An early holiday gift from the FDA: menu labeling – National Consumers League

Ever wonder just how caloric that notorious grande mocha frappuccino is or how many calories are lurking in your Auntie Anne’s cinnamon pretzel? Well those questions just got a lot easier to answer.  Today, the FDA released final menu labeling rules for retail food chains and vending machines with 20 or more locations. Movie theaters, pizza parlors and convenience stores are also covered under these new regulations. While some cities and states already have menu labeling requirements (New York required chain restaurants to start labeling in 2006), the FDA’s rule is nationwide making it a huge win for consumers.

What really made us consumer advocates giddy though was the inclusion of alcohol beverages on restaurant menus, an unexpected and tough measure. Alcohol is the six largest source of calories among Americans, with the average individual consuming a shocking 3.8 percent of all calories from alcohol. The rules also applied to convenience stores and grocery stores for foods that are intended to feed one person. Foods like bread and rotisserie chicken, which constitute as more than a meal, were not included.

The jury is still out on how menu labeling affects total calorie consumption, with some studies showing reduced consumption and others showing no change. What has become very clear is the consumer desire to make calorie amounts more visible. The National Restaurant Association had great foresight in advocating for the federal standard alongside consumer advocates in an effort to avoid varying laws put in place by cities and states.

Labeling calorie counts on menus is a strong consumer education tool. According to the FDA, one third of the calories American’s eat or drink are consumed away from the home. While the long term outcomes of menu labeling are unknown, consumers’ ability to access information that affects their health is the first step in the direction of a healthier America.

Consumers can expect to see the rule take effect a year from now for restaurants and two years for vending machines.  It is likely these rules will continue to face legal and political challenges in some parts of the food industry.

Outrage! End child labor in American tobacco fields – National Consumers League

They are far too young to legally purchase cigarettes, yet children as young as 7 are being permitted to work in American tobacco fields and to be exposed to acute nicotine poisoning. Momentum is building to ban child labor from U.S. tobacco fields, as news is spreading of this American disgrace. Learn what is being done about this and how you can get involved.


For decades, advocates at the National Consumers League (NCL) and the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which NCL co-chairs, have called for closing the loopholes that allow young children to work in agriculture. Exemptions to U.S. child labor law permit children to work long hours in the fields.

In May, CLC member organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented the dangers in a report, Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming, finding that three-quarters of more than 140 child workers in tobacco fields interviewed in several states reported falling ill. Many of their symptoms—nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, headaches, and dizziness—are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, or “Green Tobacco Sickness.”

In July, 53 groups signed onto a CLC letter urging the largest tobacco corporations to take voluntary action to ban children from tobacco fields. Last month, 50 organizations wrote President Obama to urge greater protections for child tobacco workers.

In September, the New York Times profiled child laborers in tobacco fields, exposing the horrific working conditions. Following the story, the Council for Burley Tobacco, an industry group that represents 5,000 tobacco growers, publicly distanced itself from child labor in tobacco fields: “We do not condone the hiring of anyone under the age of 16 for work in tobacco anywhere in the world.”

Congress has responded to advocates’ cries. In July, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced legislation that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to eliminate child labor on tobacco farms. In September, Rep. Matt Cartwright (P-PA) called for regulatory reform that would strengthen the laws that protect these child workers. In the Senate, a 16-member coalition led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) wrote a letter to the largest tobacco corporations asking them to ban work by minors.

Advocates are hoping the recent media attention will raise awareness about the plight of these working minors and contribute to the momentum needed to enact reforms.

“As a nation, we have turned our backs on some of America’s most vulnerable workers. In tobacco-producing states, children as young as seven years old are facing Third World conditions,” NCL Executive Director and CLC Co-Chair Sally Greenberg wrote in an editorial that appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Toiling in the hot sun, these child workers must don black plastic trash bags with holes poked for their head and arms to avoid contact with tobacco leaves. Without it, their skin absorbs nicotine — a lot of nicotine. On a humid day, when tobacco leaves are dripping with dew, a tobacco worker may be exposed to levels of nicotine equivalent to smoking three dozen cigarettes. Nearly a two-pack-a-day habit.”

