Bush Administration Considers Requiring Condom Warning Labels Saying They Do Not Protect Against All STDs
The Bush administration is considering requiring condom manufacturers to include on condom packages warning labels saying that condoms do not protect against all sexually transmitted diseases, including human papillomavirus, the AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports (Jakes Jordan, AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 3/11). More than 50% of sexually active people in the United States at some time contract HPV, which can cause genital warts and is associated with almost all cases of cervical cancer. The virus can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, even when condoms are used. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), chair of the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, held a hearing on Thursday to consider whether FDA should require that condoms carry warnings because of a 2000 law that requires condoms to have "medically accurate" labeling (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/11). Dr. Daniel Schultz, director of FDA's Office of Device Evaluation, told the subcommittee that the agency "has developed a regulatory plan to provide condom users with a consistent labeling message and the protection they should expect from condom use." Condom packages currently say that, if used properly, condoms can reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and other STDs but do not specifically address HPV.
Some lawmakers are concerned that requiring labels saying that condoms are ineffective against HPV may discourage people from using condoms, which could increase their risk of contracting other STDs, including HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea, according to the AP/Sun-Sentinel (AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 3/12). In addition, some public health officials say that the warning labels might lead to confusion between HIV and HPV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/11). "Anything that undermines the effectiveness of condoms for these uses will have serious public health consequences," Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, adding, "Are condoms perfect? Of course not. But reality requires us not to make a public health strategy against protection, but rather to ask a key question: compared to what?" Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) said, "This is not about social ideology, or religious ideology," adding, "It's about informing women. And truly, the only way to be protected is abstinence. That's not ideology -- it's fact" (AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 3/11).
About 200 public health advocates on Wednesday at the close of the 2004 National STD Prevention Conference in Philadelphia rallied against the Bush administration's plans to expand abstinence-only sex education. During his State of the Union speech in January, Bush called for $270 million for abstinence education programs to fight STDs, saying that abstinence "is the only certain way" to avoid STDs. However, two years ago, independent researchers who studied the programs for the federal government reported that there is "no reliable evidence" that abstinence-only education programs are effective (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/11). The protest was sponsored by ACT UP/New York, ACT UP/Philadelphia, the American Medical Student Association, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Philadelphia Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, Health Initiatives for Youth, Housing Works, the National Network of Abortion Funds, the New York City AIDS Housing Network, Project TEACH and YouthBase, according to the Washington Times. House Republicans on Thursday said that they were investigating whether any of the protest organizers receive federal funds, according to the Times. The protestors also criticized Souder's decision to hold the hearing on potential HPV condom warnings. Souder said, "It is unfortunate that scientific exchanges are being overshadowed by political stunts," adding, "These activists are, of course, free to voice their opinions, but taxpayers should not be subsidizing the venues for their partisan events" (Stacy McCain, Washington Times, 3/12).