Russian parliament votes for public smoking ban

Local residents meet during sunset, with the Metallurgical Plant seen in the background, in the Southern Urals city of Magnitogorsk, July 13, 2012. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Local residents meet during sunset, with the Metallurgical Plant seen in the background, in the Southern Urals city of Magnitogorsk, July 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

MOSCOW | Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:02am EST

(Reuters) – Russia took a step towards clamping down on the tobacco industry on Friday as a bill to ban smoking in public spaces and to restrict tobacco sales sailed through its first reading in parliament.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said that 44 million Russians, nearly one in three, are hooked on smoking, and almost 400,000 die every year of smoking-related causes.

Under the draft legislation tobacco advertising will be outlawed and smoking in public places such as restaurants, bars and hotels will be phased out. It will also ban kiosks and outlets in stations from selling cigarettes, much to the consternation of the kiosk owners who say they could be put out of business.

Deputies in the Russian Duma, the country’s lower house of parliament, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill at its first reading, with 429 votes in favor and two abstentions.

Deputy Health Minister Sergei Velmyaikin said in the Duma that the purpose of the bill was not to reduce the number of smokers, but to prevent that number growing.

Foreign tobacco firms, including British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco, and Philip Morris, control more than 90 percent of Russian sales and have been lobbying to soften the proposed legislation.

Russia is the largest tobacco market after China. The cigarette market was estimated at be worth around $22 billion in 2011 by Euromonitor International.

Lawmakers had initially thought that the legislation might come into force early next year but following delays the second reading is not now expected until spring 2013. If passed, the restrictions will be phased in and are expected to be fully in force by 2016.

Russia’s Finance Ministry has previously announced plans to increase the excise duty on tobacco by around 40 percent for 2013 and 2014, and by 10 percent a year after 2015. The Health Ministry supports a greater increase in duty.

(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Natalia Ishchenko; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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Czech MPs vote to legalize marijuana for medical use

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech lawmakers voted on Friday to allow marijuana and drugs derived from it to be available on prescription from pharmacies from next year, extending narcotics laws which permit possession of small amounts of drugs including heroin and cocaine.

Only imported marijuana will be available for the first year, after which the central European country’s State Institute for Drug Control will allot licenses to local growers.

“The point of the proposal is to make medical marijuana accessible to patients that need it and that already use it today, even when it is against the law,” said Pavel Bem, one of a group of deputies who created the bill.

The central European country already lets the public grow, possess, and consume – but not sell – small amounts of most illicit drugs and considers the possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana as legal.

It also tolerates the use of recreational drugs in pubs and clubs, and the sight of people rolling and smoking marijuana joints in public and outside pubs is common.

Czech lawmakers were told how the use of marijuana can help some people with debilitating medical conditions. The upper house is expected to approve the bill, which needs to be signed by the president.

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Menopause quality of life unchanged by soy supplements

NEW YORK | Fri Dec 14, 2012 4:02pm EST

(Reuters Health) – Menopausal women who took soy supplements during a two-year trial reported no differences in quality of life compared to their counterparts taking placebo pills, U.S. researchers report.

It’s possible that soy could still offer women some benefits through menopause, said the study’s lead author Dr. Paula Amato, from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, “but I think if you are similar to the subjects in the study, then probably taking supplements isn’t going to make a huge impact on your quality of life.”

In light of health concerns attached to taking hormones, soy has been seen as an attractive alternative for relieving menopausal symptoms. But research on the effectiveness of soy extracts for hot flashes and other bothersome symptoms has yielded conflicting results so far.

In the new report, published in the medical journal Menopause, Amato and her colleagues looked not just at specific symptoms but overall quality of life measures among healthy women, mostly in their 50s and six years or more into menopause on average.

Several hundred women were asked to take supplement pills three times a day for two years. Among them, 126 took a fake supplement that contained no soy extract, while 135 women took tablets containing a total of 80 milligrams a day of soy protein and another 123 women took 120 mg each day.

At the start of the study and again one and two years into it, the women filled out a quality of life survey that asked about mental, physical and sexual health as well as about hot flashes.

In each of the surveys, the women in all three groups scored similarly on the main measures in the questionnaire.

“From our study and the good amount of the literature to date it appears that taking soy supplements after menopause does not improve quality of life,” said Amato. “We can’t really recommend it to our patients.”