For decades, health and child labor advocates have called for reforms to our laws to better protect the children working in American fields across all of agriculture. In 2012, they experienced a devastating setback when the Obama Administration buckled to the agriculture lobby and legislators from tobacco-producing states, withdrawing rules that would have increased protections for child farmworkers. The rules would have specifically banned tobacco work for children under 16.

“So often, we condemn labor abuses on the other side of the world,” said CLC Coordinator Reid Maki. “But we have a national disgrace right here in America. We must hold ourselves to the same or higher standards and no longer turn a blind eye to the scourge that is child labor in American tobacco. We must enact regulations to protect the nation’s most vulnerable workers—our children—from this dangerous work.”

What you can do

HRW has created an online petition calling on companies, urging them to require that growers in their supply chain hire only workers who are 18 years or older to work in hazardous jobs on tobacco farms, including any tasks where they have direct contact with tobacco plants or cured tobacco, and to develop an effective monitoring mechanism that ensures these rules are understood and respected. Get involved! Sign the petition and share it with friends today!

Script Your Future celebrates successful three years of raising medication adherence awareness – National Consumers League

November 20, 2014

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC— Upon completion of its initial three-year program to raise awareness among patients about the consequences of not taking medication as directed, the Committed Partners of the Script Your Future campaign gathered for their annual meeting yesterday. Three out of four Americans are non-adherent, meaning that they fail to take prescribed medicines as directed by their health care professionals. Coordinated by the National Consumers League and launched in 2011, the innovative, multi-stakeholder effort campaign has educated millions of patients, family caregivers, and health care professionals about the importance of adherence.

At the annual meeting, representatives from the campaign’s 130+ Committed Partners and other supporters gathered to celebrate the program’s accomplishments, examine “Lessons Learned” from years of campaign planning and implementation, hear from our pilot city field organizers, and present the awards for our Medication Adherence Team Challenge to the winning student teams from schools of pharmacy and health professions.

As former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said, ‘Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” “The National Consumers League’s Script Your Future campaign gets to the heart of the issue as to why patients fail to take their medications,” said Acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H. “Raising awareness about the importance of medication adherence is a priority for the Office of the Surgeon General.”

“The Script Your Future campaign has made a difference in the collective fight to increase awareness about this serious public health problem and has helped lay the groundwork for a healthier future for patients and our health care system,” said Janet Woodcock, MD, Director, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, US Food and Drug Administration. “The involvement of dozens of organizations, significant grass-roots support in the six pilot cities, and participation by health care professionals of the future through the Adherence Team Challenge has contributed to the success of this campaign.”

At the meeting, Script Your Future organizers presented awards to the winners of the 2014 Medication Adherence Team Challenge, who traveled to the meeting to represent their colleges and universities and receive the national honors. The month-long competition engaged health profession students and faculty in developing creative ideas for raising awareness about medication adherence as a critical public health issue.

This year’s awardees are: Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Pharmacy, St. Louis College of Pharmacy, Touro University California College of Pharmacy, Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy, and University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Pharmacy.

In its three years, the Script Your Future campaign has reached 12 million patients, distributed more than a million wallet cards for managing multiple medications, and provided direct counseling to 60,000 Americans.

“We are delighted to see how this campaign has grown over the years, as its messages on the importance of adherence have resonated with both health care professionals and patients,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Through our Adherence Team Challenge, we are seeing a new generation of health care professionals who appreciate the value of putting the patient at the center of care, and we expect this will yield immeasurable improvements in patient-provider relationships—and ultimately in medication adherence—in the years to come.”

Script Your Future is supported by a coalition of more than 130 public and private partners, including health care professional groups, chronic disease groups, health insurance plans, pharmaceutical companies, business organizations, consumer groups, as well as researchers and government agencies. The Script Your Future pilot cities are Baltimore, Md.; Birmingham, Ala.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Providence, RI; Raleigh, NC; and Sacramento, Calif.

