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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More cruise lines ban smoking

Sailing sans smoke:First airplanes. Then restaurants. Now cruises.
Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Lines are tightening their smoking policies.

Princess will ban smoking in passenger staterooms and balconies for all voyages departing after Jan. 15. The ships will still have smoking areas in cigar lounges, a section of the nightclub and casino and a portion of the open decks.
Holland America will also ban smoking in staterooms starting Jan. 15. Smoking will still be permitted on stateroom verandas and in other designated indoor and outdoor deck areas.

Earlier this month, Carnival started permitting smoking only in its dance clubs, designated areas within the casino and casino bar, and certain sections on the open decks on all vessels. Starting Dec. 1, Carnival will also ban smoking in all staterooms. Guests with balconies will be able to smoke there.

Cuban tourism rises

Cuba is getting more visitors, including a 20 percent uptick in the number of Americans. Overall tourist arrivals rose 18 percent to 2.53 million last year from about 2.15 million in 2007, Cuba's National Office of Statistics said.

The United States was the eighth-biggest source of travelers despite the government's decades-old ban on American tourism to the island. About 63,000 Americans visited last year, compared with 52,000 in 2009.

The figures include both U.S. citizens on trips approved by the U.S. Treasury Department and those who sneaked in through third countries.

Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, said the U.S. government issued some $1 million in fines to about 1,000 Americans who traveled to Cuba illegally during the early part of the past decade. But, he said, it stopped going after individuals in the latter years of the George W. Bush administration.

No babies on board

Malaysia Airlines will ban babies from traveling first class on its Airbus A380 super jumbo jet, according to online reports.

The decision comes after the airline banned babies from the first-class section of its fleet of Boeing 747-400 jets.

The baby ban will be extended to its Airbus A380 jets, Malaysia Airlines CEO Tengku Azmil told Australian Business Traveller via Twitter. Defending his policy, Azmil said that while it was "a tough call," it addresses complaints from first-class passengers that they spend a lot of money on first-class travel but are often unable to sleep because of wailing infants. Instead, babies and their parents will now need to fly in the airline's business and economy classes. The airline's 747-400 planes make long-haul flights between Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, London and Amsterdam.

Smoking ban on Stony Stratford streets

A Buckinghamshire town is considering banning smoking from its streets. Stony Stratford town councilor Paul Bartlett is spearheading a campaign which would forbid residents from smoking on the streets.

The campaign has received backing from senior members of the town council and will be debated next month before likely being sent to Milton Keynes Council for approval. If the ban is imposed, those caught smoking on the streets of Stony Stratford would be slapped with a fine.

Mr Barlett said, “When you walk through the high street in any town, smoke is in your face and harming you and any children there. Smokers then get their butt, which is full of saliva, and chuck it on the floor. It costs millions to clear street rubbish.” He said, “Stony Stratford is a historic town which is blighted by cigarette butts. The plan that I am trying to put forward is for smoking to be banned in public in the High Street, surrounding streets, and preferably elsewhere as well. Why should people be able to smoke in my face and spoil the environment?”

Members of the public, police community support officers and traffic wardens will all be charged with enforcing the ban, which has been welcomed by anti-smoking groups.

Local smokers have been less receptive to the plans. Some publicans in the town have said a total ban on smoking would have a huge impact on their trade. “Since the smoking ban, our customers have had to go outside to smoke… If they stop people smoking in the street then our customers won't have anywhere to go. We've already noticed that more and more people are staying at home instead of coming out to the pub,” said Irene King, landlady at The White Horse public house.

Primiparity, maternal smoking and BMI linked to risk of pre-term birth

In Sweden almost 40 000 children have now been born after IVF, around 3 500 each year, and IVF children constitute 3% of all newborns. "This represents a large number of children and any adverse outcomes related to IVF are therefore a major public health issue," said Dr. Antonina Sazonova, from Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden, who carried out the research with colleagues from the hospital and from Lund University. "New methods and more advanced techniques are being developed all the time, and safety and quality aspects have, rightly, been of great interest during the past few years. We particularly wanted to know whether the number of embryos transferred influenced obstetric outcomes."

