Tuesday Briefing

Big Tobacco blunted push for “fire-safe cigarettes” by spending millions to court safety groups. To resist pressure to prevent deadly fires by reformulating cigarettes, the industry decades ago began efforts to “neutralize” fire safety advocates. A former tobacco executive, Peter Sparber, in 1989 helped organize the National Association of State Fire Marshals, which represented the No. 1 fire officials in each state, and then steered its national agenda. He shaped its requests for federal rules requiring flame retardants — even after the substances were linked to cancer –and fed the marshals tobacco’s arguments for why using the products in furniture was a more effective way to prevent fires than altering cigarettes. Chicago Tribune (For earlier reports, see the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.)

Court reinstates Environmental Protection Agency whistleblower. The ruling also provides back pay to Cate Jenkins, an EPA chemist who exposed the dangers to first responders from the caustic air at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Jenkins, who has spent more than 30 years at the EPA, was fired in late 2010 after being accused of threatening a supervisor. She came to prominence when she accused the EPA, during the Bush administration, of downplaying the health hazards of the World Trade Center dust. The health impact continues to be studied, but evidence of respiratory ailments led Congress in 2010 to provide $4.3 billion in medical care for first responders. The Guardian

Traffic deaths fell an estimated 1.7 percent last year. In a preliminary report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also said that the death rate may have reached its lowest point since tracking began in 1949. Last year an estimated 32,310 people were killed in traffic accidents, which would translate into a death rate of 1.09 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, down from 1.11 the year before. Safety officials have attributed the continuing improvement to crackdowns on drunken driving, use of seat belts, and more safely designed vehicles and roads. The region consisting of California, Arizona and Hawaii was the only one with an increase in highway fatalities, up about 3.3 percent from 2010. USA Today, Los Angeles Times

Abbott Laboratories to pay $1.6 billion to settle allegations of improperly promoting an antiseizure drug. The Justice Department said it was the second-largest payment by a drug company to settle an investigation, after Pfizer Inc.’s $2.3 billion deal in 2009. Abbott also agreed to plead guilty to one criminal misdemeanor for promoting the use of the drug Depakote to treat agitation and aggression in elderly dementia patients, and to treat schizophrenia. Those uses of the drug weren’t approved by federal authorities. The drug is approved to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder and to prevent migraines. The settlement resolves investigations by the federal government, 49 states and the District of Columbia. The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post

New England supermarket chain to pay $400,000 to settle federal workplace safety charges. DeMoulas Supermarkets Inc., which owns more than 60 Market Basket stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, also agreed to add a full-time safety and health director and take other safety measures. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in October cited the company for widespread fall and laceration hazards. In one case, the agency said, Market Basket managers didn’t call an ambulance after a worker fell and suffered broken bones and head trauma. Instead, the injured worker was hoisted into a wheelchair and pushed to a loading dock to wait for a family member to drive him to the hospital. OSHA, Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph

Workplace safety regulators accuse Georgia and Massachusetts employers of violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration charged Ware Milling Co. with 30 safety and health violations at its Waycross, Ga., plant and is seeking penalties of up to  $157,500. The agency began investigating in November, when a worker was hurt after being trapped in a milled cotton seed bin. Separately, the agency charged Horn Packaging Corp. with 12 safety violations following the death of a worker at its Lancaster, Mass., plant. The worker was killed in November when he became entangled in an unguarded machine. OSHA has proposed penalties of $130,300.

Recalls: Wellness dog food, Canidae dog food, Natural Balance dog food, Apex dog food, Diamond and Kirkland Signature dog food (expanded recall), SinuSense Water Pulsators, M.M.M. Boys’ Jogging Suits, O’Neill Pluto hooded flannel shirts, YMI girls’ hood sweatshirts with drawstrings, girls winter jackets with drawstrings, Goddess hooded sweatshirts with drawstrings, Sonoma Valley bar stools sold at Havertys

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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