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Consumer Reports

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    FDA plan aims to reduce deaths from opioid painkiller drugs

    More people now die from accidental overdoses of OxyContin and other prescription opioids drugs than from heroin and cocaine combined. To reverse that trend, the Food and Drug Administration announced a program to educate doctors and patients about the safe use of those drugs.

    While drugs such as oxycodone (OxyContin and generic), methadone (Dolophine and generic), and fentanyl (Duragesic) are very effective at relieving pain they can also cause a number of side effects and, when taken in very high doses, stop breathing.

    The FDA's program requires drugs companies that manufacture extended-release and long-acting opioid drugs to develop education programs for doctors and consumers. The program will include information to help doctors choose appropriate patients for the medications and safely monitor those who start the drugs. The program will also help doctors recognize the signs of opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction. The consumer materials will include the signs of potential overdose, as well as tips on safe storage and disposal, so other people don't improperly get their hands on the drugs. The first materials under this new program are expected to be available in March, 2013.

    The program will apply to these drugs:

    • Avinza (morphine)
    • Butrans (transdermal buprenorphine)
    • Dolophine (methadone)
    • Duragesic (transdermal fentanyl)
    • Embeda (morphine and naltrexone)
    • Exalgo (hydromorphone)
    • Kadian (morphine)
    • MS Contin (morphine)
    • Opana ER (oxymorphone)
    • Oramorph (all morphines)
    • OxyContin (oxycodone)

    Bottom line: If you are prescribed any opioid, never take extra doses or combine it with alcohol or any other sedative or anti-anxiety medication, unless directed by your physician. Put opioid medication in a lockbox to keep them away from others. If you have extra opioid pills, the FDA recommends flushing them down the toilet.

    For more on these drugs, see our Best Buy Drugs report on opiods and our previous article about the safe use of these painkillers. And read more about the FDA's advice on proper drug disposal.

    Source
    FDA introduces new safety measures for extended-release and long-acting opioid medications [FDA]

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    Dishwashers - from Consumer Reports

    Consumer Reports' latest dishwasher tests show you don't have to live with dirty dishes or endure even longer wash cycles. Better yet, some of the biggest energy misers are also easy on your wallet. Dishwashers
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    Tide is high in our latest laundry detergent Ratings

    Seven out of 15 recommended models in the latest Consumer Reports laundry detergent Ratings are from Tide. But not every Tide detergent we tested made the cut, and a few other brands are worth considering if you're looking to save money without sacrificing cleaning power.

    Our latest laundry detergent Ratings cover 66 detergents across what's become a rather complicated market. For example, several manufacturers now offer single-use packs, which make proper dosage a cinch for normal-size loads, while sparing apartment-dwellers the hassle of lugging a hefty container to the laundromat. Unfortunately, those conveniences are cancelled out by paltry cleaning performance with some packs. You'll also find more dual-use detergents that work for standard or high-efficiency washers. Green detergents abound as well, including those that meet the first-ever federal organic standard.

    To test detergents, we use swatches stained with blood, mud, chocolate ice cream, grass, red wine, ring around the collar, and tea. The best models in our Ratings are able to vanquish a variety of stains. Tide's winning formulas do so for between 16 cents and 23 cents per load, while a pair of Up & Up detergents, exclusive to Target, get the job done on certain stains for around 10 cents per load. Check out the complete laundry detergent report for more details, including the name of the only single-use pack that makes the winner's circle.

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    Lincoln MKS--a pricey and slightly posher Taurus

    The Lincoln MKS was modestly freshened for 2013--along with its Ford Taurus twin--receiving new styling details, a marginally larger trunk opening, and minor mechanical tweaks, but overall it remains the same: a pricey and only slightly posher version of the Taurus. We paid just over $50,000 for our well-equipped MKS, including options.

    Our front-wheel-drive MKS (AWD is optional) has the base 3.7-liter V6, good for 305 hp, and a six-speed automatic. So far we've found it delivers ample power but sounds thrashy under acceleration, an unwelcome intrusion in a luxury car. The automatic, although smooth, doesn't feel as up-to-date as the seven- and eight-speed gearboxes in some competitors.

    The freshening carried over to the interior, but only a bit. For 2013 the MKS gets the updated MyLincoln Touch infotainment system, with larger on-screen fonts and buttons. But it still remains awkward to use, and like we said about the 2013 Taurus we are testing, we really would rather have a few more knobs and buttons than this touch-sensitive system.

