The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.
Some beverage companies secretly bottle tap water and then charge 1,900 times more for it
People who buy bottled water pay up to 1,900 times what tap water costs, but get less access to key information about the pricey water than they do for tap water. Big companies that sell bottled water, like Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Crystal Geyser), want you to think their water is special, but refuse to reveal where their water comes from, the methods used to purify it or whether their own testing revealed any contaminants in the water. According to the Environmental Working Group (pdf), the makers of the top ten best-selling brands of bottled water refuse to answer at least one of those questions. Only one — Nestle, maker of Pure Life Purified water — willingly discloses the specific source of its water, treatment method and gives consumers access to a water quality test report. Digging for information reveals that at at least one brand of bottled water, Aquafina, is bottled from a public water source. California passed a law in 2007 ordering bottle water manufacturers to publicly disclose quality information about their bottled water, but as of 2011 only 34 percent of companies were complying with the law. When asked to supply water quality information, the makers of Aquafina claimed it was “proprietary information” that was “not for the public.” Bottled water companies make claims like their water is purely from rainfall, purified by “equatorial winds” (Fiji Water) or can help you live longer, but cannot and do not substantiate these claims. In the mean time, every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottled water to circle the Earth with plastic bottles stacked end to end. EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Municipalities issue annual tap water quality reports that are always available to the public.
This 1987 Philip Morris brainstorming document is full of bizarre ideas for how to make cigarettes more appealing and marketable to consumers, and how to design cigarettes to help counter the social stigma of smoking. Ideas include making cigarettes that deodorize a room, control appetite, alter consciousness, administer an aphrodisiac, mimic certain drugs, emit insect repellant, control cholesterol intake, serve as a laxative, renew energy, and even –amazingly enough — cure cancer (although ironically this last one was one of the very few ideas that was later crossed off the list).
Page 3 contains a brief discussion of how to lure quitters back to smoking: “Someone suggested talking with quitters to discover how we might recover these consumers…” The document also discusses ways to “turn the tables” on the Surgeon General by making a “healthy cigarette,” and ways to make the pack more attractive and useful. Ideas include making the pack into a smoke detector, an alarm clock, a calculator, a “handy mirror,” a “breatholyzer”, or use microchips to make packs that play tunes, or tell smokers how many cigarettes remain in the pack. Another idea was for a “jolt” cigarette that offered extra-high nicotine. Other ideas included cigarettes that enhance athletic performance and increase lung capacity, or slow formation of wrinkles, a “taco-dorito”- flavored cigarette and a carbonated cigarette that would make the mouth all tingly.
Abbott Laboratories, the maker of Ensure, PaediaSure, Similac and Vicodin, pled guilty to misbranding and illegally marketing its drug Depakote. Abbott will pay a $1.6 billion fine and undergo five years of probation under an agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice in which Abbott admitted that from 1998 to 2006 it kept a separate, specially-trained sales force to market Depakote to nursing homes for the control of aggression and agitation in elderly patients with dementia, even though no credible scientific research existed showing Depakote was effective for that use. Abbott also admitted that from 2001 through 2006 it marketed Depakote for the treatment schizophrenia, in the absence of any proof that the drug was effective for that condition, either. Abbott funded two separate studies on the use of Depakote for schizophrenia, but neither study met its set goals. Abbott took two years to tell its sales force about the failed studies, and in the meantime kept marketing Depakote for schizophrenia. The case against Abbott arose in 2007 when a former Abbott saleswoman filed a lawsuit accusing the company of encouraging its sales force to illegally promote use of Depakote in nursing homes and publicly-operated mental health centers, where most patients are covered by federal health programs like Medicaid. Whistleblowers also filed suits against Abbott in Virginia, Illinois and the District of Columbia accusing the company of paying illegal kickbacks to doctors and pharmacists to discuss off-label uses of Depakote to increase sales.
Tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Monsanto and Philip Morris for requiring them to use herbicides and pesticides that caused a high rate of severe birth defects among their children. The farmers charge that Philip Morris and the subsidiary companies that bought their crops required the farmers to stop growing their native tobacco grow a new kind of tobacco instead that Philip Morris uses in its cigarette formulation for the North and South American markets. The new tobacco they had to grow required more pesticides, and the farmers had to use excessive amounts of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup — but the defendant companies did not warn them about the dangers of the herbicide, or provide the farmers with safety information about the chemical or any protective gear to wear when applying it.
Logo of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
A religious group in Humboldt County, California is initiating a new, pro-choice grassroots movement in support of abortion rights called “40 Days of Prayer Supporting Women Everywhere.” Clergy for Choice offers a message of support for women dealing with reproductive issues, including pregnancy. A 2-page, tri-fold brochure describing the effort (pdf) says, “We are religious leaders who value all human life. We trust you to decide about your sexuality & planning your family. Humboldt County Clergy are available to talk with you about the spiritual aspects of sexuality and reproductive choice.” The back of the brochure lists daily prayers supporters are urged to make on each of the 40 days, like: Day 1: “Today we pray for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices,” Day 11: “Today we pray for better access to all forms a birth control.” Day 22: “Today we pray for women in developing nations, that they may know the power of self-determination. May they have access to employment, education, birth control and abortion.”
If your hairline is receding and you’re are thinking about taking Merck’s baldness drug Propecia, you might want to think again. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered drug maker Merck to change the warning labels for Propecia and its prostate drug Proscar to include “libido disorders, ejaculation disorders and orgasm disorders,” conditions that FDA notes may continue well after patients stop taking the drugs. While FDA says it isn’t clear whether finasteride, the active chemical in Propecia and Proscar, is what causes the persistent sexual problems, side effects reported by those using the drugs “suggest a broader range of adverse effects than previously reported in patients taking these drugs.” FDA approved Proscar in 1992 and Propecia in 1997. Since then, the agency has reviewed 421 post-marketing reports of sexual dysfunction from those taking Propecia between 1998 and 2011. Of those, 59 cases described sexual dysfunction lasting a minimum of three months after discontinuing Propecia. FDA reviewed 131 reports of similar problems associated with Proscar. In 2011, FDA ordered the warning labels of both product be revised to include erectile dysfunction that continues after patients stop taking the drug. People can report adverse side effects of prescription drugs to FDA’s MedWatch hotline at 1-800-332-1088, report them online at MedWatch Online or through the U.S. mail using the MedWatch form (pdf) available at FDA’s website.
NFL football players endorsing products for money isn’t new, but DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys, Wes Welker of the New England Patriots and Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers have all agreed to try on “Depend” adult undergarments and promote them by wearing them on the field — and on camera — while running drills. Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Depends, has a new ad campaign called the “Great American Try On,” in which American celebrities and sports icons wear the underwear in public in exchange for hefty donations to selected charities. Sexy actress Lisa Rinna appears in a new ad in which she announces she is wearing the company’s new “Silhouette” product under a slinky, form-fitting black dress while walking the red carpet with her husband.
The state of Arkansas has ordered Johnson & Johnson and one of its subsidiaries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, to pay $1.2 billion in fines for deceptively marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, approved to treat conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The companies were accused of failing to provide adequate warning about potential side effects of the drug, which include diabetes, weight gain, neurological problems and increased risk of strokes and death in elderly patients with dementia. Fletch Trammell, a lawyer in the case who had used Risperdal, said that J&J hid studies that showed Risperdal caused diabetes at a higher rate than a competing drug. The court also found nearly 240,000 instances in which the companies violated the state laws against Medicaid fraud, with each count representing one prescription for Risperdal written to a state Medicaid patient over a 3 1/2 year period. The fine for the Medicaid fraud portion of the case, at $5,000 per prescription, was the state’s minimum. A 12 person jury deliberated for three hours before finding against J&J. Arkansas is just one of several states suing over Risperdal. South Carolina and Texas have already reached settlements with J&J in their lawsuits. J&J plans to appeal the Arkansas ruling, claiming it did not break the law and that the package insert that comes with the medication was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a group that challenges corporate abuses, posted an open letter on its website asking hospitals that house McDonalds restaurants to end their contracts with the fast food chain to “stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health.” The letter points out that the rates at which children suffer from diet-related illnesses like diabetes are “staggering,” and the problem is related in part to the consumption of junk food. Locating McDonalds stores in hospitals is part of a marketing strategy, CAI says, that is aimed at imparting an aura of healthfulness to the food — a goal that is inconsistent with the goals of a health institution. “Health professionals are devoted to caring for sick children and adults and to preventing illness. But these efforts cannot compete with the profit-driven mechanisms by which McDonalds and the fast food industry operate their business, and the toll that McDonalds’ practices have had on children’s health,” the letter states. CAI’s petition to get McDonalds out of hospitals is here.
