For decades, some of the dirtiest, darkest secrets of the chemical industry have been kept in Carol Van Strum’s barn writes Sharon Lerner in The Intercept. The 80-year-old structure in rural Oregon housed more than 100,000 pages of documents obtained through legal discovery in lawsuits against Dow, Monsanto, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the Air Force, and pulp and paper companies, among others. As of today, those documents and others that have been collected by environmental activists will be publicly available through a project called the Poison Papers.
If present trends continue, experts predict, the tobacco toll in the 21st century will reach one billion premature deaths, ten times the 100 million people who died from tobacco use in the 20th century, writes Nicholas Freudenberg for Common Dreams. To avert that future will require changing the focus of current tobacco control strategies from a primary focus on changing the behavior of present and future smokers to one that seeks to change the practices of the tobacco industry itself. Without a more direct effort to change the practices of the powerful corporations that drive the world’s leading cause of death, ending the tobacco epidemic will remain a distant goal.
Last week, two events shed light on current strategies the global tobacco industry uses to counter threats to profitability. In London, shareholders of British American Tobacco (BAT) and in Winston-Salem, Reynolds shareholders approved a BAT buyout of Reynolds that will create the world’s largest tobacco company. In Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its 2017 report on the global tobacco epidemic, calling on member states to counter the rising tide of tobacco corporate lobbying and litigation that undermines public health measures around the world. Read more
Taxes on alcohol and tobacco have long been an important means of raising revenues for public spending in many countries but there is increasing interest in using taxes on these, and other unhealthy products, to achieve public health goals. This systematic review aims to generate insights into how such taxes can: (i) reduce consumption of targeted products and related harms; (ii) generate revenues for health objectives and distribute the tax burden across income groups in an efficient and equitable manner; and (iii) be made politically sustainable. Findings demonstrate that high tax rates on sugar-sweetened beverages are likely to have a positive impact on health behaviors and outcomes, and, while taxes on products reduce demand, they add to fiscal revenues. If the primary policy goal of a health tax is to reduce consumption of unhealthy products, then evidence supports the implementation of taxes that increase the price of products by 20% or more. Earmarking health taxes for health spending tends to increase public support so long as policymakers follow through on specified spending commitments. Citation: Wright A, Smith KE, Hellowell M. Policy lessons from health taxes: a systematic review of empirical studies. BMC Public Health. 2017;17(1):583.
Using quotes from the leaked emails from the soda industry, this brief from Healthy Food America and Ninjas for Health illustrates the tactics the soda industry uses to achieve its business and political objectives. Internal executive emails from Coca-Cola show its coordinated global strategies to defeat sugary drink policies and influence dietary guidelines. The emails confirm what public health advocates have said for years – the beverage industry is following the tobacco industry’s playbook to fight health regulations worldwide. The emails reveal how the soda industry 1) funds studies that support its arguments, 2) pressures journalists, 3) lobbies against federal and international health policy, 4) deflects with self-regulation, 5) lies about grocery taxes, and 6) organizes fake grassroots opposition.
MASSPIRG, Health Care For All, Health Law Advocates and others urged the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing to support S.652, An Act to promote transparency and prevent price gouging of pharmaceutical drug prices. The bill requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to disclose detailed information on the underlying cost components and pricing of the most expensive drugs including costs of production, R&D, marketing, rebates and discounts, and prices charged to purchasers outside of the U.S., among other information. The bill also authorizes intervention by state health care agencies and the Attorney General’s Office when pricing practices are determined to be gouging or unjustified. “Skyrocketing prescription drug prices are leading to higher health care costs for Massachusetts residents,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director at MASSPIRG. “In fact, according to an analysis of state data we submitted as testimony to the committee, rising pharmaceutical prices have a disproportionately high impact on Massachusetts health care premiums.”
After decades of lawsuits, public campaigns and painful struggles, Americans have finally done what once seemed impossible: Most of the country has quit smoking, saving millions of lives and leading to massive reductions in cancer. Unless, reports The Washington Post, those Americans are poor, uneducated or live in a rural area. Hidden among the steady declines in recent years is the stark reality that cigarettes are becoming a habit of the poor. The national smoking rate has fallen to historic lows, with just 15 percent of adults still smoking. But the socioeconomic gap has never been bigger. Cigarette companies are focusing their marketing on lower income communities to retain their customer base, researchers say. “Poorer people don’t smoke because anything’s different or wrong about them,” said Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, a leading tobacco-control nonprofit group. “Their communities are not protected like others are. They don’t have access to good health care and cessation programs. If you have a bull’s eye painted on your back, it’s harder to get away.” Tobacco companies have also invested considerable resources in recent years lobbying against smoking restrictions and taxes, especially in poorer, rural and often Southern states, where smoking remains highest.
President Trump promised to “drain the swamp” when he got to Washington. Yet his appointments have included not just former lobbyists, but dozens of lobbyists whose governmental responsibilities fall into the same specific issue areas that they lobbied within the last two years — an apparent violation of Trump’s own executive order on ethics. In a new report, Public Citizen identifies 37 recent hires with lobbying conflicts stemming from activity within the last two years, only four of whom have received ethics waivers.