Mark Messina, president Nutrition Matters and an adjunct professor at Loma Linda University in California, cautioned against concluding that the key ingredients in soy supplements, known as isoflavones, don’t have any effect on hot flashes, however.

“Unfortunately, because of the severe limitations of this study, very little if anything can be learned about isoflavones and hot flashes,” Messina wrote in an email to Reuters Health.

For one, he said, the levels of a particular type of isoflavone – called genistein – were lower than in other studies that have found benefits from soy extracts.

Additionally, the researchers originally set out to look at the effects of soy extracts on bone health, and did not recruit women specifically with hot flash or quality of life concerns in mind.

“So in my opinion, no useful information about isoflavones and hot flashes is provided by this study,” said Messina, who regularly consults for companies that make or sell soy foods and supplements.

Isoflavone companies market the supplements, sold for about $17 for 90 50-mg pills, as “potentially” easing the changes associated with menopause.

Amato agreed that the study has some limitations, and that the findings can’t be generalized to all forms of soy in all types of women.

For instance, “taking supplements just might not be the same as eating a high soy content diet your entire life,” she told Reuters Health.

But “if you look at this specific supplement for this particular group of women for this reason, quality of life, I’m convinced by this study it’s not terribly helpful,” she added.

SOURCE: bit.ly/UsyPIY Menopause, online December 3, 2012.

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Girl in wheelchair tested for explosives

Published: Dec. 14, 2012 at 6:16 PM

DALLAS, Dec. 14 (UPI) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is being criticized by a Texas mom for testing her wheelchair-bound daughter for explosives.

Tammy Daniels told WFAA-TV, Dallas, she was taking her 12-year-old daughter, Shelbi Walser, to Tampa, Fla., Sunday for treatment for brittle bone disease when TSA screeners at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport decided to check the girl for explosives. The test came back positive, which Daniels theorizes could have been the result of her getting fertilizer on her hands from pushing her wheelchair’s wheels.

She and her daughter made their flight, but not before some tears were shed, despite an official telling Shelbi, “It’s OK, you didn’t do anything wrong, we’re going to get you on your way.”

“I am by no means undermining our safety in the air,” Daniels said. “After 9/11, by no means am I doing that. But, when it comes to children, commonsense is not in a textbook.”

The TSA said in a statement it is sensitive to the concerns of passengers.

“We work to balance those concerns with the very real threat that our adversaries will attempt to use explosives to carry out attacks on planes,” the statement said.

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Our Unhealthy Fear of Vacant Land

Abandoned buildings and broken windows are bad for our bodies, because they’re bad for our minds.

broken window 670.jpg

[DamirSagoli/Reuters]

In their 2009 journal article “Alcohol consumption, alcohol outlets, and the risk of being assaulted with a gun,” Dr. Charles Branas and colleagues at University of Pennsylvania found that, compared to people who don’t drink, “Heavy drinkers were 2.67 times as likely to be shot in an assault.” Part of that was because they spent more time around liquor stores. People grumble that it’s not a good sign for a neighborhood when a liquor store opens, but this study said it’s empirically beyond that. Simply being near a liquor store, at any given time, meant people were three times more likely to be shot. Regardless of their effect on drinking, the presence of liquor stores in a neighborhood is looked at as a health hazard.

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[DaveJohnsonPhoto/Flickr]

Living next to vacant property and abandoned buildings, meanwhile, is more immediately concerning to most people. Research just published in the Journal of Urban Health from Branas, along with Dr. Eugenia Garvin and others at Penn Medical School, found that empty buildings are bad for our physical health in ways well beyond common concerns (collapse, fire, aggressive transients). According to the Penn team, it often comes down to a sense of loss of control that vacant properties impart. Loss of control is the root of fear. That fear leads to social isolation and loss of collective efficacy and social capital — as well as reduced physical activity and more drug use — which mean poor health.

Philadelphia residents interviewed in the study did note concern for the immediate physical dangers: “Attraction of rodents, possums, and other animals” (“Sometimes there are more cats on the block than there are people, and that scares me, because I don’t like four legged animals”), children falling on hypodermic needles, larger things falling on children, etc. Beyond and independent of the physical, though, they reported anxiety, depression, and fear.

The Penn researchers are not at all the first to investigate how broken physical environments affect our health in the less-than-obvious ways. Studies like these usually do a good job controlling for poverty, education, health care access, and other things that seem like the logical associated factors at the root of poor health in run-down neighborhoods, and they still reliably find that the very presence of the empty structures affects our bodies negatively.

