For 103 days now, Terence Gerace, Ph.D. has stood outside CVS pharmacies in Washington, D.C. protesting their sales of a product that is known to be deadly when used exactly as directed: cigarettes. In press releases and ads, CVS claims it works to improve health and lower health care costs for Americans, but all the while it continues to sell the leading causes of preventable death and disease in the U.S. No matter what they say in their ads, the truth is that CVS, and other national drug chains, like Rite Aid and Walgreens (pdf), do not care about health one bit. They care about profits, and every day they profit from both causing and curing disease. Pharmacies are among the most trusted sources of health information in the U.S., but for decades, national drug chains have actively colluded behind the scenes with tobacco companies not only to market cigarettes, but also to oppose legislation (pdf) to regulate tobacco. Dr. Gerace, a former Research Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Miami School of Medicine, knows all of this, so it’s no wonder he saw red after spotting a full-page CVS ad in the Washington Post that screamed, “To better manage chronic diseases, we needed a new kind of pharmacy…” Incensed, Dr. Gerace made a new sign out of the ad by adding the big words “NEW CVS Cigarette-Free!” above the headline. Now he uses this sign in his ongoing, one-man protest against CVS selling cigarettes. In 2010, the American Pharmacists Association issued a statement urging U.S. pharmacies to stop selling tobacco. Boston and San Francisco have passed laws forcing pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes, and Target, the nation’s third-largest retailer chain, stopped selling cigarettes in 1996. It is counter-intuitive, inimical to their mission and just plain two-faced for a business to portray itself as caring about people’s health while also selling cigarettes, but until a law forces them stop, CVS, as well as Rite Aid and Walgreens, plan to keep advertising that they care about health while continuing to sell the leading cause of death and disease in the U.S.
In a move that the Daily Kos has dubbed “Operation Buy Me Some Love,” Rush Limbaugh is trying to buy support from his remaining listeners by luring people to retweet statements he posts to his Twitter account in exchange for a chance to win a prize. Rush announced on his show that each day he will randomly select someone from his list of Twitter followers who retweets his messages to win a new third-generation IPad. He promises NOT to announce the name of the winner on his show, apparently to save them the embarrassment of being exposed as a listener. Limbaugh refers to the advertising boycott against him as “a pure act of terrorism.” Limbaugh has also hired a reputation and crisis manager, Brian Glicklich, to help him with defense and “media correction.” Glicklich served as a crisis manager for Glenn Beck and Paris Hilton.
Main source: Daily Kos, March 23, 2012
The makers of Belvedere Vodka yanked a controversial ad that appeared to joke about rape. The ad showed a horrified woman trying desperately to escape from a leering man who was grabbing her from behind. The tagline read, “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.” The company tweeted the controversial ad and posted it on their Facebook page, only to get strong and immediate backlash. Belvedere moved quickly to remove the post and apologized several times. Belvedere’s ad agency, Arnell Group, has done ads with strong sexual overtones for the brand before, but the agency denies that it created this particularly controversial ad.
Main Source: Ad Age, March 23, 2012
A new website created in Colorado, CleanSlateNow.org, is the first and only site so far to publicly list candidates for office at all levels of government nationwide who have pledged to forgo all special interest money. The listed candidates do not accept any funding from political action committees, big banks, insurance companies, unions, big oil, pharmaceutical companies or any other corporate interests. As CleanSlateNow states, the only problem is that these candidates are little-known. The website aims to fix that. CleanSlateNow.org was founded in October, 2011 by former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, who was term-limited out of office in 2009. Gordon is famous for making a chilling 2007 “No Stuntman Used” campaign video in which he appears in person in scuba gear from inside a shark tank to demonstrate his independence from local political sharks. The goal of CleanSlateNow is to create an environment where people, and not money, will start determining the outcome of U.S. elections.
Two young British men desperate to pay off student debt and facing dismal prospects for employment have started selling ad space on their faces — and are doing remarkably well at, it while having a blast. Ross Harper and Ed Moyse, both 22, created BuyMyFace.com, where people go to schedule the time they want rent the two young mens’ faces. Customers then upload a logo or picture along with any brief text they want displayed, and then, on the appropriate dates, Harper and Moyse have the specified graphics expertly painted on their faces and go out and about in public sporting the ads. Advertisers can send the two men to festivals, skiing, skydiving, go-karting or on other adventures to help boost visibility of their ads. The two are advertising their service on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, as well as through newspapers and word of mouth. The big, London-based audit and financial advisory firm Ernst and Young bought ten days’ worth of advertising on BuyMyFace.com in December, 2011, and have since become exclusive sponsor of the BuyMyFace.com website. In addition to winning the firm’s valuable sponsorship, thousands of people are visiting BuyMyFace.com every day. Days are sold for the next two months, ranging in price from £150-600 (U.S. $238-955). Now, at day 180 of their unique effort, Harper and Moyse have earned £32,682 (about U.S. $52,000) toward paying off their student loans.