    There wasn't anything a mild freshening could do to address another issue from our first test of the car: the snug interior. The cockpit is still narrow, with little room for the driver's left foot. And despite the MKS' large exterior size, the rear cabin is snug and quite confining.

    We'll see how the MKS competes against other luxury sedans such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

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  • 07/10/12--08:29: How to choose a hospital
  • How to choose a hospital

    Our updated hospital Ratings can help you choose a hospital in your area. And even if you don't have a choice in hospitals, our Ratings can help you identify and be prepared for potential problems at the hospital you do go to.

    We now have Ratings for nearly 5,000 hospitals nationwide, including 1,159 with our new safety score. The score is a summary of several key categories related to hospital safety: avoiding infections, avoiding readmissions, communicating about new medications and discharge, appropriate use of chest and abdominal CT scanning, avoiding serious complications, and avoiding mortality. To get a safety score, a hospital must have data for each of those categories. Read our new report How Safe Is Your Hospital?

    We also rate more than 3,000 other hospitals that don't have enough data for a safety score but do have some important information that is publicly available. That can include information on patient experience, from a government survey of millions of patients, that tells you whether patients would recommend the hospital, their overall assessment of it, and their experience with topics such as pain control and how often their rooms were kept clean and quiet. We also now rate hospitals on their use of electronic health records, based on data from the American Hospital Association, that reflects the extent to which a hospital uses a computerized system to document notes from doctors and nurses, view lab reports, and other purposes. Read more about how we rate hospitals.

    Since hospitals are complex places, and the more you know about them the better, we also recommend that you consider other sources of information. That includes:

    See our full hospital Ratings (available to subscribers). And watch our video on how to choose a hospital.
















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    Hyundai lawsuit points out why consumers need to beware of 40 mpg claims

    A new lawsuit in California, accusing Hyundai of running misleading fuel-economy ads for its Elantra sedan, points out why consumers need to beware of mpg claims in car advertising.

    The lawsuit alleges that Hyundai has run ads for the Elantra focusing on its fuel economy and noting that the EPA rates the car at 40 mpg-without including a mandatory disclaimer that that 40 mpg is only a highway fuel economy rating. The lawsuit was filed by a California law firm along with Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group.

    We noted last year that lots of automakers are now focusing on their cars' highway fuel economy claims, rather than city or overall mileage as they used to. Perhaps they just want to show higher numbers. And we went so far as to test three such small cars and found that they don't always live up to these highway mpg claims. (See our video of the Chevrolet Cruze Eco, Ford Focus SFE, and Honda Civic HF).

    Even when they do, we think few drivers spend all their time on a highway, and that overall mpg ratings are more relevant for most consumers.

    And unlike the EPA, we conduct our own fuel economy test using real cars on real roads. (EPA uses a treadmill and mathematical adjustment factors.) While our overall mpg figures are similar for most cars, our city estimates are often much lower. And while the Elantra is rated at 40 mpg in the EPA highway test, it couldn't quite match that number in our real world testing. It returned an overall average of 29 mpg, and narrowly missed 40 mpg on the highway, returning a still-respectable 39 mpg.

    It just goes to show, you need to be careful what you believe in advertising. And that's why we're here. Consumer Reports was founded on a mission to give consumers accurate information to counteract misleading ads. And as long as there is advertising, that's what we'll continue to do.

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    Volt owners tell us they use even less gas than we do

    Plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, have potential for saving a lot of gasoline, something their loyal owners love to brag about. That's what we've found among Web users on our own forums, where many are claiming they use even less gas than our formal tests have assumed.

    These cars present a unique challenge because their fuel economy varies tremendously depending on how far each driver goes before they are able to return to an electric charger. The variation is much greater than the difference between city and highway driving in a traditional gasoline car, for example. In theory, if you drive less than 35 miles a day, you could drive the Volt forever and never (or practically never) have to put gas in it.

    For our fuel economy calculations, we assume the Volt will be operated 70 percent on electricity and 30 percent on gasoline. However, as we have learned from owners in our forums, some drivers are saving even more fuel by operating almost exclusively on electricity:

    • User carriegordo reports driving 7,000 miles on just 7.3 gallons of gas. That's less than a single tankful in the Volt's already small 9.3-gallon tank.

