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    Chinese Drywall Class Action Filed

    New Orleans Saints coach is lead plaintiff

    The gargantuan class action complaint regarding defective drywall imported from China has been filed in a Louisiana federal court, but the filing doesn't forestall the possibility of additional future litigation.

    The suit, which has been in the works for months, is being brought on behalf of approximately 2,100 individual residents of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, represented by a number of firms.

    Around 600 homeowners registered for the suit but missed last Friday's deadline. Lead attorney Russ Herman is already discussing plans to file an additional suit on their behalf.

    The action's main target is Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin (KPT), the Chinese company that manufactured the bulk of the drywall at issue. The complaint, which clocks in at 591 pages, includes an "Exhibit B" which lists scores of other defendants.

    In an interesting twist, the action's lead plaintiff is none other than Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Under Payton's leadership, the Saints have had a very good year, currently sitting atop the NFC South at 12-0. The Saints are the only team in the NFL besides the Indianapolis Colts to remain undefeated this late in the season.

    Payton's luck on the field, however, ran into a barrier of defective drywall problems off the field.

    The 45-year-old coach had to move his family out of their house in Mandeville, a suburb of New Orleans, after computers and other electronics in his house began to fail and his family came down with mysterious illnesses. Payton was one of the first people in the state to report drywall-related problems, which factored into his being named lead plaintiff.

    Daniel Becnel, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said that Payton had to deal with the issue while gearing up for training camp and the 2009 season, compounding already considerable stress.

    Payton's house, like most affected by the problem, was built in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The storm led to a construction boom that left American-manufactured drywall in short supply, opening the door to cheap foreign wallboard. The defective drywall emits an egg-like sulfur smell, corrodes metal fixtures, and can cause health problems ranging from wheezing to asthma and even pneumonia. The bulk of affected homes are those built or remodeled between 2004 and 2008.

    KPT's lawyer, Kerry Miller, maintains that no one outside of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi is affected, because the drywall was shipped exclusively to ports in Louisiana and Florida. But complaints have been lodged in no fewer than 32 states, and an investigation by advocacy group America's Watchdog indicates that the drywall has been imported to "potentially all regions" of the country.

    America's Watchdog suggests that complaints have so far been concentrated in the Southeast because of that region's high humidity, which could accelerate the wallboard's tendency to deteriorate metal and human health. The group thinks the problem is so widespread that it needs to be dealt with under the federal Superfund statute, which sets aside money for cleanup of toxic sites and then seeks reimbursement from responsible parties.

    The complaint includes 15 counts, including negligence, breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranties, nuisance, unjust enrichment, and violation of several Louisiana consumer protection laws.



    Chinese Drywall Class Action Filed...
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    Credit Card Scam Preys on Union Workers

    Advance-fee offers may be too good to be true

    December 11, 2009
    Union workers who receive preapproved credit card offers that sound too good to be true should be wary. Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray warns of advance-fee credit card offers targeting union workers with promises that often fall short.

    Cordray says his office has received numerous complaints regarding credit card scams that promise easy credit and trick consumers into paying upfront fees for credit cards or guaranteed loans that do not actually exist.

    The latest scam targets union workers, offering low interest rates if applicants send in a membership fee upfront. The fee does not guarantee that a consumer will receive a card. If they do receive the card, it can only be used to purchase items from a specific catalog.

    "In tough economic times, we're all looking for a little relief and, unfortunately, scammers know it and work to exploit it," said Cordray. "While it is a shame that we need to constantly be on guard, it is a necessity. I strongly urge Ohioans to think twice before responding to deals or offers that sound too good to be true. And always read the fine print."

    Cordray offers the following advice to avoid advance fee scams:

    • Never send money to anyone who claims they can guarantee you a credit card or loan.

    • Be wary of ads that claim bad credit is no problem and guarantee a loan will be issued. No legitimate financial institution guarantees financing.

    • Apply for loans through local banks and credit unions; not through a company that you've never heard of.

    • Do not give personal or financial information over the Internet or by phone unless you know the business is legitimate and you understand why the information is necessary. Scam artists may promise you a loan just to get your financial or personal information.

    • Be suspicious of anyone asking you to send an advance fee for a loan through overnight mail, by courier service or wire service, and especially to a post office box.

    • Research the lender. Determine whether it's licensed by a state or federal agency. Start by checking with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General's Office.



    Credit Card Scam Preys on Union Workers...
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    CRL: Credit Card Issuers Looking For Ways Around Anti-Abuse Rules

    New ways of computing late fees bring in big bucks

    By James Limbach
    ConsumerAffairs.com

    December 11, 2009
    Credit card companies don't intend to let little things like Federal Reserve Board rules and a new federal law get in the way of profits.

    A new research report from the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) claims the industry is "crafting new tricks and traps" to get around the new regs in order to continue hitting the nation's 80 million families with one or more credit cards with what CRL calls "arbitrary, unfair interest rate hikes and fees."

    The study, "Dodging Reform: As Some Credit Card Abuses Are Outlawed, New Ones Proliferate," examined the practices of issuers that hold over 400 million credit card accounts and found at least eight specific industry practices that flourish despite federal efforts to halt them.

    CRL says these practices make it all but impossible for the average person to determine the real cost of credit card debt, and that "the ability and eagerness of credit card issuers to exploit loopholes in the new federal rules underscores why lawmakers need to pass legislation to create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, as proposed by the White House and now under consideration by Congress."

    The eight practices highlighted in the report include the manipulation of interest rates, the padding of miscellaneous fees and a deceptive policy on late-payment fees. Use of these abusive tactics is widespread and growing, the report finds.

    Late fees

    Regarding late-payment fees, Dan of Campbell Hall, NY, says he's had a WaMu credit card for five years and has always paid his card down. He tells ConsumerAffairs.com that when Chase acquired WaMu last year, his interest rate shot to 29.99 percent and his account was closed. He says Chase refused to re-activate the card, citing late payments.

    When asked for documentation on the late payment, Dan says, "They responded by telling me the reason my interest was raised was that I was one day late on a payment. Apparently the due date was on a Sunday and they did not post the payment until Monday. My bank account (also Chase) shows the payment made on the Sunday. I am at wits end. The only reason they did this was to gouge consumers before the new laws go into effect in February."

