Interview with Lena Pons

Lena Pons is a Policy Analyst for the Auto Safety Group, a division of the national, nonprofit organization Public Citizen, that seeks to protect health, safety and democracy. The Auto Safety Group focuses on issues of auto safety, government and corporate accountability, human health and environmental sustainability as related to auto emissions. Its recent work has focused on improving fuel economy through both legislative and legal routes. The Auto Safety Group also works with other organizations on issues related to the Clean Air Act, fuel economy and automobile emissions. In January 2008, Corporations and Health Watch’s Zoë MeleoErwin interviewed Lena Pons. We present excerpts here.

CHW: Recently the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that California and the sixteen other states couldn’t set their own, more strict, emission standards. What role did the auto industry play in this defeat?

LP: Congressman Henry Waxman of the House Oversight Committee identified that there was some interference from Vice President Dick Cheney and Chrysler. Following a meeting that EPA administrator Stephen Johnson had with Cheney and Chrysler, they devised this legal argument for why the California waiver should be denied. And the California waiver was denied in a highly unusual way. They presented no technical justification the only documentation on the waiver denial that was given is a three or four page letter from EPA administrator Johnson to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It outlines that as a result of the energy bill being signed into law, California standards no longer meet the rubric under the Clean Air Act to say that they’re more protective. The claim by EPA is dubious because the California standards would go into effect sooner and their target emissions reduction is more stringent than that of the new national standards. What the waiver denial is based on is the assumption that the most recently passed energy bill will produce a comparable amount of public health. But there’s absolutely no data to support that; they’ve presented absolutely no estimate of what the public health benefit of the standards that were passed by this latest energy law would be. The states that have full regulations written on adopting these standards plus a handful of environmental groups have all sued EPA on the grounds that their waiver denial has not been properly supported.

CHW: One of the things the auto industry said in response to California waiver was that it would be a confusing and inefficient patchwork quilt of fuel economy programs. How legitimate is that argument?

LP: The seventeen states that have either passed the regulations or have stated intent by executive order to pass the regulations would cover slightly more than half of the entire population of the country. And a big part of that is that there are huge states involved; California and New York alone include over 15% of the total US population. California set separate standards, several states had adopted them and the functional outcome of that is that all of the vehicles sold in the United States meet these low emission vehicle requirements for the most part. The auto industry is saying that you would lose a lot of consumer choice in these states that have passed these regulations because they just wouldn’t be able to sell certain vehicles in the states. But in terms of the patchwork effect, when you’re talking about 50% of the country plus now Canada has standards that will be roughly the same as California, it’s just not going to be cost effective for them to produce two sets of vehicles. They’re never going to comply with a patchwork of regulations; they’re just going to comply to the most stringent set. So the reality of that argument is that they don’t want to meet the more stringent California standards.

CHW: What were the issues involved in the 2006 lighttruck fuel economy rule and what was Public Citizen Auto Group’s involvement in the case?

LP: The biggest issue in that case was that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had valued the reduced carbon dioxide emissions from having improved fuel economy as having zero public benefit. We filed a suit in the 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals on the 2006 lighttruck fuel economy rule in collaboration with several other environmental groups and were represented by an independent law firm. We ultimately won in that the court found that the rule was arbitrary and capricious. It’s been vacated; the agency will have to go back and rewrite it to reflect some of the problems that they identified. The court also found that NHTSA had changed the fundamental way that the fuel economy standards were calculated and that without promoting a backstop, some kind of minimum value for fuel economy, that it was overvaluing consumer choice over the need of the United States to save energy—a specific criterion that was laid out in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act in 1975 which established the fuel economy standards. And so they found that the way that fuel economy standards could be calculated could stand as long as there was a minimum fuel economy value. This is a mixed victory because the new calculation scheme doesn’t actually force the auto makers to promote the best available technologies. But with a backstop it at least prevents a degradation below this minimum value, which is positive.

CHW: In your campaigns on auto safety, public health and environmental sustainability, what strategies does the Auto Safety Group employ? And specifically, how important is litigation as a tactic?

LP: Ideally we try to influence any rule making through the notice and comment period. And if the agency is nonresponsive to our comments then our next recourse is to litigate. So litigation has certainly been a part of our strategy used to a significant public benefit because, as a result of multiple litigation campaigns, we’ve been able to secure much stronger regulations than what the agency initially applied. Some of the time the regulations that the agency has presented us with are not actually in compliance with the law that Congress set forth and then we feel that we have a responsibility to make sure that the agency is upholding the law. So we like to influence the legislative process to get Congress to put forth the best possible law and then through the regulatory process we have an opportunity to influence rulemaking. But when we find that our concerns are ignored by the agency then we have no other recourse than to litigate.

CHW: Recently European Union officials announced that auto makers would have to greatly reduce carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions or face fines. How have automakers responded and do you have any thoughts on how this will influence the United States?

LP: There’s been a lot of skepticism as to whether those regulations will be durable. Probably the best indicator of what auto makers are going to do is the fact that at this year’s auto show they’ve really brought out a lot of highly fuel efficient concept vehicles that we haven’t seen before. For instance, Ford put a concept Focus out on the floor this year that’s supposed to get 20% improved fuel economy, which is an indication that they probably have more technology than they’re willing to admit openly in terms of improving vehicle fuel economy and by extension emissions. There were also stronger Japanese regulations in 2007, I believe Canada has recently strengthened their regulations, and China introduced their first fuel economy standards last year, so I think that auto makers are really starting to think pretty hard about it. With respect to bringing European vehicles to the United States, General Motors produces “Opel” brand vehicles that are much more fuel efficient than a comparable vehicle that would be sold under the Saturn brand in the United States. Now they’re bringing several of those Opel vehicles to the United States and will sell them as Saturn Vehicles. So they clearly do have the technology because they’re building more fuel efficient vehicles in other markets. But not all the auto makers have the flexibility that General Motors has; an auto maker like Chrysler is clearly going to have a more difficult time because they don’t really have a foreign manufacturing brand that is making improved fuel economy vehicles.

CHW: How does consumer demand influence changing fuel economy and emissions standards?

LP: Consumer demand with respect to fuel economy is a really strange relationship. I’ve read a variety of studies about how people use fuel economy as a determining factor in their automobile purchase decisions. And most state that people aren’t particularly longsighted in terms of how they make their vehicle purchase decisions. If you think back to the oil price shocks in the 1970s, one lasted for 14 months and the other one lasted for 19 months and so people haven’t really adjusted to the idea that oil prices are always going to be high.

Even if you look at the last five years, there was a really strong spike in oil prices following Hurricane Katrina and then they dropped back down about 70 cents per gallon. That kind of price volatility really suggests that people will make their decision about fuel economy based on whatever the price of gas is the day that they go to the dealership. And that’s why you see sales figures for a vehicle like the Prius are going to track pretty much with the price of oil and so in a month when gas prices are very high consumers are going to be more likely to purchase a vehicle like the Prius and months where oil prices are lower then consumers are more likely to choose a vehicle that might not get the same kind of fuel economy. But I think that people are really starting to become quite a bit more environmentally conscious and the durability of a problem like global warming, as opposed to something that might be more volatile like the geopolitical effects of Middle East oil consumption, might be starting to shift people’s perspectives about how they factor in fuel economy.

CHW: What strategies does the auto industry use to influence consumer decision making in terms of choosing less fuel efficient vehicles?