    • User marclee reported that 2800 of the 3200 miles he's driven his Volt have been on electricity. That leaves just 400 on gas. (These numbers are easily retrieved from the efficiency screen on the Volt's central display.)

    • User themajor1975 reported driving 11,000 miles on 62 gallons of gas.

    • Two other forum users reported driving more than 2500 miles on 10.7 gallons of gas, and 500 miles on just one gallon.

    All these users gave us enough information to calculate equivalent MPGe estimates based on their usage, assuming their cars get the same 32 mpg on gas and 2.93 miles per kWh on electricity as we measured in mixed driving. If the Volt buyers are anything like early Toyota Prius buyers, competing to get the best mileage may be a big deal. On that basis, carriegordo is in the lead, getting the equivalent of 93 mpg. Our newest Volt driver, with 500 miles on one gallon is close behind at 87 MPGe. Marclee, and the other anonymous driver are in a near dead heat for third place at 78 and 77 MPGe, respectively. And themajor1975 gets a still-respectable 72 MPGe.

    All these make our 61 MPGe assumption, the best of any car we've tested save pure electrics, look almost puny.

    Another user, burkham/krikorian, didn't tell us how far she's driven, but says she has owned her Volt for two months without filling the tank.

    While these user experiences represent isolated examples, they effectively demonstrate the Volt's potential for saving fuel. If you frequently make long trips and rarely have the chance to charge, you may be better off buying a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius hybrid.

    On the other hand, if you are one of the 78 percent of Americans the Volt was designed for, who normally drive less than 40 miles a day - and don't forget to plug in every night - the Volt can rack up tremendous fuel savings, even counting the electricity it uses. We've also found the Volt is really cheap to operate when it's running on electricity.

    It also goes to show how variable the gas mileage of plug-in hybrids can be. Many inflated early references to mileage in the Volt made the nonsensical assumption that electricity is free. Remember GM's 230 mpg claim? The calculations effectively assumed the Volt used no electricity at all. Here at Consumer Reports, we don't count electricity as a freebie. But we will take our readers reports of their fuel usage at face value and applaud their commitment to saving gas.

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    How to find ethanol-free fuel for your lawn gear

    Even outdoor power-equipment owners who maintain their gear aren't happy about ethanol. Gasoline alone can gum up the carburetor and fuel lines of mowers and blowers if it's left sitting too long in the fuel tank. But when ethanol is added to gas, as it is almost everywhere, similar neglect can result in the stiffening of rubber and plastic parts and the crusting up of carburetor parts that are supposed to move freely. Fortunately, there are a number of products on the market that address this issue.

    Fuel that's 10-percent ethanol, E10, is sold in all but a smattering of stations. To make matters worse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the sale of E15 (15-percent ethanol) gasoline for newer cars. Many questions remain, however, including whether E10 gas will still be readily available in stations that have begun selling E15. And if you inadvertently put E15 in lawn care equipment, there might be no recourse: No conclusive tests have shown it is safe to run small, non-road engines on E15. As a result, makers of outdoor gear and related engines will not honor the warranty of a product that fails due to the use of E15.

    Last fall, we mentioned a specially formulated ethanol-free fuel, Stihl's Motomix, that's sold by the quart at certain Stihl dealerships. Though $8 a quart—that's more than $30 a gallon—the two-cycle gas/oil mix still seems a bargain compared to taking a string trimmer or leaf blower into the shop a few times a year. As it turns out, Motomix is just one of many such options, and the others cost less. Consumer Reports hasn't tested any of these, but here's a rundown of what's available:

    TruFuel, in three varieties, is sold at Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart and other retailers. The ethanol-free four-cycle gas costs $5.48 per quart at Lowe's. (Of other retailers that sell it, Home Depot and Walmart don't appear to sell it online.) The two-cycle 50:1 gas/oil mix costs $5.48 a quart at Home Depot and Lowe's, which also sells the 40:1 mixture online.

    • At Sears, ethanol-free fuels in four-and two-cycle varieties are sold online and in stores. (Kmart also carries these products, all of which are made by TruSouth, maker of TruFuel.) The "pure" Craftsman gas costs $6.99 a quart, though you can lower that price to $5.81 a quart by buying a six-pack (the brand is Arnold, a division of outdoor-gear manufacturer MTD), sold by Wholesale Tools from the same website. Both the 50:1 two-cycle gas/oil mixture and the 40:1 two-cycle mixture cost $5.49 a quart.

    • VP Racing Fuels sells SEF (Small Engine Fuel) in all three varieties through distributors, relatively small retailers, and the company's website. Unlike the TruSouth product, which is 92-octane, SEF is 94. All three varieties are sold by the six-pack for $43.95, which comes out to about $7.33 per quart.

    Of course, when buying such products online you have to factor in the cost of shipping products that weigh about two pounds per quart. Compared to the cost of a repair, using these products in small power equipment makes good sense. But using them in your lawn mower or snow blower exclusively (let alone a riding mower) might cost so much per season that you'd find it cheaper to hire the job out.

    A representative of TruSouth says TruFuel is suitable even for storage in such larger gear as mowers and snow blowers. But if you're skittish, use the ethanol-free stuff for the last fill-up of the season and run it dry. If your lawn gear has already given up the ghost, see our Ratings of mowers, string trimmers and leaf blowers.

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    Coffee may protect against some skin cancers

    There are two things most people notice about me right away. One is that I'm really pale-skinned (I was often sunburnt, especially as a child), and the other is that I seem to have a coffee cup permanently attached to my hand. Now, in a strange twist of fate, it turns out that one may be protecting me from the drawbacks of the other.

    In a study published in the July issue of the journal Cancer Research, researchers tracked consumption of caffeinated beverages (primarily coffee) in a group of 112,897 participants for over 22 years. They also kept track of how many participants developed various types of skin cancer, and adjusted their analysis to account for other variables, including body mass index (BMI), hair color, family history, physical activity, smoking status, severe sunburns, and sun exposure.

    And their findings? Well, that cup of coffee in my hand may just be helping keep me away from the surgeon's knife. Researchers found a significant correlation between the amount of caffeinated coffee consumed and a decreased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. In fact, the people with the highest coffee consumption had the lowest risk of developing that disease. Decaffeinated coffee didn't show the same effect. And caffeine consumption was not correlated with the risk of the other two common types of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma.

    But since intermittent UV exposure (especially during childhood) seems to be causative for the development of basal cell carcinoma, as opposed to continuous or chronic exposure for squamous cell skin cancer, that was a welcome finding for me as I think back on all those childhood sunburns.

    Does this mean you should grab a cup of coffee before hitting the beach? Hardly. They found a correlation. That doesn't mean it's proof that they are related, just that they might be. And it hasn't changed my adult devotion to sunscreen, or my resolve to get regular skin checks. Because, at the very least, I can personally testify that sipping coffee does not prevent you from getting a painful sunburn.

    See our sunscreen ratings  And also our reports on the best coffees to drink, and the best coffeemakers to brew them in.

    Source
    Cancer Research

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    Everything about the kitchen sink

    You may not cook every day, but is there ever a day when you don't use the kitchen sink? We subjected more than 20 double-bowl sinks from major manufacturers to a barrage of hot pots, scouring pads, dropped weights, and stains. Months of testing showed that the manufacturer of a sink isn't as important as the material. Similar materials performed similarly across brands, so we based our evaluations of sinks entirely on materials. Here are the results.

    With stainless, gauge doesn't matter. More people buy stainless-steel kitchen sinks than any other type. We tested 18-to-23-gauge sinks; the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel and found the gauge had little to do with performance.
    Tip: Sinks with sound-absorbing pads, placed on the bottom and sides of the exterior, were quieter than those with a spray coating.

    Enamel is colorful and easy to clean. These sinks, sold in two versions (enamel on cast iron or lighter, less expensive enamel on steel), are available in many colors. Our hot-pot test didn't damage them, but when we dropped a 5-pound weight, similar to dropping a heavy pot, enamel-on-steel sinks chipped or cracked. Enamel on cast iron chipped when we dropped a sharp, light object, similar to a knife.
    Tip: Damaged enamel can cause the metal underneath to rust.

    Solid surface is sleek and seamless. Solid surface sinks can be paired with counters made of the same material for a seamless look. In our tests high heat and dropping a sharp, light object, similar to a knife, damaged solid surfacing.
    Tip: Because they're made as a unit, if the sink or counter is damaged, you'll have to replace both.

    Is it big enough? Double-bowl sinks let you soak a pot in one bowl while you rinse in the other. Just be sure that at least one of the bowls is wide enough to fit large pots or roasters. Sinks that are rectangular shaped are standard, but D-bowls have a curved back and offer more space, front to back.
    Tip: Take a large pot with you to the store to check size.

    Think about depth. Bowls are usually 6 to 12 inches deep. The deeper ones reduce splashes, but depending on your height, it may be uncomfortable to reach the bottom of a very deep sink.
    Tip: Under-mounted sinks will be up to 1 ½ inches lower than a drop-in.

    For full Ratings of kitchen and bathroom sinks, see Consumer Reports sink buying guide and check out the results of our tests of countertops and faucets.

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    How to stop unwanted robocalls

    If you answer the phone and hear a prerecorded sales message from a telemarketer, that is probably an illegal robocall. Today the Federal Trade Commission issued tips for dealing with those annoying robocalls.

    What to do:

    • Hang up. Don't press 1 to get an operator, and don't press any other number to get off the robocaller's list. According to the FTC, pressing a number will probably just lead to more robocalls.
    • Consider calling your phone provider and asking it to block the number, but make sure to ask whether it charges for that service. Telemarketers change caller ID information easily and often, so it may not be worth paying the fee, says the FTC.
    • Report the call to the FTC at ftc.gov/robocalls or 877-382-4357.

    You can also put your number on the national Do Not Call Registry. There are some 200 million telephone numbers registered already. To sign up call 888-382-1222 from the number you want removed or visit National Do Not Call Registry.

    Earlier today we asked our Facebook readers whether they would be less likely to support a politician or give a company their business if they received a robocall from them. The votes overwhelmingly showed that people would be annoyed enough to withhold their support if they got such a call. At last count, 135 out of 155 said they would be less likely to support a politician or company that sent them a robocall. To see the full results, visit our Facebook page.

    Check out our cordless phone Ratings to see which models have caller ID, as well as our cordless phone buying guide for other features you may find helpful.

    Source:
    What To Do If You Get a Robocall [FTC]

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    Dishwasher Detergent - from Consumer Reports

    While a few of the dishwasher detergents Consumer Reports recently tested can make your dishware sparkle, many left food stuck to plates or pots. Dishwasher Detergents

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    50,000 Consumers Tell Lawmakers “Don’t Void My Health Insurance Rebate” as House Prepares to Vote on Healthcare Repeal

    WASHINGTON, DC — As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to vote today on an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division ofConsumer Reports, is delivering nearly 50,000 voided checks to House offices from constituents calling on their representatives to protect new rules that hold insurance companies accountable for how they spend premiums.

    “Consumers are getting $1.1 billion back this summer from insurance companies who spent too much on bureaucracy and not enough on actual health care,” said DeAnn Friedholm, Director of Health Reform at Consumers Union. “Our supporters want Congress to know that a vote for repeal is a vote to void refund checks being sent out across the country.”

    To help consumers find out about refunds available to them, Consumers Union produced a map of rebate totals and insurers who are paying back customers, available atYourHealthSecurity.org/health-insurance-refund-map.

    In addition, the consumer group sent a letter to the House of Representatives urging lawmakers to put politics aside and reject — once and for all — the measure to repeal the health reform law. The letter points to recent polling showing that a majority of Americans want Congress to put aside fights over the health reform law.

    Friedholm said, “There are much more important things at stake here than political showmanship. With the Supreme Court decision behind us, it is time to move forward on making all of these health benefits a reality.”

    Along with insurer refunds, a repeal would mean the loss of new protections already in effect including banning lifetime benefit limits, stopping discrimination against sick kids, and prohibiting insurers from canceling your coverage after being diagnosed with a major illness.

    “Consumers Union is open to working with policymakers to make constructive improvements to the law as it continues to be implemented. But in the meantime, we urge Congress to reject this misguided attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” said Friedholm.

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    Centrum vitamins called out for over-the-top claims

    Under threat of a lawsuit from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, healthcare giant Pfizer has agreed to remove claims related to breast and colon health from some of its Centrum brand multivitamins, and to tone down certain other claims that the CSPI alleged are misleading.