    CRL researcher, Josh Frank, the report's author, says the Credit CARD Act that Congress passed earlier this year was "a big improvement for American families. But our research shows that industry keeps finding clever ways to get around meaningful reform, and we need a regulator focused on making financial products fair."

    The report spotlights a little-known tactic, which CRL calls "pick-a-rate." In this example, a card company tells cardholders their interest rate will be pegged to the prime rate, which until now has usually meant the prime rate on the last day of the last billing cycle. But CRL's analysis of the fine print finds that a growing number of issuers have added language that allows them to pick the highest prime rate in a 90-day period -- no longer a single day.

    This change can significantly raise a cardholder's cost, often without his or her knowledge. This particular practice alone costs Americans $720 million a year and, CRL predicts, could grow to $2.5 billion annually in a few years as the practice spreads.

    Larger late fees

    In addition, all of the top eight credit card issuers have increasingly imposed large late fees across the board for borrowers, even for smaller balances. The marketing around late fees is deceptive. Credit card issuers claim to impose late fees on a sliding scale that charges a larger flat fee for larger total balances. In fact CRL says issuers have steadily lowered the amount it takes to be considered in the highest balance category and, consequently, subject to the largest fees.

    This penalty structure has undergone a fundamental shift since 2003, when a balance of $1,000 triggered a $35 late fee. Since then credit card issuers have lowered the cutoff for the balance that triggers the highest late fee, so that today a balance of $250 is assessed the same penalty fee as a $1,000 balance. The result is nine of every ten cardholders will incur the largest fee if they pay late. In addition, the average late fee today is $39, while the typical past-due amount is approximately $50.

    Other practices that have become increasingly common, according to the Center, include imposing minimum finance charges; inactivity fees; fees on international transactions; fees (in addition to interest charges) on balance transfers and on cash advance fees; and variable rates that have artificially high floors.

    While the Credit CARD Act of May 2009 will stop some of the worst abuses in the industry, CRL says it believes a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency would provide common-sense rules on credit cards and could respond to abuses quickly as they surface, before they become widespread.



    CRL: Credit Card Issuers Looking For Ways Around Anti-Abuse Rules...
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      Job Placement Scams Proliferate In High Jobless Areas

      Beware of guarantees and upfront fees

      More people than ever are looking for jobs, creating a target rich environment for criminals who have dusted off the "job placement scam."

      In Ohio, where unemployment remains stubbornly high, Attorney General Richard Cordray says his office has received a number of reports of the scam.

      The scammers set up phony companies that promise "guaranteed" placement in high-paying jobs. All the job seeker has to do is pay a hefty, upfront fee.

      "They place ads in newspapers or on the Internet, even on legitimate Web sites," Cordray said. "They promise exclusive information, good money and professional experience, but the jobs are either non-existent or very low-paying."

      The scammers often charge high fees for job information, training sessions or promotional materials, all of which turn out to be useless, Cordray says. Instead of helping consumers make money, the scam artists actually take money from them. Some job seekers end up losing hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

      People searching for jobs should follow these tips:

      • Don't pay for help finding work. Some business opportunities involve upfront costs, but for most jobs, you should be making money, not spending it.

      • Be suspicious of companies that make you pay for "exclusive information," mandatory training sessions, starter kits or other materials, especially

      • if they ask you to wire transfer money to a foreign country.

      • Check a company's reputation with the Better Business Bureau and search complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

      • Don't trust unrealistic salaries or vague job descriptions. Demand a detailed description of the work involved before you commit to a job.

      • Beware of lengthy contracts. Don't sign a contract without reading the fine print. Scam artists may try to slip in certain clauses, hoping you wont read them. Written contracts generally are binding, so take the contract to an attorney or trusted friend to review, and dont sign until you fully understand the agreement.

      • Take your time. Dont give in to high-pressure tactics. If a company doesn't give you enough time to review a contract or make a decision, don't do business with it.

      • Be wary of suspicious interviews. Interviews that take place at unusual locations (such as hotel lobbies, restaurants or other locations outside a normal place of business) are fishy. Be skeptical of group interviews and representatives that seem to be selling the company to you. If you feel pressured, walk away; you probably have good reason to be suspicious.

      Job Placement Scams Proliferate In High Jobless Areas...
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      Illinois Sues Spa For Unapproved Treatments

      Allegedly caused patients 'extreme pain'

      December 10, 2009
      Consumers go to a spa to make themselves feel better. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan charges a Cook County, Illinois spa chain made some consumers feel a lot worse, performing unapproved and unsupervised cosmetic treatments.

      In a suit filed against Nu U Med Spas, Madigan claims the company used deceptive marketing and that its unapproved practices caused some patients to experience extreme pain and lasting injuries.

      "These procedures have yet to be thoroughly researched and sanctioned by the proper medical authorities," Madigan said. "Despite lacking concrete scientific evidence, Nu U purposefully misleads consumers into believing that their medical spa treatments are safe and effective. I'm very concerned that the health and safety of Illinois consumers who visit Nu U Med Spas are at risk."

      The Chicago-based medical spa chain allegedly uses high-pressure sales tactics based on deceptive marketing claims to induce consumers into purchasing a series of medical and beauty treatments, including Lipodissolve, which is an injected therapy used to dissolve fat cells, according to Madigan's complaint.

      Nu U allegedly claims its treatments will "liquefy fat quicker" and can "rid your system of that life long battle of the bulge," but fails to inform consumers that its treatments haven't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective treatments. Both the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons do not recommend using Lipodissolve for fat reduction due to the lack of research that shows its effectiveness.

      Further, because Lipodissolve is an injected treatment, it requires a physician's order, but Nu U allegedly administers the fat-reducing treatment without a doctor's order. In fact, despite its outward claims, Nu U allegedly fails altogether to monitor and evaluate patients by licensed physicians at all seven of its Chicago area locations.

      High pressure

      Madigan's complaint further alleges that the Nu U personnel rush consumers into signing contracts, medical consent forms and financing documentation for treatments but fail to review the documents with consumers. The defendants allegedly pressure consumers to sign up for health care financing but fail to inform consumers that by signing the financial documentation they are authorizing an automatic credit card charge. Nu U allegedly refuses to provide refunds when requested, even in the event that a consumer has not received all of the contracted treatments.