One study found a “robust correlation” between broken windows and gonorrhea. A “broken windows index,” which included abandoned cars, graffiti, trash, and public school deterioration, correlated more strongly with rates of gonorrhea than did unemployment or level of education, regardless of poverty.

A study in the American Journal of Public Health looked beyond gonorrhea (but, also at gonorrhea) and found “boarded-up housing” remained a predictor of gonorrhea and premature death — specifically due to cancer, diabetes, homicide, and suicide — even after controlling for social factors and demographics.

abandoned house 615.jpg

[DadoRuvic/Reuters]

Many academic papers of this sort reference a 1982 Atlantic cover story, one of my favorites, in which criminologist George Kelling and sociologist James Wilson laid out the now-famous “broken windows theory” as a model invoked in explaining these health correlations in terms of loss of control.

“Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers, whereas others are populated by window-lovers,” they note (perhaps to the chagrin of a niche community of window-lovers somewhere). Rather, chaos begetting chaos, broken windows lead to more broken windows. If no one fixes them, people take it as a sort of sign that breaking windows is tolerated. So they break more windows. Eventually, someone breaks a door, and then a person, and everything descends into bedlam.

Kelling and Wilson, in that article, also looked back:

Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, reported in 1969 on some experiments testing the broken-window theory. He arranged to have an automobile without license plates parked with its hood up on a street in the Bronx and a comparable automobile on a street in Palo Alto, California. The car in the Bronx was attacked by “vandals” within ten minutes of its “abandonment.” The first to arrive were a family — father, mother, and young son — who removed the radiator and battery. Within twenty-four hours, virtually everything of value had been removed. Then random destruction began — windows were smashed, parts torn off, upholstery ripped. Children began to use the car as a playground. … The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Soon, passersby were joining in. Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed.

SHARK300200.jpgPet tortoise, abandoned, forlorn [YazenHomsy/Reuters]

So it may be an understanding of entropy, or of the broken windows theory, that makes people report anxiety, fear, and depression related to abandoned and vacant land in their neighborhood. To quote the Penn study:

Vacant land evoked a wide range of negative emotions from participants, including sadness and depression, often stemming from the buildup of trash on vacant land. … [One resident said,] “It just makes you question where you call home. You’re like, ‘Oh man I gotta come home around this crap again?’ It’s a downer.” Others expressed anger and frustration over feeling powerless to change the physical condition of their neighborhood.

It’s the powerlessness and loss of control that drives the less obvious health consequences. “Social isolation and fear are thought to impede the development of collective efficacy, or the ‘linkage of mutual trust and shared expectations for intervening on behalf of the common good,’ perpetuating a cycle of physical and social decline,” the researchers note. That means isolation and “erosion of social relationships,” which is proven to result in poor physical health.

What’s to be done? Beyond policy and infrastructure and government investment, residents interviewed in the Penn study say they personally take measures to adopt properties, clear them of dangerous stuff, turn them into hanging gardens, etc. That does cost money, but it can engage the community and actually pull them together in those sorts of efforts, rather than isolating them.

As Kelling and Wilson noted, “Just as physicians now recognize the importance of fostering health rather than simply treating illness, so the police — and the rest of us — ought to recognize the importance of maintaining intact, communities without broken windows.” That can mean monetary investment early on, which, as a stitch in time, is cost effective. The eyes are the window to the soul, and the broken windows are the windows to community health. Something like that.

SHARK300200.jpg
[DamirSagolj/Reuters]

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U.S. to finalize stricter soot standards on Friday

WASHINGTON | Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:14pm EST

(Reuters) – The Obama administration will finalize stronger limits on harmful soot pollution from power plants and diesel engines on Friday, two health groups said.

The new standards, which the Environmental Protection Agency was under court order to finalize, will limit annual average soot emissions to about 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air from the standard of 15 micrograms set in 1997, the groups said.

Individual states will be responsible for deciding how to limit the emissions of fine particulates, which can threaten the elderly, people with heart disease and children.

When the EPA proposed the rules in June it said only six counties in California, Arizona, Alabama, Michigan and Montana are out of compliance with the standard. It also said the reduction in health bills from the standard would far outweigh the costs to industry.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Bob Burgdorfer)

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