September 24th, 2009
Menthol, Soda, Flu, Toys, and HIV Vaccine
By Curtis Porter
Menthol in the Media
ACSH’s Jeff Stier will be on Vicki McKenna’s radio show at 5:35 pm (eastern time), mainly to discuss menthol cigarettes in the context of the flavored-tobacco ban. You can stream the show live online.
Speaking of menthol, ACSH Advisor and Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health Dr. Mike Siegel explains why the flavor ban is useless posturing on his blog: “It is not true that [the banned products] were taken off the market due to the new law. These products were already off the market…It is also not true that ‘these flavored cigarettes…are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers.’ What is a gateway for many young people are menthol cigarettes.”
ACSH’s Dr. Ross adds: “In fact, menthol cigarettes are not banned by the new law — more evidence of the law’s hypocrisy.”
Setting the Record Straight
Recently, ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan participated in a podcast interview to discuss obesity and the proposed soda tax. In light of ACSH’s hard-line resistance to this bill, some people — including an ACSH Advisor — have criticized ACSH for “siding with the beverage industry” on the controversial question of taxing sugary soda to fight obesity.
Dr. Whelan has a reaction to this criticism: “We are not siding with the beverage industry, we are promoting scientific facts about the underlying causes of obesity and correcting misinformation. ACSH is not involved in issues relating to taxes on products, per se, but this tax is specifically proposed to combat obesity with the argument that soda is the main source of excess calories. We know that is patently absurd, as extra pounds and obesity results from excessive calories from all sources and from lack of enough exercise to burn those calories.
“In my debates on this subject, I get the distinct impression that proponents of a soda tax know it will not work to curb obesity, but they are strongly in favor of it anyway. Some are in favor of it not as a cure for obesity but as a punitive tax that will generate income for their cause — punitive in the sense that these people believe drinking soda is, by definition, bad. As Dr. Nancy admitted in my interview on MSNBC last week, she could not help thinking about the ‘pot of gold’ that would be available from a soda tax to fund healthcare reform.
“Well, if that were the stated purpose of a soda tax — to fund healthcare reform, highway construction, child care, or any other cause — then we at ACSH would not be fighting it, because those issues are outside of our areas of expertise. What we object to is the tax being predicated as a cure for our nation’s obesity woes. As we often say, for every complex problem (in this case obesity) there is always a simple solution (the soda tax) and it never works.”
Gupta Gets Grippe
CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta contracted H1N1 flu while reporting on the war in Afghanistan. He describes the miserable experience on his blog: “I am not someone who gets sick, really ever. And this was the sickest I have ever been.”
“When I read his story and heard about the symptoms, I thought about how everyone has been saying that this is a mild disease for most people,” says Dr. Whelan. “It didn’t sound like a mild disease.”
“Any time you need intravenous fluid, it’s beyond scope of mild,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “This is how flu can kill you. It can be a very serious disease. If Dr. Gupta were sixty-five years old and he didn’t have access to intravenous fluid, it could have been lethal. I don’t want scare anyone — just get your flu shot.”
“Healthy Stuff” Turns Dollars Into Scares
ACSH staffers were intrigued when we received a Twitter invitation to learn how to make toys “healthier.” The provided link was not as educational as promised. “I clicked the link to learn how to make toys healthier, and a donation page came up,” recalls Dr. Ross.
“This is part of the ‘Healthy Stuff’ group,” says Stier. “They’re playing on people’s fears to raise money for their non-profit. These are the same people pushing for phthalate and bisphenol-A bans.”
Dr. Whelan agrees: “It’s a scam.”
According to Slate, “Researchers announced today that an experimental treatment managed to reduce the risk of becoming infected with the virus that causes AIDS by more than 31%.”
“It’s a very minor form of protection,” says Dr. Whelan, “but it’s better than no protection, as there has been for so long.”
Dr. Ross adds, “Researchers have been trying to develop a vaccine against HIV for twenty-five years without success. This one isn’t extremely effective, but its effects were statistically significant. We can take this incremental advance and build on it.”
September 23rd, 2009
Flavor Ban, Environmentalist Journals, Strange News From Scotland, Shots for Tots
By Curtis Porter
FDA Ban on Flavored Cigarettes
The ban of candy-flavored cigarettes under the FDA’s Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act took effect yesterday. The prohibition is supposed to deter young people from beginning to smoke.
“The people at the campaign for Tobacco Free Kids are saying that this is going to change the whole landscape for young smokers,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “They say it will save a generation of kids from smoking. The whole thing is so absurd. This will accomplish nothing.”
“To think that a teenager takes up smoking because a cigarette is flavored is missing the point,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “I believe they smoke in order to seem cool and grown up, and it’s counterproductive for that image to be seen smoking a ‘lollipop.’ In all of these paeans to the new ban on flavors asserting that this will save thousands of children from becoming lifelong smokers, I have yet to see any data on how many kids start smoking because they were attracted by flavorings. My guess is it's a very low percentage. The only flavor that seems to influence people is menthol, but they exempted menthol from the ban because of its considerable market share. So we know whose interests are being guarded here.”
For more information, including testimonials from young smokers, visit http://thescooponsmoking.org/.
The latest issue of Environmental Research features an article that purports to link moderate exposure – though not high exposure – to various pesticides with increased risk for childhood leukemia. “It should strike you as odd that moderate exposure is associated with this condition, but high exposure is not,” says Dr. Ross. “Further, the ‘scientists’ authoring this travesty of a study assessed exposure to various chemicals by residential histories, and selected 118 chemicals to analyze out of 600 possible targets. The whole thing is laughable, but will likely become part of the anti-chemical lobby's lore.”
“This is off the wall,” says Dr. Whelan. “It’s very sad that this shows up in the media attributed to a peer review journal, which gives it an aura of credibility it doesn’t deserve. We’ve said this before. No longer can you assume that something being in a peer review journal means you can accept it as scientifically rigorous, since environmental activists have formed their own journals.”
Big Government Takes Big Kids
ACSH staffers were disturbed and confused by the news out of Scotland about a couple whose children have been taken away by social workers because the government says the kids are too fat. The couple has six children aged 3 to 13, ranging from 56 to 220 pounds, and they are expecting their seventh. They lost custody of two after failing to act on warnings that they should lose weight, and they could soon lose the rest.
“I don’t think obesity warrants the government’s seizure of these children,” says Dr. Ross. “It is an important risk factor for future health problems, but it can’t be any worse for the kids than taking them from their parents and putting them in foster care. Is the Scottish government going to move in on smoking parents and take children away as well? I hope there is more going on here than meets the eye, though it presages an increase in big-government outreach everywhere these days.”
Two Shots for Tots
Federal health officials reported yesterday that children younger than ten will probably need two doses of the H1N1 flu vaccine, though older children appear to just need one. “Young children’s immune response to one shot does not seem to rise to the level of protection against H1N1 flu, whereas teens and young adults can make do with one,” says Dr. Ross.
September 22nd, 2009
Snus Ads, Clinton on Screening, Mutations, Second-Hand Facts, Trans-Fats
By Curtis Porter
Censoring Harm Reduction
An article in the New York Times explains how R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is marketing its smokeless snus product without reference to its harm-reduction potential: “Andrew Romeo, a former executive at tobacco companies…, says he believes ‘snus is a much safer alternative to cigarettes’ but understands why R. J. Reynolds is not marketing snus as safer. ‘It is worse for public health to put snus across as a complementary product instead of a reduced-harm product, but for R. J. Reynolds it makes total sense,’ said Mr. Romeo … ‘they’re just trying to sell you this other product to fill your day with tobacco goodness.’”
“This is another example of how an ill-advised regulatory scheme is doing more harm than good,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Reynolds–nor any other marketer of smokeless tobacco products– cannot say anything about harm reduction since it violates the FDA dicta on the subject by making a health claim. So it appears to the consumer that snus is just another tobacco product on the market. Of course, if the writer had tried just a little, he could have gotten the truth about the low risks of snus and the potential for using such smokeless products as an aid to quitting lethal cigarettes — harm reduction.”
Clinton on Breast Cancer Screening
Bill Clinton made an appearance today on ABC’s Good Morning America. Among the many things he discussed was his optimism for the outlook on cancer research, citing knowledge of genetic predictors of breast cancer and an imperative to get young girls tested for them in order to anticipate future treatment.
“There’s been a lot of activity on Twitter about what Clinton said regarding screenings,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “It’s a little convoluted, but it goes back to the issue of how screening in young girls can cause more harm than good. We saw this with the E.A.R.L.Y. Act in Congress and the overwhelming opposition to it from breast cancer experts.”
Dr. Ross agrees: “It’s well-known among epidemiologists that screenings don’t necessarily equate to lives saved, but it contradicts many people’s intuition on cancer.”
Mutations and Misstatements
According to an Associated Press report, “The swine flu virus hasn't mutated into a more deadly strain but there are early signs it is developing resistance to vaccine, the World Heath Organization's chief said Monday … The vaccine is highly effective against the swine flu virus, though there were a small number of instances — about 25 in the world — of a vaccine-resistant flu.”
“That is an bizarre misstatement,” says Dr. Ross. “It’s good news that the new virus hasn’t mutated, but can someone tell me what a vaccine-resistant flu is? Vaccines are not antibiotics, and viruses don’t develop resistance to them. Surely, some people who get vaccinated get the flu anyway. That doesn't mean the virus is 'resistant' — it's more likely the person only mounted a reduced immune response from the vaccine, or that the antigens in the vaccine did not match the virus.”
A study published in the journal Circulation yesterday concludes that smoking bans in public places reduce the risk of heart attacks by as much as 36%. “This report is a meta-analysis,” says Dr. Ross, “which to my mind makes it even less rigorous or valid than doing such a study in a city, where similar studies have already been done and proven useless epidemiologically. They claim that avoiding second-hand smoke has more effect on heart disease rates than statin drugs, exercise, or even quitting actual smoking. It makes no sense.”
Stier has addressed claims like these before. “[T]he evidence does not support the claim … that acute, transient exposure to [environmental tobacco smoke] increases heart-attack risk in healthy individuals,” he wrote in a 2007 piece in the New York Post. “The lack of evidence hasn't stopped Commissioner Thomas Frieden at the city Health Department, which is buying ads in The New York Times claiming that ‘just 30 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke produces some of the same physical reactions that would occur from long-term smoking, and increases the risk of heart disease in non-smokers.’”