LP: The auto industry has consistently taken the position that people make their decision about a vehicle based on a variety of factors and one of the factors is “peak performance,”—the maximum possible zerotosixty acceleration or the towing capacity of a truck. It is fairly well supported that people are often swayed by peak performance but in reality people don’t really actualize that peak performance. For example, over 60% of truck owners never realize the peak performance even one time in their entire ownership of that vehicle. For twenty years or more, the auto industry has really been pushing this idea that you’re getting a better value because you’re going to get this truck that could tow a huge boat but you don’t own a boat and you have no need for this kind of towing capacity. And the auto industry has really consistently pushed this idea that people won’t be willing to trade for a smaller vehicle. But Porsche made this announcement just this week that they’re going to start offering hybrid versions of their vehicles. Now this is highly unusual because these are performance vehicles. Porsche has consistently paid fines for noncompliance with fuel economy standards and so I think that the argument by the auto industry that they can’t provide the same kinds of performance characteristics just doesn’t really hold water in light of these developments that have come as a result of new regulations.

CHW: Is this particular to the US?

LP: There is some perception that in the United States we want these huge SUVs and pickup trucks. But what’s interesting is that there have been several recent studies in Europe that have supported the idea that even though fuel economy standards, or greenhouse gas emission standards which are sort of interchangeable, have gotten more stringent in Europe, the popularity of larger vehicles has increased. In affluent western European countries you’re seeing an increasing number of people purchasing SUVs. I think that probably the bigger determining factor in terms of saying that this is a uniquely American problem, which I don’t really believe that it is, is just that people in the United States for the most part live more spreadout than they do in most places in the world. The average size of vehicles in densely populated urban areas in the United States is pretty much the same as what you would see in Europe.

CHW: One of the arguments the auto industry makes against improving fuel economy and reducing emissions is that the cost would be prohibitive and that this cost would then be passed down to consumers. How legitimate is this argument?

LP: Well it depends on what changes you’re demanding. If you’re demanding that auto makers convert every vehicle into a hybrid, then you might have a pretty good argument that it would be cost prohibitive. And a big part of that is the cost you’re paying for a battery that’s still relatively expensive to manufacture. But as batteries technologies continue to get better and as lithium ion batteries become more viable, that’s going to reduce weight, improve efficiency and reduce costs. The auto industry has been given a tremendous amount of lead time, but they have not been making incremental changes since the 1985 standard were actualized. And not every vehicle has to get 40% better fuel economy next year; over the next ten years the fleet of vehicles has to achieve 40% better fuel economy on the whole. Adding some of these technologies to vehicles would be fairly cost prohibitive, but the vehicles that need the most help are typically the most expensive to begin with. In order to make this incremental improvement in something like a Ford Focus you might add some initial cost to that car but you’re going to have a lifetime savings in terms of fuel cost which is going to get better and better. As the price of oil continues to rise the benefit of burning less fuel is going to get better and better. So I don’t think that the cost argument is necessarily as weighty as the auto industry has made it.

CHW: What is the auto industry’s current stance on the relationship between tailpipe emissions and global warming?

LP: Often when you talk to somebody from the auto industry they’ll talk about how criteria pollutants emissions of the newest vehicles are incredibly low. But when you talk about carbon dioxide, the only way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, at least from the tailpipe, is to burn less fuel or burn a fuel that is lower in carbon. They generally try to downplay the relationship between tailpipe emissions and global warming, but I don’t think that anybody in the industry is saying that carbon dioxide doesn’t cause global warming and that global warming isn’t happening. And a lot of times they also focus on “well look at this concept vehicle that’s ten or fifteen years down the line.”

CHW: Does the auto industry take any particular position on the relationship between tailpipe emissions and public health?

LP: Well once again, they’re going to discuss the issue of tailpipe emissions in terms of criteria pollutants which have certainly decreased a great deal. You’re seeing lower levels of nitrogenoxides and sulfuroxides and then by extension lower levels of ground level ozone, and ground level ozone is typically the biggest contributor to asthma and other kinds of auto emissions related health problems. But I don’t think that they like to talk about emissions at all. So they won’t say something like “there’s no link between auto emissions and health problems” but they will focus on the fact that through improved aftertreatment and exhaust systems you’re starting to see criteria pollutant emissions that are really pretty low, almost zero. An ultralow emission vehicle is really going to have nearzero criteria pollutant emissions, which doesn’t really affect carbon dioxide. But then carbon dioxide is, at least at current concentrations, not really a public health threat, at least in terms of asthma and inhalation effects. There are certainly health effects related to the problems of global warming.

CHW: What alliances do you see for public health researchers and auto safety and emission standards activists?

LP: There’s a lot of potential for interdisciplinary action related to these huge problems of energy policy and global warming and the places where energy policy intersects with public health. I think that every new solution obviously brings with it new problems. There are concerns about the toxicity of batteries they might use for hybrids. You’ve got a benefit in reduced vehicle emissions, but when you dispose of the batteries they’re generally made of stuff that isn’t necessarily super clean. There will need to be a really aggressive battery recycling program. I think that these are not insurmountable obstacles but certainly there’s always potential for people who come from different viewpoints to work together on these issues.

CHW: Finally, I’d like to ask you about the presidential elections. Do any of the Presidential candidates favor tougher national emission standards and are any of them focusing on that issue?

LP: All of the candidates on the Democratic side have recommended fuel economy standards that are stronger than what was passed in this latest energy bill. As far as I know, no candidate on either side, Democrat or Republican, has taken a position specifically targeting emissions from vehicles. There are a variety of strategies that have been talked about, one of which would be a carbon tax which would then make the price of gasoline more expensive. That might convince consumers to consider improved fuel efficiency. And another proposal to reduce vehicle emissions is a low carbon fuel standard, which is a performance standard for fuels in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

CHW: Thanks very much for your time.

Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Race, Part 2: Clinton, Obama and McCain on the Role of Corporations

The next President of the US faces some important decisions on the role that corporations will play in politics, the economy and health. He—or she—will need to decide whether to continue or end the Bush Administration’s dismantling of the federal regulatory apparatus, whether and how to restore the FDA’s capacity to protect our food and drugs, what role global corporations will play in setting trade rules, whether to limit or expand the role of money and special interests in politics, and whether or how to counter the health influences of the food, tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical, gun, automobile and other industries. As Americans elect their next Decider-in-Chief, what do we know about the positions of the main contenders on these critical issues? In the first of two reports, Corporations and Health Watch reviews the evidence on the positions of Senators Hilary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama on these questions.

Predicting how a candidate will act once elected is always difficult. As we have seen, he who campaigns as a compassionate conservative can morph into Scrooge. With three sitting Senators running for office, it is possible to compare their votes on critical issues. In addition, by tracking which industries contribute to whom, we can at least see how industry leaders use their checkbooks to rate the candidates. Finally, public statements, campaign websites and prior involvement with corporations provide additional sources of evidence, as do Presidential ratings by advocacy and political groups of various political perspectives.

Role of federal government in corporate oversight

In the last few years, the US Senate has voted on several issues related to government oversight of corporations, providing some insights into the candidates’ views. For example, Senator Clinton voted for restricting rules on personal bankruptcy (2001) (the business position) and for repealing the tax subsidy for companies that move jobs offshore (2005) (against the business position). She has said there is a culture of corruption and cronyism in Washington and that we need to stop outsourcing critical government functions to private companies, close the revolving door between government and the lobbying shop, and end no-bid contracts.1 Recently, her office has issued a report describing her economic blueprint for the 21st century that includes more populist language on corporations than in earlier campaign documents. She calls for leveling the playing field by reducing special breaks for big corporations, and goes on to note:

Over the past seven years, big corporations and special interests have been given a free pass to profit, often at the expense of the American worker. As President, Hillary will make it a priority to scale back special benefits and subsidies to these corporations and put those resources to work for our economy again. She will again take on the special interests and restore the voices of working families. Hillary’s plan to reign in the special interests will take back at least $55 billion per year from drug companies, oil companies, and firms that ship jobs overseas and invest those resources to improve the lives of working families.2

Senator Obama voted against reforming bankruptcy to include means testing and restrictions (2005) and for repealing the tax subsidy for companies that move jobs offshore (2005), both votes against the business position. Obama has said that corporations should be responsible for work conditions and pensions and that there should be tax incentives for corporate responsibility. He has criticized the excess influence of agribusiness lobbying and said he would work to reduce this if he were president. He states that the US should close tax loopholes for companies that relocate abroad and end tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.1

In these votes, McCain voted for restricting rules on personal bankruptcy (2001), for reforming bankruptcy to include means testing and restrictions (2005), and against repealing the tax subsidy for companies that move jobs offshore (2005)1 all votes in favor of the business positions on these issues. In January 208, McCain advocated making the Bush tax cuts for corporations permanent, noting, I would make sure that not only the tax cuts are made permanent, but we cut corporate income taxes. That would keep businesses here, and it would keep jobs here and create jobs here.