      Madigan's lawsuit charges Nu U with violating the Illinois Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Illinois Medical Practice Act and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. It asks the court to permanently enjoin the defendants from owning or operating medical or beauty clinics in Illinois and to order the company to pay civil penalties of $50,000, an additional $50,000 penalty for each violation committed with the intent to defraud, an additional $10,000 penalty for each violation committed against a senior citizen 65 years of age or older, and the costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of the lawsuit.

      Illinois Sues Spa For Unapproved Treatments...
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      Palm, Sprint Nextel Hit With Class Action Over Data Loss

      Suit charges backup system is flawed

      By Jon Hood
      ConsumerAffairs.com

      December 10, 2009
      Palm and Sprint Nextel are the targets of a class action suit that accuses the companies of failing to mitigate flaws in Palm's webOS network that led to catastrophic data losses, while marketing the devices as being able to back up the very data that ended up being wiped out.

      The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, says that a badly-designed data backup system caused consumers to lose crucial data, noting that many webOS device users suffered and continue to suffer significant and permanent data loss, including but not limited to the loss of instant messages, emails, calendar entries, contacts in their address books and applications paid for and downloaded from the Palm App Catalog.

      Ironically, the losses were caused by webOS's automatic data backup system, which allows users to move data from one device to another most commonly if their phone is lost or stolen and can't be accessed directly, or if they exchange it for a new one. Lead plaintiff Jason Standiford was done in by the latter situation. Standiford had already experienced myriad problems with Palms when he exchanged his fourth malfunctioning device for a new one.

      The fifth time wasn't the charm for Standiford, though. After completing a warranty exchange because of a power-button malfunction on his previous phone, Standiford tried to load his existing data onto his new Palm, but was only able to access four of the hundreds of contacts he had stored on his old phone. Worse, he only gained access to three memos he had written, despite having saved many more.

      The next day, Standiford, as was now his habit, trudged back to the Sprint store to try to transfer his data from his old Palm to his new one. In the process, a well-meaning Sprint representative managed to erase all the data from Standiford's old phone. Sprint was able to recover some of Standiford's data, but a good chunk is now gone for good.

      The suit says that Sprint and Palm specifically marketed the phones as able to automatically back up users' crucial data, but failed to anticipate or fix problems with the system. Indeed, Standiford went with a Palm in part because of the representations made by Sprint and Palm's [sic] that the Palm system would backup his data for him, and that if his phone became lost or was damaged, Sprint would restore all of that data to a new or existing device.

      The problem lies with webOS's unique data synchronization techniques, according to the suit. Most mobile devices allow users to back up data directly to their personal computers; webOS, by contrast, syncs consumers' devices with Palm's servers every 24 hours. Every time the data is re-synced, though that is, every 24 hours the older data is overwritten and rendered irretrievable.

      Sprint and Palm apparently failed to anticipate any problems with this arrangement; the suit says that neither Palm nor Sprint retains any backup data for more than 24 hours at a time. Compounding the problem, the companies don't provide any software that would allow consumers to backup their own data.

      The suit shines additional light on the dangers of living in a paperless world, even if that notion is largely a myth, and comes just two months after T-Mobile Sidekick users lost contacts, photos, and other data due to a server crash.

      The action anticipates a class of anyone in the U.S. who created Palm webOS profiles, stored data on their Palm, and suffered permanent data loss. The suit accuses Sprint and Palm of negligence, breach of contract, and violation of several California consumer protection laws.

      Palm, Sprint Nextel Hit With Class Action Over Data Loss...
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      California Pet Food Company Recalls Treats Due To Salmonella

      Pet Carousel pulls back pig ears and beef hoof products

      A California pet company today recalled all its pig ears and beef hoof treats because of possible salmonella contamination.

      Pet Carousel of Sanger, California announced the action after tests by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed the products contained salmonella, a bacterium that can infect humans and animals and cause serious health problems.

      The action also comes on the heels of a warning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued in November about the products.

      At that time, the FDA said routine testing of the products detected salmonella. The agency also said the products were made "under conditions that facilitate cross-contamination within batches or lots."

      Agency officials said they had not received any reports of illnesses linked to the pet treats, but warned consumers not to handle them or give them to their animals.

      The company recalled all pig ear treats -- packaged under the brand names Doggie Delight, Pork Tasteez and Pet Carousel -- with the following item numbers:

      • 18100-P Bulk

      • 18016-P 10-pk red mesh bag

      • 18120-P 20-pk red mesh bag

      The company also recalled all varietiesof its beef hooves -- packaged under the brand names Choo Hooves, Dentley's, Doggie Delight, and Pet Carousel -- with the following item numbers:

      • 1506-K 5 lb. bulk

      • 1507-K 10 lb. bulk

      • 1520-K 20 lb. bulk

      • 12125-T 10-pk vinyl bag

      • 12110-T 10-pk, vinyl bag

      • 12111-T 10-pk, vinyl bag

      • 12122-T 10 lb., bulk

      • 1503-K 3-pk, vinyl bag

      • 1510-K 10-pk ,vinyl bag

      • 1405-S 5 lb., bulk

      • 1408-S 10-pk, vinyl bag

      • 1410-S 10 lb., bulk

      • 1420-S 20 lb., bulk

      • 90058-H Cheese/& Bacon Stuffed Hoof, bulk

      • 90056-H Peanut Butter Stuffed Hoof, bulk

      • 17005-R Rope toy with Hooves.

      Pet Carousel said all sizes and lots of the pork ears purchased on or after August 16, 2009, and all beef hoof products in all varieties purchased on or after September 6, 2009, are included in the recall.

      The company said it has notified its consignees and requested they return the recalled products and remove them from store shelves.

      "Out of an abundance of caution and concern for public safety, Pet Carousel is issuing this press release to inform consumers of potential risks and to ensure that all affected product has either been returned or otherwise removed from use," the company said.

      Salmonella can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever in humans, the FDA. In rare cases, it can cause more serious health problems, including arterial infections, inflammation of the lining of the heart, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms.

      In pets, salmonella can cause lethargy, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever and vomiting, the FDA said. Some pets may only experience a decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain.

      The FDA also warned that pets can be carriers of salmonella and infect humans. Pet owners handling dry food or treats tainted with the bacterium can also become infected.