“Thomas Frieden, who was behind this junk science back then, is now the head of the CDC,” adds Stier.
For more information, see ACSH’s publication on environmental tobacco smoke.
Baltimore City on the Bandwagon
Baltimore City has joined the ranks of those who have banned trans fats in all food establishments. “Trans fats are about as dangerous as any other saturated fat,” says Dr. Ross. “The government intrusion to ban trans fats is completely unnecessary and unproductive.”
September 21, 2009
Dr. Whelan on Dr. Nancy; Aspirin and Colon Cancer; Vaccine Foes
By Curtis Porter
Dr. Whelan on Dr. Nancy
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan made an appearance on MSNBC's Dr. Nancy opposite Dr. Kelly Brownell of Yale University to argue against the imposition of a tax on sugary beverages last Friday.
“The host could not restrain herself from signing on to Brownell's crusade against soda, and being in the forefront of advocating for a soda tax,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “This will supposedly fight obesity and provide all sorts of benefits for healthcare. There are many reasons why this tax is an abomination. The only good thing to be said about it is that it is better than previous proposals that also tax diet sodas and do not tax juices that are just as calorie-dense as soda. It's a regressive tax, and even if they do gain however many billions of dollars they predict from this, it won't be a drop in the bucket of a trillion dollar healthcare system. Further, contrary to the hypocritical assertions that taxes will go towards 'the fight against obesity,' we know from sad experience that monies collected from this wrong-headed tax would go wherever government says it goes.”
Aspirin and Colon Cancer
Study results presented today in Berlin at a joint meeting of the European Cancer Organisation and the European Society for Medical Oncology indicate that aspirin can decrease the chances of developing colon cancer among patients with a genetic susceptibility to it .
“There were 6 out of approximately 500 who received aspirin and developed colon cancer, whereas there were 16 out of the 500 or so in the placebo group,” explains Dr. Ross. “You can frame this one way by saying there was about a 60% reduction in colon cancer incidence, or you can say that ten more cases occurred in the placebo group. Either way, it does not amount to an avalanche of data. I would normally say this should prompt a hypothesis-finding study, but there are already hypotheses and studies to support the connection between aspirin and other non-steroidal drugs and reduced colon cancer risk. It is important to note that only high-risk people should be on aspirin, since it carries significant risk for those with bleeding disorders.”
Healthcare Workers Refuse Healthcare
ACSH staffers were surprised by a New York Times report revealing that many New York City healthcare workers are refusing to get vaccinated against the flu. Some still believe the shot can cause flu, while others feel they have sufficiently strong immune systems to resist it on their own.
This summer, the State Health Department adopted an emergency regulation requiring all hospital, home health and hospice workers to get seasonal and swine flu vaccinations: “Complying with the new state rule, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs the city's public hospitals, announced on Aug. 28 that seasonal and swine flu vaccinations would now be mandatory for all its workers.”
“They are making it mandatory for workers to get flu shots,” says Dr. Whelan. “If they don't, they could be fired. It seems harsh, but it's really bizarre for all of these workers to reject the vaccine.”
“I'm in favor of making it mandatory,” says Dr. Ross. “Healthcare workers are supposed to be in front of line because they deal with sick people. If I'm a sick person, I don't want to get flu from my healthcare worker.”
September 18th, 2009
Organic Politics, Milk Tolerance, Fry Fears, and Soda as Smoke
By Curtis Porter
Fear and Loathing at the Farmers Market
ACSH staffers were pleased to read the account of a shopper at yesterday’s grand opening of the White House farmers market on the website of the Center for Consumer Freedom: “[T]he White House farmers market doesn’t seem to be targeted at ordinary people. Judging from today’s crowd, it’s more about attracting well-to-do lawyers, gourmet snobs, and fans of the emerging fascination with eating ‘local.’ For our money, though — and we did spend quite a bit of it — a trip to your local supermarket is a better bet.”
“This account comes on the heels of scandal concerning the White House organic garden,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “It just shows how elite and snobby these organic folks are. And the food is so expensive. Here we’re telling people to eat more fruits and vegetables, trying to keep prices low so people have more access to healthier foods, and the White House is sending the exact opposite message.”
“That’s exactly right,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “When prices are higher, people will consume fewer healthy foods. And there is absolutely no nutritional benefit to the products they’re charging so much for.”
Milk Still Does A Body Good
It is a testament to ACSH’s far-reaching influence that the Ethiopian Review relays the expertise of ACSH advisor Dr. Stuart Patton on the ongoing issue of milk and its role in a human diet. Dr. Patton’s article, originally in the latest post on our blog HealthFactsAndFears, summarizes his excellent book, Milk: Its Remarkable Contribution to Human Health and Well-Being, after questions were raised about the low percentage of lactose-tolerant people around the world.
“His thesis is pretty straightforward,” says Stier. “He explains the issue — that most people world-wide have problems digesting lactose — and how it has easily been addressed so that almost everyone can drink milk. Milk is a very nutritious beverage, and we shouldn’t be scared away from enjoying it and getting nutrients from it. Like everything else, of course, there are other issues at play here. Some animal rights activists don’t want people to use any animal products, so they distort the information about the digestibility of milk to fit their agenda. Dr. Patton thoroughly debunks their claims.”
For more information, see ACSH’s publication on milk.
The FDA announced that it may issue industry guidelines on how to reduce acrylamide levels in food. Acrylamide is a natural byproduct of cooking carbohydrate-rich foods at high temperatures. “Acrylamide can cause cancer in lab animals, like so many other things,” says Dr. Whelan, “but this is a non-issue as far as humans are concerned. Still, it’s getting so much attention. It’s such a waste of energy.”
For more information, see ACSH’s publication on acrylamide in food.
Soda and Smoking in San Francisco
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom intends to charge a fee to retailers that sell sugary beverages, calling soda “the new tobacco.”
“This is how insane this soda hype is,” says Dr. Whelan. “Soda can be a perfectly healthy product when used in moderation, and they’re comparing it to tobacco. It’s so misguided, it’s absurd. It’s all part of the ongoing attack on soda as though it were the sole cause of obesity.”
September 17th, 2009
Borlaug, Cell Phones, Soda, Household Cleansers
By Curtis Porter
A Very Touching Gift
An anonymous donor made a donation to ACSH today in memory of our late Founding Director and good friend, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug.
ACSH’s Jeff Stier says, “We re-dedicate ourselves to carry on Dr. Borlaug's mission of promoting the responsible use of science to improve the human condition.”
Dr. Kabat Sets the Record Straight
In light of the spike in coverage of the cell phone scare, ACSH advisor and cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Dr. Geoffrey Kabat recently weighed in on the controversial allegations that cell phones cause brain tumors. He wrote on Spiked Online: “Even if there were some statistical link between phone use and cancer, that would be insufficient if there was no plausible way in which we could see how the phones might actually cause cancer…These alarmist reports by activist groups represent a parallel narrative to the much less satisfying narrative of scientific inquiry. Activist ‘science’ focuses on results that appear to fit with one’s thesis and ignores information and comprehensive assessments of the evidence which do not.”
Report Confirms Authors’ Suspicions
A study released yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine provides evidence to support imposing a tax on sugary drinks as high as one cent per ounce. ACSH staffers weren’t surprised to find out that the team of authors responsible for the bill includes New York City health commissioner Thomas Farley and Arkansas Surgeon General Joseph W. Thompson.
“These people have made careers out of calling for such an approach,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “There seems to be a lot of momentum behind the ban. It’s obvious when you think about it that it’s just not going to accomplish anything in terms of solving the obesity problem. States that already have a soda tax are some of the fattest states in the nation. But I don’t think they even care about that.”
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, admits as much to the New York Times: “I think we should be satisfied that soda taxes would be having a modest effect on consumption but would generate billions of dollars that could be used to mount public health campaigns.”
“He has his eyes on the real prize here,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “He realizes that the effect on obesity will be minimal, but he’s after the revenue from the taxes. And we’re not talking about a few pennies per bottle. We’re talking about a substantial amount of money, mostly coming from poor people. These are people who should make their own decisions about what to eat and not be taxed out of options by the government. But the idea certainly does have momentum. There seems to be a multi-pronged attack on sugary sodas.”
“It’s a coordinated attack, too,” adds Stier. “If industry people had organized in this way, it would have been a scandal. But when activists do it, no one even notices. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with coordinating to accomplish a goal, regardless of who does it, we just want people to realize that it is the same thing going on here that upsets people when it comes from the industry.”
A Victory for Those Who Drink Cleaning Agents
Activist groups are demanding that manufacturers of detergents, household cleansers, and furniture polish, such as Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and others, disclose which chemicals are contained in their products. Some in the industry have agreed to a voluntary disclosure plan, despite their reluctance to reveal the formulas for proprietary reasons.
“Consumers would usually expect the industry to defend their products,” says Stier, “but because the industry is now making so-called ‘green’ products, they are no longer defending their old formulas. Consumers need to understand that just because a product isn’t being strongly defended doesn’t mean it isn’t safe. It just means that the industry has alternative products they are trying to sell by manipulating people’s unfounded fears. People also seem to be expecting new laws and lawsuits to result from this, but if you don’t think something is safe, you already have a choice. Don’t buy it. So what is the role of government when there are no proven health effects to prevent?”
“That’s exactly the issue,” says Dr. Ross. “There are no health effects caused by these products. It’s all based on false assertions and allegations. They are trying to find a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Dr. Whelan adds, “There is also widespread evidence that the so-called ‘green’ cleaners aren’t effective. They allow mold to grow and generally don’t get the job done.”
September 16th, 2009
Bazell Phone Service, Black Box on The Hill, Ross in Canada, and Smoke
By Curtis Porter
Seat at the Table
ACSH staffers would like to offer a seat at the table to NBC News Chief Science Correspondent Robert Bazell for handily refuting claims that there is evidence of increased risk for brain tumors due to cell phone use, much to the visible chagrin of the anchor he was speaking with.
Jeff’s Black Box
ACSH’s Jeff Stier has a letter published in The Hill, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, addressing the FDA’s hyperactive use of black-box warnings on drugs used to treat inflammatory diseases: “Physicians should still give due consideration to the benefits of the drugs, especially in light of the paucity of other treatments for debilitating and often dangerous inflammatory diseases. Consider the benefit versus risk analysis for inflammatory diseases with secondary risks…The old adage ‘better safe than sorry’ is too simplistic in today’s world to be the guiding principle at the FDA.”