A big new billboard has appeared right over a liquor store near Mile High Stadium in Denver that shows a mainstream, straight-laced looking woman smiling with her harms folded, saying, “For many reasons, I prefer…marijuana over alcohol. Does that make me a bad person? RegulateMarijuana.org.” The board is the first in an educational campaign by backers of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, a measure that will appear on the state’s November election. The group backing the measure seeks to educate people about the ways that marijuana is safer than alcohol, specifically that it is less addictive than alcohol and tends to cause fewer adverse health effects. Users also cannot overdose on marijuana. The measure would permit limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults, and would let state and local governments in Colorado regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana or ban marijuana sales completely within their jurisdictions. On its website, the pro-legalization campaign says, “We are not suggesting that marijuana is better than alcohol … We are simply asserting that there are many good reasons to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”
A new study reveals PR strategies transnational tobacco companies use behind the scenes to derail, delay and undermine public health policies in low- and middle-income countries. The authors uncovered six core strategies tobacco companies use in Thailand to interfere in tobacco control policymakin: (1) doing business with “two faces,” (2) working to influence people in high places, (3) “buying” advocates inside grassroots organizations, (4) putting up deceptive fronts, (5) using intimidation, and (6) undermining controls on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The companies often apply several of the strategies simultaneously. Public health advocates in poorer countries have successfully counteracted these strategies by remaining vigilant to spot them, excluding tobacco companies from policymaking, restricting cigarette sales, keeping up pressure on the companies and working to assure adequate resources are dedicated to enforcing tobacco control regulations. The entire text of the article is available free in PDF form here.
On March 19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) started a new print and television ad campaign called “Tips from Former Smokers” that features real people offering tips on how to live with diseases caused by smoking or secondhand smoke. Ads show survivors of oral and throat cancer, strokes, amputations and heart attacks. The former smokers give tips like how to bathe, shave and get dressed with their conditions. The ads show amputees putting on their prosthetic limbs, and heart attack and lung cancer survivors show their surgical scars. The ads also show other grisly results of smoking that most people rarely or never get to see. The campaign has more than doubled calls to CDC’s quit line. From March 12 – March 18, the period just prior to the start of the ad campaign, the quit line got 14,437 calls. Between March 19 and March 25 — after the ads started running — the quit line got 34,413 calls. The ads are tagged with the number 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a toll-free number where smokers can get free quitting information and support. Visits to CDC’s quit-smoking website, www.smokefree.gov, have tripled since the campaign began.
Ad leverages smokers' frustration to sell e-cigarettes
The maker of the “blu” brand of electronic cigarette is hoping smokers will respond to a particularly aggressive ad campaign that exploits their frustration and anger to sell more of their product. The ad’s headline that says, “Dear Smoking Ban.” Beneath the headline is a photo of an angry older, middle-aged woman flipping her middle finger at the viewer. The ad text links smoking to freedom, a psychological construct long used by the tobacco industry to counteract the understanding that nicotine causes a powerful addiction that robs smokers of control over their tobacco use. The ad text says, “Take back your freedom to smoke anywhere with blu electronic cigarettes. blu produces no smoke and no ash, only vapor, making it the smarter alternative to regular cigarettes. It’s the most satisfying way to tell the smoking bans to kiss off. Okay, maybe the second most satisfying way.” Electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, but since they don’t actually burn tobacco, they don’t contain as much of the hazardous byproducts of burned tobacco.