In 2006, based on 12 key Senate votes, the US Chamber of Commerce noted that John McCain endorsed their positions on 100% of the votes, Senator Clinton on 67%, and Senator Obama on 55%. Seventeen other senators, all Republicans, shared McCain’s perfect business rating. Twenty eight senators, all Democrats and one independent, had lower scores than Obama, i.e., were rated less business friendly according to the US Chamber of Commerce criteria. These ratings suggest that both Obama and Clinton vote with business more often than their Democratic colleagues while Senator McCain represents the most-business friendly sector of Republican Senators. More recently, the Chamber of Commerce lowered its rating of Senator McCain to 80%.

Despite this voting record, compared to the other Republican Presidential candidates, Senator McCain has been perceived to be less friendly to business interests. The ISI Group, a New York brokerage firm, noted, If there was a bill negative for HMOs or pharmaceutical companies during the past eight years, chances were good that John McCain was the Republican sponsor.4

On tobacco, in 1998, McCain proposed anti-smoking legislation that would raise taxes on cigarettes, restrict the industry’s ability to advertise, and grant the Food & Drug Administration broad new authority over tobacco companies. The proposal would also have limited liability suits against the Big Tobacco. McCain estimated that his package would cost the industry more than half a billion dollars over 25 years. In an aggressive lobbying campaign, the tobacco industry defeated the measure in the Senate.

In the 2008 primary campaigns, McCain received less money from the tobacco industry than other Republican candidates and less than Clinton and Obama.5 A Republican operative observed that Senator McCain is not well-beloved by the lobbying world, to say the least, and he’s used that to his advantage with voters.3 The recent New York Times story that Senator McCain had a close and what the Times called an inappropriate relationship with a telecommunications lobbyist.

In the 2007 checkbook primary, lobbyists cast their dollar-votes for Senator Clinton, contributing $823,087 to her, compared to $416,321 to Senator McCain and $86,283 to Senator Obama.7

Energy and the Automobile Industry

The next President will need to decide whether to make incremental or substantive changes in US energy policy. What do their voting records say about the current top contenders?

Senator Clinton voted against terminating CAFE standards within 15 months (2002), for targeting 100,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2010 (2003), against the Bush administration’s energy policy (2003), for banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) (2005), for factoring global warming into federal project planning (2007), for making oil-producing and -exporting cartels illegal (2007), and for removing oil and gas exploration subsidies (2007).1

Senator Obama voted for banning drilling in ANWR (2005), for reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (2005), for factoring global warming into federal project planning (2007), for making oil-producing and -exporting cartels illegal (2007), and for removing oil and gas exploration subsidies (2007).1

Senator McCain voted for oil drilling in ANWR in 2000 and against oil drilling in ANWR in 2002, promising new images of flip-flops in coming days. He voted against terminating CAFE standards within 15 months (2002), for targeting 100,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2010 (2003), against the Bush administration’s energy policy (2003), for banning drilling in ANWR (2005), and against reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (2005). His positions on energy policy are more pro-environmental than President Bush but less than his Democratic opponents.1

On emission standards, the US Chamber of Commerce observes that Clinton has said as President, she would increase fleetwide fuel economy standards to 55 miles a gallon by 2030 with funds to help automakers modernize; Obama would double fleetwide fuel economy standards within 18 years with tax credits and loan guarantees to help automakers modernize and McCain supports raising fuel economy standards but has not specified by how much.2

The Campaign for America’s Future, a strategy center for the progressive movement that advocates more sustainable energy policies, has given Senators Obama and Clinton a rating of 100% and Senator McCain a rating of 17%.

Regulating the drug industry

Another key decision facing the next president is how to shape the nation’s approach to regulation of the drug industry. In the past eight years, the FDA’s reputation and credibility have declined sharply, both because of under-funding and close ties to the industries it regulates.

Senator Clinton has advocated that the FDA should provide more oversight over pharmaceutical companies’ financial relationships with providers. There is no mention of direct-to-consumer advertising or data marketing practices, but seems to focus solely on the relationship with prescribers. Senator Obama has said that some drug manufacturers are explicitly paying generic drug makers not to enter the market so they can preserve their monopolies and keep charging Americans exorbitant prices for brand name products. He has said his health care plan will work to ensure that market power does not lead to higher prices for consumers. In the Iowa primary, McCain said that if there are ways to bring greater competition to our drug markets by safe re-importation of drugs, by faster introduction of generic drugs, or by any other means we should do so….8

A pro-drug industry website that monitors the FDA noted that Clinton, McCain and Obama all favor drug importation. That means that it is inevitable that a president who favors importation will be in the White House with a Democratic House and Senate that will be more receptive to the concept than at any time prior.8

Money in politics

It is likely that the influence of money on politics will be a topic for discussion in the 2008 general election, yet the heavy reliance of all candidates on corporate money (see Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Elections, Part 1, Following the Money) makes it difficult to imagine any pf the candidates supporting substantial reforms.

While McCain has been a strong supporter of limiting the influence of money in politics—he once said his support for McCain-Feingold bill was an issue of transcendent importance to him—he will have a hard time reconciling this commitment with his promise to appoint Supreme Court justices like Scalia and Thomas—consistent supporters of Big Business and opponents of campaign finance reform. A recent story in Business Week asked, Is John McCain Good for Business?, observing that McCain has crusaded against the influence of corporate lobbyists, yet has more K Street fixers raising money for his campaign than any other Presidential candidate.9 The recent New York Times and Washington Post stories on his relationship with a lobbyist emphasize his vulnerability on this issue. In the 2007 primary cycle, 78% of McCain’s contributions campaign from corporate funds. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine as Big Business’s candidate; and last Spring Obama was the top recipient of Wall Street contributions, suggesting that no matter who wins, business will have ready access to the next President.

In future articles in this series, Corporations and Health Watch will examine the candidates’ positions on free trade, the food industry and on FDA reform.

References

1. Campaign Issues 2008.
2. Hilary Clinton. Solutions for America. Economic Blueprint. Hillary Clinton’s Economic Blueprint for the 21st Century
3. US hamber of Commerce. Senate Vote Scorecard, 2006.
4. Quoted in Calmes J, Frangos A. “McCain’s Breaks with GOP left scars but could increase his “electability”.” Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2008, p A1 and A16.
5. Corporations and Health Watch. Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Elections Following the Money.
6. Rutenberg R, Thompson MW, Kirkpatrick D, Laboton S. “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk.” New York Times. February 21, 2008, p. A1.
7. Open Secrets.
8. Eye on the FDA. Where the Candidates Stand Parts 1-8.
9. Javers E. Is John McCain good for business? Business week. February 6, 2008.

 

View CHW’s coverage on Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Race:

Part 1: Following the Money
Part 2: Clinton, Obama and McCain on the Role of Corporations Part 3: Clinton, McCain, Obama and the Food Industry

Food and pharmaceutical industries win big in 2007 International Bad Products Awards

In Fall 2007, Consumers International—a federation of more than 220 consumer groups in 115 countries that work together to protect and empower consumers around the world—released its International Bad Products Awards for 2007. Nominations for the list were submitted by CI international member organizations and the winners were chosen by the CI Secretariat. Topping the list this year were products of the food and beverage industry and Big Pharma.