Dr. Ross’ Northern Journey
ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross recently returned from Ottawa, where he enlightened members of the Canadian Parliament as to the promise of harm reduction strategies to help people quit smoking. “I met with six members of Parliament, three liberals and three conservatives, as well as one legislative assistant who is neither liberal nor conservative but a member of a minority party. So I met with six out of eleven members of a health committee to discuss harm reduction and smokeless tobacco. They were all very interested and receptive to learning about this subject, which they had not previously considered. I discussed who we are, our harm-reduction research, and how we’ve been anti-tobacco since our inception.
“I showed some data we had, around thirty scholarly articles supporting the use of smokeless tobacco as a less-dangerous alternative to cigarettes. Of course, it’s still a very complex and difficult problem. Even if they agreed with us, the regulations of marketing and health claims for tobacco are so strict that no one can officially tell anyone anything about harm reduction because it’s against the law. In other words, you can’t make the ‘health claim’ that a product will help you quit smoking unless there are clinical trials proving that it’s true, which will never be available, so we have to use the data from Sweden to make a leap and try to rescue the 45 million Americans and 5 million Canadians who are addicted to smoking.”
NYC Health’s Smoking Folly
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said Monday that he would seek to ban smoking in city parks and beaches, according to yesterday’s New York Times: “On Monday night, [Mayor Bloomberg], who has championed antismoking programs but also is running for re-election, issued a statement that did not disavow the proposal but appeared to qualify it, saying he wanted ‘to see if smoking in parks has a negative impact on people’s health.’”
“If he wants to know the health effects of being around smokers outside, there are none,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “As we have pointed out, the dangers of secondhand smoke have been very overstated in the past. I admit that being on the beach and getting smoke blown in my face is annoying, but this is not a public health issue.”
Cheryl G. Healton, president and chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, disagrees. “There is no redeeming value in smoking at beaches or parks,” she said in a statement. “Anyone who has sat behind someone smoking a stogie can tell you that. The health risks are real. Secondhand smoke is deadly.”
“Note how she conflates the aesthetic discomfort of breathing someone’s ‘stogie’ effluence and the ‘deadly’ effects of secondhand smoke,” says Dr. Ross. “At what level of exposure does secondhand smoke become ‘deadly?’ And when she says ‘there is no redeeming value,’ she seems to assume the mantle of health nanny to advise us on what activities are of sufficient ‘redeeming value’ to be tolerated. She would be better advised to stick to educating Americans about the dangers of smoking cigarettes, and leave decisions about redeeming value to individuals.”
NYC Health’s Other Smoking Folly
ACSH staffers were disappointed by the opening lines of a New York Times article about New York City Health Department efforts to encourage physical activity in the outer boroughs: “Couch potatoes in the boroughs outside Manhattan awake: New York’s health commissioner says that now that the city has smoking and trans fats under control, you and your exercise and eating habits are the next big challenge.”
“That first paragraph embodies several problems with these public health efforts,” says Dr. Ross. “Conflating smoking and trans fats is ludicrous. Smoking causes millions of deaths per year, while trans fats pose only a minimal threat, at least as compared with other saturated fats. Then, they go on to assert that people in the outer boroughs get less exercise because they’re more likely to drive than walk. There’s no evidence to prove that, and no indication of what we should do about it. Of course, I’m sure Dr. Farley will think of something to do about it, since the New York City Health Department is trying to take over every aspect of our lives. Sure, they successfully reduced smoking rates down to 16%, which is a great accomplishment, but you can’t extrapolate those methods to every health problem.”
September 15th, 2009
Borlaug as Rap, CPSIA vs. Toys, FDA vs. Rx, CDC on Hearts, plus Flu
By Curtis Porter
A Touching Paean
ACSH staffers were amused by a musical tribute to our late Trustee and friend Dr. Norman Borlaug. “The Norman Borlaug Rap” is performed by Rohan Prakash, son of C.S. Prakash, a Professor of Plant Molecular Genetics at Tuskegee University. It tells the story of Norman’s life and research, adding, “Norman Borlaug, you may be/ The greatest man in history/ Using science and your brain/ To stamp out hunger, woe, and pain.”
Dr. Ross in NRO
ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross writes in National Review Online's healthcare feature about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which imposes draconian regulations on small businesses in support of the unscientific assumption that lead and other chemicals are toxic at any dose:
_The law gives no leeway for a reasoned, scientific analysis of the real risk to children posed by the lead in products…and instead goes down the path of unscientific, zero-tolerance hysteria. Nonetheless, despite the vehement objections of consumers and makers of children’s products, those responsible for this abhorrent bill refuse to consider modifying it. They should be ashamed_.
Jeff Stier and Dr. Miller on Pharmaceutical Regulation
ACSH’s Jeff Stier and ACSH Trustee Dr. Henry Miller of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution teamed up in the Washington Times to warn of the dangers of overregulation of the pharmaceutical industry:
[G]reater safety is not synonymous with more stringent regulation. In fact, net benefit to patients is often compromised by excessively risk-averse regulatory policies that hinder the use of important products or unnecessarily delay their availability. That is evident today in current trends in the regulation of pharmaceuticals.
Stier also continues to follow the latest news on his Twitter account at http://twitter.com/JeffACSH:
Our Twitter followers were among the first to hear of Dr. Borlaug’s passing, and we Tweeted many of the sentiments from fans around the globe…We were gratified that his name was trending, i.e., a top ten popular phrase at the time which gets lots of attention.
Researchers with the CDC reported yesterday that 90% of American adults have at least one risk factor for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, smoking, being overweight, and exercising too little. “This is bad news,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “We were making so much progress with heart disease, but the creeping obesity epidemic is inhibiting that progress. Many of these risk factors are associated with obesity.”
Gaston De Serres, a scientist at the Institute of Public Health in Quebec, presented one of several studies yesterday at an American Society for Microbiology conference that suggest that the H1N1 flu virus may be contagious for a longer period of time than the seasonal flu, perhaps even many days after a patient’s fever breaks. “This study shows you're not contagious for a day or two. You're probably contagious for about a week,” he told the Associated Press.
“We’ve always argued that if you do come down with H1N1, you should stay home until the day after your fever breaks so you’re not contagious,” says Dr. Whelan. “Apparently, that’s not good enough. The CDC hasn’t come out with any new recommendations to change their advice about how long people should stay home, yet, but this could have some effect on how widespread this virus will be in the coming flu season.”
September 14th, 2009
Dr. Norman Borlaug, R.I.P.
By Curtis Porter
Remembering the Man Who Fed the World
ACSH staffers are deeply saddened today by the passing of ACSH Founding Director and Trustee Dr. Norman Borlaug. Dr. Borlaug was known as the Father of the Green Revolution for his agricultural innovations, which have saved an estimated one billion lives to date. His contributions to science and humanity earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, a Congressional Gold Medal, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other awards, though he lived a life of relative anonymity for a man of his influence.
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan writes, "Dr. Norman Borlaug has to be the most significant human being born in the twentieth century — but so few people have even heard of him. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 (the Nobel team called about 6am, but Norman was already in the field, his hands in the soil — his wife had to drive in the dark to find him to tell him the news, which he did not believe)…
"Yet he was so humble and down to earth. He would regularly call me at ACSH and tell me what a great job I was doing to defend sound science. Each of these calls inevitably reduced me to tears. Dr. Borlaug was telling me that I was doing a good job?! Almost two years ago — on the day of his ninety-fourth birthday — he called to say he was in town and asked if he could come over. We dashed to the bakery across the street to get a cake and candles — and had a great celebration in our conference room as Norman lectured us on the looming dangers of wheat rust."
The New York Times obituary tells the story of his dedication to his research: "He spent countless hours hunched over in the blazing Mexican sun as he manipulated tiny wheat blossoms to cross different strains. To speed the work, he set up winter and summer operations in far-flung parts of Mexico, logging thousands of miles over poor roads. He battled illness, forded rivers in flood, dodged mudslides, and sometimes slept in tents."
There are still those, however, who question the value of Dr. Borlaug's achievements. As the Wall Street Journal notes, "In later life, Borlaug was criticized by self-described 'greens' whose hostility to technology put them athwart the revolution he had set in motion. Borlaug fired back, warning in these pages that fear-mongering by environmental extremists against synthetic pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, and genetically modified foods would again put millions at risk of starvation while damaging the very biodiversity those extremists claimed to protect. In saving so many, Borlaug showed that a genuine green movement doesn't pit man against the Earth, but rather applies human intelligence to exploit the Earth's resources to improve life for everyone."
"He was fighting for humanity and for the Earth as opposed to a political or environmentalist agenda," explains ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. "Part of the reason he is so little known is because he was so modest, kind, and humble. He was completely unassuming, not arrogant at all. The only time he ascended the podium was to fight against junk science and those who demonized the life-saving technologies of the modern food industry. Only when he took the mantle of science upon himself was he confrontational."
"I agree," adds long-time ACSH staffer and Associate Director Cheryl Martin. "He exuded compassion and humility, and it was always an honor to be in his presence. Whenever he visited ACSH, I was nourished by his wisdom, passion, and dedication. He always took time to praise and emphasize the importance of the work we do at ACSH. He certainly will be missed, but I know his work and his message lives on."
As he said in his Nobel Lecture, Dr. Borlaug remained optimistic for the future of mankind, who he called a "potentially rational being." He encouraged that rationality in facing the world's problems, and he proved that it could be used to make a dramatic difference. Now, in his absence, ACSH strives to continue his work of promoting the responsible use of science to improve the human condition, just as we have done since he helped found our organization over thirty years ago.
There is sadness here at ACSH for the loss of our friend, but we, too, remain optimistic, and as we carry on Dr. Borlaug's tradition of rationality and concern for our fellow man, we remember the words of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee upon the selection of Dr. Borlaug as a laureate: "[M]ore than any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."
