Consumer Health Digest #10-46
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 18, 2010
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
Federal agencies blast caffeinated alcoholic beverages. Caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) combine alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants and usually have higher alcohol content than beer. The caffeine content is usually not reported. During the past four months, consumers in at least four states were hospitalized after using CABs. This week, the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to four CAB marketers:
- United Brands Co., which sells Joose and Max caffeinated alcohol beverages. One 23.5-ounce can of Joose or Max has about the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers.
- Phusion Products LLC, which sells Four Loko and Four Maxed carbonated malt beverages. Four Loko is sold in 23.5-ounce cans, which have the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers, as well as added caffeine, taurine, and guarana. Four Maxed is sold in 16-ounce cans, which have the same alcohol content as about three regular beers.
- Charge Beverages Corporation, which sells Core High Gravity, Core Spiked, and El Jefe carbonated malt beverages sold in fruit flavors, with added caffeine, taurine, guarana, and ginseng. One 23.5-ounce can of Core High Gravity or Core Spiked contains the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers. A 32-ounce can of grape-flavored El Jefe has the same alcohol content as six regular or seven light beers.
- New Century Brewing Company, which sells the caffeinated malt alcohol beverage Moonshot. A 12-ounce bottle of Moonshot contains 5% alcohol by volume.
FTC officials have expressed concern that consumers—particularly young, inexperienced drinkers—may not realize how much alcohol they have consumed because caffeine can mask the sense of intoxication. The FTC also announced that the marketing of such beverages may constitute an unfair or deceptive practice that violates the FTC Act. [FTC news release, Nov 17, 2010]
The FDA has sent letters to the same four companies, warning that caffeine, as used in their products, is an "unsafe food additive" under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. [FDA news release, Nov 17, 2010] The FDA also noted that peer-reviewed studies suggest that the consumption of such beverages is associated with risky behaviors that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations. A few states have banned the sale of CABs, and more are expected to do so.
Free Guide to Preventive Services available. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has published a pocket guide to its recommendations from 2002 through March 2010. The USPSTF is an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention that systematically reviews the evidence of effectiveness and develops recommendations for clinical preventive services. The original task force was created in 1984 to determine what types of periodic physical examinations, laboratory tests, immunizations, counseling, and other measures are science-based and cost-effective. Since 1998, it has been sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Its guidelines and checklists are intended primarily for use by physicians, but some are easily understandable by laypersons. The pocket guide covers 34 interventions. Single print copies are available free from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse at 800-358-9295 or email@example.com. (Ask for The Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2010-2011, AHRQ Publication No. 10-05145). The online version is updated as new recommendations are issued.
State tobacco prevention programs declining. A report released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has concluded that the states have slashed tobacco prevention funding to the lowest level since 1999, when they first received funds from the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement. The first 25 years of settlement funds were estimated to total $264 billion, but the new report, titled "A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 12 Years Later," notes:
- Most states are far short of meeting recommended funding levels for tobacco prevention programs set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- In addition to the billions of dollars they receive every year from the tobacco settlement, the states collect billions more in tobacco taxes. In the current budget year, Fiscal Year 2011, the states will collect a total of $25.3 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, near record levels.
- The states are spending only 2% of their tobacco revenue on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, and they have cut funding for such programs by 28% in the past three years.
- Tobacco companies spend nearly $25 to market tobacco products for every $1 the states spend to fight tobacco use.
TV ad volume may be limited. Both houses of the U.S. Congress have passed slightly different versions of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM Act)—H.R. 1084 and S. 2847)—which would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to limit the volume of commercial advertisements by television broadcast stations, cable operators, and other multichannel video programming distributors. The key driver of the bill was Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA). The CALM Act would give advertisers one year to adopt technology that prevents overly loud commercials. The FCC has received consumer complaints about commercials being louder than television shows since the 1960s. Nearly all of the 25 quarterly reports released by the FCC since 2002 have included loudness of television commercials as a top complaint.
This page was posted on November 18, 2010.