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On the phone last night with my mom, I started complaining about how late in the season my office would be providing its employees with flu shots. She asked me if I was planning to get one, and like any good graduate of public health school, I answered yes and somewhat pretentiously added, “I very much believe in vaccines.” It’s one of those beliefs I take for granted; I have always opted for preventing problems over fixing them, both in health and in life in general, and a vaccine policy course I took earlier this year only cemented that approach.

But while reading the Washington Post Express on the metro this morning, I came across an article that got me thinking about it again (see pg.3). Read the rest of this entry »

As evidence about the health risks associated with smoking accumulated, the tobacco industry responded by funding its own research, which concluded that cigarettes aren’t so bad after all. They recruited spokespeople who’d proclaim tobacco’s safety without revealing that they were being paid handsomely by cigarette manufacturers. These activities (and others in the same vein) helped stave off regulation of tobacco products and created a blueprint that other dangerous industries would adopt and refine in the years to come.

In the latest installment of their investigation into bisphenol A, Meg Kissinger and Susanne Rust of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report that the plastics industry is using tobacco-industry tactics to fight against BPA regulation, but with a 21st-century twist: They’re posting what appears to be neutral, unbiased information on YouTube and blogs without revealing the funding source.

The article is worth reading for the descriptions of the plastics industry’s campaign, but it won’t be very surprising for anyone who’s familiar with the history of tobacco, lead, asbestos, or other substances that have only been removed from consumer products after a protracted battle. What I found most alarming in Kissinger and Rust’s latest piece was the description of how the Food and Drug Administration has responded to the industry efforts to keep BPA on the market:

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I think it was around Christmastime last year, while frantically traipsing through the mall in search of bargains, that an over-eager kiosk salesperson stepped into my path.  Wonderful, I thought.  Another person trying to sell me overpriced hand cream. I tried to go around her, hoping she’d get the hint—to no avail.  Oddly, instead of launching into a speech about my unhealthy cuticles, she asked me if I was a smoker.

And that’s when I noticed she was selling e-cigarettes:  plastic cigarettes that look almost exactly like the real deal. (They even puff out odorless vapor that looks strikingly like cigarette smoke.)  She explained to me that these can be a great tool for quitting smoking, because they look and feel like cigarettes.  “It’s just like smoking, but without the nasty health effects.”

What a cool idea, I thought.  My father, a former (heavy) smoker, told me once that quitting smoking was a total nightmare for him.  Why? Because he didn’t just crave the nicotine in the cigarettes; he craved the whole smoking ritual: taking that first puff of the day while sipping his coffee, taking breaks at work and chatting with his friends, etc, etc.  Quitting smoking wasn’t just about omitting nicotine from his life; it was about changing his lifestyle.

From that perspective, e-cigarettes seem like a good way to ease the transition from smoker to non-smoker. They look like cigarettes, taste like cigarettes, and feel like cigarettes but the “smoker” is no longer exposed to  40+ human carcinogens multiple times a day.  On top of that, e-cigarettes don’t produce that thick, noxious cloud of smoke that clings to your hair, skin, and clothing, and makes everyone around you cough.   “I feel like this could save my life,” said one satisfied customer, who reported cutting her smoking from 3 packs a day to 1 ½ packs a day.(1)

But Katie Zezima of the New York Times astutely points out the dark side of these products—namely, that we don’t really know anything about how safe they are. Read the rest of this entry »

by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

DemFromCT continues his public health series over at DailyKos, thus also continuing to make my early week blogging easier. This week is a brief look at this year’s flu season, already in full swing, including what is happening in pediatric deaths from flu. He follows this with another interview, this time the American Lung Association’s Director, National Advocacy, Erika Sward. Topics are timely: SCHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance bill, just signed into law) and tobacco control.

Read the rest of this entry »

This post is part of a “global health blog carnival” effort that Christine Gorman at Global Health Report has just launched. The theme for today’s posts is “prevention vs. treatment” – visit this post for links all participating posts.

Although my post focuses largely on the U.S. experience, it’s an example of a universal difficulty in justifying and funding prevention programs.

Maggie Mahar and Niko Karvounis have posted some disturbing news at their Health Beat blog: The war against tobacco is slowing down. Many strategies that have helped lower the U.S. smoking rate to under 20% (counseling, quit lines, cessation clinics, and medications) simply can’t compete with other spending needs:

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American News Project has just posted a new video segment about how tactics used to defend tobacco are now staving off action on climate change. In “Smoke and CO2: How to Spin Global Warming,” Danielle Ivory gives an eight-minute overview of how we went from reassurances that tobacco isn’t really harmful to insistence that we don’t really need to worry about global warming. Our own David Michaels provides commentary.

Even if you already know all about how manufactured doubt has stalled progress on smoking cessation and greenhouse-gas reductions, it’s worth watching the piece for its collection of ads and speeches by those trying to prevent regulation of their products. My favorite: former Philip Morris CEO Joseph Cullman, when asked about smoking’s link to low-birthweight babies, saying “some women prefer having smaller babies.”

Watch it here.

By David Egilman 

Jack Kevorkian was tried several times for second degree murder for assisting at suicide.  He was finally convicted of second degree murder for one such “assist.”  The state never asserted that the person who was killed was uninformed or had not participated in the decision to hire Kevorkian to assist in their own death.  Patients knew of the risk they were taking when they contacted Dr. Kevorkian to help them kill themselves.

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By Liz Borkowski 

An article in the latest issue of OMB Watch’s Watcher newsletter reports on U.S. Chamber of Commerce efforts to get EPA to make changes to its chemical databases. The short story is that the Chamber asked the EPA to correct what it claimed was “inconsistent and erroneous” information about chemicals in the agency’s databases, and EPA rejected the claim, explaining that there were “valid and specific reasons” why databases might contain differing information for the same chemicals. (See the article for the complete story.)

The important thing about this story is that the Chamber made its request in the form of a Data Quality Act challenge. The DQA (officially the Information Quality Act, or IQA) has what sounds like a reasonable goal: “ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information” disseminated by federal agencies. Its history to date, however, shows it to be a tool for hindering agencies’ work to protect public health and the environment.

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Four Nigerian states are suing British American Tobacco and Philip Morris to recover costs of treating smoking-related diseases. The plaintiffs charge that the companies aimed to recruit more smokers by targeting minors, using sponsorship of concerts and sporting events and free cigarette giveaways. Tosin Sulaiman in The Times (UK) reports:

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Over the past few years, millions of formlerly secret internal documents from the tobacco industry have been made public and helped public health advocates learn how Big Tobacco deceived lawmakers and the public about smoking’s health risks.

Wading through all these documents is time-consuming, so the Center for Media and Democracy has launched a TobaccoWiki that will allow people interested in the subject to share their findings online. (A Wiki is basically a tool for online collaboration; see Wikipedia’s explanation to learn more about it.) Here’s their explanation of the project:

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