Consumer Protection

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Following the Money

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, and promotes fiscal responsibility.

State governments across the country have been moving toward making their checkbooks transparent by creating online transparency portals – government-operated websites that allow visitors to see who receives state money and for what purposes. Forty states provide transparency websites that allow residents to access databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. Most of these websites are also searchable, making it easier for residents to follow the money and monitor government spending.

This report is the second annual ranking of states’ progress toward new standards of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Halfway to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

CFPB Implementation Team staff are making significant progress in their efforts to both build an effective agency and be ready to perform required functions by the transfer date (July 21, 2011). Based on our analysis of several key metrics, on the date halfway between passage and startup, the CFPB Implementation Team is properly focusing on key goals and outcomes. Moreover, the high‐quality of its early hires will give it the CFPB the ability to significantly broaden and accelerate its activities over the next six months.

At the same time, the CFPB has some major challenges before it. It must defend itself against ongoing special interest attacks and one‐sided Congressional inquiries. To achieve its full potential on the transfer date, it must have a director confirmed by the Senate who is committed to strong consumer protection. While the CFPB enabling legislation gives the Treasury Secretary authority to run the agency in the absence of a director after July 21, the confirmation of a director provides additional new powers current regulators do not have.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

The 2010 Trouble in Toyland report is the 25th annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety.  In this report, U.S. PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

Over the past twenty-five years, the PIRG report has identified hazards in toys and children’s products that could cause an acute injury from small parts that pose a choking hazard, to strangulation hazards from cords on pull toys, to laceration hazards from edges that are too sharp.  Our report has led to at least 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped us to advocate for stronger federal laws to protect children from unsafe products.

While most product safety regulations address mechanical hazards, the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act began to address certain toxic chemicals in toys and children’s products that represent chronic hazards, such as lead and phthalates. 

In April 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel – a group of three distinguished experts appointed by President Bush to evaluate the nation’s cancer program – raised the alarm about our ubiquitous exposure to toxic chemicals. “The American people – even before they are born – are bombarded continually,” the panel wrote. In effect, our lives have become a giant, uncontrolled experiment on the relationship between toxic chemicals and our health.

American children today grow up surrounded by synthetic chemicals. Their food containers are made with plastic. Their homes and yards are treated with pesticides. Their families use cosmetics and personal-care products that contain hundreds of manufactured additives. The furniture and electronics in their homes contain flame retardant chemicals.

As their minds and bodies grow and develop, children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals that could affect proper development. Because children have a natural tendency to touch and mouth objects as a way of exploring the world around them, harmful chemicals can leach out of these products, enter their bodies and cause health problems.  Chemicals have become such a close part of our lives that scientists can find more than 100 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the bodies of every mother and child. 

There are now more than 83,000 industrial chemicals on the market in the United States. But very little is known about most of the chemicals in commerce. The health effects of almost half of the major industrial chemicals have not been studied at all.

In 2008, Congress responded to an unprecedented wave of recalls of toys and other children’s products by passing the first major overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission since it was established during the Nixon Administration.  By passing the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August 2008, Congress not only expanded the agency’s budget, it also gave the CPSC more tools to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable and speed recalls, moved toward limiting toxic lead and phthalates in certain toys and children’s products, and greatly improved import surveillance.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, together with stronger enforcement from the CPSC, has made good steps in the right direction toward reducing mechanical toy hazards like choking, and chemical hazards from lead and phthalates in certain products. However, there are tens of thousands of toxic chemicals that are still not regulated for the many uses in our children’s lives. 

In researching the report, we visited numerous national chain toy stores and other retailers in September and October 2010 to identify potentially dangerous toys. We analyzed CPSC notices of recalls and other regulatory actions to identify trends in toy safety.  This year, we focused our investigation on hazards from toys and other children’s products that contain the toxic chemicals lead and phthalates, and other metals restricted by the CPSIA.  Because choking continues to be the leading cause of death related to toys, we have also identified toys that may pose a choking hazard to children.

News Release | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Parents Beware - Many Toys Still Toxic, Hazardous

Georgia PIRG Offers Tips and Interactive Tools to Help Consumers Shop Safely

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble In Toyland

In 2008, Congress responded to an unprecedented wave of recalls of toys and other children’s products by passing the first major overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission since it was established during the Nixon Administration. By passing the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August 2008,1 Congress not only expanded the agency’s budget, it also 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.

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.

The CPSIA strengthened the CPSC and established tough new protections against toxic chemicals like lead and phthalates. New and expanded leadership at the CPSC has begun to put these protections into effect.

But there is no magic wand to rehabilitate the tattered product safety net. Considering the 15,000 products under its regulation, the CPSC remains a very small agency with a very big job to do. Tough new bans on lead and phthalates are a good step in the right direction, but there are tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in our children’s lives. We continue to learn more about the relationship of toxic chemicals to chronic diseases. More must be done to protect our families from toxic chemicals.

The 2009 Trouble in Toyland report is the 24th 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.

