Consumers, regulators, politicians, and journalists need to keep pressing big corporations to better protect the public’s health because such campaigning can work.
It has led to steps that may cut down on reckless promotion of expensive, burgeoning, and dubious treatments involving purported stem cells. It may make vehicles safer, so children and pets don’t die or suffer heat injury when mistakenly left in rear seats.
More tough work still needs to be done, however, with a new version of the persistently problematic off-road vehicle, and, indeed, with the federal agency that oversees road safety.
Google this: a crack down on advertising unproven ‘stem cell’ treatment
“Bad actors” promoting unproven and even risky treatments that employ human tissues purported to be stem cells prompted Google, an internet search and advertising mammoth, to curtail online ads of “treatments can lead to dangerous health outcomes and we feel they have no place on our platforms.”
The Washington Post reported that Google barred stem cell ads and treatments lacking “established biomedical or scientific basis,” even as federal regulators have renewed their crack down on stem cell hype:
“[Google’s] new position comes as stem cell clinics have grown into a sprawling direct-to-consumer industry. Some clinics have told patients their treatments can help them with ailments such as macular degeneration, ALS, multiple sclerosis and degenerative lung diseases. Scientists and medical associations have likened the procedures to modern snake oil and accused the purveyors of preying on the hopes of seriously ill patients. The untested treatments, many researchers say, is imperiling patients and the reputation of a promising field.”
The newspaper reported how unchecked promotion and application of so-called stem cell therapies have harmed patients: “Some treatments have resulted in severe injuries, including at least five women who were blinded after stem cell clinics injected its product into their eyes.”
Google’s restrictions drew criticism, with advocates arguing that it slaps at legitimate providers, as well as those offering humbug or worse. Critics also argued that the company, with its out-sized online sway, is moving toward becoming its own adjudicator or regulator of medical care.
But experts also praised the tightening of standards, noting that similar restrictions had helped to block out medical quackery in broadcasting and print publication. Critics noted that online giants like Google and Facebook have been too slow to crack down on ads and other dissemination of medical hokum online through their platforms. Further, proponents noted that providers have proven adaptive — switching, for example, their claims as to body areas from which they claim to derive “stem cells” when the federal Food and Drug Administration campaigned against, say, injection of “fat-based” treatments.
In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, including the financial and health injury that can be inflicted on them with untested and unacceptable “stem cell” treatment for everything from joint aches to dementia. At present, though rigorous and important research is under way with legitimate stem cells and their use in medical care, this type of treatment may be more Wild Wild West and a defective or dangerous product, rather than the breakthrough that was promised.
California voters are rethinking their $3-billion, ballot referendum commitment to stem cell research, which has produced modest medical outcomes, at best. This is occurring even as big-name hospitals and health systems have dipped into providing stem cell therapies that may need better explanation and justification based in medical science.
Google’s policy shift, by the way, also hits at unfounded “cellular therapy and gene therapy,” the Washington Post reported. The deeper question that regulators and politicians — much less titans like Google — have yet to delve into: Exactly why does the United States allow direct to patient promotion of drugs and medical treatments? Ours is one of the few nations in the world (along with New Zealand) that allows this practice with prescription drugs. Big Pharma exploits this to the nth degree. Free speech is, of course, to be fostered and encouraged. But it’s worth considering how and why we let risky promotion and advertising go on.
Auto makers, feeling the heat, agree to install new rear-seat safety devices
As USA Today reported, this has been a grim summer for youngsters strapped in cars in scorching vehicles, with the nation seeing “a particularly deadly stretch [in which there were] 10 children dying in this gruesome fashion in just 20 days. Through late last month, 35 children had already perished in 2019. That followed a death toll of 53 in 2018. The advocacy group KidsandCars.org found that 889 children died in hot cars from 1990 to 2018.”
With politically divided Congress angry enough to motivate itself toward considering the “Hot Cars Act of 2019,” Big Auto Makers on pre-emptory action to protect kids and pets from a proven harm.
General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota decided, voluntarily, to install “rear-seat reminder systems in virtually every new car sold in the U.S. by the 2025 model year … The systems are aimed at preventing children being accidentally left behind in hot cars,” Consumer Reports said.
GM earlier had pioneered technologies to reduce deaths and injuries to rear-seat passengers, CR reported, noting:
“General Motors was the first to introduce a system that uses door logic— it determines whether a rear door was opened 10 minutes before the vehicle is turned on or any time after the vehicle is turned on. Drivers get a reminder message in the gauge cluster after the engine is turned off, and the system also sounds chimes. Other automakers also use door logic systems in a few models on sale today, including Hyundai, Kia, and Nissan, although there are some differences in implementation. Those automakers, GM and Honda, have all announced that they would put these systems into most four-door vehicles by the end of 2022. This new agreement sets a longer timeline for implementation for automakers that haven’t yet made a commitment, but it also dramatically expands the number of car companies involved.”
While advocates praised the auto makers safety move as needed and overdue, Consumer Reports sounded a note of caution on this deal:
“Automakers have joined forces on other safety-related voluntary agreements before. In 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety brokered a voluntary agreement among 20 automakers to make automatic emergency braking (AEB) standard equipment on almost all models by 2022. In fact, 11 automakers have AEB as standard equipment on more than half their 2019 lineups. But voluntary agreements still have issues, says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at Consumer Reports. ‘We’re not sure exactly what automakers are committing to do as a part of this agreement or how effective their systems will need to be,’ he notes. ‘Without clear requirements, you run the risk of automakers installing systems that aren’t easy for consumers to understand and use, or that fail to work entirely.’”
In dealing with manufacturers: Don’t trust and verify. My colleagues in the firm and I work a lot with clients afflicted by short- and long-term damage that can be caused by injuries to babies and children, notably when they and their loved ones may be hurt in various ways in wrecks involving cars, trucks, and motorcycles and that may include defective and dangerous products. Bad stuff gets to market, it seems, far too easily. It’s then tough to oust, even if it harms or injures vulnerable kids and pets.
Off-road vehicle risks
The New York Times, separately, has posted a take-down of yet another problematic off-road vehicle: the Polaris RZR. The units, unlike its predecessors, is designed for sport and can go as fast as 80 mph. It has risks:
“The manufacturer’s safety record indicates more than an occasional problem. From 2013 to 2018, Polaris Industries issued RZR recalls 10 times for fire hazards, far more than for any competing product. There have been more than 180 RZR fires, often leaving little more than scorched earth and a skeletal metal frame. Four people have been killed and at least 30 others have been burned, according to a tally from recalls, lawsuits and reports to federal regulators … the victims have often been young.”
The newspaper deserves credit for digging into the RZR issues, raising yet more questions about what’s going with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency in years past has taken tough action on similar vehicles and has devoted online attention on its site to problems with all-terrain vehicles.
With the 2020 elections looming, maybe the folks on Capitol Hill might want to look with greater skepticism about the recent record of safety protections offered by the CPSC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency, which recently lost its longtime chief.