Source: PRWeb UK, March 29, 2012
A new word has entered the lexicon: “Pharmageddon.” Wiktionary defines it as “a dystopian scenario wherein medicine and the pharmaceuticals industry have a net detrimental effect on human health and medical progress does more harm than good.” We are fast approaching pharmageddon, as drugs are increasingly fast-tracked to approval and only later found to do little or no good, or, even worse, to cause harm. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled the breast cancer drug Avastin off the market, after having fast-tracked its approval. Over $6 billion worth of Avastin was sold before two follow up studies showed that the survival rate of patients who took Avastin was no better than patients who took other drugs. Not only did huge numbers of women take this essentially worthless drug to treat their breast cancer, but the listed side effects of Avastin included conditions severe enough to merit a descriptor of potentially fatal several times in the drug’s informational brochure. Another factor in prescription drug danger is the fact that drug companies are increasingly engaging in criminal behavior aimed at boosting sales at any cost. In 2009, the drug maker Pfizer paid a record $2.3 billion fine and pled guilty to a felony for illegally promoting its painkiller Bextra. Pfizer paid kickbacks to doctors and dished out perks, like massages and all-expense-paid trips to fancy resorts, to get doctors to prescribe Bextra for off-label, or unapproved, uses. Like Avastin, Bextra was ultimately pulled off the market due to safety concerns. This wasn’t the first or even the second time Pfizer had been caught marketing drugs illegally, either. It was the fourth time just since 2002 that FDA had fined Pfizer or one of its subsidiaries fined for marketing its drugs in an illegal manner.
Taking prescription drugs is increasingly fraught with danger. Adverse side effects have risen over the years to where they are now a leading cause of death, disability, and illness. It is estimated that only 1 to 10 percent of adverse drug events ever get reported to the FDA. Many people suffer side effects from prescription drugs that are considered “medically mild” but that are nonetheless disabling, like detrimental effects on memory, concentration, and judgment. Often people report adverse side effects to their doctors, only to be told there is little or no evidence linking their problem to the drug. This lack of information is not a mistake — it traceable to the fact that most of the data on prescription drugs is the property of the pharmaceutical companies, since the companies run most of the clinical trials for the drug. Up to 60% of these trials are never publicly reported. For obvious reasons, companies have a vested interest in not fully disclosing the side effects of their products.
Recognizing the extent and severity of the problem of prescription drug side effects, Dr. David Healy, author of a just-published book titled “Pharmageddon,” along with group of people who, like Healy, have risked their careers to speak out about adverse drug events, are developing a free website where people can share information on the side effects they experience while taking prescription drugs. RxRisk.org, in effect, aims to crowd-source real-time data about drug side effects, to create a fuller picture of exactly how these drugs are really affecting people. The site accepts no advertising and is not linked in any way to big Pharma. Use of it is free and anonymous. The site also helps users research drugs they are taking. People who report information on the side effects they experience can get a free report they can take to their doctors, to encourage fuller and more informed discussion of their treatment. Doctors can also add information to their patients’ reports. RxRisk.org’s advisory board is comprised of people with relatives injured by adverse drug events, health care activists and independent scientists. The site is currently in beta development, but RxRisk.org is a much-needed grassroots effort to track the side effects of prescription drugs and build a record of them, so that it eventually it will become unreasonable to say the problem can’t be happening in at least some people. Visit the new, consumer-friendly drug-tracking website here.
Previously-secret internal documents released during the course of a lawsuit in Maine reveal the National Organization for Marriage had a PR strategy to turn blacks against gays in an effort to stir up opposition to gay marriage. NOM, a right-wing, anti-gay group founded in 2007 to fight efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, works to defeat marriage equality laws in states where they are advancing.
A confidential 2008-2009 report to NOM’s Board of Directors states,
“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots…Find attractive young black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally…”
Lifting directly from the tobacco industry strategy, one NOM’s document states (on page 23) “Identify and nurture a worldwide community of highly credentialed intellectuals and professional scholars, physicians, psychiatrists, social workers and writers to credential our concerns and to interrupt the silencing that takes place…around gay marriage and related family matters… Expert Witness Project 2010 Budget: $50,000.”
NOM released a statement defending its strategies of pitting minorities against each other, saying “Gay marriage is not a civil right, and we will continue to point this out in written materials such as those released in Maine. We proudly bring together people of different races, creeds and colors to fight for our most fundamental institution: marriage.”
