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From the Experts Blog

NCL staff is hard at work for you playing watchdog on a variety of issues. Get to know the latest From the Experts!

The Post-Thanksgiving Return-to-Work-Blues: Thank Goodness for Online Shopping

by National Consumers League staff Today is Cyber Monday, the day retailers herald as seeing the most Internet-based shopping activity. In fact, some are going so far as to expect that more money will change hands (from consumers to merchants) than did even on Black Friday. If so many Americans are avoiding the mall and shopping online, how do they know whether they're perusing the virtual "aisles" of reputable merchants or about to fall victim to the sophisticated scams of con artists operating online? By getting to know our tips for shopping online safely, that's how!

FDA Announces Board Members of Reagan-Udall Foundation

by Ria Eapen, NCL Health Policy Associate

Two Fridays ago, I attended a Food and Drug Administration briefing on the Reagan-Udall Foundation following the much-awaited release of the names of the Foundation’s board members earlier that day. The briefing was led by Dr. Janet Woodcock, FDA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer, and participants at the briefing included representatives from patient and consumer advocacy groups.

The Reagan-Udall Foundation was created under Title VI of the recently enacted Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007, which was signed into law by President Bush on September 27. It's the new private and independent nonprofit organization created to advance the FDA’s mission to speed up the development of new drug, food, and cosmetic products, and to make sure they’re as safe as possible. The creation of the foundation is part of FDA’s efforts to revamp how agency-regulated products are developed, manufactured, and evaluated for safety and effectiveness, as well as to help private and public stakeholders collaborate on the priorities identified in FDA’s Critical Path reports. The board is made up of 14 members, including four from industry, three from academic research, two from patient or consumer advocacy groups, and four at-large representatives. NCL and other consumer groups strongly supported the decision to include representation of patient or consumer advocacy groups on the board, and we voiced our concern during the nomination process that those nominated may not be conflict-free (i.e., have no financial conflicts of interest or ties to industry) or truly represent the public’s interest in medical research. Participants at the briefing additionally expressed concern over what projects the Foundation would focus on, how those projects would be selected, what would be produced from the projects, and whether the Foundation would be able to dedicate time towards projects on rare diseases that do not typically receive as much attention or funding.

Got Kids on Your Gift List?

by Sally Greenberg, NCL

Managing our long lists of gifts and recipients each holiday season is stretoy.jpgssful enough, even without the added anxiety over safety issues. With all of the bad publicity that toys have gotten over the past six months – with excessive levels of lead paint in trains imported from China, magnets that would be deadly if swallowed by young children, and a bizarre chemical found in the coating of some toys – shopping for kids is more complicated this holiday season than ever.

The good news is that with all the attention to toy safety issues, useful advice for avoiding hazards is easy to find so if you are shopping for holiday presents for the kiddies, don’t despair. Here are some tips NCL is offering this holiday shopping season:

Relax. Remember that any toy that has been recalled should be off the shelves and not available for purchase. As a result, the risk of buying a toy with lead paint is greatly reduced this holiday season. In addition, retailers are testing toys themselves in far greater numbers than ever before. They claim toy selections have never been safer.

Want to avoid Chinese toys altogether? It should be easier this year, as retailers say they’re offering alternatives. ToysRUs, for example, claims to carry more products from more countries than anyone and its clerks should have lists of toys made in countries other than China to help customers find what they want. Watch the age-ratings on products. A product that is safe for a 6-year-old might not be safe for a toddler. Go for safer toys. Some categories are less prone to safety concerns like lead paint or magnets. These include learning toys, board games, and the newer interactive plush toys. Watch out for small parts. Toys for children younger than 3 are banned from containing small parts, and toys for 3- to 6-year-olds that have small parts are required by federal law to carry a warning label. Sometimes those labels are absent or hard to read because of small print or unclear descriptions of the hazard, so take a close look at the product itself to ensure the toy doesn’t have dangerous small parts if you are buying it for a kid under 6.

Guilt-free Chocolate?

by Darlene Adkins, Child Labor Coalition

Who’s not attracted to this concept? For many of us – admit it – our primary source of guilt is over the calories and fat. Well, we’re somewhat mollified these days since we know cocoa is so loaded with antioxidants -- yay!

But, that’s not the source of the “guilt” I’m talking about. Remember the news reports that crop up periodically about serious types of child labor being used in cocoa growing in Ivory Coast and Ghana – the major supplying countries of cocoa? Yeah, those two countries supply about 70 percent of the world’s cocoa. And, we’re not talking about an afterschool job, but awful stuff like forced labor and human trafficking of children.

Nobody wants something like this in their cocoa. Well, in about seven months, the rubber meets the road – or maybe we should say the candy meets the wrapper.

On July 1, 2008, a system is supposed to be in place to provide consumers with some ongoing measurement of the worst forms of child labor in cocoa growing in Ghana and Ivory Coast and assessment of the success of the cocoa industry’s actions to address the problem.

We’re keeping our eyes on the process and will report back as the date draws closer. The key is for a transparent system that allows the public access to data and reports and an independent verification to ensure that what we hear about the labor behind cocoa is truly credible.

Some Rx Drugs Going Behind-the-Counter?

By Rebecca Burkholder, VP for Health Policy at NCL

This week I spoke at a Food and Drug Administration public meeting on whether certain drugs should be available without a prescription and sold from “behind-the-counter” with counseling from a pharmacist. This “BTC” class of drugs would make some drugs that were previously available only with a prescription available to consumers without spending time and money on a doctor’s visit. The public meeting was a chance for FDA officials to hear the wide range of arguments both for and against establishing this new class of drugs, and to get a glimpse at the many issues that would be raised with the introduction of a new class of drugs. Some type of BTC or pharmacy class of drugs already exists in many other countries. Canadians, Australians, and residents of the United Kingdom have access to BTC drugs. Should Americans be next?

I'm in favor of the creation of this third BTC class because it would increase patient access to the meds we know they can safely use, after consulting with a pharmacist, to self-treat conditions they can easily diagnose for themselves, like allergies or migraines. However, along with other consumer groups, we have some concerns about how the system would work. There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered. Which drugs can safely be placed behind-the-counter? And how can we ensure that consumers get useful counseling by the pharmacist in a private area? All too often the line at the pharmacy counter is endless, and pharmacists' time too short to provide counseling.

By the end of the day the FDA acknowledged that it was not ready to make a decision regarding a new BTC class of drugs, but that it was helpful to hear the variety of opinions. After reviewing all the comments submitted on this issue, the FDA will consider where to go from here.