      The FDA said consumers should thoroughly wash their hands after touching these potentially tainted treats, and also any surfaces exposed to the products.

      Humans or pets who exhibit signs of illnesses after handling or eating these recalled products should seek medical attention, the FDA said.

      Consumers with any of the recalled products should immediately stop feeding them to their animals and return them to the store for a refund, Pet Carousel said. For more information, consumers can contact the company at 800-231-3572.

      California Pet Food Company Recalls Treats Due To Salmonella...
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      Swine Flu Claims Another Pet

      Pennsylvania cat latest to die from virus

      The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus has claimed the life of another pet, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) said today.

      The virus is now blamed for the deaths or illnesses of at least 11 pets nationwide, including four ferrets and seven cats, the AVMA said. In every case, the pets' owners had flu-like symptoms before the animals became sick.

      The latest confirmed pet death linked to the virus is a 12-year-old cat in Pennsylvania, which died in early November. The domestic shorthair developed a respiratory illness on November 3 after four members in the household became sick with flu-like symptoms, the AVMA said. The cat then became lethargic, lost its appetite, and had difficulty breathing.

      X-rays taken by the veterinarian revealed the cat had pneumonia. Nasal samples from the cat tested negative for H1N1, but samples taken during a necropsy tested positive for the virus, the AVMA said.

      Iowa health officials in November confirmed the first case of H1N1 in a pet -- a 13-year-old indoor cat in Iowa. Since then, the AVMA has tracked cases of the virus in animals.

      Tracking the virus

      Among the findings of the AVMA's investigation:

      • An 8-year-old female cat in Oregon died from H1N1 on November 24, according to Oregon's public health veterinarian. The cat's owner had previously tested positive for the virus. When the cat arrived at the veterinarian's office, the AVMA said, she was hypothermic, dehydrated, weak, and had nasal discharge and blue-tinged mucous membranes. X-rays revealed the cat had severe pneumonia and fluid in her chest, the AVMA said. A nasal sample taken from the cat tested positive for the H1N1 virus.

      • The week of December 7, France confirmed that a cat in that country tested positive for the virus. Health officials said the cat developed a respiratory illness shortly after two children in the household became ill. The cat recovered in six days.

      • On December 4, Colorado health officials confirmed two cats from different households in that state tested positive for H1N1. Veterinarians suspect the cats, ages 10 and 11, became sick after someone in their households contracted the virus. The cats are now recovering. "These cases serve as a reminder to pet owners to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible if their pet seems ill," said veterinarian Kristy Pabilonia, an expert on H1N1 testing in animals at Colorado State University.

      • In November, preliminary tests for H1N1 on a California cheetah came back positive. Final tests are pending. "There are no reported cases of Influenza A: H1N1 (2009-H1N1) transmission from animals to humans in a zoological setting," the http://www.aza.org/PressRoom/detail.aspx?id=10458 The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) said. "Animal collections at zoological institutions, therefore, do not present a concern for public health."

      • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in November confirmed the H1N1 virus in Virginia turkeys. A worker had previously been sent home with flu-like symptoms. USDA officials said the turkeys were still safe to eat. That case marked the first time heath officials had confirmed the virus in U.S. turkeys. Officials had previously confirmed H1N1 in domestic turkeys in Canada and Chile.

      • On November 28, published reports in China stated two dogs in Beijing tested positive for the H1N1 virus. The AMVA said there are no confirmed reports at this time of H1N1 in dogs in the United Sates. But there is another bug, the H3N8 influenza (canine influenza) virus, that targets U.S. dogs, the AVMA said. At present, the H3N8 virus has only spread among canines, the AVMA said. Dogs infected with the canine influenza virus have such symptoms as fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and coughing.

      • Oregon's public health veterinarian said a cat in that state died on November 7 from an H1N1 infection. The cat became sick shortly after a child in the household had flu-like symptoms. Three other cats in the household became sick, but have since recovered. Tests revealed those three cats were not infected with the virus.

      • Utah health officials in November confirmed a cat in Park City had contracted the H1N1 virus. The cat's owner had previously been sick with flu-like symptoms, but is now recovering.

      • Pigs in the United States, Finland, Indonesia, and Taiwan have also tested positive for H1N1, the AVMA said. The organization said it would continue to track cases of H1N1 in animals and post its findings on its Web site.

      What you can do

      • What measures can pet owners take to protect their animals and prevent the spread of this virus? ConsumerAffairs.com recently posed that question to Dr. Ann Garvey, a veterinarian with the Iowa Department of Public Health. Garvey recommended the following:

      • Wash your hands frequently.

      • Cover your mouth when you cough and your nose when you sneeze.

      • Minimize your contact with your dogs, cats, or other household pets if you have any flu-like symptoms.

      • Pet owners who notice any signs of respiratory illness or other influenza-like symptoms in their animals should contact their veterinarians, Dr. Garvey said.



      Swine Flu Claims Another Pet...
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      GAO: FCC Needs to Improve Oversight of Wireless Industry

      Lack of responsiveness, complaint investigation cited

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the primary government agency tasked with overseeing the massive American telecom industry -- and a report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims that the FCC is not doing as good a job as it should of protecting consumers.

      According to the GAO's survey, "most wireless consumers with problems would not complain to FCC and many do not know where they could complain...without knowing to complain to FCC or what outcome to expect if they do, consumers with problems may be confused about where to get help and about what kind of help is available."

      The GAO said the FCC lacked specifically defined goals and measurements for any complaint processing efforts it undertakes,and does not do enough to investigate or enforce issues arising from complaints. Consequently, the agency said, the FCC is ill-equipped to recognize potential trends or consumer problems.

      Although the FCC receives between 20,000 and 35,000 complaints a year from consumers relating to wireless service, the agency said its chief role was to act as a facilitator between the consumer and the company, and that it lacked direct authority to enforce complaint issues with a carrier. The FCC said it had solicited public comment on how it can improve complaint-adjudication processes, such as including its contact information on billing statements and solicitations sent by carriers for consumers to use.

      The GAO had previously reported on the FCC's failure to follow through on addressing its vast database of consumer complaints in March 2008.

      Termination fees remain a sore spot

      The GAO also found that of the 1,143 wireless customers surveyed, 42 percent would switch their contracts if they did not have to pay a hefty contract termination fee to do so. The agency noted that conflicting rulings at the state and federal level meant there was no clear guidance for how termination fees could be regulated, "thus the issue remains unresolved."

