Reports

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The recall of 45 million toys and other children’s products in 2007 and continued recalls in 2008 reminded Americans that no government agency tests toys before they are put on the shelves. Specifically, the wave of recalls focused attention on the fact that the agency charged with protecting Americans from unsafe products—the Consumer Product Safety Commission—is a little agency with a very big job to do. Congress responded by passing the first major overhaul of the CPSC since it was established during the Nixon Administration, when it passed the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August 2008.1 In addition to expanding the agency’s budget, Congress gave the CPSC more tools to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable and speed recalls, moved toward banning toxic lead and phthalates except in trace amounts and greatly improved import surveillance.

While the new law strengthens the CPSC and contains tough new protections against toxic chemicals like lead and phthalates, these protections have not yet gone into effect. As parents and other toygivers venture into crowded malls this holiday season, they should remain vigilant about often hidden hazards posed by toys on store shelves.

The 2008 Trouble in Toyland report is the 23rd annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. This report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards. We visited numerous toy stores and other retailers to find potentially dangerous toys and identify trends in toy safety. This year, we focused specifically on toys that contain lead and phthalates in our research. 

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Comprehensive Tobacco Control Funding for the State of Georgia

If current patterns of smoking are not reduced in Georgia, CDC has projected that 184,000 youth currently aged 0-17 in the state will die prematurely from smoking.1,2  Each year, over 10,000 Georgians die from a tobacco-related death, resulting in more than 183,000 years of life lost which costs the state over $3.3 billion in lost productivity. 1,2  Additionally, CDC estimates that for each of these premature deaths caused by smoking, another 20 Georgians are living with a serious medical illness caused by smoking.3  Together these premature deaths and over 200,000 Georgians living with serious illnesses caused by smoking result in over $1.8 billion healthcare costs each year.  But the disease, death, and economic burden from tobacco use can be reduced by funding a comprehensive tobacco control program based upon the CDC recommendations.  

Even though Georgians smoke at about the same rate as the national average, Georgians suffer disproportionately from tobacco-related diseases.  Approximately 90 percent of lung cancer is caused by tobacco smoke and Georgia’s lung cancer death rates are substantially above the national average.  In fact, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, killing more Georgians than breast, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancer combined.  At the same time tobacco use is taking a deadly toll on Georgia citizens, scientific understanding of ways to reduce tobacco use has greatly advanced.  Over the last ten years, rigorous scientific studies have unequivocally demonstrated that a state investment in evidence-based tobacco interventions will not only reduce tobacco use, but will also reduce the burden of diseases caused by smoking, and most recently have shown an actual reduction in overall health care expenditures of approximately 7 percent. 

While the evidence is accumulating that investment in tobacco control programs reduces smoking, disease and costs, the commitment to tobacco control has declined by over 90 percent over the last few years, despite the fact that Master Settlement Agreement funding has increased. Given these facts, the Director of the Division of Public Health requested Georgia State University’s Institute of Public Health to establish a Tobacco Task Force to make recommendations on the appropriate level of funding for tobacco control and to suggest an expenditure plan.  During August of 2008 a Task Force was assembled consisting of representatives from federal, state and local health agencies, voluntary associations, non-profit advocacy groups and academic partners to review the current literature and to make recommendations for approximately $20 million of Master Settlement Agreement funding.  The Task Force provides these recommendations in the following pages and notes that a $20 million investment is substantially less than the $116.5 million investment recommended by CDC, but represents an amount that will dramatically advance tobacco control efforts in Georgia and will result in demonstrable reductions in tobacco use. 

Following the CDC guidelines, the Task Force recommends the following level of expenditures for tobacco control in Georgia.

Specific Programs Recommended Budget (in millions): 

State and Community Interventions: $8.5

Health Communication Interventions: $4.5 

Cessation Interventions: $4 

Surveillance and Evaluation: $2 

Administration and Management: $1 

Total: $20 

 

In addition to detailing the optimal way of investing $20 million to reduce tobacco use in Georgia, the Task Force also made three policy recommendations for further accelerating the reduction of tobacco use in the state and that would position Georgia as a public health leader among Southern states.  Specifically, the Task Force recommends: 

 

1. Increase the cigarette excise tax by $1 to a total of $1.37, consistent with the recommendations of 

the Georgia Cancer Plan.  

 

2. Provide nicotine replacement therapy for Medicaid patients and utilize the Federal match that is 

being used by 43 other states. 

 

3. Strengthen the current Clean Indoor Air law to prohibit smoking in all public places, assuring clean 

indoor air for the approximate 10% or restaurants and bars that continue to allow smoking. 

 

 

The Task Force is convinced that a major financial investment in tobacco control that builds upon the scientific evidence established over the last 10 years will result in a demonstrable reduction in tobacco use, tobacco deaths and health care expenditures.  The success of the program is not only dependent upon a significant financial investment, but also upon strong leadership within the state, and a competent and accountable management structure.  Georgia has the expertise in the state to establish an exemplary model program and one that will serve as a model for other southern states.  It is our hope that the recommendations provided in this report will advance Georgia’s effort to protect the health of the public in a scientific and cost effective manner. 