Since its launch in 2011, the campaign has represented the interests of consumers and patients in providing materials in numerous languages through partnerships with pharmacies, hospitals, medical offices and clinics, and health insurance plans; hosted community events and health fairs across the country; partnered with local officials, and evaluated medication adherence awareness through research. The centerpiece of the first-of-its-kind, multi-year campaign is a website,, which provides tools to support patient efforts to adhere to their prescribed medicine. Tools include free text message reminders, videos, sample questions, medication lists and charts to keep track of medicines, and fact sheets on common chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure.

To learn more about the campaign, visit


Script Your Future is a campaign of the National Consumers League (NCL), a private, non-profit membership organization founded in 1899. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. The National Consumers League serves consumers across the country by providing government, businesses and other organizations with the consumer’s perspective on a range of concerns – including health care and medication information. As an advocacy organization, NCL is working to educate consumers and key health stakeholders on the importance of taking medication as directed. For more information about this campaign, visit, and for more information on our other areas of focus, please visit

Banks too expensive for many low-income Americans – National Consumers League

Consumer advocates often lament the number of consumers who are “unbanked.” It’s true that having a bank account is a sign of stability and that having your money attached to a checking account and ATM card can help build credit and promote long term saving. But it appears that banking fees have driven millions of low income customers away; 25 million Americans are unbanked. Another 63 million are under-banked, which means they may have bank accounts but rely on some alternative financial services. These include check cashers, payday lenders, prepaid cards, and lending and saving circles instead of banks. 

I happened to see one of my relative’s Bank of America statements; this relative doesn’t earn much of an income. He opened a bank account with a $100 deposit and three months later there was only $25 left. He hadn’t spent any of money; the $75 went toward a $25 monthly fee to maintain the account. Thank god he didn’t bounce any checks; his account would have been wiped out.

Several years ago the New York Times Magazine, in a story about payday lenders, quoted a low-income customer who used Payday lenders because their fees were predictable. He said he couldn’t trust bank fees because he never knew what they would cost. He closed his bank account after bouncing two checks at $39 a pop.

This week’s New York Times featured an op-ed written by Lisa Servon, a profession of urban politics in New York who worked for a short period at Check Center a payday lender in Berkeley, CA. Her customers found that bank fees had increased 25 percent in one year, that only 39 percent of noninterest bearing checking accounts were free, down from 76 percent in 2009, and the average overdraft fee is $32.74, and low income people bounce checks because they have little or no financial cushion. Some of the payday lenders charge less for a money order than the post office. And Servon points out that bank overdraft charges could amount to 5,000 percent if viewed as a seven day loan. Servon concludes that the problem isn’t the unbanked. It’s the banks that have become too expensive.

Our hostile work environment for pregnant workers – National Consumers League

Can a worker be fired for being pregnant? 

This question is still being asked today in workplaces across the country and soon in the Supreme Court. The answer is not as straightforward as it should be. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was signed into law and it amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. Meaning a worker cannot be fired for being pregnant.

Sounds straightforward? 

However, some employers and employment lawyers searched for a loophole in the law and have found one. They argue that while one cannot be fired for being pregnant, one can be fired for a pregnancy related accommodation. Accommodations include: a heavy lifting restriction (often called light duty and that restricts lifting more than 25lbs.), requiring more bathroom breaks, needing to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated, using a stool instead of standing for a full shift, not working overtime, etc. Since these accommodations are often doctor ordered, women face the choice of endangering themselves and their pregnancy or losing their jobs and, in some cases, their health insurance.

In an October New York Times article, Doctor’s Letter Spells End of Job for Pregnant Employee, Angelica Valencia, a three months pregnant worker who had previously miscarried, was ordered by her doctor not to work overtime as she had another high risk pregnancy. When Ms. Valencia presented her employer with her doctor’s letter, her supervisors told her she could work only without restrictions and insisted that she work overtime.

