Current Events in June 2000

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    Ralph Nader Wants Credit Card Consumer Bill of Rights

    WASHINGTON, June 30, 2000 --Ralph Nader today called on federal bank regulators and the Federal Trade Commission to come up with a "credit card bill of rights" for consumers.

    Noting that Providian Financial Corporation of San Francisco, a major credit card issuer, had entered into a settlement agreement with regulators involving fines and restitution of more than $300 million, Nader said the agreement should not obscure the need for the regulators to broaden their investigation into other companies in the credit card industry.

    "A single agreement with one company will not cure the ills of the credit card industry," Nader said.

    Nader said there was an overriding need for the regulators to establish industry-wide criteria for fairness, accuracy and completeness in solicitations for credit card customers. Nader, the Green Party candidate for President, urged George W. Bush and Albert Gore to join him in the effort to improve regulation of the credit card industry.

    "Consumers nationwide are being bombarded with credit card solicitations promising introductory low interest rates and fees which overnight turn into cards bearing usurious rates and growing fees and hidden charges for unwanted and unneeded services," Nader said. "Regulators should track, publicize and force correction of these 'come-on' practices."

    "The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and other financial regulators along with FTC should establish a 'credit card bill of rights' that would spell out consumer protections, identify unfair and deceptive marketing practices and require ongoing disclosures of companies that engage in these practices," Nader said. "In addition, the regulators should publish by company the rates, fees, billing and related practices that would allow consumers to comparative shop for the best credit card."

    Nader said the data should be updated and available on a quarterly basis to the public for companies in each of the 50 largest markets in the United States. In addition, Nader said, the companies should be required to include the compilation of the comparative data in all solicitations of credit card customers.

    Ralph Nader Wants Credit Card Consumer Bill of Rights...

    Airlines launching Hotwire to compete with Priceline

    June 29, 2000
    Priceline has a powerful new foe. Six major airlines who've been disposing of excess inventory through Priceline are launching their own Web site to sell deeply-discounted seats without Priceline's confusing bid system.

    Operating in secret, America West, American, Continental, Northwest, US Airways and United have raised $75 million from outside investors to fund development of, expected to take off this fall.

    Hotwire will sell the same excess seats that Priceline now auctions off, except that consumers won't have to play the Priceline guessing game. Hotwire will let them choose the fare they want to pay on a selected route.

    It still won't be like buying a standard ticket. The system will mask the name of the airline, the exact routing and the exact flight times until the purchase has been completed.

    Priceline has been a huge business with its patented bid system but is still not profitable and faces a growing number of complaints from consumers who feel the bidding system is unclear and confusing, if not downright deceptive.

    Priceline reports that it sells 80,000 tickets per week for 30 airlines. It had revenue of $482 million in 1999.

    The six airlines launching are not expected to pull the plug on Priceline, and Priceline founder Jay S. Walker says he expects the new entrant to have no negative impact. In fact, he told the Wall Street Journal, its impact may be positive.

    "The more people you see shopping online, the better," he said.

    Airlines launching Hotwire to compete with Priceline...

    Cell Phone Safety: An Editorial

    An Editorial

    June 29, 2000

    "Reach for a Camel instead of a sweet," urged the magazine and billboard ads of a few decades ago. In the mid-20th Century, doctors routinely advised patients to take up smoking to aid in weight control. The notion that inhaling tobacco smoke could be harmful was regarded as alarmist, unfounded, almost superstitious.

    After all, the big tobacco companies were good corporate citizens who wouldn't sell anything if they knew it was harmful -- and the government surely wouldn't permit the sale of tobacco unless it was known to be safe, right?

    A few generations later, lung cancer, emphysema and smoking-related heart disease are among the top causes of death and disability and smoking is universally recognized as deadly. Our earlier refusal to admit this is today seen as lunacy.

    Meanwhile, Motorola, Nokia, AT&T, Sprint and other good corporate citizens are selling hundreds of thousands of cell phones -- highly compact ultra-high-frequency transceivers with antennas that just happen to be situated directly above the ear when the device is in use.

    These good corporate citizens wouldn't do this unless they were sure the devices were safe, would they? And surely there are government agencies that regulate these devices to be sure they're safe, right?

    Wrong. The safety of cell phones has not been demonstrated and, in fact, two industry-sponsored studies have raised early but disturbing evidence tying the devices to brain cancer. The Federal Communications Commission regulates cell phone emissions but only from the standpoint of preventing interference to other users.

