Sugar, sugar: Hundreds of pages of emails between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Coca-Cola Co,, obtained by a group of public health researchers, reveal once again how the world’s leading maker of sugar-sweetened beverages seeks to bend policymaking in its favor. The researchers collected emails from a period of about six years, ending in 2017. In a paper published by the population health journal The Milbank Quarterly, the researchers outlined instances when Coca-Cola executives worked to build connections with leaders within the CDC, use industry-funded research to shape their thinking and ask for the agency’s help in persuading the World Health Organization to take a more favorable stance on working with the food industry. It might not seem like much, except that the evidence is mounting, as Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post notes, for the outsize role that sugar plays in weight gain. Companies like Coca-Cola have been working hard to shift the conversation about how to curb obesity from diet to exercise.
- Also: As money from Big Ag pays for more scholarships and programming at public universities, some worry that industry influence is shaping research, too. Kate Cox and H. Claire Brown of The New Food Economy look at the issue and whether corporate interests are stifling research on such issues as sustainable agriculture, the health effects of industrial hog farming and antibiotic use in animal agriculture.
On ‘the pain and addiction spectrum’: It may have seemed that the behavior of opioid manufacturers in fueling the nation’s overdose crisis couldn’t appear any worse. Now, ProPublica and Stat report that the maker of OxyContin and members of the Sackler family, which controls Purdue Pharma, considered expanding their business into the recovery industry. That would mean that the company could operate across “the pain and addiction spectrum” — a spectrum, of course, that the company helped create in aggressively marketing its highly addictive pills, according to a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts attorney general. As the role of the Sackler family in the opioid crisis becomes clearer, art and educational institutions that have benefited from donations are under pressure to separate themselves from the Sackler name and the money that comes with it, CNN reports. Patrick Radden Keefe’s 2017 New Yorker article exposed how the Sacklers’ global legacy of philanthropy was paid for largely by people using OxyContin, many of them on the path to addiction. Now, he’s writing a book about the family.
- Also: Consulting giant McKinsey & Co. faces scrutiny for advising Purdue on how to “turbocharge” opioid sales, counter the emotional stories of people who had lost loved ones to overdose and sway reluctant prescribers, according to the Massachusetts lawsuit.
In big mass tort case, plaintiffs see little benefit: Seven manufacturers of pelvic mesh have agreed to pay nearly $8 billion to settle claims that the implants harmed more than 100,000 women, many of whom have suffered bleeding and pain. That sure sounds like a lot of money, but Matthew Goldstein of The New York Times reports that many women are receiving low settlements and wondering what happened to the money that they had planned to use for corrective surgery or to support themselves after injuries prevented them from working. Some are now considering filing a lawsuit against their own attorneys. Goldstein’s reporting raises questions about whether lawyers took too much in fees, or whether some insufficiently argued their clients’ case in securing a settlement amount. “Never in the field of mass tort litigation has there been such a yawning gap between success in the courtroom and failure at the settlement table,” attorney Shanin Specter told Goldstein. His firm, Kline & Specter, has won more than $140 million in jury verdicts for pelvic mesh cases, including $41 million awarded in the case of a Pennsylvania woman last week. Documents reviewed by The Times found that the average settlement in the mass tort case is less than $60,000.
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Trouble in the air: Six states and New York City are suing the Trump administration in an attempt to force the Environmental Protection Agency to require power plants and other industries to curb smog-producing emissions that blow across state lines. The Obama Administration in 2015 found that about half of all states weren’t doing enough to control sources of air pollution that affected their downwind neighbors, and it toughened parts of the Clean Air Act. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency reversed course. Attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have filed suit, joined by New York City, calling the EPA’s decision “unlawful, arbitrary and capricious,” Alexander C. Kaufman of HuffPost reports.
- Also: It seems likely that, if confirmed as EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler will keep a schedule much like the one he kept in the first two months of serving in the interim role: lots of time for oil, agriculture and other industry executives, little time for environmental groups, Reuters and CNN report.
A ‘prohibitionist’ response on e-cigarettes: A group of conservative lobbying groups accused the Trump administration of “regulatory panic and significant government overreach” in responding to an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teens. A letter sent to the White House by a coalition that includes ALEC Action and the Goldwater Institute said FDA Administrator Scott Gottlieb and his agency have waged “aggressive regulatory assault” against the industry, with “prohibitionist impulses,” Laurie McGinley of The Washington Post reports. Such heavy regulation would harm adults looking for a safer form of nicotine, the letter said. It was sent just days after the New England Journal of Medicine published a large study that found smoking cessation rates among people who switched to e-cigarettes were about twice as high as among those who used nicotine replacement products such as patches or gum. But the e-cigarette users were also far more likely to continue vaping a year after they had stopped smoking. And evidence of the dangers e-cigarettes pose for teens continues to mount. In a study published last week, researchers found that young people who try e-cigarettes are more likely to take up smoking later, and that’s especially true for those who would otherwise be at a low risk for smoking. McGinley notes that other recent research has raised questions about the effects of e-cigarette flavorings on lung function.
A megaphone for gun control: The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing Wednesday on gun violence prevention, a topic that body hasn’t taken up in the eight years since the Democrats last controlled the House, Avery Anapol of The Hill reports. Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat from California and chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said in a press release that the committee is “answering the call of the American people.” Marking gun control as a top priority, House Democrats last month introduced a bill that would require background checks for nearly all gun sales.
- Also: The advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety has published a report compiling data that illustrates this point: Nearly 3 in 5 Americans adults say they or someone they care for has been affected by gun violence.
Health risk in a juicebox?: Consumer Reports tested 45 popular fruit juices and found elevated levels of toxic heavy metals in about half of them. Twenty-one of the juices contained elevated amounts of at least one of the following: cadmium, inorganic arsenic and lead. Seven juices, including some marketed for children, had levels high enough that the group concluded they could pose health risks to children who drink 4 ounces or more daily. Those juices included products from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, R.W. Knudsen, Welch’s and Walmart. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit how much juice their children consume, mostly because it is high in sugar. The report categorizes the juices by those with potential health risks and those deemed better alternatives.
Scaling back on worker safety: An Obama-era rule that would have forced large employers to file detailed reports on worker injuries for posting in a public database has been rolled back by the Trump administration. Eli Wolfe of FairWarning reports that the rule was meant to make it easier to spot employers with a pattern of problems and to push them to make safety improvements on their own, but it was opposed by business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now, instead of detailed reports, businesses with at least 250 workers will be required to file annual summaries.
- Also: Tuff Automation of Michigan has paid a penalty of $28,474 after investigators found that a 17-year-old worker lost his right index finger while using a band saw without a proper guard. The company also violated child labor laws prohibiting workers under age 18 from operating hazardous equipment, according to a Department of Labor press release. –– The owner of The Gun Range in Killeen, Texas, faces proposed penalties of $214,387 after a complaint from a worker led investigators to find airborne lead levels that exceeded permissible standards and lead contamination on surfaces throughout the facility.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.