Beyond the Sacklers: Free-trade policies contributed to the opioid epidemic



In a commentary in STAT and a scientific report in SSM-Population Health, Adam Dean and Simeon Kimmel explore the connections between the opioid epidemic and free trade agreements.  They argue that the trade crisis and the opioid crisis feed on each other. Economists have explained how free trade lowers wages and employment levels for less-educated manufacturing workers in the U.S. Relatively good jobs with high wages and benefits are disappearing, while factory closings damage the social fabric of their surrounding communities.

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Civil society action against transnational corporations: implications for health promotion

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Transnational corporations (TNCs) shape population health both positively and negatively through their national and international social, political and economic power and influence; and are a vital commercial determinant of health. In an articlein Health Promotion International, Julia Anaf and colleagues discuss the unequal power relations existing between TNCs that promote their own financial interests, and activists and advocates who support population and environmental health by challenging corporate power. 

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Big tobacco focuses on the facts to hide the truth

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Donald J. Cohn of Webster & Sheffield, a cigarette manufacturer’s counsel, is shown  speaking to the jury in Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 683 F.Supp. 1487 (1988), in U.S. District Court D in New Jersey by Marilyn Church.  Source.

The language used by attorneys in tobacco litigation reveals key elements of the strategies deployed by cigarette makers and their courtroom opponents.  In a new article in Tobacco Control, Risi and Proctor use methods from computational linguistics to identify differences in the rhetorical strategies deployed by defense versus plaintiffs’ lawyers in cigarette litigation. 

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The politics of voluntary self-regulation: insights from Australian Beverages Council

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In new report in Public Health Nutrition, Lacy Nichols and colleagues used a data set of industry documents published by the Australian Beverages Council (ABC) between 1998 and 2016 to analyze the evolution of the soft drink industry’s use of self-regulation as a response to obesity. They also examined the motivations driving its development and the strategies used to promote it to policy makers. 

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2020 Democratic Candidates on Food Industry Consolidation and Regenerative Agriculture

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In a commentary in FoodTank, Tiffany Finck-Haynes, the Pesticides & Pollinators Program Manager at Friends of the Earth,  rates three leading Democratic candidates, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on their policies related to  food. Friends of the Earth Action is focusing on two key agriculture issues in the Presidential campaigns: where candidates stand on corporate consolidation and what their plans are to transition to a just, ecologically regenerative agriculture system which is both climate-friendly and resilient. Fink-Haynes summarizes the positions of the three candidates on these two issues.

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Two Cheers for Air Pollution Control: Triumphs and Limits of the Mid-Century Fight for Air Quality

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 6.41.47 PMA smoggy Los Angeles street in 1960.  Credit

As President Trump, the auto industry and the state of California battle over air pollution standards,  a new  article in Public Health Reports analyzes the early years of 20th-century air pollution control in Los Angeles. In both scholarship and public memory, mid-century efforts at the regional level were overshadowed by major federal developments, namely the Clean Air Act and creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

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Science institute that advised EU and UN “actually industry lobby group”

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An  institute whose experts have occupied key positions on European Union and United Nations regulatory panels is, in fact, reports The Guardian, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity.  The revelations,  based on a  review of more than 17,000 documents  released under U.S. freedom of information laws, appear in a  new article in Globalization and Health.  Sarah Steele, the lead author and a researcher at Cambridge University said: “Our findings add to the evidence that this nonprofit organization has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies. ILSI should be regarded as an industry group—a private body and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good.”  Among the companies that support ILSI are Coca Cola and Monsanto.

In Runup to 2020 election, Renewed Action to Regulate the Pharmaceutical Industry

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Overt the last several years, the pharmaceutical industry has been accused of inappropriately and misleadingly advertising prescription drugs to consumers, charging exorbitant prices, paying competitors not to release less expensive generic drugs, and negotiating trade agreements that benefit the industry at the expense of the public.   As public concern about these practices grows and as the 2020 election gets closer, Big Pharma is getting closer scrutiny.