Since 2004, 70% of all of Sweden's 13 000 per year IVF cycles have been single embryo transfer (SET). The policy of using SET has resulted in an unchanged live birth rate and a decrease in the multiple birth rate from 25% to 5%. Earlier research from the same group had shown that IVF singletons as a group, irrespective of the number of embryos transferred, had a poorer obstetric outcome than singletons in the general population. The researchers therefore decided to investigate predictors for an adverse outcome in singletons from IVF/ICSI.

"Besides the known predictors of particular maternal characteristics, we also included details of IVF techniques such as the number of oocytes retrieved, and differences in embryo culture and preservation. We wanted to find whether there was any independent association with the four outcomes - preterm birth, small for gestational age, placenta previa, where the placenta grows in the lowest part of the uterus and covers the cervix, and placental abruption, where the placental lining separates from the uterus," said Dr. Sazonova.

The researchers found that primiparity, maternal smoking, BMI and "vanishing twin" (where a foetus dies in the uterus and is reabsorbed by the mother or the other twin) were all associated with a risk of pre-term birth (before 32 weeks gestation). Maternal age, primiparity, smoking, BMI, and years of infertility were associated with an increased risk of small for gestational age (SGA), but no association with the number of embryos transferred was found. Maternal age and blastocyst with an increased risk of platransfer (using five or six day embryos) were associated centa previa, whereas primiparity was associated with a decreased risk. The only significant factor associated with placental abruption was smoking.

"The finding of a positive association between blastocyst transfer and placenta previa is new and has not been described before," said Dr. Sazonova. "At a time when blastocyst transfer is increasingly used as a way of improving the chances of pregnancy, it is important that we should investigate this further. We also intend to look at differences in obstetric outcomes between singletons born from frozen/thawed cycles and compare them with singletons from fresh cycles and in the general population."

A better outcome for singletons after SET would increase the pressure on all IVF centres worldwide to introduce SET as their primary IVF transfer strategy, the researchers say. Today SET is most often performed in Sweden and the other Nordic countries, The Netherlands and Belgium, while in the rest of the world two or three embryos are still being transferred in the majority of IVF cycles. "SET means less social and economic burden on parents and healthcare systems, fewer risks of maternal complications, and healthier children," said Dr. Sazonova. "We hope that our analysis, which is not only large in terms of the numbers studied but includes a complete national cohort of IVF singletons, will add to the weight of evidence in favour of this practice."

When science is hidden behind a smokescreen

Robert Proctor, of Stanford University, coined the term "agnotology" in 1992, when he realised we are much more interested in producing knowledge than in the way society propagates ignorance. Such concerns were the focus of a two-day symposium in May at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) at Bielefeld University, in Germany. In recent years, agnotology has been extended to cover a discipline at the junction of philosophy, sociology and the history of science, its purpose being the study of ignorance itself and the means employed to generate, sustain and broadcast it.
This might seem an abstract pursuit, but in fact it addresses many of the issues sparked by the friction between science and society. The opposition prompted by new technology or harmful products often triggers the same mechanisms. A familiar example is the publicity given by the US tobacco industry to misleading studies on the alleged benefits of smoking.
Other ploys are perhaps more cou nter-intuitive. "It is less well known, but tobacco companies also spent large amounts subsidising good quality biomedical research in fields such as virology, genetics and immunology. They funded the work of several Nobel prize winners," Proctor says. "But they only encouraged this research to serve as a distraction. The idea was to build up a corpus of work on possible causes of diseases which could be attributed to cigarette-smoking. In court cases involving the industry, its lawyers always highlighted viral risks, the pre-disposition of certain families and so on to play down tobacco-related risks."
So, strange as it may seem, increasing the amount of available knowledge may foster public ignorance. "In fact, those who seek to produce ignorance on a given topic generally advocate more research," says the science historian Peter Galison, of Harvard University. "The fact that all the details have not been resolved sustains the illusion of an ongoing debate on the whole subject. A key concern of American neocreationists is to 'Teach the controversy'."
But the media are partly to blame for disseminating this form of ignorance. "The media's deep-rooted concern for objectivity means that in any good presentation of an issue, there must be two contradictory points of view," Galison says. "But in some cases, not choosing actually means making a choice."