Ms. Valencia begged her managers to excuse her from overtime as her doctor recommended. She pointed out that the company’s busy season typically ended in a month and that overtime was rarely needed for the rest of the year. Her managers still insisted that Ms. Valencia not work without a full duty medical clearance. By the end of the day Ms. Valencia was without her job. 

Unfortunately this is becoming an all too common occurrence. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws, has seen the rates of pregnancy related discrimination cases soar over the last few years especially among low-wage workers. 

On December 3,the Supreme Court will hear the Young v. United Parcel Service (UPS) case. The case asks the Court to rule on the argument that the PDA protects pregnant workers from being fired from their jobs for needing a reasonable workplace accommodation. In this case, UPS has a work policy of granting light duty, with a 25 lbs. lifting restriction, to employees with injuries, doctor recommendations, and, in some cases, even workers with DUIs. However, when Ms. Young presented UPS with her doctor’s letter recommending light duty she was denied her workplace accommodation and placed on unpaid leave, where she eventually lost not only her job but also her health insurance. 

In case the Supreme Court rules in favor of UPS, there is a legislative solution already in  motion. The Pregnant Worker Fairness Act was introduced in May 2013 in both the House of Representatives (H.R. 1975) and the Senate (S. 942). Along with women’s and worker advocates, the National Consumers League is moving this important piece of legislation forward. In this day and age, it’s time these outdated policies, i.e. discrimination, are removed from today’s workplaces.

Group heralds minimum wage, paid sick days election victories – National Consumers League

November 5, 2014

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

ashington, DC— The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and labor organization, applauds election advances in a handful of states towards a living wage for all workers, with increases to the minimum wage in several states, and implementation of paid sick leave for workers in several others.

“Last night’s victories for working Americans are also victories for the states and communities where the minimum wage will be raised. Their citizens will have a better standard of living as a result of these increases,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL.

Arkansas raised its state’s minimum wage from $6.25 (lower than the federal minimum wage) to $7.50 an hour, with 50-cent increases scheduled for 2016 and 2017. Nebraska voters approved a boost to $8 an hour, and set it to increase to $9 an hour in 2016. South Dakota voters supported wage increases to $8.50 an hour and linked future increases to inflation. Alaska voters approved a hike from $7.75 to $8.75 and again to $9.75 in 2016, with additional increases tied to inflation.

Last night also provided workers in traditionally more liberal areas with wage increases as well. Illinois voters approved a non-binding measure to boost their state minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 next year. The city of San Francisco became the second city in the country, after Seattle, to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in next few years. In a similar move, the city of Oakland, California, approved a measure taking its wage from $9 an hour to $12.25, set to begin in March.

Experiencing its biggest single advance in history, voters in four locations—the state of Massachusetts; Montclair and Trenton, NJ; and Oakland, CA—approved measures guaranteeing workers paid sick days. The victories reflect broad public support for Americans who work at the lowest paying jobs.

“Paid sick days are a common-sense policy that allows workers time off to care for themselves and family members. And with cold and flu season upon us, these policies will lead to healthier workplaces and classrooms,” said Michell McIntyre, outreach director of labor and worker rights at NCL. 

With last night’s victories at the ballot box, three states and 16 cities have passed paid sick days laws, including two states and 10 cities in 2014 alone. “With additional paid sick days legislation percolating in numerous states and several municipalities, clearly the public supports access to paid sick days for all workers,” said Greenberg.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Consumer group praises Berkeley vote on soda tax – National Consumers League

November 5, 2014

Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League,, (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC- The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds Berkeley, California for passing the nation’s first tax on sweetened beverages yesterday. The measure imposes a one-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors, with proceeds going to the city’s general fund. With the looming obesity crisis, soft drink consumption’s link to health problems like obesity and Type 2 diabetes was likely the motivating force behind the debate.

“The residents of Berkeley were wise to support this modest tax on soda and to stand up to the soft drink industry. Taxes like these promote healthier beverages and fight the causes of obesity, ” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director.

