Salt Assaulted, Smokers Harmed, Food Smelled, Painting Diagnosed

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NYC’s Reduced Sodium Diet

According to the New York Times, “On Monday, the Bloomberg administration plans to unveil a broad new health initiative aimed at encouraging food manufacturers and restaurant chains across the country to curtail the amount of salt in their products.”

“They claim that this will reduce the incidence of high blood pressure, and therefore strokes and heart attacks,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “That is an excellent goal, but only a small percentage of people with blood pressure problems are salt-sensitive. Instead of going after salt in food, I’d promote more regular testing for high blood pressure.”

ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees: “Hypertension is widely under-diagnosed and under-treated. Using a vast scythe to cut sodium in everyone’s diet will not have a significant impact on this problem. While it’s true that it is standard procedure to advise any patient with high blood pressure to go on a sodium-restricted diet, it’s a very difficult diet to stick to, and most of those patients will have to undergo some other form of treatment anyway.”

The Future of Capitalism blog, edited by Ira Stoll, suggests that the proposal serves as “a reminder that, as the government assumes a larger share of health care costs, it is increasingly able to use that as a justification to intrude into personal decisions or private enterprises, whether it’s a matter of smoking policy, trans-fats, or salt.

“The larger the role that government plays in healthcare, the more justification it claims to have regarding personal decisions,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “Whether it is a ban, like that of trans-fats, or even a voluntary plan, like this one, it goes hand in hand with a larger government role in healthcare. The more government involvement in healthcare, the more likely it is to take intrusive steps.”

Conversation (or Lack Thereof) on Harm Reduction

A seat at the table goes to Steven Chapman for his column on about the harm-reduction potential of smokeless tobacco for cigarette addicts.

The topic was conspicuously absent from the discussion in the New York Times about cost-effective ways to quit smoking.

“The Times article says that you should always ask about the success rates of a plan before attempting it, but they don’t mention that the strategies they suggest have one-year success rates of about 15%,” says Dr. Ross. “At no point in this article do they mention the possibility of smokeless or clean nicotine for harm-reduction.”

The article does offer some advice about e-cigarettes, however: “Electronic cigarettes, which dispense nicotine and mimic the act of smoking, are not approved by the FDA. Worse, some have been found to emit harmful toxins. [Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society] advises staying away from these gizmos.”

“Why doesn’t the author finish this sentence?” asks Dr. Whelan. “It should say that he advises staying away from e-cigarettes, so just stick to regular cigarettes. That’s basically what you’re telling people when you ask them not to consider using a cessation technique that is less harmful than cigarettes and may help them quit.”

“It’s true; sticking to real cigarettes will help you avoid all of the ‘harmful toxins’ that may or may not be in e-cigarettes,” adds Dr. Ross, facetiously. “Of course, addicted smokers who fail to quit using FDA approved techniques will have the near-certainty of inhaling the many known toxins in cigarette smoke.”

Cryptic Letter to the Editor

In response to an article in the New York Times about preventing E. coli contamination in beef, one astute reader wrote to the editor:

“If you can smell a chemical in your food, it’s an ingredient.”

That’s the whole letter.

“Why would they publish that?” asks Dr. Whelan. “That might be the most inane letter to the editor I’ve ever seen. And why didn’t the author of the original article ever mention irradiating beef to keep it safe?”

The Da Vinci Diagnosis

Vito Franco, a professor of pathology at the University of Palermo, believes that the model depicted in the Mona Lisa had high cholesterol, based on an apparent subcutaneous accumulation of cholesterol around her left eye.

Dr. Whelan observes, “I guess Mona Lisa needed Lipitor.”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (