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News & Notices

The battle to save coal tar in California
What you can do to help

The availability of coal tar shampoos is being threatened by a California lawsuit that has already prompted one company to drop the ingredient from its popular Denorex product line. As of mid December, Denorex shampoos with coal tar will be off the shelves of your local supermarket or drugstore; the manufacturer, Whitehall-Robins, is putting in another active ingredient (salicylic acid) as part of its agreement to settle the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses coal tar shampoo manufacturers of exposing California consumers to a cancer-causing agent -- the coal tar in shampoos. A judge is expected to decide in a hearing Friday, Dec. 7, whether to discontinue the lawsuit or let it go to trial (scheduled for Jan. 7, 2002).

In their motion for dismissal of the case, the defendants say placing cancer warnings on coal tar shampoos and other products would mislabel them under federal guidelines. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), over-the-counter coal tar products with concentrations of coal tar between 0.5% and 5% are safe and effective for people with psoriasis.

Coal tar slows the accelerated growth of skin cells that causes lesions to appear.

The plaintiffs -– California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and a private citizen –- argue that in whatever amount, the products contain chemicals “known to the state” to be carcinogenic and therefore should carry cancer warnings under the state’s Proposition 65. This proposition, passed by the state's voters in 1986, requires warnings on products containing chemicals "known to the state" to be carcinogens or reproductive toxicants.

Organizing the opposition
The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) opposes the coal tar lawsuit, which has begun to restrict access to this valuable, safe and inexpensive treatment option for millions of people with psoriasis and other scalp conditions. And we need your help.

The NPF has already written a letter to Mr. Lockyer to proclaim our concern about the case and its potential impact on the availability of coal tar shampoos.

Please join us by adding your voice to the growing indignation over this lawsuit. You can read the NPF's letter to Mr. Lockyer and use it as a template. His address is:

Mr. Bill Lockyer
State of California
1515 Clay St., 20th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612-1413

For residents of California, here is contact information (including e-mail addresses) for other influential people you may want to contact regarding this lawsuit:

Gov. Gray Davis
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
graydavis@governor.ca.gov

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
One Post Street, Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA 94104
e-mail form
Note: Sen. Feinstein's Washington, D.C., office is not receiving postal mail due to the anthrax contamination of the Hart Senate Office Building. Send correspondence by e-mail or by mail to her California office in San Francisco.

Sen. Barbara Boxer
1700 Montgomery Street, Suite 240
San Francisco, CA 94111
fax: (415) 956-6701
e-mail form
Note: Sen. Boxer's Washington, D.C., office is not receiving postal mail due to the anthrax contamination of the Hart Senate Office Building. Send correspondence by e-mail or by fax or mail to her California office in San Francisco.

No scientific evidence suggests that OTC tar products cause cancer when they are used as directed. Rather than place cancer warnings on their products -- as the lawsuit seeks to force them to do -- some companies may choose to change their product (like Denorex) or stop making it completely. Either way, people with psoriasis who use these products safely and effectively stand to lose.

For more information

The NPF and its Medical Advisory Board recognize that OTC coal tar shampoos and skin-care products are a valuable and relatively inexpensive therapeutic option for people who have psoriasis, especially those who have mild to moderate involvement. We are committed to preserving the availability of all safe and effective psoriasis therapies, and to safeguarding the right of people with psoriasis to make educated choices from among those therapies.

The NPF will continue to monitor this situation and publish updates on the Web, as well as in our member publications, the Bulletin and Psoriasis Resource.

Article reviewed Dec. 3, 2001
First posted Dec. 3, 2001
Last updated Dec. 5, 2001