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Coalition Sets Health, Safety Drive : Campaign Aims to Cut ‘Risky Product’ Accidents, Illness

Times Staff Writer

Consumer and health organizations joined insurance groups Sunday in announcing a plan to lobby industry and government at all levels in six product-related areas that affect public health and safety.

The new, 26-member Coalition for Consumer Health and Safety said the effort aims to reduce product-related illnesses and accidents. The coalition estimated the annual toll from misuse of what it called risky products--notably motor vehicles, liquor and cigarettes--at more than 475,000 deaths and $250 billion in medical and damage claims.

“The stakes are enormous. Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost, millions of injuries and illnesses are suffered and hundreds of billions of dollars in medical and related costs are spent each year as a result of products that pose an unreasonable risk to consumers,” said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America and chairman of the coalition.

First Formal Alliance

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The group said its lobbying effort marked the first time consumer organizations and major insurance industry groups have combined formally to work for product improvements. It said the campaign will focus on six goals:

--To curb casualties from motor vehicle accidents, which killed nearly 46,000 Americans in 1987, the coalition seeks to promote the use of seat belts and air bags, as well as work for more laws requiring their use. It also supports extension of safety standards to light trucks, vans and utility vehicles and favors toughening drunk-driving laws.

--To reduce the number of accidents in the home, which it said annually cause 28,000 deaths and $10 billion in hospital charges, the coalition supports revitalization of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a target of budget cuts during the Ronald Reagan Administration.

--To discourage tobacco smoking, which it said is responsible for 390,000 deaths annually, the coalition proposes increasing funds for local, state and federal anti-smoking campaigns and tightening the rules on smoking in public, especially in public conveyances.

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Alcohol Abuse Toll

--To discourage misuse of alcohol, which it said is involved in more than 100,000 deaths a year, the group recommended restricting alcohol advertising directed at youthful drivers and setting tougher penalties for driving under the influence.

--To guard food quality, the group proposed mandatory inspections of seafood for bacterial contamination, as well as long-term controls for pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. It said that Food and Drug Administration guidelines should require clear statements of ingredients and nutritional values on food labels.

--To attack pollution of indoor air, especially contamination with cancer-causing radon gas, the coalition advocated expanding federal research and making grants to aid state programs.

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Although acquired immune deficiency syndrome is not a product-related ailment, the coalition said that the public health threat of AIDS, which had killed 46,344 Americans as of Jan. 3, is too serious to be ignored. It urged that private and public sector leaders commit themselves to educating the public about the disease, and that employers adopt humane policies toward people with AIDS.

The coalition includes 13 consumer and health organizations, among them the American Public Health Assn., the American Lung Assn., American Assn. of Retired Persons, Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America.

Among the 13 insurance groups and companies backing the agenda are the American Council of Life Insurance, the American Insurance Assn., Allstate Insurance Co., the Kemper Group, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, Nationwide Insurance Co., the Prudential Insurance Co. of America and State Farm Insurance Co.


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