Brown Up, Soda Down, Cigarettes Full of Stuff, PCBs Existent, Readers Alert

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Election in Massachusetts
Scott Brown's victory in the U.S. Senate special election in Massachusetts last night may curtail the healthcare reform effort in Congress.

“This is obviously the big story of the day,” says ACSH's Jeff Stier. “The issues we've been following so closely -- including drug re-importation, pharmaceutical innovation, follow-on biologics, etc. -- will certainly be affected by this.”

The Soda Tax Is Back
New York governor David Paterson's proposed budget for fiscal 2011 seeks to impose a $465 million excise tax on the syrup that sweetens soft drinks, ostensibly to offset the state's healthcare expenditures for those with obesity-related diseases.

“Despite the fact that there was an overwhelmingly negative response when Gov. Paterson proposed the soda tax months ago, it's back,” says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “We're not concerned with financial issues like taxes, but in this case they are proposing this tax as a means to solve the obesity problem.”

“There is no evidence to support targeting soda as the main or even a significant cause of obesity in this country,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “And when a politician promises that the funds obtained will be devoted to fighting obesity, we are highly skeptical.”

The Secret Ingredient Is Not So Secret
The FDA is demanding that cigarette manufacturers reveal their formulas for the first time ever in June so that FDA can try to determine which additives make tobacco more harmful or addictive.

“The FDA is missing the main point,” says Stier. “There's one really dangerous ingredient in cigarettes, and it's called 'burning tobacco.' They're worried about additives as if they'll find some other ingredient they can ban and suddenly people will be able to smoke safely.”

“This is a smokescreen,” says Dr. Ross. “It's exactly what we predicted would happen when they passed this misguided law. Listing or even eliminating various ingredients is counterproductive, since it gives people the illusion that cigarettes are safer when they are not.”

EPA Confuses Laboratory Rodents with School Children
Officials at the EPA said yesterday that New York City school officials agreed to test PCB levels in the caulk used in school buildings for violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act's maximum allowable concentration of fifty parts per million.

According to the New York Times, “[W]ith long-term exposure, [PCBs] can cause cancer and affect the immune and reproductive systems when they are released from the caulk into the air or through direct contact, the [EPA] said.”

“That is a horrible statement,” says Dr. Whelan. “It's totally false if you're talking about humans. There has never been a recorded case of cancer associated with PCBs. Of all the things in the world we have to worry about, they're saying kids will get cancer from caulk in window frames. The article pointed out that, not surprisingly, this bizarre and costly effort was spurred by a lawsuit initiated by some self-styled 'environmental' group.”

For more information, see ACSH's publication on PCBs.

Reader Feedback
ACSH staffers would like to address some feedback we have received about some recent Morning Dispatch articles.

In response to yesterday's coverage of the FDA's promise to employ “novel approaches” in their future (re)assessment of BPA, one reader writes, “What concerns me the most, as a toxicologist, is that if 'novel approaches to test for subtle effects' are the new standard by which a food-related ingredient should be assessed, then nothing currently in use can ever really be considered safe.”

“This reader -- a toxicologist -- is absolutely right,” says Dr. Ross. “Some agenda-driven researchers want to throw out established science.”

Dr. Whelan would also like to clarify her letter of support that was published in the _New York Post_ in response to an article criticizing fashion magazines' glorification of plus-sized models:

“I may have come across as insensitive, since they only took a snippet of my letter for the Post,” she says. “One reader wrote in to say I had no sympathy for people struggling with obesity, but actually I do have a lot of sympathy for them. I realize the challenges of losing weight, so I didn't mean to be callous in any way. I was just saying that celebrating obesity isn't the way to go from a public health perspective.”

“We are very sensitive to the difficulties of losing weight,” adds Stier. “That's exactly why we promote new technologies like pharmaceuticals and food technologies that provide tools to help people achieve a healthy body size.”

Finally, when Jeff Stier criticized a Twitter post that suggested the pharmaceutical industry relinquish a day's revenue to fund Haitian relief efforts, one reader admonished us to avoid such overt displays of friendliness to industry.

Stier responds, “Thank you for your comments. This gives us an opportunity to further clarify our approach. We mentioned this item because the approach we are criticizing undermines public health by singling out pharmaceutical companies. We are not shy about pointing out that the products of pharmaceutical companies improve our health.

“The phrase 'industry friendly' suggests we support industry, regardless of whether they improve our health, don't improve our health, or even undermine it. Of course we are friendly and supportive of industries that improve public health, but only when their actions promote public health. When any entity, be it a company, government agency, or non-profit, acts otherwise, we say so, regardless of their sector.”

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