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Health Headlines - April 28

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm

AMA: Tobacco Makers Spend Too Much on Advertising

Despite a two-year decline in the amount of money tobacco makers spend on marketing and advertising, the American Medical Association says too much is still spent on promoting cigarettes and other forms of smoking.

Spending on marketing and advertising among the five largest U.S. tobacco firms fell to $13.1 billion in 2005 from $14.15 billion in 2004 and $15.15 billion in 2003, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said in a report issued Thursday.

But anti-smoking advocates said promotional spending was still double the amount spent in 1998, the year the tobacco firms entered into a landmark multi-state settlement, the Associated Press reported.

The AMA added its voice to those who called the amount spent by cigarette makers to promote smoking excessive.

"In 2004 and 2005 alone, the tobacco industry spent an exorbitant $27.7 billion to market their deadly products to the American people," the association said in a statement. "That same money could pay for virtually every smoker in America to receive a full course of nicotine treatment to help them quit."

Noting that the effects of smoking kill some 1,200 Americans daily, the group called for giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to "regulate the manufacture, sale, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products."

The U.S. Congress is considering legislation giving the FDA such authority, the AP reported. The bill may have a better chance of passing than similar legislation proposed in 2004, the wire service said, since Democrats now control both chambers of Congress.

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Blood Pressure-Lowering Drug Shows Benefits in Trials: Maker

The Novartis blood pressure-lowering drug Diovan (valsartan) showed a 39 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular events and a 40 percent drop in stroke during a 3,000-person Japanese trial, its manufacturer says.

Diovan is among a class of drugs called angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB). In the Jikei Heart Study, scientists compared Diovan combined with conventional non-ARB therapies with use of the non-ARB therapies alone.

In a statement, Novartis said the study was "terminated earlier than anticipated ... due to superior outcomes for the valsartan group over the control group."

Those outcomes also included a 65 percent drop in the incidence of angina pectoris, a 46 percent drop in heart failure, and a drop of 81 percent in aortic dissection -- a tear in the body's largest artery.

Results of the study were published in the April 28 issue of The Lancet.

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Scientists Identify Immune System Factor

American and British scientists working independently have identified a genetic element that appears key to regulating the human immune system, The New York Times reports.

The element is a chemical cousin of DNA referred to as a micro-RNA. Dubbed miR-155, it's among 500 such micro-snippets of genetic material that are found to be especially abundant in the body's antibody-making immune cells, the newspaper said.

When the genetic component was removed from mice, the genetically engineered rodents no longer responded well to vaccination and failed to develop immunity, the Times reported.

"The work on miR-155 opened a window into the understanding of the immune system, but it is too early for immunologists to figure out any practical consequences," the newspaper account said.

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New Test IDs Hepatitis C Patients at Risk of Cirrhosis

A new genetic test can help identify people diagnosed with hepatitis C who are at risk of developing cirrhosis, Stanford University researchers say.

The test evaluates the genetic makeup of each patient to determine who is most likely to contract cirrhosis, a liver disease characterized by severe scarring.

The test analyzes variations on seven genes to comprise a "signature" of certain people who are likely to develop cirrhosis, the researchers said in a statement announcing successful results of their evaluation of the new test. The diagnostic -- which costs about $500 -- was developed Celera, a company based in Rockville, Md.

People with hepatitis C found to be at high risk of cirrhosis could be prescribed a course of "expensive, debilitating drug therapy, while low-risk patients might be better off delaying treatment," the researchers said.

Nearly 4 million Americans are infected with the hepatitis C virus, of which nearly 80 percent have a chronic infection that could progress to cirrhosis, the researchers said. Cirrhosis, in turn, can progress to liver failure or liver cancer, they added.

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Congress Should Limit TV Violence: FCC

The U.S. Congress should legislate limits on TV violence in order to better protect children since voluntary parental controls aren't working, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in a report released Wednesday.

The FCC said this kind of regulation is needed because research shows that extended exposure to TV violence can lead to more aggressive behavior in kids, The Washington Post reported.

V-chip blocking technology is only partially effective in screening violent content, said the FCC, which produced the report at the request of 39 lawmakers. The report will be used as a basis to draft legislation, said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

"Clearly, steps should be taken to protect children from excessively violent programming. Some might say such action is long overdue," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a prepared statement.

Giving the government the power to determine what's acceptable for TV concerns some groups, however.

"The job of policing TV for children is one for parents, not the government," Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberty Union's legislative office in Washington, D.C., told the Post. "The government isn't capable of making distinctions about what's violent or gratuitous."

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