Dispatch: Trans Fat, Vaccine Paranoia, E-Cigs, Sex Ed, and Green Lawsuits

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Patting Themselves on the Back
The latest issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine features a letter by ACSH's Dr. Ross about a report in the journal praising New York City's restriction on trans-fats in restaurants.

Dr. Ross explains, “The letter points out an article written by a bunch of people from the NYC Department of Health -- including Dr. Thomas Frieden, now head of the CDC -- celebrating the effectiveness of the law that they made and enforced to ban trans fats in restaurants. The Department of Health is evaluating its own efficacy, and they're very proud of how wonderfully this law is being obeyed. Of course, there is no evidence that it is improving health or having any impact on New Yorkers' lipid levels, but to these authors it seems that's beside the point: The regulation is the goal, and they give themselves an A+.”

Much Too Little, Much Too Late
The Lancet officially retracted Dr. Andrew Wakefield's 1998 report linking the MMR vaccine to autism following last Monday's judgment of the UK General Medical Council's Fitness to Practise Panel that the study was “dishonest and irresponsible.”

“They issued a miserably short retraction, and they didn't even do it on their own,” says Dr. Whelan. “They did it following the council's ruling. It's shameful. After all the destruction that has been done by that article, all the panic about vaccines and autism that caused so many kids to contract measles and other serious, preventable diseases, this is too little, too late.”

“I don't understand what took them twelve years to do this,” adds Dr. Ross. “The Medical Council's opinion shouldn't be the determining factor. Eleven of the paper's thirteen authors withdrew years ago. This retraction is revolting and pusillanimous, and of course at no point do they acknowledge The Lancet's role in this farce, this child-killing travesty.”

BMJ: Anything That Isn't Proven Is a Lie
ACSH staffers are appalled by an article in BMJ that suggests e-cigarettes are actually just as dangerous as ordinary cigarettes. Dr. Mike Siegel deconstructs the paper on his Tobacco Analysis blog, noting, “The paper then concludes: 'More rigorous chemical analyses are needed, followed by extensive research involving animal studies and, finally, clinical trials in humans. Until these crucial implementation stages are completed, physicians and other healthcare professionals must inform consumers of the probable fallaciousness of the claims of manufacturers of e-cigarettes.'”

“The author of this paper is bending over backwards to avoid the clear fact that both the number and quantity of any alleged toxins in e-cigarettes are orders of magnitude smaller than those in regular cigarettes,” says Dr. Ross. “However, they claim that because of the fact that they haven't been proven to be safer, any such statements about e-cigarettes are probably false. In other words, if you have a theory based on highly probable information, but you don't have data yet, your theory is probably false.”

“The most important point is that the products of combustion are what kills people in cigarettes,” adds Dr. Whelan. “Those are removed in e-cigarettes, and by saying that it isn't proven that e-cigarettes are safer, the implication is that smokers should continue to smoke regular cigarettes until all the data is in. It's really frightening that BMJ would publish something like this.”

A Questionable Victory
A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine offers evidence that abstinence-only education could have some effect on the age of sexual initiation among youths.

“In contrast to what we understand to be typical abstinence-only education, this is more aptly called 'abstinence-focused' education,” says Dr. Ross. “These rather young children were encouraged to delay sex only until they were ready, not until they were married. Additionally, the curriculum did not portray sex as immoral, nor did it disparage the use of condoms. In this group of 662 African-American, urban sixth- and seventh-graders, one third of those who took this course had sex within the next two years -- i.e., by the time they were thirteen or fourteen years old -- whereas one half of students who took other classes that included information about contraception did so.

“I don't think that's within normal age range of sexual initiation in the U.S. today. I'd rather see a larger group study with kids around median age of sexual initiation, which is about seventeen, before this method is endorsed. I don't find this study to be that persuasive. I would agree, however, that abstinence-focused classes without moral overtones about sex being bad may well be something that might help postpone sexual initiation, which would definitely be a good thing in this age group.”

Taking Mr. Clean to Court
The environmental activist group Earth Justice has filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court against various manufacturers of cleaning products for failing to “disclose information about the chemicals in their products...leaving the public in the dark about potential threats to their health and the environment.”

“I love Earth Justice's motto: 'Because the Earth needs a good lawyer,'” says Dr. Whelan. “When they go after all these huge companies, it seems like the legal fees would be enormous. These environmental groups must be extravagantly funded in order to fund this litigious behavior. Their point is that the chemicals used in these products are a health hazard, and therefore people need to be notified, but that's absolutely false. In fact, you could argue that not using these products allows mold and bacteria to flourish, which could be a real health hazard.”

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