September 11th, 2009
Blame Game, Gardasil, BPA in CA, Flu Shots, Single Dose
By Curtis Porter
Blaming Big Pharma
A poll conducted in August reveals that as many as 84% of Americans blame the pharmaceutical industry for many of the shortcomings of our healthcare system. “This is truly outrageous,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “But it’s just another example of how the pharmaceutical industry has been totally unsuccessful in telling its story. In fact, prescription drugs actually reduce the cost of healthcare. Statins, for example, lower risk factors for coronary heart disease as an alternative to the high costs of angioplasties and coronary bypass procedures with their attendant long-term hospitalizations.”
Gardasil Approved For Males
An FDA Advisory Panel voted to recommend the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil for males aged 9 to 26, the same age range for which it is currently recommended to prevent cervical cancer in women. “This is really good news,” says Dr. Whelan. “Males can benefit from Gardasil, not only to prevent genital warts, but also to protect from penile and anal cancers. Plus, if a male is protected from HPV, he is much less likely to transmit it to his female partners.”
“I think this is just the early phase of learning the benefits of HPV protection,” adds Dr. Ross. “Recent data has shown that HPV is also associated with oral and throat cancers. More good news occurred this week when the FDA panel ruled that the GSK HPV vaccine, Cervarix, is effective. Such competition will likely lower prices for these important vaccines, expanding access to them–another example of countering those who argue against allowing 'me-too' drugs.”
Commonsense Still Alive in California
A California Assembly delayed a final vote on a bill that would ban bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles and infant formula and baby food containers yesterday. The issue may be revisited today. BPA has never been proven toxic to humans at current levels of exposure.
“Maybe there is still a modicum of commonsense in California,” says Dr. Whelan. “Note how emotional the testimony was — the claims made against BPA are outrageous. No one talked about the health benefits of BPA, such as its role in curbing botulism and other food contamination in BPA-lined cans. Let's hope that this bill is judged on sound science — and that a ban is rejected.” Dr. Ross reminds us that the board of California scientists who rule on whether or not to list chemicals on their Prop. 65 warnings gave a pass to BPA a few weeks ago. This was pleasantly surprising, given the activist campaign raging against BPA in the state.
Good News, Good Advice, Bad News
Five million doses of an inhaled H1N1 vaccine produced by MedImmune may be ready for shipment to the U.S. government by the end of September. For the time being, authorities say the time to get the vaccine for seasonal flu is now, well in advance of the predicted onslaught of novel H1N1. Unfortunately, there seems to be some delay in distributing the seasonal vaccine, although there are plenty of doses already made.
One Dose May Work
Researchers in Australia, whose study was published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, have determined that one dose of the H1N1 flu vaccine could be enough to immunize adults against the virus. “This is really good news,” says Dr. Whelan. “It essentially doubles the availability of H1N1 influenza doses. Also, it cuts down on the manpower needed to administer the shots.”
Dr. Ross notes, “It's a shame that the millions of doses of seasonal flu vaccine we know have been produced are not already available for us, as advised by all the public health authorities, and as we have advised numerous times as well. But the new study supporting the effectiveness of one dose of ‘swine flu’ (H1N1) vaccine is good news indeed.”
September 10th, 2009
Supplements, Vivus, Salt, and Decreased Infant Mortality
By Curtis Porter
Epiphany from Overseas: Don’t Eat Toxic Supplements
ACSH staffers were pleased to read that Prof. Brian Ratcliffe, the program leader of nutrition and dietetics at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, declared dietary supplements to be mostly ineffective, and sometimes dangerous if overused. “He generally condemned supplements that have never been shown to be effective,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “He also pointed out that some vitamins, such as A and C, can be toxic. Vitamins A and D, since they accumulate in fatty tissue, can also be toxic when taken in excess. All supplements should be discussed with a doctor.”
“Folic acid is an exception,” adds ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “It has been shown to prevent birth defects, and it is not uncommon to recommend that pregnant women take folate. But these people who take, for example, vitamin A — which is a fat-soluble vitamin that can accumulate — can cause health problems for themselves. Some of these supplements are absolutely dangerous, but it’s a huge business, and many people are very dedicated to their supplements.”
The National Association of Health Stores issued a statement in response to the professor’s verdict: “[I]f you are ill, smoke, drink alcohol, or exposed to environmental toxins such as traffic fumes, your body benefits from a higher intake of vitamins and minerals and of course, if you are eating less than a certain number of calories such as when you are dieting, it is more difficult to get the nutrients you need from food.”
“So the health food store folks say that anyone who is trying to lose weight or is exposed to traffic fumes should be purchasing their products,” says Dr. Ross. “Of course, that is chicanery.”
For more information, see ACSH’s publication on drug-supplement interaction.
According to a post on the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog, the pharmaceutical producer Vivus announced yesterday that “patients in two late-stage clinical trials of its investigational drug, Qnexa, demonstrated statistically significant weight loss compared to placebo.” This is one of several diet drugs soon to be vying for FDA approval.
“We like to emphasize that pharmaceutical innovation could play a major role in dealing with the obesity problem,” says Dr. Whelan. “A lot of these drugs are very promising.”
For more information, see ACSH’s publication on obesity and food technology.
Latest Enemy: Salt
The non-profit research organization RAND published a study in the American Journal of Health Promotion suggesting that billions of dollars in healthcare expenses could be saved if Americans limited their sodium intake to the recommended 2,300 mg per day.
“This is based on mathematical modeling,” says Dr. Ross. “It’s a couple of steps removed even from a meta-analysis, so I find these estimates to be pretty pie-in-the-sky. They also neglect to mention how difficult it is to stick to a low sodium diet.”
Dr. Whelan adds, “If this whole thing was about screening for hypertension, we would be for it. Hypertension is under-diagnosed and dramatically under-treated in this country. Millions of Americans have undiagnosed hypertension and have no idea the health problems it could cause. If we would focus on that instead of talking only about salt, it would be a more effective way to address these healthcare issues.”
Piping in from the West Coast, ACSH’s Jeff Stier agrees, noting what type of grain we should take this study with.
Infant Mortality on the Decline
The New York Times reports, “The number of children dying before their fifth birthdays each year has fallen below nine million for the first time on record, a significant milestone in the global effort to improve children’s chances of survival, particularly in the developing world, according to data that Unicef will release on Thursday.”
“A number of studies in Lancet have also focused on this issue,” says Dr. Ross. “One thing they frequently mention, besides improved sanitation, is the availability of bed nets to protect from malaria.”
September 9th, 2009
Dr. Rosen on Organic, FDA, Booze, Soda, EWG
By Curtis Porter
Dr. Rosen and the History of Organic
ACSH advisor Dr. Joseph Rosen, Emeritus Professor of Food Toxicology at Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, takes an in-depth look at the history of the debate about nutrition and organic food in the latest issue of HealthFactsandFears: “Organic food proponents are so concerned with distinguishing their products from conventional food that they have campaigned against useful practices such as food irradiation and genetic engineering. In addition, organic food proponents cause unnecessary guilt and angst in parents who cannot afford to buy overpriced … organic food for their children.”
FDA Gets Modern
Yesterday, the FDA launched an electronic registry that will allow food companies to quickly report contamination to the federal government. “This will ensure that officials are alerted much sooner,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, “so that hopefully we can reduce the frequency and toll of food-borne illness.”
“We’ve heard before that certain contaminations had been going on for weeks or months before there was any official notification,” adds ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Now there is a methodology in place to correct that.”
Brits and Booze
The British Medical Association (BMA) has called for a ban on advertising for alcoholic beverages, and is considering both taxes and price floors for the products in order to curb alcohol consumption. As reported by Reuters, “the BMA said Britain had developed an ‘excessively pro-alcohol social norm,’ of which young people's binge-drinking was a predictable manifestation, boosted by cheap prices and targeted sweetened drinks.”
“This is supposed to be a way of stopping alcohol abuse,” says Dr. Whelan. “I don’t buy it. People who are addicted to alcohol are not going to stop when they stop seeing advertisements or have to pay a few extra dollars per bottle.”
“This might help to reduce increasing amount of consumption in young people,” adds Dr. Ross. “I don’t know how effective that would be, or whether it’s simply a money grab. One thing we know is that it will not have any significant impact on people who abuse alcohol.”
Obama and Soda
ACSH staffers were disappointed when we read in the Kansas City Star about President Obama’s take on the idea of taxing soda: “‘I actually think it's an idea that we should be exploring … There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda. And every study that's been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else. Obviously it's not the only factor, but it is a major factor.’”
“There is no evidence that taxing soda will decrease obesity rates among children,” says Dr. Whelan. “If they were actually interested in promoting healthier diets, they would recommend diet soda, which would lower calorie intake, but they don’t do that.”
“Ever since the President resorted to the ‘cheap blue pill vs. expensive red pill’ analogy, and said that doctors tend to perform unnecessary surgeries on children to boost their income, I don’t really trust his positions on healthcare economics,” says Dr. Ross. “And this is a good example. It's a simplistic solution to a complex problem. Sure, a soda tax would increase revenue, but they like to rail on all soda as a cause of obesity and then promote orange juice, which still has a lot of calories. Juice is not a solution just because it has a tiny amount of vitamins in it. A better answer is lower calorie drinks.”
EWG’s Ranking System
An article in USA Today relates the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) epiphany that some cell phones emit more radiation than others.
“The article refers to EWG as a ‘government watchdog’ group, rather than a radical group that exists to manufacture scares,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “Their technique of rating exposures is brilliant and sinister. It’s brilliant in that it lures the media — they love reporting that one thing is higher than the other — even though it tells us absolutely nothing. Of course, if all cell phones emitted the exact same level of radiation, then that would be more newsworthy.
“This is just like the so called ‘Dirty Dozen’ scare campaign, which lists the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues. It gets media attention, but doesn't make any specific claims about effects. But that is certainly the purpose: to scare people away from the ‘highest exposure’ items, whether they are cell phones or peaches.”
September 8th, 2009
Wars on Drug Companies, Sugar, High Blood Pressure, and HPV
By Curtis Porter
Jeff and Dr. Miller Strike Again
ACSH’s Jeff Stier has once again teamed up with ACSH Trustee and Hoover Institution Fellow Dr. Henry Miller to pen an article for Forbes.com about the impracticality of cost-reduction strategies currently proposed alongside healthcare reform: “At the crux of cost-control in health care is where — and where not — to cut expenditures…The reduction of healthcare costs at the expense of drug companies’ ability to perform research and development would be penny-wise but pound-foolish.”
