In the first ninety days of Donald Trump’s presidency, his actions speak more to his business background than of politics. He has been frank about his disapproval of government laws, which are oftentimes burdensome to businesses but essential for the safety of consumer rights. He has followed through on his campaign promise of cutting funding for the EPA and has started process of streamlining multiple government agencies by cutting regulations for the FDA, CDC, and EPA.

“I will ask each and every federal agency to prepare a list of all of the regulations they impose on Americans which are not necessary, do not improve public safety, and which needlessly kill jobs. Those regulations will be eliminated,” Trump said on the campaign trail.

The FDA, the leading “watchdog” for protecting the safety of food and drugs, is facing the risk of a faster approval process—which sounds like a positive, but it comes at a cost to consumers. With President Trump vowing to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration, companies may not have to prove that their drugs work in clinical trials before selling them to consumers. Jim O’Neill, one candidate to run the FDA, has proposed something he called “progressive” approval, in which drugs that were proved safe, but not yet proven effective, could be allowed on the market. “Let people start using them, at their own risk,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.”

This could have long-lasting impacts on patients’ health. The FDA recently published a study on 22 drugs that were promising in the early studies but failed the final, large-scale trials. Deep cuts in funding and staff at the F.D.A. could impair the department’s ability to evaluate these studies properly. “We’re not selling Coca-Cola and Pepsi, where patients can taste the Coca-Cola and decide if they like it,” said John M. Maraganore, the chief executive of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, a Massachusetts biotech firm. “Our products are lifesaving medicines.” While a drug may not be causing direct harm to someone, they may be taking a much less effective medication without knowing it. Efficacy is just as important as safety when it comes to the health of our citizens.

Trump has told pharmaceutical executives, “When you have a drug, you can actually get it approved if it works, instead of waiting for many, many years. We’re going to be cutting regulations at a level that nobody’s ever seen before.” What impact does have on consumer safety?

Currently, consumers have the legal right that allows them to seek damages from companies and manufacturers that have put profits ahead of their customers’ safety. For example, one of the most powerful examples litigation protecting consumers’ health is centered on asbestos. Mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer caused by asbestos, has a generally short life expectancy, where fewer of 10 percent of patients living beyond five years. Asbestos, which was commonly used in construction and cigarette filters, is currently the subject of lawsuits from consumers who suffer from the effects of this material. The current government has stated they will look into lawsuit reforms specifically around asbestos exposure claims—which will impact everyone from veterans to firefighters, and could send the wrong message to companies profiting from products that result in serious injuries.

Asbestos is not alone with being a case where companies knew that their products were potentially harmful without telling their customers. Even though cigarettes are now known to be harmful, the first studies suggesting a link between tobacco and lung cancer emerged in 1950. It wasn’t until 1965, 15 years later, that Congress passed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, which mandated that every cigarette pack must have a warning label on its side stating, “Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health.”

Similarly, since the 1970’s, there has been evidence about the possible connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Over 50 years later, the first guilty verdict was handed out against Johnson and Johnson. After evidence surfaced that J&J knew about the risks but decided not to warn consumers, three more women won lawsuits against the company in 2016.

The most powerful weapon consumers have to wield against corporations is litigation. It may be good for business to remove barriers to increase growth and profits, but consumers will ultimately end up paying the price with their health and safety. While most of us are usually focused on the more stage-worthy issues like gun rights, abortion, and gender/sex equality, the potential loss of legal rights against companies and products could be the biggest threat under Trump’s administration.

 

by Bridget Stack
Posted 4/21/17

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