How to sell tap water and make a profit:

Coca-Cola was one of CI’s top winners and received the honor for their repackaging of tap water sold under the brand name Dasani. Dasani’s source is not obvious on the bottle itself or in Coca-Cola’s marketing. However, in the FAQ of the Dasani website, the company states Dasani is created with the local water supply, which is then filtered for purity using a state-of-the-art process called reverse osmosis. The purified water is then enhanced with a special blend of minerals for a pure, crisp, fresh taste. The website calls attention to the mouthwatering taste of flavored Dasani beverages and notes that Dasani Plus is enhanced with nutrients and delicious flavors giving you what your taste buds want and the goodness your body craves.

Coke introduced Dasani in 1999 as a purified, noncarbonated water with minerals added. In 2003, the company hired the New York ad firm Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, part of the Red Cell division of the WPP Group, to design a campaign for Dasani. The Berlin Cameron/Red Cell ads portrayed Dasani, at that time the #2 bottled water behind Pepsi’s Aquafina, as a beverage associated with youth and sexuality. The New York Times described the ads as: replete with quick editing cuts, fast-paced music and fast-moving plot. Then, too, there is all the sexiness, as embodied by multiple scenes of attractive young people dancing, running and embracing, interspersed with shots of water splashing into open mouths.

A year later, however, questions emerged about the health benefits of enhanced tap water. Only weeks after Dasani was launched in Great Britain, Coke was forced to recall more than 500,000 bottles after tests found excess levels of bromate. Bromate is a chemical produced in Dasani’s water purification process. A recent review concluded that based on an extensive database of relevant research, it is reasonable to assume that bromate induces tumors via oxidative damage that causes chromosomal breakage. British law permits 10 parts of bromate per billion; Dasani water was found to contain up to 25 parts per billion. Long term exposure to bromate is linked to a higher risk for cancer. Following the recall, Coca-Cola halted a scheduled April 2004 release in France and Germany.

Despite these recalls, Coca-Cola’s Dasani brand sales have continued to grow internationally and in the United States. In October 2007 Coca-Cola reported a 13% quarterly profits increase, largely due to international sales. Worldwide sales volume for noncarbonated beverages rose 14%, as compared to 4% for carbonated drinks. The difference in sales between carbonated and noncarbonated beverages may be due to the increasing evidence that consumption of soda is linked to obesity. In the US, this concern has resulted in more consumers choosing water and other purportedly healthful beverage options. Although Coca-Cola does not deny the source of their Dasani water, as CI points out, their advertising is misleading in that it uses terms such as pure, crisp and fresh. As CI stated in awarding its Bad Product listing, by bottling up this universal resource to sell back to us, corporations such as Coca-Cola have created a US$100 billion industry at the same time when one billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water. Making profits out of increasingly fragile water supplies is unsustainable, irresponsible and against the basic rights of consumers everywhere.

Hey Kids! Develop amazing physical attributes with 40% sugar!

Another winner of the 2007 Bad Product Award was the Kellogg Company for its marketing of low nutrient junk food to children. According to CI, Kellogg’s achieved global net sales of $10.9 billion in 2006 and spent $916 million on advertising. Kellogg President-CEO David Mackay stated that of the total amount spent on advertising in the United States, 27% is directed to children under age 12. Increasing concern over food and beverage marketing to children has put pressure on Kellogg’s and other big food companies. In response to this pressure, including a 2006 lawsuit threatened by Center for Science and the Public Interest and the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Kellogg’s agreed to make changes.

During the second half of 2007 and 2008, Kellogg’s promised to stop advertising many of its most popular items to children under 12 if these products did not conform to new nutrition guidelines limiting sugar to no more than 12 grams and total calories to no more than 200 per serving. The company also promised to work on reducing salt and fat, limiting per serving amounts to no more than 230 milligrams of sodium, zero grams of trans fat and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat. Kellogg’s further agreed to limit licensed cartoon characters in its ads and to not advertise in schools.

Despite these promised changes, Kellogg’s still won a CI award for its low nutrient food marketing to children. One reason for this dubious honor is that while Kellogg’s is making changes in the U.S market, it seems to be business as usual around the world. CI reported that Kellogg’s marketed cereals containing between 33-40% sugar to children around the world. In addition, Kellogg’s continued to use cartoon characters and other imagery appealing to children to market their high sugar cereals. In Australia, CI reports, Kellogg’s used social networking techniques aimed at children to promote Coco Pops while in the UK, the same cereal was cross promoted with the film Shrek. The most egregious example, however, came from Mexico where Kellogg’s ads promised children that their high sugar cereals would help children develop amazing physical attributes, according to CI. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of El Poder del Consumidor, a CI member organization, the ads were pulled.

Back to school with sleeping pills.

Top honors in the CI Bad Products Awards went to the US subsidiary of Takeda Pharmaceuticals for marketing sleeping pills to children. Takeda, a US $10 billion company, is the largest pharmaceutical maker in Japan. It was their promotion of sleeping aid Rozerem that earned them the overall Bad Product Award with CI. Why? Because of Takeda’s September 2006 ten second ad featuring images of school bus and images of children wearing backpacks and writing on chalkboards with the voiceover, Rozerem would like to remind you that it’s back to school season. Ask your doctor today if Rozerem is right for you.

Beyond the generally distressing suggestion that children be prescribed sleeping aids, Takeda’s own product labeling states that It is not known what effect chronic or even chronic intermittent use of ROZEREM may have on the reproductive axis in developing humans…Safety and effectiveness of ROZEREM in pediatric patients have not been established. In addition, Rozerem is associated with increased thoughts of suicide in adults.

According to CI, it took the FDA six months to remove the ad, long after the ‘back to school’ promotion had gone. However, in March 2007, the agency sent Takeda Pharmaceuticals a letter stating: The combination of these statements and images of school-aged children and school-related objects suggests that Rozerem is indicated for and can be safely used in the pediatric population. The FDA also noted that the ads failed to present the indication and information relating to major side effects and must make adequate provision for dissemination of the FDA-approved labeling.

Despite these violations, the FDA did not fine Takeda, which in 2006 spent $118 million on advertising Rozerem alone. During the same year, Big Pharma spent $600 million on advertising sleeping products. Sales of sleeping aids continued to rise, increasing 60% between 2000 and 2005. In addition, in the adult population, the FDA has raised concerns that sleeping aids are associated with strange side effects such as sleeping walking, hallucinations, violent outburst, nocturnal driving and engaging in sexual intercourse during sleep.

In the past, pharmaceutical companies have sought to increase their market through direct-to-consumer marketing and advertising to physicians. However, just as Big Tobacco learned the value of enticing young people to smoke or to associate tobacco brands with good feelings, it seems that Big Pharma is now increasingly and directly going after a youth market as well. As early as 2000, the New York Times described campaigns by Roche Pharmaceuticals and others to promote prescription acne medications directly to teens. One pharmaceutical industry consultant told the Times, The idea is to expand the market and just get them interested and motivated. And teenagers aren’t the easiest patients to motivate. The ad showed a boy with acne being called Pizza Face by his peers.

In recognition of this alarming trend, CI noted in its award to Takeda, This case demonstrates the lengths to which some drug companies will go to increase sales of their products, how direct to consumer advertising can promote irrational drug use, and how weak regulation can foster irresponsible corporate behaviour.

Time to reclassify malt liquor and flavored malt beverages as a “distilled spirit?”