War on Sugar Continues
The Smart Choices food-labeling program that designates healthy foods per government dietary guidelines has endorsed sweetened cereals such as Froot Loops as healthy breakfast options. According to Eileen T. Kennedy, president of the Smart Choices board and the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, as reported in the New York Times, “Froot Loops qualifies for the label because it meets standards set by the Smart Choices Program for fiber and vitamins A and C, and because it does not exceed limits on fat, sodium, and sugar.”
“In defense of Froot Loops, they’re a healthier choice than eating a chocolate donut and a Red Bull for breakfast,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “You can’t forget that many of these breakfast cereals are highly fortified with important nutrients. It just shows that people have this false dichotomy in their minds about ‘good food’ and ‘bad food,’ and any sweetened cereal will automatically get labeled as bad.”
“It also goes back to this new hysteria about sugar and added sugar,” adds ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Sugar, added or not, has four calories per gram, like all carbohydrates. There is nothing especially harmful about sugar, and no one should demonize a food product because of one ingredient.”
Another Reason to Avoid High Blood Pressure
A new study in the journal Neurology links high blood pressure to cognitive impairments such as memory loss.
“It’s very interesting that high blood pressure could lead to memory loss,” says Dr. Whelan. “There is a sound biological hypothesis here, though. This is another reason to maintain a healthy heart and take blood pressure medication.”
Dr. Ross agrees: “High blood pressure is one of the worst silent killers in this country. It can lead to stroke, kidney failure, and many other health problems. Millions of Americans with high blood pressure are undiagnosed, and many who are being treated are not being treated effectively.”
Gardasil for Males
An FDA report determined that Merck & Co’s Gardasil vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), already approved to protect females aged nine through twenty-six against cervical cancer, is also effective for preventing genital warts in young men and boys, prompting Merck to seek FDA approval of the vaccine for males of the same age range.
“We had a suspicion that this is true, since genital warts are strongly related to HPV,” says Dr. Ross. “And it’s not only genital warts, but also penile cancers, head and other cancers, and other infectious complications of HPV in girls as well. We’re talking about a much wider population benefiting from the use of Gardasil.”
September 3rd, 2009
Mendacity, Multimedia Stier, Homeopathy, and Flu
By Curtis Porter
Labor Day Weekend
ACSH will be closed on Friday, September 3, through Monday, September 7, for Labor Day weekend. Fear not, however, because ACSH’s Jeff Stier never sleeps, and you can follow him all weekend on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JeffACSH.
Seat at the Table
ACSH staffers would like to offer a seat at the table to ACSH Trustee Dr. Henry Miller of Stanford University’s Hoover Institute for his article Activism, Mendacity, and Flawed Science, which explains how “distortion of science has given rise to flawed policies and regulations.”
“It’s almost like a synopsis of our FactsAndFears,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “It’s a brilliant piece.”
Jeff on the Airwaves
Jeff Stier was a guest on the Dennis Prager radio show yesterday. You can listen to the first three segments on YouTube. Topics discussed include healthcare reform and pharmaceuticals, consumer product safety scares, e-cigarettes, and more. “Dennis Prager has one of the biggest audiences in radio,” says Stier. “And, as you’ll hear on the show, he’s a huge fan of ACSH.”
WHO Has an Encounter with Reality
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that homeopathic concoctions are useless for the treatment of tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV. “Welcome to the twentieth century, WHO,” says Dr. Ross. “When they admit that homeopathic remedies are useless for treating every disease, we will welcome them to the twenty-first century.”
Because an MD Without H1N1 News Is No MD at All
Have you heard of this newfangled “H1N1 flu pandemic” thing? Well, just in case it’s not getting enough news coverage, here is a roundup of the latest stories:
Over half of U.S. colleges and universities are reporting cases of H1N1 flu among students, just as everyone expected they would.
The Israeli national airline El Al is refusing to let people exhibiting symptoms of H1N1 flu fly on their airplanes without a note from their doctor that says they’re okay. As is their wont, El Al refuses to disclose their criteria for determining that a passenger may have a communicable illness. So, travelers beware!
A study published by PLoS Currents: Influenza predicts that the H1N1 flu virus will be much more widespread than the seasonal flu, though the two will not combine to form a hideous double-flu or anything like that.
A pilot trial performed by Britain’s Leicester University reveals that, though two doses are still better, one dose of Novartis’ H1N1 flu vaccine was strong enough to give a significant immune response in 80% of subjects.
September 2nd, 2009
Giving, Refraining, Streep-Fighting, Lead-Testing, and Innovating
By Curtis Porter
Thank you! You, our donors, met the matching grant challenge with enthusiasm. Yesterday morning, we met and exceeded the $25,000 goal. As a result, we’ve raised more than $50,000 to promote our shared, sound-science approach to public policy.
“We’d like to give a big ‘thank you’ to all of our donors,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “We blasted through our fundraising goal because of you. Of course, we are also very grateful to the challenge grant donor, who was very gratified with your response to her call.”
Seats at the Table
Two seats at the table go out to Dr. Liz Applegate and Stephanie Carnow, who reacted with due skepticism to the news printed in the Wall Street Journal about the campaign by the American Heart Association (AHA) against added sugar.
Dr. Applegate, Director of Sports Nutrition at UC Davis, correctly notes, “The AHA limits mean most of us are prohibited from having a single can of soda on a hot summer day, a slice of cake at a party, and even a third of a cup of dried cranberries as a snack. ‘Just say no’ won’t get us a slimmer and healthier America. Instead, I suggest the AHA put its muscle behind promoting physical activity.”
Carnow writes that the main culprit in the effort to blame obesity on specific foods or ingredients frequently changes — to no avail — and she concludes, “The only constant is that our obesity rates are rising, and the adage ‘everything in moderation’ is omitted from the conversation.” Well said by both writers.
Dr. Whelan Gets Noticed Up North
ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan recently posted an item on HealthFactsAndFears in response to Meryl Streep’s spurious attacks on Julia Child and ACSH. Now, Dr. Whelan’s account has been transformed into an op-ed in Canada’s National Post so that she can set the record straight across North America.
What Do Lipstick and the White House Garden Have in Common?
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a satellite site whose origins arise from the scare experts at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), issued a press release yesterday claiming that some brands of lipstick contain lead in amounts up to four times what was previously reported — which would still only be about 3% of the maximum allowable lead content recently established by the over-cautious Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act.
“This is made to look like a Reuters news story, but it’s a paid press release from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,” says Stier. “This will not get picked up by any newspapers because it’s not an accurate article. They cite ‘health experts’ who say lead in any amount is dangerous. When our Morning Dispatch readers see the phrase ‘dangerous in any amount,’ they know we’re dealing with an activist rather than science-based approach.”
The press release quotes Dr. Sean Palfrey, medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, who says, “[R]ecent science suggests that there is truly no safe lead exposure for pregnant women.”
“Where was Dr. Palfrey when the White House organic garden was feeding children produce from soil that contained lead?” asks Stier. “I know there was no warning then that pregnant women shouldn’t be eating White House produce, and they were actively feeding it to young children. Where were all the activists, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and Dr. Palfrey when the White House said there _is_ such a thing as a safe level of lead, at least with regard to their garden? As for any hope that the White House will similarly defend the safety of lipstick, you can kiss that one goodbye.”
ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross adds, “I would defy anyone at EWG to measure lead levels of women who use these lipstick brands and those who don’t and see if there is any relation in blood lead levels based on lipstick.”
Recently, Dr. Tadataka Yamada, President of Bill and Melinda Gate’s Global Health Program, wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that “rich countries have a responsibility to stand in line and receive their vaccine allotments alongside poor countries, even if they have paid for their vaccine before others could do so,” and that, for vaccine manufacturers, “full adherence to a tiered pricing scheme in which the cost to the purchaser is proportionate to its ability to pay is essential.”
“It is free market systems, not forced product giveaways, that drive life-saving treatments,” says Stier. “So if we are going to discuss moral obligations, we should turn the tables and argue for more free market governments around the world. This would set free the minds and capabilities of millions around the world who can come up with innovative pharmaceuticals to prevent and cure today’s current scourges, as we have done the past fifty-plus years.
“Americans are not proportionally smarter that the rest of the world population, we just have a system that (somewhat) allows people to innovate and be rewarded for it. Imagine if all of the world’s population were able to toil in the same relatively free market environment. We’d have many more life-saving medications, and the prices would be driven down naturally.
“The Gates foundation would save more lives if they advocated that people were actually treated equally and given the opportunities we have in the U.S. rather than advocate for a piecemeal reversal of the system that fosters life-saving drug development in the first place.”
Prager, Streep, RJR and Lorillard, Cola, Prostates, and MS
Tune in Tomorrow
ACSH’s Jeff Stier will be on the Dennis Prager radio show tomorrow, Wednesday, September 2nd, at 12:20pm (Eastern Time) to discuss the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and e-cigarettes. Check your local listings and tune in.
Rallying Behind Dr. Whelan and Julia Child
ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan is very appreciative of the outpouring of support following her rebuttal of Meryl Streep’s calumnious interview about Julia Child: “We have received a tremendous response to our refutation of Meryl Streep’s outrageous charges against Julia Child and ACSH. Most of them congratulate us for taking on this unscientific, misguided actress.” One ACSH Advisor wrote, “You should take heart from the quote attributed to Gandhi: ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’”
FDA Law Predictably Flawed
ACSH staffers were not surprised to hear that tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard have filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging that advertising restrictions imposed by the new FDA tobacco law are in violation of the companies’ First Amendment right to free speech.
“There are certain first amendment protections that even companies have,” says Stier, wryly. “The really interesting aspect of the FDA law is a restriction on tobacco companies’ ability to say truthful things about their products, including relative risks of tobacco products. Essentially, this law gives cigarettes a free ride, because it [implies] that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are equal, implying smokeless tobacco is as harmful as cigarettes, or, conversely, that cigarettes are as low-risk as smokeless.”
ACSH Advisor Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health predicts that many of the provisions of the bill will be invalidated as unconstitutional as a result of the lawsuit. ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees: “When the law was first proposed two years ago, we predicted that advertising restrictions would eventually be stricken from the bill as a violation of free speech, leaving only provisions that protect cigarettes from competition.”
Cola in the Crosshairs
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has initiated an advertising campaign to “urge New Yorkers to cut back on sugary beverages and quench their thirst with water, seltzer, or low-fat milk instead.”