      Chris Riley, policy counsel at media watchdog group Free Press, said the report confirmed that carriers were using termination fees to lock customers into long-term contracts, whether they like it or not.

      "Consumers are being forced to pay huge fees that the phone companies just can't justify," Riley said. "The FCC must act and put a stop to this anti-consumer practice that threatens innovation and competition in the mobile marketplace."

      Other findings

      The GAO also found that:

      • State regulatory authorities had difficulty addressing wireless customer complaints, because of a tangle of rulings and lack of guidance from the FCC on what authority they have to enforce issues against wireless carriers.

      • 34 percent of the wireless customers surveyed received unexpected charges on their bills, and 31 percent said they had difficulty reading their bill accurately.

      • 21 percent of those surveyed were dissatisfied with their wireless carrier's customer service response when they wanted to address a problem.

      GAO: FCC Needs to Improve Oversight of Wireless Industry...
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      Forecasters See High California Unemployment Through 2012

      State can't produce jobs as fast as people enter workforce

      If you live in California and are looking for a job, it could be a long search. The latest UCLA Anderson Forecast projects double-digit unemployment in the state through 2012.

      The national unemployment rate for November declined slightly to 10 percent but the UCLA forecasters predict California's jobless rate will reach a high of 12.7 percent in the current quarter.

      The problem, according to the report, is there is nothing in California's economy at the moment that can drive job creation. Manufacturing and construction, two of the major industries in the state, have drastically reduced payrolls and the report says that trend will likely continue into the next decade.

      Even if the U.S. economy begins to recover next year, California may not participate as much because, the number of people looking for jobs is likely to grow at a faster pace than jobs are created.

      "The stalled California economy is simply not producing the jobs required for the new entrants to the labor force over the next couple of years to prevent these elevated levels of unemployment to persist once the job lay-offs cease," the report said.

      Part of California's economic problem stems from the major cause of the recession -- the collapse of the housing market. Perhaps nowhere was the market more lucrative than California, and nowhere did it crash with such force as the Golden State.

      While the market appears to be stabilizing, the forecasters aren't calling for a recovery any time soon. In fact, they says the housing collapse, credit crunch and bank failures are all particularly pronounced in California and their combined effect is creating a severe drag on job creation.

      And don't look for a lot of help from the public sector, either. California's budget problems are well-documented and state officials have few ways to easing them, other than shrinking payrolls and cutting back on large projects.

      In one bright note, the forecasters said the weaker U.S. dollar could provide an increase in overseas demand for California agricultural and manufactured products, which could boost the state's substantial export economy. Also, additional stimulus money from the federal government could provide additional construction jobs, if the money was provided.



      Forecasters See High California Unemployment Through 2012...
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      Arizona Supplement Firm Settles Deceptive Ad Suit

      Suit claimed consumers got stuck with unauthorized charges

      The State of Arizona has settled deceptive advertising charges with the maker of nutritional supplements, with the company, Amir & Sanchez Nutraceuticals, agreeing to pay $175,000.

      The lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Terry Goddard alleges that Larby Amirouche, 20, and Robert Thomas Norton, 22, the young owners of the company 22, violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act by using deceptive advertising techniques.

      According to court documents, the defendants used the Internet to advertise "14-day risk-free" trial offers of various "nutritional supplements," purportedly for only a nominal cost for shipping and handling. The defendants failed to adequately disclose to consumers material terms and conditions that rendered the trial offers far from "risk-free" and resulted in significant, unauthorized charges to consumers.

      Documents also state that the defendants failed to adequately disclose to consumers who ordered a "risk-free trial offer" that unless they canceled within the "14-day trial period" they would be charged full price for the product, plus additional shipping and handling, and would automatically receive subsequent monthly shipments of the product.

      The lawsuit further alleges that the defendants falsely represented that consumers could cancel by simply calling a toll-free telephone number, when frequently consumers could not get through to a customer service representative or were put on hold for long periods of time and sometimes disconnected.

      Court documents state that many consumers were told that their cancellation request could not be processed due to technical problems or were led to believe that their cancellation request was processed only to be charged for more unauthorized orders.

      Additionally, documents state that the defendants deceptively enrolled consumers into "21-day free memberships" of diet consultation programs that required the consumer to take affirmative action to avoid subsequent monthly charges.

      The settlement calls for the defendants to pay $140,000 in civil penalties, $15,000 in costs and fees and $20,000 in restitution.

      This is the second nutrition supplement fraud case Arizona has settled in recent months. In June 2009, Goddard announced a record $1,375,000 settlement with Central Coast Nutraceuticals, Inc. and its Phoenix owner for allegedly defrauding customers purchasing nutritional supplements.

      Arizona Supplement Firm Settles Deceptive Ad Suit...
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      Attorneys General Warn of 'Free' Credit Report Confusion

      Call for clear disclaimer in advertising

      Many consumers choose the beginning of a new year to check their credit reports under the law that allows a free annual review from all three credit reporting agencies. But despite what you see on TV and the Web, there's only one official site where you can do that.

      That Web site is www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

      In Washington State, Attorney General Rob McKenna says he regularly reminds consumers that the official site is not the one with the catchy jingles in television ads. McKenna says more needs to be done to protect consumers attempting to obtain the free credit reports allowed by law.

      "Credit reports are crucial in helping consumers detect whether they've become victims of identity theft or credit fraud," McKenna said. "Credit reporting agencies are required to provide you a free copy of your report, but some see this as an opportunity to sell additional products. Under the law, 'free' means 'at no cost,' not 'free with a purchase'."

      McKenna joined 42 other state attorneys general in sending a letter this week to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in conjunction with the FTC's proposal to help prevent deceptive marketing of "free" credit reports. The attorneys general said they support a number of the changes proposed by the FTC but would like even clearer disclosures.

      "We believe that advertising restrictions and mandatory disclosures are necessary to ensure that consumers are not misled or confused by advertisements and offers for 'free' credit reports and are able to easily obtain their free annual credit reports," the letter states.

      By law, consumers are permitted one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Consumers may request a report online or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

      The states' letter identifies FreeCreditReport.com as an example of a Web site where consumers can be misled. Experian owns and heavily markets the site.