Ten years ago, Harlem community activists and Bill Perkins, Harlem’s representative to the New York City Council, led a successful campaign to rid Harlem of malt liquor ads that they calledpornographic and disrespectful(1). Several years earlier, legal action had forced malt liquor advertisers to remove similar ads. In the ensuing decades, activists launched comparable campaigns against the advertising and distribution of malt liquor in Portland, Oregon; Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C. and many other cities, often in the African-American neighborhoods targeted by malt liquor manufactures.

Now, major U.S. breweries are facing declining revenues due to decreased demand for mass market product lines such as Budweiser and a trend toward increased wine consumption and specialty and imported beers (2,3). For the beer industry, young consumers who have not yet established brand and drink preferences are an obvious target for the more aggressive marketing of malt liquor products (2,3).

This story of marketing malt liquor and the resistance to it illustrates some of the ways that free markets can collide with public health. It also demonstrates both the potential and limits of community activism to resist the promotion of unhealthy products. ThisCorporations and Health Watchreport summarizes the health risks associated with malt liquor consumption and describes the marketing of newer flavored malt liquors and caffeinated energy malt liquors to young people. It reviews actions by community activists to restrict the sale and advertisement of malt liquor products in low-income urban communities, and concludes with policy recommendations designed to better protect young people from the risks associated with malt liquor.

The most common malt liquor beverages are produced by the major U.S. brewing companies. These include beverages produced by Miller Brewing Company (Olde English 800 and Mickey’s), Pabst Brewing Company (St. Ides and Colt 45), Anheuser-Busch (King Cobra and Hurricane), and SABMiller (Steel Reserve). Newer products includeFMBs(Flavored Malt Beverages) ormalternativessuch asHard Lemonade,and other malt liquors with added flavors and sweeteners that appeal to younger adults and teens.

Malt liquor is a type of beer that has artificially high alcohol content, produced by adding sugar, corn, rice, dextrose or other adjuncts. The resulting alcoholic beverage is too strong to be legally labeled asbeer,and so it is labeled asmalt liquor.Beers typically have an alcohol content of around 5% by volume, whereas malt liquor has an alcohol content of 6 to 11% alcohol by volume. Malt liquor, which is typically a very pale amber color, tends to lack the bitterness associated with many types of beer because it is produced without hops. Flavored malt beverages are produced in the same manner as malt liquor, but with several additional steps to remove the color and flavors typically associated with beer and malt liquor. The result is a potent, flavorless alcoholic base that manufacturers combine with candy-like flavors and coloring, then market with youth-oriented advertisements.

The public health case against malt liquor

Objections to street corner distribution of 40 ounces

Most malt liquor advertisements urge young men to adopt amasculineidentity by consuming large quantities of potent alcohol in a single sitting, a pattern of consumption that increases the risk for excessive alcohol intake and alcohol dependency (4). In a study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions found that malt liquor users were more likely to smoke marijuana when they drink and to consume dangerous levels of alcohol (5). Due to the high alcohol concentration and super-sized bottles, a drinker who downs one or two 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor could be consuming the equivalent of up to 14 standard drinks in one sitting (5).

Another objection is the low cost and ready availability in small groceries in minority neighborhoods (6), stores that often ignore laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors. The high density of these outlets also make them more difficult to police. A 40-ounce bottle, commonly referred to as a40,sells for less than $2, often at a price as low as 99 cents. Because malt liquor is classified as beer, many small grocery vendors are permitted to sell the product and the product is taxed at a lower rate than wine and spirits.

Currently under review by the Tax and Trade Bureau, the division of the U.S. Treasury Department that regulates malt liquor labeling, is a proposal that would allow for the advertisement of malt liquor based on potency (7). Such advertisement of malt liquor is currently prohibited, out of concern that breweries will engage instrength warsusing advertising designed to win over young drinkers with the high potency of their brews (7,8).

In sum, the industry’s marketing plans make a potent and potentially dangerous product readily available at affordable prices in our most disadvantaged communities. The alcohol industry then aggressively markets the products to young men, using sexual images that imply consumption enhances masculinity.

Objections tokiddie boozeandgirlie drinks,also known asalcopops

Another marketing strategy also raises concerns for health professionals. Recently, the alcohol industry has added caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and energy-producing claims to malt liquor products, in addition to flavoring malt liquors and test marketing fruit-flavored malt liquorshots.Flavored malt liquors such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, a lemon-flavored malt alcoholic beverage made by a producer in Canada, are popular with teens and young adults, especially girls. This gender-specific product design and marketing is making malt liquors an equal opportunity substance, increasing the likelihood that both genders are at risk of malt liquor’s harm.

Groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have taken issue with marketing practices associated with malt liquor and the over-saturation of the market withkiddie boozeflavored malt beverages and advertisements (9-14). The American Medical Association has commissioned a survey of underage girls, finding that a third of all girls older than 12 have triedgirlie drinksoralcopopsand that teenage girls report drinking alcohol more often than their male counterparts (9). Alcopops is a term used to describe sweetened malt beverages and other sweetened alcoholic drinks. In their paperGirlie Drinks. . . Women’s Diseases,the American Medical Association warns young girls that manufactures use thesweet fruity flavorof thesestarter drinksto appeal to young girls (9), and the Marin Institute credits the increased availability and marketing of inexpensivealcopopsto increased female consumption of alcohol (15).

Due to pressure exerted by national substance abuse prevention organizations, numerous state attorneys general, and public interest groups, Anheuser-Busch ultimately agreed to stop the marketing of its Spykes product line in May 2007 (16-18). Spykes, which were 12% alcohol by volume, were sold within arm’s reach of many cash registers in grocery stores and delis for under $2. Sold in flavors such as spicy mango, hot chocolate, hot melon, and spicy lime, the product was designed for young girls and teens who do not like the taste of hard alcohol and beer, as a product that could be taken either as ashotor added to beer or vodka to mask the taste of alcohol with sweet, fruity flavor. Pam Erickson of the Oregon Partnership applauded the effort noting,From the beginning, we thought this product was aimed at underage drinkers and thanks to others who thought the same thing, it’s now gone(19).

Similar victories were reached back in 1997 with the wave of protest that resulted from the introduction of frozen malt liquors such as St. Ide’s Freeze and Squeeze. At that time, then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, civic and church groups, local borough presidents, and the New York City commissioner of consumer affairs united against small stores selling fruit-flavored frozen malt liquor to children and teens (20-24).

Community struggles against 40 ounce malt liquor

Activists in urban communities of color have long battled for restrictions on the sale of malt liquor, as they struggled with high rates of violence and substance abuse in their communities. Community activists have called for numerous measures, including restrictions on advertising, higher taxes, and better policing of sales to minors. Some groups have urged filmmakers and rap artists to end their promotion of malt liquor. In their desire to target young African Americans, malt liquor makers have hired such artists as LL Cool J, DJ Quik, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, E-40, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, Wu-Tang Clan, and the Geto Boys to promote their products.

Community activists have also charged that the sale of malt liquor encourages public drunkenness, loitering, urinating in public, and littering. Some research shows that malt liquor 40s are the beverage of choice for many homeless adults and unemployed adults (25), as well as teens (4). Single malt liquor sales are currently prohibited in the state of Florida, and community residents in Washington, D.C. were recently successful in banning the sale ofsinglesin several communities. These coalitions were led by politicians such as Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (Democrat) and Councilman Tommy Wells (Democrat) and by community groups such as the South Columbia Heights Neighborhood Association and the Anacostia Coordinating Committee, where many residents had long complained about theoversaturation of liquor-selling establishments and the impact they’ve had on neighborhoods(26-28).

In Philadelphia, when Colt 45 malt ads began to appear on city buses and trains, residents immediately complained and the ads were removed in August 2007. Councilmember Jim Kenney complained about the ads, notingpeople have been fighting these take-out beer delis for years now(29). As in Harlem, the victories in controlling malt liquor promotion in one setting or time are often difficult to sustain, requiring activists to maintain vigilance and be ready to take on new products or advertising campaigns.