    Labels for Centrum Ultra Women's and Centrum Silver Women's multivitamin supplements currently say that those products support "breast health," while Centrum Ultra Men's and Centrum Silver Ultra Men's labels say they support "colon health." According to the CSPI, Pfizer based the claims in part on the inclusion of vitamin D in those products. But the evidence on vitamin D's relationship to breast cancer is limited and inconsistent, the group said, and the evidence on colon cancer isn't conclusive.

    The CSPI alleged that Centrum's breast and colon claims implied that the products would help prevent breast and colon cancer, which supplement makers legally aren't allowed to say. (Any claim that a supplement actually prevents or treats illness is off-limits; the manufacturers can only claim that it aids in the structure or function of a body part or system, which explains those vague wordings you see on supplement labels like "supports energy" or "supports the normal function of the immune system.")

    As part of the agreement, announced July 5, Pfizer will also add clarifying language on Centrum products that make claims about heart health (saying that they aren't a replacement for cholesterol-lowering drugs) and energy (clarifying that they don't boost energy but rather "help support metabolic function"). The company will make the changes on its website and ads within 30 days, and on product labels over the next 6 months.

    A statement from Pfizer said that the company "disagrees with CSPI's concerns but has agreed to make these changes in order to fully resolve the issues raised by the organization."

    Claims aside, do you even need a multivitamin? Check out our latest evidence-based advice on multis and other vitamins, plus Ratings of 21 multivitamin products. And keep in mind that the best source of nutrients is food, not pills.

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    Most kids 8 to 12 now have cell phones. Should yours?

    Nearly six out of 10 U.S. parents of children ages 8 to12 (a.k.a. "tweeners" or tweens) have provided those children with cell phones. And many parents are paying more than they expected to for phone service, according to the National Consumers League, which conducted a survey this past June that queried 802 parents.

    The survey showed that the top reasons parents had for buying phones for this age group are safety (84 percent), tracking a child's after-school activities (73 percent), and that the child asked for one (16 percent.) As for what kinds of phones parents are buying for their tweens: A perhaps surprisingly low 4 percent got a basic phone with no Web or texting ability. About half of tweens received a basic phone with texting; 20 percent got a basic phone with texting and Web access. And a lucky 27 percent got a smart phone.

    No surprise is that 82 percent of parents said that the price of the cell phone service was an important part of their decision. And 92 percent of parents said they spend less than $75 a month on their tween's cell phone service.

    But this study also found that parents in a third of households earning under $50,000—and a quarter of households overall—were taken by surprise at how much the tweens' phones are costing them. Some solutions being explored by parents include checking into parental controls offered by carriers to control costs, setting monthly budgets for kids, getting rid of the phone altogether, or switching to prepaid or postpaid unlimited plans.

    In a finding that might surprise a lot of parents who are considering getting a phone for their 8-to-12-year-olds, only 16 percent of parents reported conflicts with their kids over phone use. And fewer than one in 10 parents reported that the child's phone use intruded on family time or distracted from school work. Only 3 percent of parents reported improper use of a cell phone, as in sexting or cyberbullying.

    Finally, 89 percent of parents of tweens who bought cell phones for their child have no regrets.

    Source:
    Survey: Majority of 'tweeners' now have cell phones, with many parents concerned about cost [National Consumers League]

    If you're searching for the best phone for your tween or yourself, check our free mobile-phone buying guide at Consumer Reports.org. And be sure to read our story, "Buying a child's first cell phone: 5 reasons to think prepaid" for more guidance.

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    After Dyson complains, Shark modifies iffy vacuum claims

    Claiming that a cordless vacuum with a 24-minute runtime "never loses cleaning power," is pretty bold. Too bold, in fact, for the National Advertising Council, which this week recommended that vacuum maker Euro-Pro modify claims for its Shark Navigator Freestyle stick vacuum. The decision came after a challenge from rival Dyson that cleaning claims for the Shark were beyond the capability of a cordless stick vacuum.

    After Dyson complained, NAD, an investigative arm of the advertising industry, reviewed three claims. Euro-Pro said that the phrase "never loses cleaning power" indicates the vacuum maintains its power over the life of the battery. But NAD recommended that Euro-Pro stop making the claim since the company's own testing did not adequately prove that the Shark kept its power consistent over the duration of a battery charge.

    The second complaint, that Euro-Pro claims the Freestyle offers "true upright performance," gets down to the very capability of a stick vac. Dyson had argued that no stick vac could do more than pick up surface dirt and litter—and that a cordless unit is further limited by its battery's diminishing power. Moreover, said Dyson, Euro-Pro admitted much the same but in obscure "mouse print" on one panel of the package.