      Clearing up confusion

      "Consumers file complaints stating they did not understand that by accessing their free credit report, they had signed up for a service that automatically charged a specific amount per month for credit monitoring," the attorneys general wrote.

      The FTC proposes that TV and radio commercials for "free" credit reports must disclose, "This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law." The states want advertisers to include the statement, "This report is only free if you make a purchase."

      Print and Internet ads would require similar disclosures and list the phone number and Web site for requesting the government-mandated free reports. Consumers who visited a Web site where "free" credit reports are sold would be automatically sent to a separate landing page where they could choose to continue to the commercial site or instead visit the official free government site, AnnualCreditReport.com.

      The attorneys general and the FTC also want to ban Web links to commercial Web sites from the official site and prohibit marketing for paid services or products until after a consumer has received the free credit report.

      Attorneys General Warn of 'Free' Credit Report Confusion...
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      Toyota, Lexus Lead The Pack For Sudden Acceleration Problems

      Analysis of complaints database finds Ford close behind

      A Consumer Reports analysis of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety complaints database shows over 40 percent of sudden-acceleration complaints involve Toyota and Lexus models.

      The review of 2008 model-year data also finds Ford standing out with a significant number of related complaints. Both car companies had a lopsided number of occurrences for their market share, though the statistical likelihood of experiencing such events is low.

      CR's Auto Test Center and Statistics Department analyzed all 5,916 reports on 2008 models and identified 166 cases in which the complaint described verified the unintended acceleration that the driver found hard to control.

      The incidents resulted in a safety advisory on floor-mat entrapment issued by both NHTSA and Toyota in September 2009.

      The magazine says its analysis found the sudden-acceleration incidents were distributed over 22 brands with 47 complaints about Toyota models and five for Lexus vehicles. All told, the two accounted for more than a third of all the unintended-acceleration incidents among 2008-model vehicles. As Consumer Reports put it, "Toyota racked up more unintended-acceleration complaints than Chrysler, GM, Honda, and Nissan combined."

      A check of the ConsumerAffairs.com database found numerous complaints about Toyota. Among them:

      • Andrew of Leverett, MA, wrote of an incident involving his wife's Prius: "In traffic on a multi-lane highway in Canada, the car did not slow when I let up on the accelerator, and then I realized that it was actually accelerating. I used the service brake repeatedly to keep the speed down to the speed of the traffic (probably about 60mph) until I found a place to pull off."

      • Miriam of Oakland, CA, says she was driving at slow speed due to traffic conditions, when suddenly her Prius "felt as if it uncontrollably sped up and lunged forward. I hit the brakes but it did not stop it from running into the back end of the car in front of me. It was very unnerving."

      Ford complaints

      Complaints about Ford also were high. CR says there were 36 complaints some indicating that the pedal arrangement in the popular F-150 pickup makes it too easy to hit the brake and accelerator at the same time. There also were other sudden-acceleration events that could not be explained.

      Consumer Reports says it found the following complaints about the F-150 in the NHTSA database:

      • "This Ford F-150 pickup truck has the widest gas (accelerator) pedal I have ever seen and as a result my right foot continues to press down on it, even after I have started applying the brake pedal with the same foot."

      • "I entered the vehicle, started the engine, and put the vehicle in drive. The engine immediately increased in rpm to the point where the rear tires began spinning on the gravel. I put the transmission in Neutral and the engine rpm increased. I removed my foot from the brake and the engine continued at a very high rpm. I then depressed and released the accelerator and the engine returned to a normal idle."

      • "...the truck spontaneously accelerated at full throttle with my foot firmly on the brake I was advancing without applying the accelerator. With the brakes fully applied, I continued to advance into the parking lot and I immediately shifted into Park in attempt to stop the vehicle. The vehicle came to a stop and the engine was racing at full throttle in Park."

      CR points out that while the NHTSA complaint database does not reflect all sudden, unintended acceleration cases, the data show statistically more complaints for certain Toyota, Lexus, and Ford brand models.

      CR says its analysis found the ratio of reports for experiencing such a problem on 2008 model-year vehicle from Toyota Motor Corporation is about one in nearly 50,000. Ford's reported risk is about one in nearly 65,000, while the reported risk for a General Motors vehicle is just one in 500,000.

      Toyota, Lexus Lead The Pack For Sudden Acceleration Problems...
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      States Warn Against Dubious Charities

      Attorneys General warn citizens about professional solicitors

      December 9, 2009
      Consumers have to walk something of a tightrope this time of year. Holidays are always an expensive time, yet many want to support charities and worthwhile causes. But the last thing you want to do is have your contribution line the pockets of the solicitor.

      In Oregon, Attorney General John Kroger unveiled a list of Oregon's 20 Worst Charities and offered tips to consumers on how to donate wisely.

      "In the middle of a recession, it is more important than ever that generous Oregonians make charitable contributions to organizations that help veterans and others who are in need," Kroger said. "It is critical, however, that people donate wisely. Although many charities do great work, some are little more than scams with good-sounding names but that do little to actually help the people they claim to support."

      State law requires charities to file periodic financial reports with the Oregon Department of Justice disclosing how much money the organization raised and how the funds were spent. The Department's Charitable Activities Section has identified 20 organizations (see attached) that spent more than 75 percent of the donations they collected on administrative costs and professional fundraising.

      While guidelines issued by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) suggest that charitable organizations should spend at least 65 percent of their funds on charitable programs, every charity on the Department of Justice's list devoted less than 25 percent of their expenditures on charitable program activities.

      One organization near the top of the list, Shiloh International Ministries, solicits donations to provide medical necessities and other support to needy children, veterans, and homeless persons. According to the most recent financial filings, the California-based nonprofit spent an average of $1,023,215 per year, 96.35 percent of which went to management and fundraising.

      Kentucky concerns

      Unscrupulous charity solicitations are not just confined to one area of the country. With double-digit unemployment rates in Kentucky, for example, more Kentucky families are in need of a helping hand this holiday season.

      Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway says people who give to a charity should give wisely. Unfortunately, he says, there are unscrupulous or even fraudulent charities that prey on the generosity of Kentuckians.