Main Source: Human Rights Campaign, March 26, 2012
Thinking of subscribing to DirecTV? Think again. DirecTV pulls a fast one on subscribers to push them into more expensive packages after they sign up. Here’s how it works: Like all cable and satellite TV providers, DirecTV offers different levels of programming that include specific channels. New subscribers select the package with the channels they want — or so they think. A few months after you subscribe to their service, DirecTV pulls some of the channels originally included in your package. All of a sudden when you try to watch those channels, you get a “Channel Not Purchased” message on your screen. When you call DirecTV to tell them about the suddenly-missing channels, they say they’ve taken them out of your package and you’ll need to upgrade to a pricier package to get them back. DirecTV makes little effort to notify subscribers in advance of this change. They don’t announce the changes, for example, in any of the regular emails they send customers announcing special deals and “free” weekends of premium channels. They don’t add any more channels to your package to make up for the ones they’ve removed, and they don’t compensate customers financially for the loss by adjusting your bill for the channels you no longer get. On their website, they explain the loss by saying they took the channels away to help “manage rising programming costs.” Their website also says, “At DIRECTV, we strive to bring you the best entertainment experience available.” All you have to do is subscribe, or peruse the comments at CustomerServiceScoreboard.com/DIRECTV to find out that DirecTV pulls this scam with relative frequency. DirecTV also charges you $10.00/month extra to get a high-definition receiver, where most other pay TV services provide HD to all customers as part of the deal.
Editor’s note: In this blog, I will occasionally summarize lesser-known but highly important tobacco industry documents that should be part of the public record, and the public consciousness. Following is one such article. — A.L.
In a twisted 1997 memo, Seth Moskowitz of R.J. Reynolds’ (RJR) Public Relations department recounts a brainstorming session held to address problems facing the tobacco industry at the time, particularly a lack of credibility and an onslaught of lawsuits being filed against the industry by state Attorneys General seeking to recoup the costs of treating sick smokers.
The memo begins by discussing the need to “humanize” the tobacco industry by putting kind and helpful face on the company (RJR). Moskowitz complains that the public perceives the industry to be “a group of two-faced, conscience-less killers who trade lives for dollars. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he says, “but the public doesn’t know this.”
The discussion quickly turns to ideas for turning public opinion against the AG’s lawsuits. One plan was to instigate a wave of frivolous, ridiculous lawsuits against a number of other industries. For example, Moskowitz proposes using a study to “indicate that drinking citrus juice carries an increased risk of lung cancer.” Moskowitz muses,
“What if we worked with the state AGs or legislators in some tobacco states (NC, VA), and with a business or citizens group in Florida to sue the citrus producers in Florida and California for reimbursement of state medical expenses paid to treat illnesses ’caused’ by the consumption of citrus products? Under current Florida law, this could be done entirely using a statistical model. All we need to do is plug in a few statistics and suddenly we can calculate the dollar amount Florida has paid out in medical expenses to treat orange juice-related cancers. Could also mount a highly emotional PR campaign against citrus growers for harming children (stunting their growth). We could choose other states and industries and do the same thing (Minnesota and dairy products? California and wine consumption? Beef and any number of states.) A series of Medicaid reimbursement-type suits simultaneously launched against a number of industries in a number of states would get major coverage and drive home how ridiculous the recent AG attacks on the tobacco industry are.”
Immediately following this self-serving idea to cause havoc in other industries, Moskowitz flips back to seeking ways to “humanize” the industry. One idea was to use an ad campaign to highlight the good works RJR employees do in their private lives, like helping school children and carrying the torch for the Olympics.
Moskowitz currently still works for Reynolds American as Director of Communications for Reynolds’ subsidiary, the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.
See the memo here.
After weeks of silence, the Kroger Company — America’s biggest supermarket purveyor — announced in a short press release March 22 that it will no longer use “pink slime,” the ground beef filler that has caused an uproar among consumers. Critics of pink slime, including former USDA scientists, publicly contend that the ammonia-treated meat filler, made from low quality meat scraps previously used only in cooking oil and dog food, is less nutritious than pure ground beef, and a riskier product due to its higher potential for bacterial contamination. Kroger’s announcement followed similar announcements from smaller grocery chains like Safeway and Food Lion, which moved more quickly to address consumer concerns about the filler. Other grocery chains, like Whole Foods and Costco, told ABC News immediately that their products have never contained the additive. Kroger operates Ralph’s, Fred Meyer, Dillons, Food 4 Less and other stores, and King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado. Consumers were unaware that 70 percent of ground meat contained pink slime because USDA doesn’t require labeling to make consumers aware the additive is in their ground meat.
Main source: The Kroger Co., March 22, 2012