    Here again, NAD's investigation concluded that "true upright performance" suggests the product can fully substitute for an upright vac. But while the "very small" disclaimer indeed said the Freestyle does not claim to pick up embedded dirt, it was "not clear and conspicuous" and referred to testing protocols the general public doesn't understand or even know about.

    With a third complaint, about the Shark's "best in class runtime," Euro-Pro's claim was based on its comparison of the Freestyle against five cordless stick vacs that a market research firm had listed as the top-selling cordless models. Dyson argued that any such comparison should have been made against all significant competitors, not just a limited group, and that Euro-Pro only provided details of its limited tests in tiny type. NAD mostly backed Euro-Pro on that one, finding the company had made a "reasonable" comparison. Still NAD recommended the company clarify details of its claim.

    The three claims aren't listed on Euro-Pro's website although the company does claim that the the Shark Navigator Freestyle has "exceptional pet hair pick-up." But at presstime, the same vacuum on the websites for Amazon and Walmart featured claims that the Freestyle "never loses cleaning power" and has "true" (Amazon) or "excellent" (Walmart) upright performance.

    Dyson's competing model to the Shark Navigator Freestyle is the DC35. Consumer Reports plans to buy both models for its upcoming tests of cordless, hand, stick and robotic vacuums. In the meantime, check out our current Ratings of upright, canister and small (including hand and stick) vacuums.

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    Flexible Flyer swing sets recalled due to see saw breaking

    The Troxel Company, of Moscow, Tenn., has recalled 100,500 Flexible Flyer swing sets in the U.S. and 4,900 in Canada because the see saw seat can break away from the bolt fasteners during use, posing a fall hazard. Troxel has received 1,232 reports of breaking see saws, resulting in thirteen injuries to young children that included bumps, bruises and lacerations.

    The recalled swing sets were sold for $130 to $280 at Walmart, Toys R Us, Academy, and other specialty stores and online from December 2011 through May 2012.

    The Flexible Flyer swing set comes in 11 models, each with a see saw attachment along with swings, bars or a slide. The model number is on a sticker underneath the center of the top bar of each swing set unit.

    Model names and model numbers of recalled swing sets:

    • Backyard Flyer, 42003
    • Backyard Fun, 42013
    • Backyard Swingin' Fun, 42023
    • Big Adventure, 41575
    • Fantastic Playground, 42126
    • Fun Fantastic II, 41578
    • Fun Fantastic, 41577
    • Fun Time, 42124
    • Triple Fun II, 42560
    • Triple Fun, 42544
    • Windsor II, 42030

    If you have one of these recalled swing sets stop using the see saws and contact Troxel for a free repair kit. For more information, call Troxel at 888-770-7060 Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT, or visit regcen.com/flexibleflyer.

    Sources:
    Troxel Recalls Flexible Flyer Swing Sets Due to Fall Hazard [CPSC]
    Recall Notice: Flexible-Flyer Fun Time Gym Set with See Saw attachment [Health Canada]

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    Are electric fans effective ways to stay cool in a heat wave? Maybe.

    It seems like a no-brainer. An electric fan will cool you off in a heat wave, right? But researchers in England say there's no hard evidence that fans are effective—or safe—ways to beat the heat.

    The UK researchers report they were hoping to craft guidelines on fan use during heat waves and at massive public events such as the 2012 Olympic summer games which start in London on July 27.

    But as reported in the Cochrane Library, an online database "of high-quality, independent evidence to inform healthcare decision-making," clinical research has produced a mixed bag. Dr. Saurabh Gupta wrote in the group's report:

    Some [medical research studies] suggested that fans might reduce health problems, while others suggested that the fans might make things worse.

    Of particular concern: Some studies suggest that in some instances, fans may contribute to heat gain. If people feel hotter, they may perspire or sweat more, which may lead to dehydration or other health problems.

    Another of the report's researchers, Katie Carmichael of the UK's Health Protection Agency, said the group's report doesn't "support or refute the use of electric fans during a heat wave and people making decisions about them should consider the current state of the evidence base."

    Consumer Reports' experts have offered several cooling tips and safety advice for hot weather, including:

    What are your tips for keeping cool this summer?