      "Every dollar donated to a reputable charity can make a difference in the life of someone who may be struggling to put food on the table or clothe a child," Conway said. "Irresponsible or fraudulent charities not only take advantage of the kindness of hard-working Kentuckians, they deprive those who need our help. Before you decide whether a charity deserves your donation, gather as much information as possible to make sure the charity is not a scam and that your donation reaches someone in need."

      Both Kroger and Conway offer these tips for wise holiday giving:

      • Donate to charities you know and trust.

      • Be cautious of sound-alike charities and solicitors unable to answer questions.

      • Always ask what percentage of your dollar goes to the cause.

      • Don't be pressured into making a donation.

      • Ask if the charity or solicitor is registered with the Office of the Attorney General.

      States Warn Against Dubious Charities...
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      Consumers Getting Shut Out Of Economy, Analyst Says

      Lack of lending leaves few options

      While Wall Street is a pretty upbeat place these days when it comes to the economy, there are still "bears" who have yet to catch sight of a recovery. Meredith Whitney, founder and CEO of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, remains bearish, she says, because consumers are being shut out of the economy.

      She says the economy has been pushed along by the government so far, but that there's just so much the government can do unless consumers begin to resume regular economic activity.

      "I think they're out of bullets," Whitney said on business cable TV channel CNBC Tuesday.

      The key to recovery, Whitney says, is the consumer, and consumers are still on the sidelines. And not completely by choice.

      "Consumers are getting kicked out of the financial system," Whitney said.

      The main reason for that, she said, is banks aren't lending to them. Despite being able to borrow at near-zero percent interest, banks are not taking that money and putting it back into the marketplace. The Federal Reserve said Monday that consumer lending dropped 1.7 percent on an annualized basis in October, the ninth straight monthly decline.

      No credit

      Consumers writing to ConsumerAffairs.com in the last year tend to back up the analyst's claims.

      "I have constantly been refused credit by Chase, although I have done everything they have asked to receive a loan," Steven, of Long Beach, Calif., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "I have good credit and I've been in the import/export business as a company doing business with Chase for over 6 years, and have done millions of dollars of business with them and they refuse a me a basic business credit line?"

      Over the summer, Chase closed thousands of credit card accounts it acquired from the acquisition of Washington Mutual. David, of Gilbert, Arizona, said his Chase account was closed and he only found out when he tried to use the card.

      "I tried to charge $25 to the card and it was denied. When I called Chase they said it was due to my credit report," he told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      Multiply these examples by millions, and you begin to see Whitney's point. The fact that she was the first to predict the collapse of the banking sector last year gives added weight to her words by investors.

      "Kicked out of the system"

      With consumer spending making up about 70 percent of gross domestic product, the inability of even credit-worthy consumers being able to be able to borrow could put a severe crimp in future growth.

      "You're going to get a situation where you revert from a consumer standpoint, where those that had bank accounts for the first time, credit cards for the first time, homes for the first time get kicked out of the system and then fall prey to real predatory lenders," Whitney said.

      Whitney said tax cuts can't stimulate demand enough in the short term, a heretical view on Wall Street. Instead, the analyst suggested the government should take "proactive" steps to put more money directly in consumers' pockets.

      "To have so many Americans be kicked out of the financial system and the consequences both political and economic of that, it's a real issue," she said. "This has never happened before in this country."



      Consumers Getting Shut Out Of Economy, Analyst Says...
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      Certain LG Refrigerator-Freezer Models To Lose ENERGY STAR Label

      Department of Energy tests disqualify some models

      Effective January 2, 2010, certain LG French-door refrigerator-freezers will be banned from using the ENERGY STAR label that helps consumers identify energy efficient products that will reduce their energy use and save them money.

      The Department of Energy announced said it is taking this action after multiple independent labs have confirmed that when certain LG French-door refrigerator-freezers are tested using existing DOE test procedures, they do not qualify for the ENERGY STAR Program. DOE calls the action part of a "broader effort to expand enforcement efforts for the ENERGY STAR and appliance standards programs."

      DOE General Counsel Scott Blake Harris said the ENERGY STAR label is a "critical tool for consumers looking to save energy and money with their appliances," adding that these LG refrigerator-freezer models "do not deliver the energy and cost savings promised under the ENERGY STAR program, so we are taking the necessary steps to protect the American public."

      In November 2008, DOE and LG entered into an Agreement that was intended to let LG transition away from test procedures that significantly underestimated the amount of energy that certain LG French-door refrigerator-freezers would consume during normal use.

      Because recent testing confirms that problems persist, DOE has exercised its right to give notice and terminate the Agreement. As a result, effective January 2, 2010, certain LG French-door refrigerators are no longer eligible to carry the ENERGY STAR label.

      The models in question have been the subject of numerous complaints above and beyond their energy ratings.

      • Don of Bloomington, Ind., writes ConsumerAffairs.com: "We purchased a LG French Door Freezer on the bottom refrigerator two years ago. We had trouble from the start and were told that all of our problems were our fault. Such as the vegetables freezing etc. They did service it and replace some parts but it still has the same problems. HHGreg also provided no support after the purchase. We should have returned it.

      We have had strange noises, jammed icemaker, plastic parts breaking, and now that its past warranty the nice folks at LG say file a lawsuit. As U.S. makers and stores flee to cheap labor nations, we get lousy products and people without jobs. I will never by an LG anything again. The posts on this site are like a stroll down LG memory lane. Life is Good if you are an LG CEO, but us spoiled food and food poisoning.

      • From Robin of Tujunga, Calif.,: "I purchased an LG French Door Refrigerator in May 2008. Within the first two months, the vegetable bins cracked. They were replaced by LG. Recently, the freezer motor has started making a strange noise. But nothing compares to: The seal on the water line on the refrigerator for the water and ice failed.

      • Larry of La Center, Wash., tells ConsumerAffairs.Com: " I purchased a 2-door (French) bottom freezer refrigerator from Home Depot approximately two years ago and have had several service calls to repair freezer compartment due to ice build-up. After I told the service department that I would take them to court to recover damages for fixing the refrigerator they replace all the electrical door with the agreement that I never call them again ... I agreed.

      The refrigerator must be replaced with no help from LG. If you are planning to purchase an LG refrigerator (or any other LG product) I suggest you buy a HAIR DRYER at the same time ... even that is temporary fix! LG will not own-up to their responsibilities as a manufacturer and until a class action suit is rendered "YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED"! I will be replacing this two-year-old refrigerator in the near future! This LG refrigerator I purchased cost over one thousand dollars and has never worked properly!