In San Francisco, a similar measure proposed a two-cent-cent-per-ounce tax but did not pass. This measure would have required a two-thirds majority vote, as proceeds were earmarked for health and nutrition programs. Mexico’s soda tax, which was instituted in January, has resulted in decreased sales of high-calorie beverages and an increase in sales of water and low-calorie beverages. Even in areas where proposed taxes don’t pass, consumer awareness about the adverse effects of soft drink consumption is increased, potentially yielding positive health outcomes.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Life Lesson 5: How I Learned to #TurnOutForWhat – National Consumers League

Seth WoodsOne of the reasons I love LifeSmarts is that we teach teens life lessons the easy way (rather than the hard way). We take that seriously, that’s why our motto is “Learn it. Live it.”

This time, I don’t have a “life lesson” per se, but rather an imposition:

Go vote. And if you’re not yet 18, make sure your friends who can vote do so.

A recent Harvard poll shows that only 26% of voters under 30 plan to cast a ballot on Election Day, a noted drop from two years ago. And while it’s true we’re not voting for a President this time, this year’s elections will be just as important (if not more important).

On the ballot this year are 36 U.S. Senators and all 435 Representatives, who will have the chance to make great changes to government policy. Some of these issues are especially important for teens and millennials:

  • There is a movement to raise the minimum wage to over $10/hour. How would your life be changed if that happened?
  • Health care laws continue to be a controversial issue. What happens to your family if your coverage changes?
  • Millions of credit card numbers have been stolen from major retailers’ databases this year. What should the government do to protect these consumers?
  • What happens if the federal government shuts down again?

Not to mention there are elections for countless state and local offices that will have a greater impact on your life than Congress: state legislators who decide how much money goes to education and health care, county officials who set road budgets and noise ordinances, school board members that could start your school day later or fund your team’s travel to the National LifeSmarts Championship.

Smart consumers are also smart citizens, and it is your obligation to vote. Take this opportunity to speak up and be an active part of your community.

Go vote.

And if you’re not yet 18, make sure your friends who can vote do so.

Fast food workers and the international double standard – National Consumers League

Did you know that Burger King pays its Copenhagen employees $20 an hour? That’s the BASE wage for fast food workers throughout Denmark and 2 ½ times what many fast food workers earn in the US. The spokesman for the International Franchise Association, Steve Caldeira,  that represents big businesses that have many franchises, gave a fairly pathetic defense in the New York Times (Fast Food in Denmark Offers Living Wages U.S. Workers Long For”) of why American companies  can’t pay these wages in the US. 

“Denmark is a small country.”  So what does that have to do with paying decent wages?  “with a far higher cost of living.” So that means Burger King and other fast food outlets can pay more when they have to. “Unions dominate and the employment system revolves around that fact.” So they have to pay more because of unions in Denmark but without unions, which they fight to the death in the US, they can get away with paying minimum wage. 

The average wage for fast food workers in the United States is $8.90/hour. According to a recent study from the University of California at Berkeley, half of American fast food workers have to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

NCL sent a letter to the companies paying their European workers 2 ½ times what they pay those in the US in which we said “We believe it is both callous and unpatriotic for Burger King to shortchange the wages of your workforce, while paying more than double those wages in other countries where unions are more powerful.” We asked them to close this wage gap immediately!

The obvious conclusion is that Burger King and its fast food competitors also mentioned in the story can and do pay a living wage and decent benefits in other countries, but refuse to do so for your very own American workforce. The National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group, regularly opposes increased wages and benefits fast food and other workers in the restaurant industry.

Hamburgers in Denmark might cost a bit more — 80 cents or so according to the Times – they sell there as they would here. If doing the right thing requires raising the price of a Whopper by 80 cents, so be it. Consumers will pay that in the United States, as they do in Denmark.

We expect to see the usual excuses if we get an answer at all to our letters. They will respond by telling us how good Burger King is to its workforce or try to defend this behavior by explaining why things are different in Denmark. The reality is that consumers and workers support companies that treat their workforces with respect and pay them a living wage. This revelation about Burger King paying $20 and myriad benefits to your workforce across the Atlantic calls out for a company response.

NCL has also offered to work with the companies and support serious efforts to close the wage gap.