Dispatch: Earthquake, BPA, Tobacco Companies' Good Days, Alzheimer's

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Disaster in Haiti
ACSH staffers are distraught by the tragedy in Haiti in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Tuesday evening about sixteen miles outside of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

“The number one concern for the relief effort right now is clean water,” says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “The survivors don't have clean, safe water, and it's horrible to say but the corpses lying around will continue to contaminate what supply there is. Terrible diseases often follow disasters of this sort. Incredible though it seems, there can be more devastation following a disaster than from the disaster itself in terms of the health consequences of not having sanitation facilities and water.”

Dr. Thomas R. DeGregori, professor of economics at the University of Houston, wrote an article for HealthFactsAndFears after Hurricane Katrina about the best way to contribute to disaster relief efforts: “A tragedy is compounded when people with the best intentions attempt acts of kindness that are either wasted or may even be harmful. The professionals will know what supplies are needed and generally will know where to get them if they do not have them at hand...this reinforces the simple proposition that what relief agencies need most is money to acquire what goods they need and make use of what they have.”

“We encourage you to donate to these programs if you can, but be careful to make sure the organization you give to is reputable,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross.

The White House website recommends donating to the Red Cross or Mercy Corps, and the New York online and radio news source 1010 Wins has a comprehensive directory of relief agencies on its website.

BPA and Heart Disease
A new study published by the online journal PLoS One analyzed data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the CDC and claims that previously alleged links between bisphenol-A (BPA) and heart disease were confirmed.

“This is the same group of authors who published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2008 alleging to find links between BPA and heart disease, liver function abnormalities, and diabetes,” says Dr. Ross. “This current study did not replicate results about the latter two conditions even by their own flawed standards, and they only achieved a borderline statistical relationship with heart disease by pooling data from other sources that should not be pooled.

“Contrary to the authors' press release, they can't make a cause and effect link based on this because it's a cross-sectional (one-time) study, the farthest thing from a controlled trial. Further, the number of participants was tiny. And no one has addressed the absence of any biological basis for this ostensible link: if BPA is an 'estrogen mimicker' as these authors believe, why would tiny amounts of it 'cause heart disease'? The whole thing is overblown, and the media that trumpet this story are just hitching their wagon to anti-BPA activist groups.”

“Here we have the FDA teetering on their latest decision about BPA, and they see all these articles talking about heart disease and other bogus connections,” says Dr. Whelan. “They are under a lot of pressure from junk science on this.”

A Leap of Faith
Rival tobacco producers Philip Morris and Reynolds American are independently entreating the FDA to allow them to inform consumers that smokeless tobacco is a less-harmful alternative to cigarettes.

Bill Godshall, the executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania and co-author of ACSH's paper on tobacco harm-reduction told the Winston Salem Journal, “This is truly historic, as the largest tobacco companies are now advocating regulatory policies to reduce cigarette consumption, disease, and death.”

“The problem here is that forty years ago, cigarette makers introduced products that they wanted smokers to think were safer, such as filtered-tip and 'light' cigarettes,” says Dr. Ross. “Of course, study after study confirmed that filters and light cigarettes are not at all safer. Now that cigarette companies try to get regulatory approval for products that actually are less harmful, no one will believe them.”

“It's definitely a leap of faith to side with these tobacco companies on this, even though there's evidence supporting their claims in this case,” says Dr. Whelan. “It's difficult to believe cigarette companies after being steeped in hatred and mistrust of them for so many years, to leave that aside and focus on the data.”

One person who is not willing to do so is Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which teamed up with Philip Morris to write the FDA tobacco law. “We supported the legislation because it's a very strong law that will reduce tobacco use, so it's not surprising that Philip Morris would try to undermine it,” he said.

“How many misleading statements can you compact into one sentence?” asks Dr. Ross. “It's not a strong law, and it's not going to decrease tobacco use. Philip Morris made sure of that when they helped write it.”

Hypertension Drugs and Dementia
A new study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) used to treat high blood pressure may stave off Alzheimer's disease.

“The subjects taking an ARB had a 24% reduced risk compared to those who used other blood pressure or heart medications,” says Dr. Ross. “Normally, this would not cause us to be excited, but with 819,000 people being analyzed over six years, this is clearly highly statistically significant.”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).