      ENERGY STAR is a voluntary program sponsored through DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency that promotes the development and sale of energy efficient products. The labels associated with the program inform consumers of the most energy efficient products in a particular product category.

      As a result of the action, LG has now sued the Department of Energy. "We intend to defend the Department's actions in federal court and to prove that the law of the United States does not give LG any right to continue using the ENERGY STAR label in a way that could impose unexpected costs upon American families and unjustly disadvantage manufacturers of more energy efficient products," Harris explained.



      Certain LG Refrigerator-Freezer Models To Lose ENERGY STAR Label...
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      CPSC: Zhu Zhu Pets Are Safe for Kids

      Consumer group backs down on contamination claim

      The highly popular Mr. Squiggles Zhu Zhu toy hamsters do not violate any federal safety standards or put children in harm's way, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      The agency on Monday exonerated these hard-to-find interactive hamsters just days after the California consumer group GoodGuide said its tests revealed the toys contained higher-than-allowed levels of the heavy metal antimony.

      "Through a serious of meetings the Consumer Product Safety Commission had yesterday and through a review of independent testing of the product by a company the manufacturer uses, it was determined that the Zhu Zhu pet does not violate the new mandatory toy standard, which deals with antimony and other heavy metals," spokesman Scott Wolfson told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      "It's so important with the information that got out over the weekend that parents know their children (who play with Mr. Squiggles) are not at risk because of antimony...there is no violation of antimony or any other heavy metals," Wolfson added.

      GoodGuide on Monday also clarified its testing methods and said it should not have compared its results to the new government safety standards.

      "We have learned that the testing methodology used in the federal standards (a soluble method) is different than the methodology we used in our testing (a surface-based method)," the consumer group said. "Accordingly, while we accurately reported the chemical levels in the toys that we measured using our testing method, we should not have compared our results to federal standards. We regret this error."

      The San-Francisco-based GoodGuide said its tests revealed the Mr. Squiggles robotic hamster contained 93-106 parts per million (ppm) of antimony, a heavy metal linked to cancer and lung, heart, and fertility problems. Those levels are higher than the stringent federal standard of 60 ppm, GoodGuide said.

      The consumer group also said it found high levels of tin in the Mr. Squiggles toy hamster.

      The family-owned Missouri company that makes Zhu Zhu Pets vehemently refuted GoodGuide's findings, saying all its toys pass rigorous safety tests. On Monday, the toy company's CEO said he appreciated GoodGuide's clarification about its "misleading testing information" and again assured parents that all Zhu Zhu Pets are safe.

      "I am pleased that GoodGuide has issued a clarification and acknowledged that their testing is 'different from the testing methodology' used by the U.S. and the E.U., and has led to 'confusion' about their research," Cepia Ceo Russ Hornsby said in a statement. "As we have continually stressed, all Zhu Zhu Pets toys are safe and compliant with all U.S. and European standards for consumer health and safety in toys."

      Hornsby criticized GoodGuide's use of XRF technology in its analysis, calling it an "inferior testing methodology." He also said the consumer group's report created unnecessary concerns for parents during the busy holiday seasons.

      "The claims made by GoodGuide have, unfortunately, caused great confusion with parents," Hornsby added. "I want to assure everyone who has purchased any Zhu Zhu Pets, or those planning to purchase one, that the toy is 100 percent safe."

      Cepia also posted recent test results on its Web site claiming that the Zhu Zhu pets passed various quality and safety standards.

      Keeping an eye out

      Back in Washington, the CPSC said it will test the Mr. Squiggles Zhu Zhu pets to "reaffirm" the laboratory results the agency has already reviewed.

      "We never say a product is 100 percent safe," CPSC's Wolfson told us. "But this (Mr. Squiggles) product doesn't violate any safety standards and is not putting children in harm's way. We are still going to do our own testing and still keep an eye on this product."

      The CPSC would also like GoodGuide to share its test results with the agency's safety experts.

      "We're an agency with a lot of experience working with consumer groups," Wolfson said. "And in many cases they share information with us in advance. In some cases, the information brought to our attention has led to recalls. In other cases, we've shared information with groups about testing."

      "We have a good set of relationships with a lot of consumer groups who come out with these (toy) lists," he added. "We want GoodGuide to share their data with us...they did not come to us in advance."



      CPSC: Zhu Zhu Pets Are Safe for Kids...
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      Study: Herbal Cigarettes No Healthier Than Regular Smokes

      Just as addictive and unhealthy as tobacco, researchers say

      It's a generally accepted fact that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health, leading to a number of cigarette alternatives. But those who light up Chinese "herbal" cigarettes thinking they are safer are wrong, researchers say.

      "The public needs to be aware that herbal cigarettes do not deliver fewer carcinogens," said lead researcher Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D., professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine and Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco. "We hope our findings will help to dispel the myth that they are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes; they are not."

      Results of the study are published in the December issue ofCancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, which has a special focus on tobacco. The researchers conclude that herbal cigarettes, which combine medicinal herbs with tobacco are just as addictive and no safer than regular cigarettes.

      Chinese herbal cigarettes are becoming increasingly more popular in China and elsewhere in the world. Glantz, along with colleagues in China, examined nicotine and carcinogen levels between the two marketed products. They compared 135 people who smoked herbal cigarettes and 143 people who smoked "regular" tobacco cigarettes. The study was conducted in one city in China.

      "Levels of carcinogens were correlated with measures of nicotine intake, meaning that the more nicotine smokers took in, the higher the levels of carcinogens they took in," Glantz said.

      Forty-seven percent of participants who switched to use of herbal cigarettes did so because herbal cigarettes had a "better taste;" 24 percent switched because of their health concerns and the notion that herbal cigarettes were a healthier alternative. Most participants who switched to herbal cigarettes reported an increase in number of cigarettes smoked per day.

      "Adding herbs to the cigarettes would not be expected to affect the nicotine, which is the addictive drug in tobacco, and cancer-causing chemicals in the smoke of cigarettes," said Glantz. "The Chinese tobacco industry should avoid misleading the public when promoting herbal cigarettes as 'safer' products."



      Study: Herbal Cigarettes No Healthier Than Regular Smokes...
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