In Portland, Oregon, neighborhood activists concerned about underage and binge drinking protested a billboard advertisement for 40-ounce bottles of Olde English malt liquor. According to Carl Flipper of the Humboldt Neighborhood Target Association, the billboard showedgang members in the ‘hood having a good time drinking large containers of beer.As a result of the protests, Miller discontinued their plans for 44 billboard ads but continues to run local radio, TV and print media ads. The company refused to take any responsibility for youth drinking in a statement, writing,We aren’t responsible for all the drinking problems in your community(30).

Other African American coalitions have protested the sale of malt liquor in 40s calling itliquid crack,with members of the Citizen Reform Action Committee in Philadelphia urging manufacturers of 40s to fund anti alcohol abuse messages (31). In Chicago, an African American Catholic priest named Father Michael Pfleger has generated headlines time and again for his efforts to protect his parishioners from tobacco, alcohol, drugs and gang violence (32). With his 1983 Battle of the Billboards Campaign,he and parishioners counted 118 alcohol and tobacco billboards within a 10-block radius of the parish. He was arrested several times for destruction of property when he took part in whitewashing or removing the billboards. His actions did contribute to ending the distribution of Powermaster, a potent malt liquor sold in African American communities.

A new market for the traditional 40-ounce?

While malt liquor advertisers have traditionally targeted African American communities, the search for new markets continues. On its website, Pabst promotes Colt 45, sayingIt has become an urban American icon. If you’re looking for a thick 40, or an ice cold shorty, Colt 45 is the malt liquor that works EVERYTIMETM!Pabst encourages readers to visit their new website designed for whitehipstersand where they can create their own tales of Colt 45 on paper bags (www.talesofcolt45.com) (33,34).

The case for tighter regulation According to a recent Advertising Age commentary, the new ad campaign is part of an effort to revive the Colt 45 brand, once viewed as anexploitative product that preyed on the urban poorand make it anedgy choice for young hipsterswith creative graphics drawn on brown paper bags (35). On the same website, Pabst adds,A big part of our promise is to be responsible—and we trust that you’ll do the same.

Public health lawyers have sought, so far without success, to reclassify sugary sweet alcopops and flavored malt beverages from their current classification as a beer to a distilled spirit, a category that allows higher taxes (8). Such measures would increase the cost of the products, making them less appealing to young teens, as well as remove them from the shelves of thousands of retail outlets not permitted to sell wines and spirits. By reclassifying malt liquor and flavored malt beverages as distilled spirits, these potent alcoholic beverages would be sold only in establishments licensed to sell distilled spirits. Such a reclassification would reduce young people’s access to alcoholic beverages, thereby reducing underage drinking, drunk driving, and the adverse health consequences associated with alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Other measures designed to reduce the harm from malt liquor include restrictions on outdoor advertisements for alcohol and restrictions on advertisements for alcoholic beverages in youth-oriented magazines and television programs.

For public health professionals and advocates, the story of malt liquor shows how declining profits and the quest for increased market share can push industry to act in ways that threaten public health. While community activism has played an important role in curbing this promotion of malt liquor, the fact that these mobilizations have persisted for more than 25 years, often being forced to re-emerge to defend previous victories, suggests the limits of this approach. In the long run, only government agencies that have the backbone and the resources to fulfill their mandates can ensure that special interests don’t threaten the health of the public.

References

1. Siegal, N.Councilman Condemns Beer Ads as Crude, Racist.New York Times, February 21, 1999.
2. Hirsh J.Beer firms unite, seek a potent mix; SABMiller and Molson Coors hope to better compete for market share as consumers turn to other beverages.Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2007.
3. Ward A.US brewers cry into their beers: competition from imports and local specialty brews hitting home.Financial Times, July 31, 2006.
4. Bradizza CM, Collins RL, Vincent PC, Falco DL. It does the job: Young adults discuss their malt liquor consumption. Addictive Behaviors. 2006; 31: 1559-1577.
5. Collins RL, Bradizza CM, Vincent PC. Young-adult malt liquor drinkers: Prediction of alcohol problems and marijuana use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. 2007; 21: 138-146.
6. Bluthenthal RN, Cohen D, Farley T, Scribner R, Beighley C, Schonlau M, Robinson PL.Alcohol availability and neighborhood characteristics in Los Angeles, California and Southern Louisiana.Presentation given at American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, November 6, 2007.
7. Kitsock G.Beer laid bare: labels that tell all.The Washington Post, August 29, 2007.
8.Federal Trade Commission Alcohol Marketing and Advertising: A report to Congress, September 2003. Accessed February 10, 2008.
9.Girlie Drinks. . . Women’s Diseases.American Medical Association. Accessed February 10, 2008.
10.The battle over ‘Alcopops.American Public Health Association newsletter, Winter 2007. Accessed February 2, 2008.
11.Flavored Alcoholic Beverages: The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.Policy Brief, International Institute for Alcohol Awareness, April 2006.
12.Underage drinking in the United Sates: A Status Report, 2005.The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, March 2006.
13.Center for Science in the Public Interest. Accessed February 10, 2008.
14.The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Accessed February 10, 2008.
15.The Marin Institute, Alcopops.Accessed February 19, 2008.
16. Associated Press.Hot melon in your beer? Bud tests additives.MSNBC.com. January 25, 2007.
17. CSPI Newsroom.Anheuser-Busch’s ‘Spykes’ labels illegal, group says,April 16, 2007. Updated April 30, 2007:TTB agrees; A-B halts production to fix labels.
18. Associated Press.Anheuser-Busch pulls ‘Spykes.’CBS News, St. Louis. May 18, 2007. 19. Oregon Partnership press release.Oregon Partnership claims victory as Anheuser-Busch drops Spykes,May 18, 2007. Accessed February 19, 2008.
20. Kinosian J. “`Alcopops’ Causing a Brewhaha,” Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), March 17, 1997.
21. Halbfinger DM. “Icy, Fruity Malt Liquor Lures Minors, Critics Say,” New York Times, July 24, 1997.
22. Halbfinger DM. “Malt Drink: Cold, Fruity, Discontinued,” New York Times, July 25, 1997.
23. Halbfinger DM. “Selling Alcohol Disguised As Punch,” New York Times, July 27, 1997.
24. Etzioni A. “Son of Joe Camel,” Washington Post, August 17, 1997.
25. Bluthenthal RN, Brown Taylor D, Guzman-Becerra N, Robinson PL. Characteristics of malt liquor beer drinkers in a low-income, racial minority community sample. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2007; 29: 402-409. 26. Emerling G.Beer rule a tough sell to retailers; no singles can be sold in Ward 4.The Washington Times, August 14, 2007.
27. Williams C.Grocery is flash point for changing neighborhood; newcomers, longtimers clash over beer sales.The Washington Post, December 10, 2007.
28. Emerling G.Beer rule a tough sell to retailers; no singles can be sold in Ward 4.The Washington Times, August 14, 2007.
29. Vasquez D.Colt 45 wraps pulled off Philly buses.Media Life Magazine, August 3, 2007.
30. Join Together.Miller agrees to drop Portland malt liquor ads.August 17, 2000.
31. Emeno A.Coalition protests sale of malt liquor in ’40s’ Black leaders called the 40-ounce bottles ‘Liquid Crack.’ They want brewers to fund antialcohol abuse messages.The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 2000.
32. Csillag R.Chicago’s renegade priest.The Toronto Star. November 8, 2003.
33.Pabst Brewing Company website. Accessed February 2, 2008.
34.Colt 45 website. Accessed February 2, 2008.
35. Mullman J.Challenge: Make malt liquor look good on paper. Pabst uses icon from controversial brand’s past to reposition it as edgy to new generation of drinkers.Advertising Age, January 28, 2008.

