Thursday

Big Tobacco Takes Aim at Africa, Its Last Frontier

While tobacco use declines in the developed world, it is increasingly common in Africa. In many African countries, 20 percent to 30 percent of men smoke, more than half of them younger than 35, according to a 2011 World Health Organization report. In South Africa, 35 percent of men smoke, one of the highest rates in sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa has some of the toughest regulations on the continent but, unlike in the U.S., it allows single cigarettes to be sold, spurring much of the business. For the tobacco industry, “This is a major battleground,” said an anti-smoking activist in South Africa. “The African population is very young. If they can hook customers now, they’ve got customers for the next 40 or 50 years.” Los Angeles Times

Petition drive launched by 15-year-old challenges use of brominated vegetable oil. After spotting the ingredient on a Gatorade label, the young activist started a petition on the Change.org website that, as of this week, gathered almost 200,000 signatures. PepsiCo, Gatorade’s maker, noted that brominated vegetable oil is deemed safe for consumption by federal regulators. In fact, about 10 percent of drinks sold in the U.S. contain brominated vegetable oil, including Mountain Dew, Powerade, Fanta Orange, Fresca, Squirt and Sunkist Peach Soda. The European Union has long banned the substance from foods, and Japan recently moved to do the same. The oil contains bromine, which is in brominated flame retardants used in upholstered furniture. The New York Times

Environmental Protection Agency launching new examination of hormone-mimicking chemicals. Spurred by mounting scientific evidence, the EPA said it will try to determine whether low doses of chemicals such as BPA are harming human health and whether chemical testing should be overhauled. The EPA will work with other federal agencies to assess whether traces of chemicals found in food, cosmetics, pesticides and plastics affect human development and reproduction. As part of the review, scientists will evaluate whether current testing is fully detecting the substances’ health effects. The federal officials will complete a “state of the science” paper by the end of 2013, which then reportedly will be reviewed by an expert panel. Environmental Health News

Anti-smoking drug might raise risk of cardiovascular problems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said a review of clinical trials that tracked patients taking Chantix found a slightly higher — but not statistically significant — risk of heart attacks, strokes and other serious cardiovascular events. The agency said doctors need to weigh the risks of the drug against the benefits of its use. As FairWarning has reported, the FDA slapped a so-called black box warning, the agency’s strongest alert, on Chantix in 2009 after receiving hundreds of reports of suicides or attempted suicides among patients taking the drug. Last year, after regulators cited heart concerns, the warning was expanded and Pfizer Inc., which makes Chantix, began the newly released analysis. MedPage Today, Bloomberg, HealthDay 

New charges lodged against Ohio company that had a fatal accident in 2010. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration accused Bontrager Excavating of Lake Township, Ohio of three willful violations, the agency’s most serious charge, for failing to protect workers from trench cave-ins. OSHA proposes penalties of $115,500. The charges stem from a June inspection triggered by a new safety complaint. Bontrager previously was put in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, the result of a December, 2010 trench collapse that took the life of a 50-year-old employee and injured his son. Bontrager “has again failed to take adequate safety measures to protect their workers from cave-ins at excavation sites,” an OSHA official said. OSHA, CantonRep.com, Akron Beacon Journal

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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