 

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Total Recall

The year 2007 was called the year of the recall. But in 2008, recalls are up, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data. Already, as these data show, more toys and children’s products have been recalled in the first half of this year than in the first half of last year, a supposed “100-year-flood” period. Yet the remedial CPSC reform legislation passed overwhelmingly by both the House and Senate in response to that 2007 recall wave has yet to become law. It is stalled in conference committee, where both the toy and chemical industries seek to block, weaken or delay some of its most critical reforms. This report explains why Congress needs to enact a strong final law that includes all of these key uncompleted reforms-- a new toy standard that requires mandatory safety testing for toys, a ban on toxic phthalates and whistleblower protections  -- while rejecting industry’s eleventh-hour demands to add new and unprecedented limits on state authority to enforce and enact product safety laws.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Squandering the Stimulus

America’s dependence on oil has become increasingly painful. Two thirds of oil in the United States goes to transportation, with the largest share consumed by cars and trucks. As the rising price of gasoline makes driving more expensive, Americans have sought alternatives by driving a little less and riding public transportation more. 

Unfortunately, government policy does too little to help Americans drive less. Energy experts generally agree that the era of cheap gas is over. Scientists likewise agree that road-based global warming pollution must be reduced. But lawmakers have not taken enough steps to help Americans consume less at the pump. On the contrary, overall government policies continue to encourage more driving at the expense of alternatives, leaving Americans poorer, stuck in worsening traffic, and emitting dangerous levels of global-warming pollution. 

Nothing illustrates how the lack of transportation options hurts consumers and our economy more than the fact that, since approval of the tax rebates in February, Americans on average have already spent the amount of their stimulus checks at the pump. The standard stimulus rebate check for American families with a joint filing couple and a child is $1,500. As of this week, the average family household will have already spent over $1,500 at the gas pump since February 13th when President Bush signed the tax rebate checks into law.  

The situation is akin to families signing over their rebate checks to big oil companies like Exxon Mobil or sending them to oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia. We can reduce our crippling dependence on oil through long-term solutions that will make it easier for Americans to drive less. Modern buses, light rail, commuter rail and other forms of transit more efficiently move passengers with less fuel. 

Transit also reduces traffic congestion and encourages more compact development patterns which, in turn, further reduce the amount Americans must drive. Existing public transportation already reduces America’s oil dependence. Analysis by Georgia PIRG shows that net oil savings from public transportation totaled 3.4 billion gallons in 2006, the last year for which full data on transit agency and ridership is currently available. These oil savings are enough to fuel 5.8 million cars for an entire year and to save about $13.6 billion in gasoline at today’s prices. 

In metro Atlanta, public transit saved 88 million gallons, the equivalent of $359.2 million at today’s gas prices. Comparing spending on transportation in neighborhoods with different access to rail and bus routes underscores the gas-saving benefits of public transit, according to newly released analysis by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) as part of a Brookings Institution project. Based on analysis of 2000 Census data in 52 metro areas, neighborhoods with the best access to transit routes spent an average of $728 monthly on all transportation costs, including gas, insurance, upkeep, and transit fares. Households in communities with the least access to transit, by contrast, spent an average of $925 per month.  Public transit solutions can do far more. 

At present, underfunded transit agencies are struggling to keep up with the record volume of riders. Despite the success of new rail lines and bus routes around the country, a long line of new transit projects remains stuck on the drawing board due to lack of funding. Federal, state, and local governments must invest in solutions to oil dependence through more and better public transportation. 

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A Better Way To Go

America’s automobile-centered transportation system was a key component of the nation’s economic prosperity during the 20th century. But our transportation system is increasingly out of step with the challenges of the 21st century. Rising fuel prices, growing traffic congestion, and the need to address critical challenges such as global warming and America’s addiction to imported oil all point toward the need for a new transportation future.

This report shows why rail, rapid buses and other forms of public transit must play a more prominent role in America’s future transportation system. America has grown more dependent on car travel with each passing year. America has more cars per capita than any other nation in the world. The number of miles driven on America’s highways has doubled in the last quarter-century, and our reliance on cars for transportation is at the root of many of America’s most intractable problems. For example, with two out of every three barrels of oil the United States consumes each year used to fuel our transportation system, our economy is hindered by oil price spikes and our national security vulnerable

This report shows that every American can benefit if we expand the reach and improve the quality of transit in the United States. By making a bold, national commitment to expand and improve transit, the United States can address many of our greatest challenges and create a transportation system built for the needs of the 21st century. Existing public transportation already plays a key role in addressing key problems faced by America:

-In 2006, transit saved an estimated 3.4 billion gallons of gasoline in the United States—enough to fuel 5.8 million cars for a year. In monetary terms, transit saved more than $9 billion that would otherwise have been spent on gasoline.

-In 2005, transit prevented 540.8 million hours of traffic delay, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, equivalent to more than 61,700 people sitting in traffic for an entire year. The monetary value of those savings was $10.2 billion.

-Transit reduced global warming emissions by nearly 26 million metric tons in 2006. In New York state alone, transit avoided 11.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution—more than was produced by the entire economies of Rhode Island, Vermont or the District of Columbia.

For every dollar invested in transit, America saves nearly two dollars in avoided costs on top of the economic development benefits. In 2005, federal, state and local governments spent $30.9 billion to provide transit services (not including fares). These investments yielded at least $60 billion per year in benefits from reduced vehicle expenses, avoided congestion, global warming emission reductions, reduced road expenditures, reduced spending on parking, and avoided traffic accidents. In other words, investment in transit more than pays for itself even before accounting for its direct economic stimulus.

Despite transit’s many benefits, America has historically underinvested in transit. The paper lays out a plan for expanding America’s transit network paid for by more efficiently allocating costs among those who will reap the benefits.

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