“It is true that many people either do not acknowledge or underestimate the amount of calories that you can drink,” says Dr. Whelan. “They think food is the only source of calories, but there can be a lot in drinks too. Of course, there are equally valid arguments that you can get too many calories from apple or orange juice, but the ads don’t target those. And why aren’t diet sodas mentioned? They are a perfectly good substitute. This is just about politics, not health.”
Stier agrees: “There are two issues when comparing juice to sodas. One is obesity, in which case drinking soda or juice can be equally bad. The other is a nutrition issue. Juice is more nutritious, but there are not many people in New York City who rely on juice for their daily value of nutrients. Some people think, ‘Juice has more nutrition, so I’ll drink more of it,’ when it is actually just providing more calories than they need.”
The Cost of Prevention
Dr. H. Gilbert Welch of the VA Outcomes Group in White River Junction, Vermont, has a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealing that routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening for prostate cancer has resulted in more than 1 million U.S. men being diagnosed with tumors who might otherwise have suffered no ill effects from them.
“This is a discussion of previous studies, and Dr. H. Gilbert Welch is a very well-respected, well-known skeptic on the value of PSA testing as a screening tool,” says Dr. Ross. “It’s true that prostate cancer death rates are going down, and that may be due to PSA screening, but when you realize that you have to treat at least twenty people to save one life, it should be put into perspective. According to this study, 1.3 million people have been treated who didn’t need to be, and all the treatments for prostate cancer are no fun.”
“This is a good example of how some prevention efforts do not save money and hardship in the long run,” says Stier.
Dr. Ross agrees: “Any preventative efforts that warrant surgical intervention will turn out to be expensive — even those that actually do save lives in the long run.”
Smoking, Smokeless, and MS
Dr. Anna K. Hedstrom of the Karolinska Institutet and her colleagues have a study published in the journal Neurology indicating that smoking increases the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) by up to 80%, whereas snuff-users are actually at a 20% reduced risk of the disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the central nervous system.
“This is just one study, and case-control studies are not the most reliable,” says Dr. Ross, “but these are still very interesting results. This could be yet another case for harm reduction with smokeless tobacco.”
August 31st, 2009
Dr. Whelan and Julia, Cheap Food, 10% of NY with H1N1, Lung Cancer Test
By Curtis Porter
Dr. Whelan (and Julia Child) vs. Meryl Streep
ACSH staffers were outraged by an interview with Meryl Streep in the UK’s Telegraph in which the star of the Julia Child biopic “Julie and Julia” vilified the character she plays for refusing to participate in Streep’s scare-mongering group: “‘[Julia Child] was very resistant and she brushed us off quite brusquely … I remember being so disappointed that she was in the thrall of something called the American Council for Science and Health.’”
“I knew Julia Child well,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, “and I knew how much she despised Meryl Streep because of how Streep terrified consumers about the safety of their food. Posing as a toxicologist, the actress even orchestrated the great Alar scare of l989. Friends have been encouraging me to tell my story, given the irony that Streep now plays Julia in ‘Julie and Julia,’ but I declined to do so because it was a negative story. Over the weekend, however, Meryl Streep brought the issue to light — so I now feel free to tell the whole story.”
The Dangers of Plentiful, Affordable Food
About a week ago, TIME published an article lambasting the food industry for producing cheap food: “The U.S. agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably cheap prices. But it does so at a high cost to the environment, animals and humans.” ACSH’s Jeff Stier asks, “What do critics of the costs of cheap food want? Would expensive food make everything better? This is an incredibly unbalanced article.”
In response to the article, the American Meat Institute is urging state agriculture commissioners, secretaries and directors to contact the editors of TIME magazine to express their disappointment with the obvious bias. “The meat industry is encouraging people in the agricultural sector to fight back, and point out all the positive things they’re doing to make more nutrient-dense foods,” says Stier. “It’s good that they’re standing up for themselves in a time when the food industry is constantly under attack. Even the term ‘industrial agriculture’ – which describes hard-working Americans who are responsible for most of our food supply – is becoming a bad word. ACSH Founding Trustee Dr. Norman Borlaug often emphasizes that organic farming could never supply sufficient food to sustain the world’s population.”
New Estimates: 10% of New Yorkers Had H1N1 Flu
CDC head and former New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden said on Sunday that ten percent of New Yorkers were infected with the H1N1 flu virus during the spring.
“If you extrapolate this ten percent figure to the remainder of the US, you would guess that approximately thirty million people around the country have had H1N1,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Current estimates for nationwide infections are about 'over one million,' so if this figure is correct, New Yorkers must be especially susceptible to H1N1. Of course, there’s no way Dr. Frieden can know this for sure, it’s just a guess, but in some ways it would be good news for the recurrence of H1N1 in the fall. If more people were infected, that means fewer people are susceptible now because of so-called ‘herd immunity,’ which means that it is less likely that it will spread since more people are now immune.”
“Also, if more people had the flu than was previously thought, we know that those who died from it represent an even smaller percentage of those infected,” says Stier.
Lung Cancer Breathalyzer
According to a small study conducted by Israeli scientists, as reported in Reuters, “A sensor made with gold nanoparticles can detect [chemicals associated with] lung cancer in a patient's breath and may offer a diagnosis before tumors show up on an x-ray.” The device differentiated between healthy patients and those with lung cancer with 86% accuracy in this study–although the total study comprised under 100 subjects.
“This is definitely an interesting result,” says Dr. Ross. “Before being put to use clinically, much larger controlled trials need to be done. Further, you can’t just assume that because it detects lung cancer early that it will save lives. This could lead to people being rushed into treatment before they know how much of a threat there is.”
August 28th, 2009
D-ficiency, Flu Shot or Not, CDC Gets Hip, Jeff’s Story
By Curtis Porter
D is for Deficiency
The September issue of the American Journal of Medicine contains a study suggesting widespread vitamin D deficiencies should be addressed with supplementation.
“Vitamin D is now very ‘in’ right now,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “For the first time there’s this new concern about deficiencies in vitamin D. Five years ago, no one was talking about this, now more and more physicians are testing for vitamin D levels in their patients.”
“Some of the problem is due to our recent avoidance of sunlight,” adds ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “When I was in practice, I never ordered a blood test for vitamin D levels. Until the past few years, our appreciation of the widespread deficiency of this vitamin, and the many clinical ramifications of it, was low, and I'm glad that more research and more aggressive therapeutic approaches are now being initiated when called for. However, since too much vitamin D can be toxic, no one should be taking large doses of it on their own–medical advice is needed.”
To Be (Vaccinated), or Not To Be
ACSH staffers were surprised to see study results published Wednesday in BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, which revealed that less than half of health care workers in Hong Kong are willing to be vaccinated against the novel H1N1 flu , commonly called "swine flu."
“Everyone has been so worried about developing a vaccine and working out the logistics of distributing it,” says Dr. Whelan. “Now, healthcare workers are refusing to get the shots. This is a group that should be very motivated to get it, so their resistance to it is frightening. It’s not a factor we would have considered.”
“Healthcare workers refusing to get the vaccine is so counter-productive it boggles the mind,” says Dr. Ross, “especially when we’re seeing estimates that between one-quarter and one-half of the population could be infected.”
In spite of this news, the results of a telephone survey done by Caravan Opinion Research Corporation on behalf of the American Red Cross provide some consolation: roughly two thirds of Americans polled replied that they would be willing to get the vaccine. “That’s good news,” says Dr. Ross. “Maybe in this case the common population will transmit sound science to the healthcare workers.”
B sure 2 get ur phlu shot, LOL
In other flu news, the CDC is utilizing social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter to spread news about preparing for H1N1 this flu season. “Welcome to the 21st century,” says Dr. Ross. “Communication of this important information should be done by whatever means necessary.”
Double Your Impact
ACSH’s Jeff Stier has a story he would like to share with you: “Something touching happened yesterday morning, right after our Morning Dispatch meeting. A donor called in to our toll-free number to make a $25.00 credit card donation. I happened to answer the phone – and I enjoyed hearing from her. She told me she loves our work – especially Morning Dispatch. But she apologized for not giving more. She said she wished she could give twice as much, but this was all she could do this month, since she supports many other worthy causes. I was surprised, as she sounded truly sorry she couldn't donate more right now at this critical time.
“I reminded her that by giving $25.00, she actually helped us $50.00 worth, since her donation was being matched, dollar for dollar, this month. She felt better knowing that her donation was twice as much. And she asked me to pass along her appreciation to the anonymous donor who issued the challenge grant! My whole day was a bit brighter after that conversation.
“Many of you have asked us to keep you up to date on the status of the August Challenge Grant. So far, our friends have donated more than $20,000 towards our $25,000 goal. As August comes to a close, we are just a few thousand dollars away from taking full advantage of this opportunity. If you haven't yet gotten in on this opportunity to double your donation, it is not too late.
“Please take a moment right now – before time runs out – to donate…you can call Judy D'Agostino here at ACSH, toll-free at 1-866-905-2694. “We'd love to hear from you, but if you call Judy, but please do not apologize. Your donation of any size not only means a lot to us, if you do it today, it will go twice as far.”
August 27th, 2009
Vaccine, the Other Nestle, Tobacco Deaths, Stats, and Health "Reform"
By Curtis Porter
Seat at the Table
ACSH staffers offer a seat at the table to U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who ruled on Wednesday against the bid of the Coalition for Mercury-Free Drugs to prevent pregnant women from receiving flu vaccines that have trace amounts of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal in them.
“Influenza vaccines are the only ones that still contain trace amounts of thimerosal preservatives,” explains ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Without them, they would be much more expensive. Thimerosal has historically been present in vaccines at much higher dosages, from the 1990’s up to 2001, when it was removed from children’s vaccines merely to placate anti-vaccine activists’ unscientific fears. Throughout that time it was thoroughly studied and was determined to have no adverse effects on neurological development.”
“Sound science prevailed,” adds ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “Junk science advocates were spurned.”
For more information, see ACSH’s publication The Promise of Vaccines: The Science and the Controversy.
Response to Dr. Nestle
In her blog in The Atlantic, NYU Professor of Nutrition Dr. Marion Nestle has fallen into the habit of suggesting that ACSH is incapable of objective analysis of public health concerns because we are, in her distorted view, “thoroughly industry-sponsored.”
