from parents, China's leading e-commerce sites like JD.com and Taobao.com, which belongs to online retail giant Alibaba, announced they would stop selling the toys on their platform. But it is still available for sales in other websites like 1688.com, also owned by Alibaba, BBC reported.

There are also several online videos that demonstrate how to make a homemade toothpick crossbow, while some show the dangerous toy in action piercing through apples, cardboard or raw meat.

Parents have said the government should not wait until someone gets badly hurt in the eyes before placing a ban on the sale of the toys.

"Hurry up (and ban them), pupils do not understand and are just shooting people for fun. It will cause accidents sooner or later," one concerned parent wrote on Weibo, China's Twitter-like micro-blogging site.

BBC noted that the packaging of the toy says that it should not be aimed at people or animals, although one product claims it can be used to fight cockroaches.