Health Inc.

Freebies For The Public Health Crowd: Pencils, Matchbooks And Chocolate

Swag from the American Public Health Association meeting. i

A look at some of the stuff I snagged in the exhibit hall of the American Public Health Association meeting in Denver. Joanne Silberner/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Joanne Silberner/NPR
Swag from the American Public Health Association meeting.

A look at some of the stuff I snagged in the exhibit hall of the American Public Health Association meeting in Denver.

Joanne Silberner/NPR

I'm here at the American Public Health Association annual meeting and expo in Denver, where just about everyone who's anyone in public health is busy hobnobbing.

With the long history of medical companies trying to sway doctors with free gifts, I was curious to see how exhibitors here are trying to reel in the public health folks.

Nothing fancy, I'm a little sorry to say. But there were a few surprises.

Here's a quick rundown of what I found.

Pencils: They’re from the University of Colorado School of Nursing, the idea being that students take exams, and they’ll need lots of No. 2 pencils. Pencils aren't edible. I move on.

Matchbooks: Not what you'd expect from the anti-smoking division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, right. Well these are black with a red nail painted on the cover. It's the last nail in the coffin.

Hand sanitizer: Gary Sky, who works with several local health departments, has a little packet of hand sanitizer. Is he trying to buy me? "Absolutely," he says. The price? He wants me to read his booklet on 60 years of public health.

Shopping bags: Kaiser Permanente is giving away shopping bags made of recycled plastic, and coupons for bike rentals.

Verizon’s here, but they’re not giving away phones. The big buzz is about a cool calendar that NASA is giving out. Those are in short supply. Why is NASA here. Well, the agency collects all sorts of data that could be useful to health researchers looking at the effects weather can have on health.

Other exhibitors are giving away packets of Band-Aids, sunscreen, and even software for collecting health statistics.

I’m not finding any attempts at undue influence here. Vaccine manufacturer Novartis is here. What are they giving away? "Nothing," the woman at the booth tells me. "Strictly information."

In fact there are no coupons for nights on the town, or fancy new briefcases, or mail-order steaks — things I’ve seen in years past at medical meetings. In fact, I’m not finding any food at all. I press on.

Finally, chocolate kisses! They’re at the booth of another vaccine manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline. Why chocolate kisses? “It wasn’t my decision,” the man at the booth says. "I don’t know." But I don’t take any. Even though I love chocolate, I don't want anyone to think they're buying me.

Further down, the a group for certified midwives giving away mint and butterscotch penny candies. No one is at their booth, so I grab a bunch.

And the last place I find chocolate is at the booth run by the Center for Tobacco Control, Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco. Why are they giving out  chocolate kisses? Aria Yow tells me that they did a study that showed that exposure to chocolate, with warnings not to eat it, saps the willpower of someone trying to quit smoking. I’m not trying to quit smoking — I don’t smoke — so I grab a bunch of chocolate and leave.

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