ACSH’s Jeff Stier wrote to her editors: “Like many of the country’s top non-profits, Dr. Nestle’s NYU included, we accept corporate donations, with no strings attached. But we also receive significant support from individuals and foundations. Her misleading description of us suggests that we represent industry. We do not. We are advised by some of the nation’s leading scientists and represent consumers.
“By way of this email, I ask for a conspicuous and fair correction. We are happy to engage on the issues Dr. Nestle writes about, but her attacks on us are below someone of her stature. We’d prefer an informed and enlightening discussion of the issues, not underhanded and unfounded attacks on credibility.”
“Apparently, Dr. Nestle believes that your opinions are irrelevant, since they diverge from her ideological agenda,” says Stier. “We represent you, consumers, who want science rather than ideology informing public health decisionmaking. Does she really think that consumers are so monolithic that they either agree with her or are put up to it by some sinister entity?”
Tobacco to Claim 6 Million
According to the Tobacco Atlas from the World Lung Foundation and American Cancer society, as cited in a Reuters report, global cancer experts estimate that 6 million people will die from tobacco-related illness next year. “If you read the article, it’s mostly about smoking,” says Dr. Ross, “but the headline just says ‘tobacco.’ An overwhelming majority of tobacco-related deaths are from cigarette smoking, while only a tiny amount of tobacco-related mortality comes from less harmful means of tobacco use, such as smokeless tobacco.”
Dr. Whelan, a well-versed historian of tobacco-related issues, points out, “Cigarettes are a fairly new product, introduced to U.S. after World War I. Prior to that, tobacco was used relatively safely, but mass-production of cigarettes and portable matches led the massive increase in cigarette use in the twentieth century — a situation only slowly being reversed within the last twenty years. The advent of cigarettes drastically increased mortality.”
Dr. Schwitzer on the Power of Perception
Dr. Gary Schwitzer of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication pointed out a pair of studies on his blog yesterday that show how “healthcare decisionmaking can be distorted by how risk/benefit data are presented.”
“This post is interesting because it shows how patients make decisions based on how their doctors present information to them,” says Stier. “The same rationale would likely apply to how the media presents risk/benefit information about public health and environmental risks. This is why we try to monitor and respond to information presented through the media. Often, the same information can be portrayed in a different way and have a huge impact on the public perception of risk.”
Dr. McCaughey vs. Dr. Emmanuel
ACSH Trustee Dr. Betsy McCaughy has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which she enumerates and documents the opinions of Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, health adviser to President Obama, concerning a variety of controversial healthcare issues that arise in the discourse on reform.
“Dr. Emmanuel said she quoted him out of context, so this is her reply,” says Dr. Whelan. “We’re proud of her. She nailed him.”
August 26th, 2009
Dr. Whelan on Dr. Nancy, CARB, SIGG, HPV
By Curtis Porter
Dr. Whelan and Dr. Sass on Dr. Nancy
ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan appeared on MSNBC’s Dr. Nancy yesterday opposite Dr. Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to discuss the recent article in the New York Times about the herbicide atrazine in drinking water.
“Dr. Sass’ main argument was that atrazine is not necessary,” says Dr. Whelan. “It wouldn’t be so widely used if it wasn’t necessary.” ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees, “I don't think that Dr. Sass should be telling farmers what they need or do not need. Farmers are the ones who should determine if herbicides are necessary. If the government tried to micromanage farming techniques and adversely affected crop yield, people would be up in arms about big government intervention, but I guess NRDC thinks they can get away with dictating agricultural methods because they're an 'environmental' group."
Friday’s March on Sacramento
ACSH Trustee Dr. James Enstrom of UCLA has been instrumental in the effort against junk science regulation in California. He wrote to inform ACSH about ongoing offenses against industry and science perpetrated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which he recently discussed at the August 1, 2009 Forum on CARB Diesel Science in Ontario, CA.: “Evidence was presented by five scientists (including myself) about how CARB has misused air pollution epidemiology to pass draconian diesel vehicle regulations. These regulations are hurting the trucking and construction industries in California and contributing to the very bad California economy … This issue is directly relevant to the Friday, August 28, 2009 March on Sacramento: Save California from Big Government Eco-Regulation.”
“California is usually host to rallies for more regulation,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier, “but CARB has pushed the limit too far, so now the pro-science people are finally responding with the March on Sacramento this Friday. There’s a groundswell of opposition to this unscientific overregulation. One interesting aspect of this is that industry is not defending itself in these cases. That’s the nature of the problem: industry will eventually cave if it thinks its positions are unpopular. If enough pro-science people like us go out, rally, and make some noise, they will realize that there is a constituency of people who do not agree with bad science, and that they shouldn’t cave to expensive restrictions that do not improve safety or health.”
Case in Point
Stier’s assessment of industry’s acquiescence to irrational consumer fears proves accurate in the case of the aluminum bottle producer SIGG, which has agreed to remove bisphenol-A (BPA) from its bottles despite a total lack of evidence that the chemical poses any threat to consumers.
“SIGG CEO Steve Wasik says very clearly that there is no evidence that BPA in cans poses any risk,” says Dr. Whelan. “He acknowledges that he is only going along with this because ‘the consumer is king, and perception is reality.’ In other words, ‘Science doesn’t matter anyway, so when people get scared we change.’ That is a frightening way to look at things, and it can bring companies down in the end.”
HPV Vaccine and Penile Cancer
Doctors from the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona determined that half of penile cancer cases are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and therefore the risk of these uncommon but devastating cancers can likely be reduced by extant HPV vaccines used to prevent cervical cancer.
“Most people don’t understand the spectrum of diseases caused by HPV,” says Dr. Whelan. “The focus is always on cervical cancer, but that is just one example. The problem is that people don’t normally associate viruses and cancer, since all the media hype always insists, ‘cancer is caused by chemicals in the environment,’ despite the total lack of evidence that this is true. What a miracle that we have a vaccine to protect us from all these virus-induced diseases.”
“This is a good example of absolute risk versus relative risk,” says Stier. “Penile cancer is very uncommon, so vaccinating males as well as females will not accomplish much in that sense. But if a young man gets the vaccine to protect himself from penile cancer, there are also secondary and tertiary benefits in terms of protecting his sexual partners from transmitted HPV and its attendant risk of cervical cancer.” Dr. Ross adds, “And there is accumulating evidence that HPV is also a significant cause of oral and pharyngeal cancers.”
“So,” Stier concludes, “while we don't like the ‘ends justifies the means’ approach to public health, this is a rare example where a failure to understand risk might actually improve public health. ”
August 25th, 2009
Sugar, Armageddon, and Mixed Messages
By Curtis Porter
Bad Advice, Sugar-Coated
ACSH staffers were troubled by the latest travesty of nutritional science, made even worse in this case because it is being promulgated by the American Heart Association, who we believe should know better. Reuters reports: “Americans need to cut back dramatically on sugar consumption, the American Heart Association said on Monday…Too much sugar not only makes Americans fat but also is a key culprit in diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, according to the report.”
“The reporter notes that this will rile the food industry,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Of course it will rile the food industry. What the article does not mention is the fact that this is likely to rile anyone who knows about science and nutrition and who is trying to combat obesity. Ingesting sugar, added or otherwise, does not cause obesity, nor does it cause diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Unnecessarily high calorie intake is the cause of obesity. Sugars and other carbohydrates contain the same number of calories per gram as proteins. Fats contain more than twice that many.”
The study targets added sugars as the main culprit of dietary excess, but since “U.S. labels on packaged foods do not distinguish between naturally occurring or added sugars,” it is difficult to tell the difference. However, “our bodies can’t tell the difference either,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “Natural and added sugars are nutritionally the same. Added sugar causes obesity as much as the orange juice promoted by the American Heart Association causes obesity.”
President’s Council Predicts Armageddon
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a planning scenario yesterday outlining a plan to deal with the possibility that as many as half of all Americans could be infected with the new H1N1 flu virus, and the death toll may be as high as 90,000.
“What is the practical value of this?” asks ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “What are we supposed to do? Stay home and lock our doors? This is totally counterproductive. The government seems to be in a panic.”
The quote of the day comes from Dr. Peter Gross, chief medical officer of the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, who said, “Influenza, you can make all the predictions you want, but it’s more difficult than predicting the weather. If influenza was a stock, I wouldn’t touch it.”
FDA’s Mixed Messages
According to a Reuters report, “The Food and Drug Administration said on Monday it had received thirty-two reports between 1999 and 2008 of serious liver injury in patients taking [the weight loss drug Xenical from Roche Holding AG or the over-the-counter version ‘Alli’ sold by GlaxoSmithKline], which is known generically as orlistat …People who are taking the drug should continue to use it as directed, the FDA said.”
“Talk about a mixed message,” says Dr. Whelan.
Dr. Ross adds, “How many people do you think have taken this in the past ten years? And they’re making these claims based on thirty-two reports. Of course, we know that drugs given for symptomless diseases and drugs with minimal beneficial effect are more likely to be called into question, but I don’t understand how this tiny number of possibly adverse events even comes into official light in any way. The FDA is just being overly cautious and risk-averse. Benefit and risk have to be weighed. In this case, the benefit — even if it’s small — is known and the risk is minimal, if there is any.”
Circumcision and AIDS
The CDC is considering promoting routine circumcision for all baby boys born in the United States as a means of preventing the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. “We don’t have that much female-to-male HIV being spread in this country,” says Dr. Ross. “The actual health benefit of such a policy would turn out to be minimal, not even considering the ethical concerns.”
“I’m puzzled about why they’re limiting discussion to HIV,” says Dr. Whelan. “This actually applies to many different sexually transmitted diseases.”
August 24th, 2009
Ross on Sliwa, Whelan on Atrazine, Candles, Exercise, and E-Cigs
By Curtis Porter
ACSH in the Media
ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross was spotlighted in Medical Progress Today, the weekly health policy newsletter of the Manhattan Institute, for his article on the political agenda against direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Ross also joined Curtis Sliwa of WABC’s nationwide radio show Curtis Silwa Live on Friday evening in order to discuss the appropriate response to the H1N1 flu.
ACSH’s Jeff Stier once again teams up with ACSH Trustee Dr. Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution, this time in the UK’s Guardian, to explain why the pharmaceutical industry’s health is essential to our health and should not be sacrificed in any healthcare reform legislation.