    Sources:
    Health Protection and Heatwaves: The Need for Systematic Reviews [The Cochrane Library]
    Electric fans for reducing adverse health impacts in heatwaves (absract) [The Cochrane Library]
    The Cochrane Library Podcast (5-minute audio file opens in new browser window)
    Cochrane finds no reliable evidence on effectiveness of electric fans in heatwaves [Medical Express News]

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    Rewards When Filling Up - from Consumer Reports

    Using a rewards card when buying gas can help ease the pain at the pump, but some gasoline cards might not be your best choice. Gas Cards
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    ShopSmart Scores Deep Discounts on Brand-Name Products at Dollar Stores

    What to buy and what to avoidplus overall safety of dollar store inventory improves

    ShopSmart Cover (Septrmber 2012)YONKERS, NY — Dollar stores are no longer dusty mazes of shelves filled with shoddy products from off-brands.  In fact, consumers can find many brand name products?particularly grocery items?at big bargains in dollar stores.  The September 2012 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, reveals how much shoppers can save on name brand and private-label items at dollar stores, plus which products actually cost more.  

    “Dollar stores are no longer the junky outlets they used to be and there are big savings to be had?even on brand name products,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. 

    According to a new ShopSmart poll, 76 pecent of women said they shopped at a dollar store in the past year and three out of four of them said they were hitting these retailers more often than they used to.  One of the biggest reasons dollar stores have gone mainstream is the wide selection of national brands.

    At Dollar General, the largest of the big three chains, aisles are stocked with brands like Crayola, Folgers, Hanes, Huggies, and Tide. At Family Dollar look for L’Oreal, Maybelline, Nabisco, and Pepsi. And at Dollar Tree you can buy Ajax, Dial Soap, Reynolds Wrap, Scope and Softsoap, among other brands.

    ShopSmart sent secret shoppers and shopping experts out across the country on dozens of shopping trips to mostly big-chain dollar stores like Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Dollar Tree. Here’s what they found:

    • Not every product costs a dollar. Most dollar stores sell stuff at a variety of prices. At Dollar General about 25 percent of the items are $1 or less. Most items cost less than $10. But you’ll find exceptions, often on specialty or seasonal goods, like an $85 inflatable swimming pool or $35 fan.

    • They’ll save you a bundle. ShopSmart compared prices on 38 items including food, cleaning supplies, paper products, drinks and other everyday staples and found that Dollar General had the lowest prices on many items.

    • You can shop online.  All of the big dollar-store chains have a retail website, but many products are sold by the case only.  Ordering large quantities of products you use regularly, such as toilet paper, can be an economical way to stock up.

    What to Buy and What to Avoid at Dollar Stores

    • Consider private-label or store brands.  Store brands are great bargains, but no retailers beat dollar stores when it comes to these low-budget alternatives, according to ShopSmart’s price scan. Buying a dollar store’s private-label brand can save shoppers 29 percent on average over national store brands?a better deal than the 25 and 15 percent you can save on store brands from Walmart and Target respectively.

    • Avoid off-brand vitamins and electrical products.  In 2009, ShopSmart found lots of worrisome products on dollar store shelves including expired infant gas-relief drops, lighters that looked like toys, tiki torches that caught fire. Today, all four dollar store chains have safety information and recalls on their websites. And even though some stores sell closeouts, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are of inferior quality. Dollar General and Family Dollar sell only first-run products, most purchased directly from the manufacturers. That said, ShopSmart doesn’t recommend buying off-brand vitamins from dollar stores. Also, watch out for electrical products without UL labels, or with fake ones, vouching for their safety.

    • Check expiration dates on food and medication.  Be sure to check the date when buying food or medication in a dollar store to make sure the product hasn’t expired.  Items with expiration dates such as perishable and frozen foods, topped ShopSmart’s poll respondents’ list of things that they never buy at a dollar store.

    About Consumer Reports:
    Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

    About ShopSmart magazine:
    Launched in Fall 2006 by Consumer Reports, ShopSmart draws upon the publication’s celebrated tradition of accepting no advertisements and providing unbiased product reviews. ShopSmart features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and “best of the best” lists. It’s ideal for busy shoppers who place a premium on time. ShopSmart has a newsstand price of $4.99 and is available nationwide at major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Borders, Kroger, Safeway and Publix. ShopSmart is available by subscription at www.ShopSmartmag.org.

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