    Since the effects of exposure to carcinogens are generally cumulative over time, there is often a lag of two or more decades between the initial widespread use of a substance or device and the resulting morbidity and mortality.

    In other words, we may today be "poisoning" a new generation of cancer victims -- young people now in their 20s and 30s who routinely spend several hours a day with a cell phone pressed against their head, emitting radio frequency energy into their brains at close range.

    It may be 2020 or so before the epidemic emerges. And, of course, it may not happen at all.

    But consider this: No other radio-frequency-emitting device has ever been used in this manner. Most transmitters are physically separated from their antennas, which is where the RF energy is emitted. Older "walkie-talkies" were larger and were held in front of the face, with the antenna often rising above the head, thus minimizing "cooking" of brain cells.

    Can You Protect Yourself?
    Some manufacturers are trying to cash in by selling "filters" that fit onto a cell phone and supposedly reduce emissions. This is not likely to be an effective remedy, since reducing emissions would also reduce usability of the devices. After all, "leakage" is not the problem. RF radiation is not being "leaked" from cables linking the transmitter to the antenna; it's coming right off the antenna, just as it's supposed to.

    We are aware of no scientific evidence that demonstrates these devices do anything at all. At the least, they are a waste of a few dollars. At the worst, they may create a false sense of confidence in heavy cell phone users.
    There's a very simple solution, an easy way to reduce what may eventually be recognized as a substantial health risk: a headpiece that allows you to place the cell phone (and, thus, its antenna) several feet away. These devices are simple and inexpensive. They work with nearly every popular model. You can buy them at Radio Shack or any similar store for about $20.

    No one yet knows how great the risk is. It may be very slight but then again it may not be. The headpiece is a prudent and modest safeguard that also makes life simpler by freeing both hands for taking notes, doodling or putting lot-fat cream cheese on your morning bagel.


    Cell Phone Safety: An Editorial...

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      Study Finds Tomatoes Lower Risk of Cancer

      June 14, 2000
      Your mother was right. Vegetables are good for you, particularly tomatoes.

      A recent study finds that eating at least five servings of tomato-based products a week can reduce the risk of prostate and other cancers.

      It's not the first time tomatoes have been cited as cancer fighters. Lycopene, which occurs naturally in tomoatoes, has long been known as an anti-carcinogen. But now more statistical evidence is being mustered to support lycopene's standing.

      In a recent review of 72 studies published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (February 17, 1999), Dr. Edward Giovannucci of Harvard Medical School concluded that intake of tomatoes and tomato-based products, has been consistently related to elevated blood lycopene levels and a lower risk of a variety of cancers.

      "The health benefits of tomato products came to light five years ago when a Harvard study showed that risk of prostate cancer was a third lower in men who consumed more tomato products like pasta sauce," says Steven Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at The Ohio State University. "Since then, new research has supported a link with tomato products and decreased risk of other cancers, including pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer."

      Processing Helps
      Perhaps surprisingly, research also indicates that the cooking and processing of tomato products appear to make lycopene even more readily available to the body, indicating that there may be an added health benefit to eating processed tomato products like tomato soup, tomato sauce and tomato-based vegetable drinks.

      In one study, 38 patients, ages 52-79, with prostate cancer, not undergoing active treatment, were studied over a three-month period. A highly significant increase of carotenoids and lycopene was observed in prostate cancer patients given dietary instruction to follow a low-fat high-fiber diet supplemented with six ounces of a tomato-based vegetable juice daily, suggesting that a mixed vegetable juice supplement may increase bioavailable lycopene and carotenoids in prostate cancer patients.

      In a separate study, 36 healthy adults, ages 18-65, consumed standard daily servings of three familiar processed tomato products: pasta sauce, tomato soup and vegetable juice. The study showed that lycopene is readily absorbed from these products, although bioavailability differs for each, and that a single daily serving of as little as six ounces of tomato juice or a bowl of tomato soup can significantly increase blood lycopene levels.

      "We're continuing to learn more and more about the connection between food and disease prevention," says Schwartz. "According to health professionals, eating at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables is prudent and now it makes good sense to include tomato products as one of the five choices each day, not only to help lower the risk of cancer but to help meet daily fruit and vegetable recommendations and promote overall health."

      Each year in the U.S., an estimated 180,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Nearly 37,000 are expected to die of the disease this year.

      Study Finds Tomatoes Lower Risk of Cancer...