Strategic Alliance: Tools for Shifting the Food Debate Upstream

As more communities become concerned about finding ways to reduce increasing rates of obesity, many coalitions struggle to find a way to move beyond changing individual behavior and local government policies that contribute to overweight to taking on the food industry and other more upstream influences. The Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments (SA) provides a model for this more holistic approach. SA works to improve the health of Californians by providing solutions for community organizations and residents to take action to create healthier food and physical environments. Here we focus on their work to change the food and beverage industry’s influence on food choices.

The alliance’s programs examine and challenge the food and beverage industry’s influence on daily life, with a particular emphasis on practices that reach the lives of children. For example, SA has worked with others to change corporate policies on food marketing in stores and on television, the use of celebrities to endorse unhealthy products, and exclusive soda and fast food contracts with school districts. are just some of the areas where SA rallies for change. By equipping advocates with resources, research, information, training and assessment tools, SA assists communities to reduce the promotion of unhealthy food.

SA views local initiatives as the driving force for changing local, state, federal and corporate policies. By supporting these initiatives with education, media analyses and policy advocacy, the Alliance strengthens and accelerates the creation of healthier food and activity environments.

Education

SA encourages concerned citizens and organizations to learn more about the ways corporations shape nutrition and physical activity environments. To educate and mobilize parents, advocates, young people and health providers, SA publishes reports, sponsors training programs and distributes assessment tools. For example, a report called Setting the Bar: Recommendations for Food and Beverage Industry Action calls on the food, beverage and restaurant industry to “make meaningful changes to support people in making nutritious food choices.” It lists simple steps these industries can take in the areas of product, price, place, and promotion. The box below shows the suggestions that food industries can use to make products healthier. Presented in simple language, the 3 page report serves as a tool for activists and a guide for sympathetic business owners who want to make changes.

Important Steps for the Food and Beverage Industry

Provide healthy food and beverages as the standard in all children’s meals and on children’s menus.

Add new menu items that are healthy, affordable, tasty, and satisfying, including entrées, appetizers and side dishes.

Reformulate food products to decrease calories and lower saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars, and add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Make available, and promote low calorie or no calorie beverage options without artificial sweeteners (e.g., water, low-fat milk) that help customers to manage their calorie intake.

Eliminate large and extra-large food and beverages portions.

SA also created the Environmental Nutrition and Activity Community Tool (ENACT), an interactive, networking tool and development guide designed to connect communities with effective strategies to counter health harming industry practices. The guide allows users to review successful programs, input specific needs, and evaluate ongoing projects.

For example, alliance members can use ENACT to determine the extent to which fast food endorsements of preschool educational materials effect children’s health in their communities in order to decide whether to make this action a priority.

The American Public Health Association endorses ENACT, saying it “provides a road map for change, offering a practical starting place for communities and making healthy eating and regular activity a realistic option for everyone.” [1]

Through its educational activities, SA provides materials to create initiatives and challenge the food and beverage industry’s influence in childcare centers, schools, after school programs, neighborhoods, workplaces, health care providers and government agencies. This support has helped local initiatives to, for example, limit fast food businesses in the neighborhood, improve nutrition standards in public schools, and remove unhealthy food marketing in local groceries.

Media Analysis

Since the media exert a powerful influence on food choices and public opinion on food policy options, SA also assists activists and advocacy organizations to analyze media coverage of food issues, to frame their own messages more effectively, and to design media advocacy campaigns in support of policy objectives. To achieve these goals, SA teamed up with the Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) to create an advocacy project called the Rapid Response Media Network. The project serves as an action network and resource for nutrition and physical activity advocates. The goal of the project is to unravel health harming messages that blame individuals for diet related diseases, and move toward an analysis that holds corporate practices and government policies responsible for shaping our daily environments.

Advocates can engage the Rapid Response Media Network through several resources. The project monitors, analyzes and produces reports on food and beverage industry current events. Armed with the network’s reports, alliance members are encouraged to carve out the front-lines of nutrition and physical activity advocacy. The project also provides consulting services and issues ‘Framing Briefs,’ helping tease out complex messages and aiding a unified voice.

To give an example, the Network helped members analyze a quote from Jim Skinner, CEO of McDonald’s, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. “We [McDonald’s Corp] are not going to solve the world’s obesity problem. But what we can do is be productive and be part of the solution” by providing consumers with “choices” [2].

How can advocates contextualize the underlying health messages in Skinner’s comment? The Rapid Response Media Network ‘Framing Brief,’ Reading Between the Lines, compares Skinner’s focus on “choice” to other corporate marketing and sponsorship campaigns. Philip Morris, PepsiCo and Kraft also attempted to redirect negative media attention away from unhealthy products by evoking the same strategy.

According to the ‘Framing Brief,’ “The emphasis on choice reinforces the common frame in American culture that individuals are solely responsible for their own health. Choice links directly to personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is extremely important, but decisions are always made in a context. Focusing on choice obscures the context” (p. 3).

Larry Cohen, founder of SA’s parent organization, The Prevention Institute, and author of Prevention is Primary (2007), details the importance of broadening media coverage around nutrition and physical activity environments. Cohen’s 2005 article in the California Journal of Health Promotion, The O Word [3], says that an individual-focused prevention response to obesity does not improve health and, in fact, can adversely affect communities. “…The persistent drumbeat of ‘obesity’ oversimplifies a complex issue. It places the blame squarely on the individual, without taking into account the social and economic influence of where people live, work and play” (p. 154).

Using similar reasoning, Lori Dorfman of BMSG, calls on advocates to “reframe” public health issues. To Dorfman, nutrition is just one example of how health prevention efforts can shift from individually-focused efforts to a more holistic context. In order to “reframe” issues, Dorfman says the social, economic and political context must also be considered [4].

By supporting media analysis and advocacy, SA and The Prevention Institute advance their mission of strengthening local efforts to influence corporate and government practices that shape daily nutrition and physical activity environments.

Policy Advocacy

In addition to its educational and media work, SA also seeks to advance a policy agenda that addresses local, state, federal and corporate food policies. Its steering committee includes such organizations as The California Adolescent Nutrition and Fitness Program, California Center for Public Health Advocacy, California Food Policy Advocates, California Pan Ethnic Health Network; California Park & Recreation Society; California Project LEAN; California WIC Association, Child Care Food Program Roundtable; Latino Health Access Prevention Institute, and the YMCA of the East Bay, giving the group access to hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals. By bringing consistent policy messages to legislators, Mayors and the Governor from these sources, SA enhances its political clout.

Its policy recommendations, included in reports such as Taking Action for a Healthier California: Recommendations to Improve Healthy Food and Activity Options, recommend steps the food and beverage industry can take to improve food environments and also public policies to monitor industries impact on health more carefully. Several recommendations are open-ended, allowing communities to tailor community-specific programs. For youth involved in pre-school, public school and after-school settings, for example, SA recommends the removal of advertising and marketing of unhealthy food, provisions for nutritious food standards, and increasing physical activity programs.

Taking Action for a Healthier California is changing the way some California cities approach prevention efforts. As a result of local policy advocacy, San Francisco and the City of Berkeley have endorsed many of SA’s recommendations, joining more than 75 organizations that have committed to improving nutrition and physical activity environments.

Working to further develop action at the policy level, SA tracks local policy decisions related to food and physical activity through the ENACT Local Policy Database (ENACT LPdB). Policy coverage includes school district, city, county and state levels where community activities and coalitions have worked to achieve change.

Advocates are encouraged to use the ENACT website and ENACT LPdB as both educational and development models. The approach endorsed by SA is designed to motivate advocates to “act locally” through social organizing around the role of the built environment.