A few recent actions illustrate this new climate. Earlier this month, reports The New York Times, the Trump administration announced that  for the first time will, it will require pharmaceutical companies to include the price of prescription drugs in television advertisements if the cost exceeds $35 per month.  The move is the most visible action the administration has taken so far to address the rising cost of prescription drugs. It has been a key issue for American voters and one that both Republicans and Democrats have vowed to address.

In Congress, Reps. Judy Chu (CA-27) and Devin Nunes (CA-22) last month  introduced the Sunshine for Samples Act of 2019. This bill would amend the Sunshine Act, which requires pharma companies to report payments to doctors,  to require companies that manufacture drugs, devices, biologics, or medical supplies to publicly make available the number and value of free drug samples given to health care providers and charities each year. The bill closes a loophole in the Sunshine Act and does not prevent drug and device manufacturers from continuing to provide free samples, nor does it add any new burdens to providers under the Open Payment Programs.

Both the Federal Trade Commission and Congress have also acted to oppose “pay for delay” a costly legal tactic that more and more branded drug manufacturers have been using to stifle competition from lower-cost generic medicines. These drug makers have been able to sidestep competition by offering patent settlements that pay generic companies not to bring lower-cost alternatives to market.  Last month , Congressman Jerrold Nadler introduced H. R. 2375 , the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics and Biosimilars Act. The bill proposes to prohibit prescription drug companies from compensating other prescription drug companies to delay the entry of a generic drug, biosimilar biological product, or interchangeable biological product into the market.

These recent actions suggest that the 2020 election will provide public health professionals and advocates with opportunities to educate the American people and elected officials about the practices of the pharmaceutical industry and to counteract pharma’s extensive spending to influence Congress.



Public Policies to Reduce Sugary Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents



Excess consumption of added sugars, especially from sugary drinks, contributes to the high prevalence of childhood and adolescent obesity, especially among children and adolescents who are socioeconomically vulnerable. It also increases the risk for dental decay, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, fatty liver disease, and all-cause mortality. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that added sugars contribute less than 10% of total calories consumed, yet US children and adolescents report consuming 17% of their calories from added sugars, nearly half of which are from sugary drinks. A new reportfrom the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association finds that decreasing sugary drink consumption is of particular importance because sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the US diet, provide little to no nutritional value, are high in energy density, and do little to increase feelings of satiety. To protect child and adolescent health, the report recommends, broad implementation of policy strategies to reduce sugary drink consumption in children and adolescents is urgently needed.

The palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases

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Rainforest cleared for palm oil planting in Indonesia Credit

Large-scale industries do not operate in isolation, but have tangible impacts on human and planetary health. An often overlooked actor in the fight against noncommunicable diseases is the palm oil industry, reports a new article in  the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.  The dominance of palm oil in the food processing industry makes it the world’s most widely produced vegetable oil. The authors applied the commercial determinants of health framework to analyze the palm oil industry. They highlight the industry’s mutually profitable relationship with the processed food industry and its impact on human and planetary health, including detrimental cultivation practices that are linked to respiratory illnesses, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and pollution. This analysis illustrates many parallels to the contested nature of practices adopted by the alcohol and tobacco industries. The article concludes with suggested actions for researchers, policy-makers and the global health community to address and mitigate the negative impacts of the palm oil industry on human and planetary health.

Citation: Kadandale S, Marten R, Smith R. The palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases. Bulletin of the World Health Organization.2019;97(2):118.

Other recent reports on the palm oil industry:

Lustgarten A. Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe. New York Times Sunday Magazine Nov. 25, 2018, p. 42.

Rainforest Action Network. Profits Over People and Planet Not ‘Performance With Purpose’ Exposing Pepsico’s Real Agenda, 2017.

Tullis P. How the world got hooked on palm oil. The Guardian, February 19, 2019.