In researching the report, we visited numerous national chain toy stores and other retailers in September and October 2009 to identify potentially dangerous toys. We analyzed CPSC notices of recalls and other regulatory actions to identify trends in toy safety. This year, we focused on three categories of toy hazards: toys that may pose choking hazards, toys that are excessively loud, and toys that contain the toxic chemicals lead and phthalates.

News Release | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Parents Beware - Many Toys Still Toxic, Hazardous

The findings in this year’s Trouble in Toyland highlight the need for continued improvement in order to protect American’s children.

News Release | Georgia PIRG Education Funda | Consumer Protection

Blowing Smoke

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Going Smoke-Free

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, the third leading cause of preventable death in America.

To reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, thousands of municipalities in all 50 states have enacted smoke-free workplace policies. In 2005, the state of Georgia joined their ranks with the passage of the Smokefree Air Act. However, Georgia’s law allows smoking to continue in select locations,
including bars and restaurants that do not serve minors under 18. As a result, many workers and citizens in Atlanta and
elsewhere in Georgia still face the dangerous health threat of secondhand smoke. 

Legislators exempted bars and restaurants primarily because of concerns that smoking restrictions would drive customers away. However, studies in hundreds of locations around the country have found that these fears are simply unfounded. Smoke-free laws have no negative effect on business at bars and restaurants—and in some cases even help.

Atlanta should join the ranks of American cities with strong ordinances restricting smoking in all places of employment, including bars and restaurants. A strong smoke-free workplace ordinance will safeguard the health of Atlanta’s workers and
public, without harming local businesses.

Scientific studies consistently demonstrate that bars and restaurants are unharmed by the implementation of smoke-free workplace ordinances.
• 100 percent of well-designed, peer-reviewed studies of smoke-free workplace policies published between 1989 and
2005 show that going smoke-free has no negative impact on sales or employment in the hospitality industry. In a
number of cases, business performance improved after the transition to a smoke-free environment.

Restricting smoking at bars and restaurants does not reduce revenue or force closures.
• El Paso, Texas, required restaurants, bars and mixed-beverage establishments to become smoke-free in 2002. In a statistical analysis that controlled for inflation and seasonal variability,
Going Smoke-Free the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention detected no change in revenues in the following year.
• Florida enacted a state-wide smoke-free workplace law in 2002. In the following months, Dr. Chifeng Dai at the University of Florida documented a 7.4 percent increase in gross sales among restaurants and catering services, after accounting for changes in population, income and the economy.

Smoke-free policies do not adversely affect employment in bars or restaurants.
• After Florida’s 2002 smoke-free law, a University of Florida study showed that state-wide hospitality employment climbed 4.5 percent after controlling for population, income growth, inflation, underlying economic conditions and for seasonal business variation.
• New York City reported a gain of more than 10,000 restaurant and bar jobs in 2003, the year after its smoke-free law went into effect.
• After restricting smoking in bars and restaurants in 2004, cities in Kentucky and Massachusetts reported no change to restaurant and bar employment.

Local smoke-free regulations do not hurt local businesses.
• Workers in restaurants and bars in Lexington, Kentucky—where officials restricted workplace smoking in 2004—earned just as much pay after going smoke-free as before. Employment levels stayed consistent, and most customers did not travel to do business in other areas of Kentucky without
smoke-free policies.
• Wisconsin’s Dane County, home to the state capital of Madison, enacted a smoke-free ordinance in 1992, at a time
when the majority of the state permitted workplace smoking. Over the next five years, tax receipts from restaurants in Dane County increased faster than the state average.

Smoke-free policies save money for businesses.
• Business owners who permit smoking in the workplace bear elevated health care and worker’s compensation costs. Asthma related to secondhand smoke alone costs the United States $773 million each year in direct medical expenses— costs borne in part by business owners.

Studies that claim smoke-free ordinances harm business are likely to suffer from poor design or conflicts of interest.
• Dr. Michelle Scollo at the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control in Australia reviewed all published studies on the economic impact of smoke-free policies in 2003 and again in 2005. She found that studies claiming negative impacts were 20 times more likely to have no peer-review than studies showing positive or neutral economic impact. These studies tended to use subjective, anecdotal and scientifically questionable measurements to reach their conclusions.
• Moreover, 100 percent of studies claiming negative impact were funded by groups with ties to the tobacco industry, which has a clear financial stake against smoking restrictions.

Atlanta should adopt a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance for all places of employment, including bars and restaurants.
• According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, eliminating smoking from the workplace “is the only effective way to ensure that exposures are not occurring.”
• While the Georgia Smokefree Air Act allows smoking to continue in select workplaces, it does not prevent local governments from enacting stronger smoke-free policies.
• Atlanta should follow the lead of other major cities across the U.S., including Houston, Miami, New York, Baltimore and Chicago, by enacting a comprehensive smoke-free workplace ordinance.
• The ordinance should apply to areas exempted under the 2005 Georgia Smokefree Air Act, including bars and restaurants that do not serve or employ people under 18 years of age (even those with separate ventilation systems), outdoor areas of employment, long-term care facilities, all hotel rooms, and areas of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
 

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