A year ago, the Strategic Alliance issued a report called Where’s the fruit? charging the food industry with deceptive labeling and advertising of many processed foods by implying they contained more fruit than they did. The report attracted broad television and newspaper coverage, educating millions of people about the issue. “The deception is really intolerable,” Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention Institute, told the San Francisco Chronicle [5]. “There is really no excuse for misleading parents in a way that weakens their ability to encourage their children’s health” [5]. By bringing together researchers, community organizations and policy advocates SA had helped to ‘reframe’ the way society views health behavior and politically popular policy recommendations. Equally important, SA had given local activists the tools they needed to move their fight for healthier food upstream, from individual and parental responsibility to corporate accountability.

 

References

1. Food and Nutrition Resources. American Public Health Association. Summer 2006 Newsletter. Available at: http://www.apha.org/membergroups/ newsletters/sectionnewsletters/food/summer06/2494.htm.

2. Adamy J. Boss Talk: How Jim Skinner Flipped McDonald’s. Wall Street Journal. Jan 5, 2007. B1. Available at: http://wsjclassroomedition.com/monday/mx_07jan08.pdf.

3. Cohen L, Perales DP, Steadman C. The O Word: Why the focus on obesity is harmful to community health. California Journal of Health Promotion. 2005;3(3):154-61. Available at: http://www.csuchico.edu/cjhp/3/3/154-161-cohen.pdf.

4. Dorfman L, Wallack L. Moving Nutrition Upstream: The case for reframing obesity. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2007;39(2 Suppl):S45-50. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1499404606006014.

5. Finz S. Fruit Shown on Lable Often Not in Box, Kids’ Food Study Says. San Francisco Chronicle. Jan 26,2007. Available at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/01/26/ MNGMHNPK671.DTL.

New Resources on Global Trade and Public Health

At the November 2007 meeting of the American Public Health Association in Washington, D.C., several sessions addressed the issue of trade and health.  Many of these sessions were sponsored by the new Trade and Health Forum and address global economic policies that generate health disparities.

Presentations on global trade and public health are now posted on the CPATH website at:  http://www.cpath.org/id28.html

Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Elections, Part 1: Following the Money

Presidential elections provide one opportunity to shine some light on how Big Business seeks to create a political environment favorable to its interests. Between now and November 2008, Corporations and Health Watch will include periodic reports on the positions of leading Presidential candidates on public oversight of corporate practices that influence health; the elections roles of the pharmaceutical, food, tobacco, automobile and other industries, and the prior legislative records and corporate involvement of major candidates. Our first report focuses on the role of money: what industries are contributing to the various candidates. Our focus here and in future reports is on the role of the industries monitored by Corporate Health Watch: alcohol, automobiles, firearms, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals and tobacco.

Using analyses conducted by Open Secrets at the Center for Responsive Politics, we can identify contributions made to the 2008 Presidential campaigns by both political action committees (PACs) and individuals affiliated with a particular industry (usually as a result of employment) through September 30, 2007. Final 2007 reports will be available at the end of January 2008. Our report covers the 3 major Democratic candidates and the 5 leading Republicans.

PAC and Individual Contributions by Selected Industries for 2008 Presidential Candidates

Candidate Registered Lobbyists Pharma & Health Products Health Profs Tobacco
Democrats        
Hillary Clinton $567,950 $269,436 $1,695,830 $36,600
John Edwards $18,900 $15,000 $419,326 0
Barack Obama $76,859 $261,784 $1,330,743 $8,885
Republicans        
Rudolph W. Giuliani $212,100 $138,850 $1,026,452 $77,400
Mike Huckabee $6,964 $500 $70,750 0
John McCain $340,365 $69,300 $568,880 $5,600
Mitt Romney $229,475 $260,535 $1,041,267 $32,400
Fred Thompson $90,000 $26,900 $174,675 $1,250

Totals on these charts are calculated from PAC contributions and contributions from individuals giving more than $200, as reported to the Federal Election Commission. Individual contributions are generally categorized based on the donor’s occupation/employer, although individuals may be classified instead as ideological donors if they’ve given more than $200 to an ideological PAC. Shows contributions through September 30, 2007.
Source: Open Secrets

As shown above, Hilary Clinton led the Democratic field in contributions from all four categories of contributors, although Barack Obama was a close second in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry and from health professionals and their organizations. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney led the pack in total fund raising form these four sources with Rudolph W. Giuliani a close second. Health professionals split their contributions fairly evenly among Republicans and Democrats as did the pharmaceutical industry and registered lobbyists. Only tobacco consistently favored Republicans, giving about twice as much to them as to Democratic candidates. Note that on the Democratic side, the level of contributions were somewhat similar to the level of support received from Iowa caucus goers and New Hampshire voters. For the Republicans, however, Iowa winner Mike Huckabee received few contributions perhaps because of his late rise in the campaign, while candidate Rudolph Giuliani won substantial support from contributors but not Iowa or New Hampshire voters.

Industry’s bipartisan approach to political contributions reflects both the heterogeneity of these categories, at least within mainstream American politics, but also the hedge- your-bets philosophy of special interests. No matter who wins, they want a friend in the White House. Registered lobbyists larger contributions to Clinton and McCain may demonstrate these candidates’ longer tenure in Washington and thus their established relationships with lobbyists.

While both the pharmaceutical and health products industry and health professionals (hospitals, medical associations, medical suppliers) provided substantial support to several candidates, these industries were not the major contributors to these campaigns. Donors from the securities and investment, legal, hedge fund and real estate industries were more significant donors to most major candidates than the industries shown in the table above.

Role of the Pharmaceutical Industry

As James Ridgeway and Joan Casella noted in Mother Jones recently, “Any candidate who genuinely plans to confront Big Pharma must be prepared to give up a boatload of cash”. Between 1998 and 2007, the pharmaceutical industry spent more on lobbying than any other industry, spending a total of $1.3 billion with $191 million in 2006 alone. Between 1990 and 2007, drug manufacturers contributed a total of $149 million to federal election campaigns. On the Democratic side, John Edwards has failed to raise significant contributions from Big Pharma, perhaps because of his prior life as a trial lawyer who won large settlements from pharmaceutical and health care industries.

PAC Contributions

Another perspective comes from an examination of PAC contributions to the Presidential candidates. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as shown below, business PACS heavily favor Republican candidates and Labor PACS, not much of a presence in 2008 contributions to date, heavily favor the campaign of John Edwards. Single issue groups are organizations that span the ideological spectrum and support or oppose issues such as abortion, gun control, or gay marriage. They constitute a major component of Barack Obama’s PAC contributions but without analyses of the specific sources it is difficult to draw conclusions.

Finally, it is worth noting that PAC contributions constitute no more than 1% of total contributions to any candidate and do not play a major role in funding campaigns. Their value lies in showing how organized political interests are rating the various candidates.

Per cent sources of PAC Contributions for 2008 Presidential Candidates

The totals in these charts are calculated from PAC contributions, as reported to the Federal Election Commission. Contributions from individuals are not included in this breakdown.
Source: Open Secrets

View CHW’s coverage on Corporations, Health and the 2008 Presidential Race:

Candidate Business Labor Single Issue Groups Total contributions
Democrats        
Hillary Clinton 56% 11% 33% $748,052
John Edwards 4% 52% 44% $11,587
Barack Obama 26% 0% 74% $12,437
Republicans      
Rudolph W. Giuliani 70% 1% 29% $265,992
Mike Huckabee 60% 0% 40% $27,974
John McCain 72% 1% 27% $458,307
Mitt Romney 60% 0% 40% $298,700

 

Part 1: Following the Money
Part 2: Clinton, Obama and McCain on the Role of Corporations Part 3: Clinton, McCain, Obama and the Food Industry

Tracking the Effects of Corporate Practices on Health