The Consumers Observation Post

January 01, 1999  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Consumers’ Research Magazine  ·  Environment

Heartstopping story zapped?

Last month, we carried a report in this space that certain heart patients with implanted electronic devices that control heartbeats, such as pacemakers and defibrillators, could be at minor risk of temporary interference from the magnetic fields of standard anti-theft sensors in the doorways of many stores. Now, science writer Michael Fumento points out in Forbes ("The Zapping of Sensormatic")that the story may have been planted by a rival sensor manufacturer in an underhanded attempt to gain a competitive edge.

Turns out that the study reporting the risk was funded by Checkpoint Systems, Inc. — the only serious competitor to Sensormatic Electronics Corp., which dominates the market for anti-theft systems. With help from some in the media, Fumento writes, Checkpoint then publicized the alleged findings and ran full-page ads touting its own brand as "free from pacemaker interference." But the supposed risk of interference appears to be no more than very rare reports of chest pain at worst.

With around 1.1 million patients with implanted devices and some 60,000 stores using antitheft systems nationwide, if the risk was real, "Something should happen. There ought to be people lying on the floor at Home Depot," says J. Warren Harthorne, director of the pacemaker lab at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association also have dismissed the alleged threat as insignificant, confirming the findings of virtually all other studies on the subject.