Prime Candidate for Most Ridiculous Scare Award
ACSH staffers were disappointed to see an article on Saturday by Charles Duhigg of the New York Times crying wolf about levels of the herbicide atrazine in drinking water. ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan attempted some damage control with her blog post on HealthFactsAndFears in response to the false alarm: “Nowadays, when we have so many serious public health risks to face…Duhigg has given top priority to a bogus risk…[H]e hopes that Americans will be demanding zero tolerance for atrazine in the water supply — and we will incur huge expenses to accomplish this dubious goal, with absolutely no resulting health benefits, since there were never any health risks in the first place.”
Mr. Duhigg does make one point correctly: “Officials at the [EPA] say Americans are not exposed to unsafe levels of atrazine. They say that current regulations are adequate to protect human health, and that the doses of atrazine coming through people’s taps are safe — even when concentrations jump.”
“You know a reporter has gone too far when he asserts that the EPA is siding with the chemical industry,” says Stier, “or when he suggests that EPA isn’t regulating industry enough.”
Dr. Whelan agrees: “This is such a clear example of a New York Times reporter turning advocate, ignoring science, and taking an anti-chemical position just to get attention.”
Various Dangers of Candles
According to CNN, researchers at South Carolina State University who studied paraffin candles determined that their emissions may contain toxic chemicals: “The researchers say that lighting a paraffin candle once in a while is unlikely to pose a health threat. However, frequently lighting many candles in an unventilated space could lead to problems, and may aggravate asthma, cause allergy-like symptoms, or irritate the respiratory tract.”
“If you light candles in an enclosed space, some people may have a reaction,” says Dr. Ross, “but the article ignores the main risk of candles, which is fire. It’s a serious risk, and many people die every year because of fires caused by candles.”
Exercise May Be Good For You
A study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concludes that even moderate levels of exercise can extend lifespan.
“You have to read this pretty carefully,” says Dr. Ross. “They analyzed 4,400 adults who were divided into quartiles by fitness level, from the first quartile who exercised the most to the fourth who exercised the least. They found that the third quartile — that is, those who worked out slightly more than the fourth or worst quartile — had half the mortality rate at 13% over the course of nine years compared to the fourth quartile at 25%, when controlled for obesity and diabetes. And the first quartile had half the death rate of the third at 6%. This is a very strong dose-response.”
Dr. Siegel on E-Cigs
ACSH Advisor Dr. Michael Siegel, professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, has an op-ed in Sunday’s Hartford Courant arguing in defense of e-cigarettes in light of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s recent declaration that he was going to make them illegal.
“Dr. Siegel is once again right on target, noting that Blumenthal’s condemnation of the e-cigarette is scientifically baseless,” says Dr. Whelan. “The e-cigarette is far safer than the traditional, ‘real’ cigarette — and Blumenthal and the FDA need to be regularly reminded of this.”
August 21st, 2009
E-Cigs, Souped Up, Swine Flu Advice
By Curtis Porter
ACSH staffers were baffled by the news that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has vowed to ban e-cigarettes, saying that they are no safer than regular cigarettes. “Why would he say that? It’s absolutely false. This man clearly does not understand the situation with this product,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, who recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times arguing for e-cigarettes as an excellent means of harm-reduction and even smoking cessation.
“We’ve become increasingly interested in e-cigarettes as part of our harm reduction work,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “In terms of the risk continuum, they are somewhere between smokeless tobacco and not using tobacco at all, since, well, there is no tobacco in them. They are very far away from cigarettes, at the opposite end of the spectrum. But if you were to believe what the FDA and Richard Blumenthal are telling you, you would think they are as bad as real cigarettes. Anyone who is addicted to smoking and believes this alternative is about as dangerous is going to continue to smoke the more satisfying, real thing.”
Stier brought an e-cigarette to our morning meeting and “lit up” so we could see the device in action. An LED light on the end glows at varying intensity during inhalation to simulate a cigarette’s ember, and propylene glycol (a food additive recognized as safe by the FDA) is vaporized with liquid nicotine to create the very convincing illusion of smoke. Separate, disposable cartridges made to appear like a cigarette’s filter end are sold with variable levels of nicotine — ranging from none to approximately the amount of a cigarette — to aid in weaning one off of nicotine addiction.
Stier, a non-smoker, has enjoyed using the device in public to the confusion of those around him. “Last night I went to a bar for my friend’s birthday and brought the e-cigarette with me,” he says. “I took it out and started ‘smoking’ it, and the bartender immediately yelled, ‘Jimmy!’ trying to get the bouncer to come over. As soon as I unscrewed the filter to show my friend how it works, I heard the bartender yell, ‘Nevermind!’” So there you have it: a promising harm-reduction device and excellent social networking tool.
Campbell’s Quest to be Healthy
After over 110 years of making tomato soup the same way, Campbell’s is changing the recipe to contain less sodium, since, according to the Sacramento Bee, “under federal rules, a food can’t be advertised as ‘healthy’ unless it contains 480 milligrams or less of sodium per serving — exactly what’s in the new Campbell’s tomato soup.”
“They’re talking about changing their flagship soup,” says Dr. Whelan. “If they just put an alternative on the market there’d be no gamble. In the processed food business, this is a big deal.”
So says the article as well: “Salt is an effective and cheap flavor enhancer with no known substitute. Even a 10% cutback can drive a nosedive in a product’s ‘Hedonic Index’ — an industry measure of how much an eater enjoys it.”
Dr. Whelan can vouch for that: “I love tomato juice, and one time I accidentally bought low-sodium tomato juice. It was awful. Lowering the sodium in this soup won’t make anyone any healthier, but I would still give it a try to see if it’s any good. Hopefully it’s not like that juice.” The memory is clearly a painful one. ACSH’s Todd Seavey accidentally bought salt-free pretzels recently, an experience that taught him that pretzels are basically stale bread.
Swine Flu Round-Up
Just in case you were enjoying your Friday, here’s some H1N1 flu news:
•French researchers report that half of deaths from H1N1 have been in high-risk groups such as pregnant women and people with obesity-related illnesses.
•The ever-empathetic CDC is advising college students with H1N1 to stay at home and keep it to themselves.
•According to the WHO, “There will soon be a period of further global spread of the virus, and most countries may see swine flu cases double every three to four days for several months until peak transmission is reached.”
August 20th, 2009
Stossel vs. Landrigan, Whelan vs. Alar Scare, plus Fat, Blame, and Life
By Curtis Porter
Seat at the Table
A seat at the table goes out to John Stossel, co-anchor of ABC News’ 20/20, for speaking out against scaremongering. Not too long ago, ACSH staffers objected to an insidious ad in the New York Times — funded by Mt. Sinai School of Medicine — which featured Dr. Phillip Landrigan reciting a litany of junk science health scares in an attempt to frighten unsuspecting readers.
Stossel sympathized with our outrage: “[Landrigan’s] pitch would frighten the parent in me if I hadn’t reported on such scaremongering for forty years. I’m glad to see that the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) responds to the ad.” Stossel goes on to proclaim that he will no longer donate to Mt. Sinai. We’re pleased to see levelheaded consideration of the source of these scares.
The Story Behind the Story
In light of the recent passing of Don Hewitt, creator of 60 Minutes, ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan relates the story of her interaction with Mr. Hewitt throughout the course of the nation’s biggest junk science panic to date, the Alar scare:
“In February of 1989, 60 Minutes aired its infamous ‘Alar-on-apples’ piece claiming that Alar-treated apples caused cancer in kids. It was an outrageous piece of TV journalism, and ACSH immediately complained. Hewitt agreed to do a follow-up segment with Dr. Bruce Ames and me as guests – but it simply did not set the record straight. For the next ten years, I had correspondence with Mr. Hewitt asking 60 Minutes to apologize for this segment. During that time, famous authorities including Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, the World Health Organization, and more came out saying there was no scientific basis for the Alar scare. I shared these with Mr. Hewitt — and finally won him over. He said the segment was a mistake. But to get an official apology, he said I needed to get Ed Bradley, the show’s producer, to agree it was a mistake. I repeatedly contacted Ed Bradley — and he ignored me. On the very day of the tenth anniversary of the Alar debacle, I was flying from Washington to New York — and Bradley was sitting two rows behind me. I passed him a note saying I was still waiting to hear from him. When we landed, he literally ran off the plane!”
Weight and Expense Gains
ACSH staffers expect an outcry to follow a Reuters article reporting the strain on the healthcare system caused by rampant obesity: “Obese people accounted for 28% of total health care spending in 2001, and 35% in 2006, the researcher found, while normal-weight people’s share of these costs dropped from 35% to 30%.”
“The more we hear about this, the more there’s going to be calls for the government to take action,” says Dr. Whelan.
ACSH’s Jeff Stier agrees: “Those who argue for government intervention will say it will cut costs in the long term, to justify it.”
Blaming Industry Never Goes Out of Style
According to an Associated Press article, a study done by the U.S. Geological Survey determined that mercury is present in at least trace amounts in fish all around the country: “The main source of mercury to most of the streams tested, according to the researchers, is emissions from coal-fired power plants…the Obama administration said it would begin crafting new regulations to control mercury emissions from power plants.”
ACSH’s publication on regulating mercury emissions from power plants addresses these concerns: “First…most mercury emissions come from overseas and would not be impacted by U.S. regulation…Second, while ocean fish account for almost all of most people’s exposure to methylmercury, studies indicate the source of methylmercury in these species is mostly natural in origin…Third, and most importantly, even if the regulation of mercury from electric power plants did decrease mercury emissions and lower blood levels of methylmercury in humans, it must be kept in mind that the current blood levels in the U.S. have not been shown to pose a risk to humans.”
“Fish are part of a healthy diet, and we’re not going to be getting mercury poisoning from eating fish,” says Stier. “This article was only written to buttress the idea that we need to be regulating the power industry.”
Life Expectancy Increases
A government report released yesterday concludes that the average life expectancy in the U.S. has reached an all-time high at seventy-eight. “This certainly flies in the face of all the health scares,” says Dr. Whelan, who once wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal titled “Living Longer and Feeling Worse About it.” One of ACSH’s friends reacted sardonically to the news: “Gosh, what terrible news for the eco-wackos…How can this be happening with all the ‘chemicals’ in the environment?” The good news was conspicuously absent from the New York Times. Gray Lady indeed.
Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).