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Feds Pressure E-cigarette Makers, Blasting ‘Epidemic of Addiction’ Among Teens

Tough talk on e-cigarettes: The federal government has put JUUL and four other e-cigarette makers on notice — they have 60 days to submit a plan detailing how they will address what Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called “an epidemic of addiction” among teens. The agency also distributed more than 1,300 warning letters to retailers that it said illegally sold e-cigarette products to teens. A year after his agency granted e-cigarettes an additional four years without FDA review, Gottlieb issued a long statement in which he questioned whether that decision, which prompted a lawsuit from public health advocates, was the right choice. He cited a dramatic increase in teen use and “deeply disturbing trends that show no sign of abating.” Ultimately, he said, earlier regulation wouldn’t have stopped the problem, but the agency must act to control marketing to teens even if it means limiting access for adults. “The youth risk is paramount,” Gottlieb wrote. The Washington Post editorial board responded this way: “The rest of the Trump administration should take note: This is what responsive, evidence-driven government looks like.” But elsewhere, Gottlieb drew faint praise. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the FDA should immediately regulate e-cigarettes rather than wait for the companies to act.

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Senators challenge consumer agency on student loans: Three weeks ago, Seth Frotman resigned from his post as the federal government’s student loan watchdog by sending a hotly worded letter to Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In it, he alleged that the agency had abandoned consumer interests and was instead acting on behalf of some of the biggest financial powers in the country. Now a group of 14 Senate Democrats and Bernie Sanders want Mulvaney to answer those charges, Cory Turner of NPR reports. They’ve sent a letter asking him to provide an accounting of the agency’s recent enforcement actions against student loan services and to respond to an allegation by Frotman that the agency is suppressing a report that found banks may be charging inappropriate fees to college students. Turner notes that Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman, was previously an outspoken critic of the bureau he now leads.

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Florence’s big hit: Four days after Hurricane Florence made landfall, the danger it wrought continues. Thirty-two people, including a 1-year-old boy pulled by floodwaters from his mother’s arms, have died, and emergency responders fear there will be more as flooding continues, The New York Times reports. Residents of the Carolinas are beginning to take stock of the damage. The dangers include environmental hazards from flooded sewage systems and large-scale hen houses, as well as the overflow of waste lagoons at industrial hog farms and the failure of a Wilmington, North Carolina, landfill containing ash from a coal power plant. Scientists made a quick analysis as Florence approached last week and found that the storm was dramatically bigger and wetter as a result of global warming, Bob Berwyn of InsideClimate News reported. Some of the communities damaged by the storm are those most at risk from sea-level rise in the U.S. and have been repeatedly bailed out by a federal flood insurance program now $20 billion in debt, ProPublica reports. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said the storm will change how the state plans for the future, InsideClimate News’ James Bruggers reports. “When you have two 500-year floods within two years of each other,” Cooper said, “it’s pretty certain it’s not a 500-year flood.”

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‘Stranger in the house’: People who hire a home health aide to care for themselves or a loved one often are desperate – tired, scared and in need of affordable assistance. Many aides are hard-working and committed, but Linda Matchan of The Boston Globe explores troubling parts of an industry that lacks oversight. Some aides victimize their clients, abusing them or stealing from them, and there’s no accounting for how often it happens. “Unlike nurses — or even hairdressers or manicurists — home aides don’t need a state license,” she writes. “Anyone can call him or herself a home care worker in Massachusetts and work privately, though state law mandates that home care agencies perform criminal background checks on workers. Agencies typically offer greater accountability and supervision of aides than workers hired privately, but they’re too expensive for many families.” Matchan also reports on the fast-growing demand for home care and the immigrants who are responding.

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GM steering glitch prompts recall: General Motors has recalled more than 1 million pickups and SUVs after tracking 30 crashes involving a malfunction of the power steering. Two injuries and no deaths were connected to the issue, Nathan Bomey of USA Today reports. The carmaker said the defect occurs in about 2 percent of the vehicles being recalled, which include certain 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC 1500, Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade models. The issue involves a sudden, temporary loss of power steering that requires a software fix.

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A death on the job: A Missouri sawmill has been cited for 14 serious worker safety violations following the death in March of a 38-year-old worker who fell into a machine. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed fines of $199,183 for American Walnut Company of St. Joseph, Missouri, where Joshua S. Hill was killed. Investigators found that the company failed to evaluate job site hazards and equip machines with the necessary guards. A subsequent inspection found that workers were also exposed to combustible dust, noise hazards and chemicals.

  • Also: Two companies face proposed penalties totaling $20,990 for exposing workers to hazards and faulty equipment after a worker was killed by a fall from a communication tower in Mississippi.  — Investigators have cited pallet manufacturer Buckeye Diamond Logistics of Columbus, Ohio, for serious violations and proposed $191,794 in fines after a worker suffered a finger amputation. — Napoleon Spring Works of Archbold, Ohio, which makes garage door hardware, exposed workers to “well-known and preventable hazards” that resulted in the amputation of a worker’s arm, according to one OSHA official. The company, labeled a “severe violator,” faces $284,540 in proposed penalties.

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A matter of disclosure: Dr. José Baselga has resigned as chief medical officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York after ProPublica and The New York Times reported that he failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from drug and health care companies while publishing his work in prestigious medical journals and serving as an editor of the journal Cancer Discovery. In an interview, Baselga called the lapses unintentional and said he is working to correct the record, reporters Charles Ornstein and Katie Thomas write. Their analysis found that Baselga failed to disclose industry ties in 60 percent of his publications since 2013 and that he has repeatedly promoted the drugs of Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, whose Genetech subsidiary paid him more than $3 million since 2014 for his stake in a company it acquired. While financial ties between researchers and health care companies are common, ethicists say that disclosures are essential to allow the public and other researchers to evaluate their work and consider any bias, Ornstein and Thomas write.

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An edge at workers’ expense: A California trucking and distribution company will pay nearly $3.6 million to 1,416 employees after investigators found that it failed to pay the prevailing wages and benefits required by federal law. While operating an examination station for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California Cartage Company paid employees less than required by contracting law and also failed to require five subcontractors to follow federal rules dictating wages and benefits. “No contractor receiving federal funds to provide services to the government should gain an economic advantage by paying workers below the wages and fringe benefits required by applicable law,” Wage and Hour Division District Director Kimchi Bui said in a press release. “Workers must be paid what they are legally owed for their work.”

  • Also: A federal court has ordered Nathan G. Williams to pay $345,175 in restitution and serve a one-year sentence for stealing employee contributions to the benefits plan of NW Systems, his technology services company, which has a history of legal trouble. — L’Chaim House has agreed to pay $450,000 to 15 residential care workers to settle wage theft and overtime violations, after the California labor commissioner sued to block the company from transferring its real estate to evade penalties. — People Tech Group, a technology staffing company in Washington, will pay $309,914 to 12 computer analysts and programmers employed through the H-1B visa program who, investigators found, were paid far less than prevailing wages.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.