Proctor set up an experiment to gauge how well ideas put about by the tobacco industry permeated public opinion. In one of the many internal memos released by the industry at the end of the 1990s after a court ruling, he noticed that in 1975 executives at one large company instructed the public relations department to stop using the term "young smokers". Instead they had to say "young adult smokers". The historian set about searching for this phrase in the millions of books digitised by Google, taking account of their publication date. He found almost no instances of the term in any English-language publications before 1975. The phrase only started to spread after it was invented by the tobacco industry.
Strictly speaking, this was not an attempt to spread ignorance, but "it does enable us to measure the impact a simple internal memo can have on society as a whole," Proctor says. Even now, he adds, "about one in five Americans thinks that tobacco is not really dangerous". An even higher proportion is not convinced that passive smoking is harmful, despite there being ample documentary evidence of more than 500,000 premature deaths a year worldwide.
A famous internal memo issued by the US cigarette manufacturer Brown & Williamson put it bluntly: "Doubt is our product." The campaign by the tobacco industry to spread ignorance, which became a deliberate ploy in the 1950s, has since been copied in other fields.
"In the US a substantial share of the population – as many as half according to some studies – has the impression that there is a lot of debate in the scientific community as to the reality of climate change caused by human activities," says Naomi Oreskes, science historian at the University of California, San Diego, and the author, with Erik Conway, of Merchants of Doubt. "In 2004," she adds, "I published a study [an analysis of peer-reviewed scientific articles] which showed this was not the case. I immediately came under fire so I tried to find out who was attacking me." The historian soon discovered "a well-organised group of public figures who had claimed several years previously that acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer were not a problem".

Oreskes identified three well-known US scientists – William Nierenberg, Robert Jastrow and Frederick Seitz – who in 1984 had founded the George C Marshall Institute, a conservative thinktank, as a vehicle for their ideas. Seitz had also worked as a consultant for tobacco giant RJ Reynolds. "The connection with tobacco raised my suspicions," Oreskes says, "because it's a scientific field that has nothing to do with atmospheric science. It showed these people were engaged in a political project, not in genuine scientific debate on the issue of climate change."
The prime concern of the three men, according to the historian, was defending freedom. Even for distinguished academics, scientific facts may take second place to ideology, Oreskes says. "These scientists had founded their whole career on the use of science to defend the US against the Soviet Union. At the end of the cold war they took environmental science for another form of communism," she says. Which explains the link with tobacco. "Just as there is a fear of government regulating business, there is a genuine concern it may meddle in people's private lives, intervening in issues such as smoking."
In much the same vein as the Marshall Institute, many US thinktanks – often funded by fossil-fuel interests – have recruited scientists to carry on the work of obfuscation started in the 1980s and now targeting climate change. The methods are the same: publication of books, reports, press releases, columns in the press. "Their output looks like science, with footnotes and references but it does not take the usual channels," Oreskes says.
The advocates of ignorance have gained a new ally in the form of the internet. "Once arguments have been injected into the net, there is no stopping or countering them," says Oreskes.
This article originally appeared in Le Monde

BMA calls for ban on smoking in cars

Doctors have called for tougher controls on cigarettes and alcohol, including a ban on smoking while driving.
The British Medical Association (BMA) voted in favour of more restrictions on licensing hours and introducing a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol at its conference in Cardiff.
BMA members who back the plans hope the association will persuade the government to pass new tobacco and alcohol laws across the UK.
Those against stricter regulations say they would intrude on people's liberty – and labelled a ban on smoking while driving as being "unenforceable".
But supporters insist the measures, if implemented, would improve the nation's health and save the NHS money.
Douglas Noble, a London doctor, described smoking in cars as a toxic threat to people's health and called for legislation to ban it completely.
"In-car particle concentrations are 27 times higher than in a smoker's home and 20 times higher than in a pub in the days when you could smoke in public places," he said.
"It would be safer to have your exhaust pipe on the inside of your car than smoke cigarettes.
"This would protect non-smokers – particularly pregnant women and children. There is also evidence linking driving and smoking to a higher rate of road traffic accidents."
The effects of cigarettes and alcohol on the nation's health has been a key issue during the BMA's week-long conference in St David's Hall, Cardiff.
As well as backing calls for a blanket ban on smoking in cars, delegates supported two motions for more restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
Dr Sue Robertson, a member of the BMA's Scottish council, said 24-hour drinking in the UK, introduced in 2005, needed to be scaled back.
"Less time selling drinks equals less drinks being sold," she said. "In one day in Scotland alone, alcohol will cost £97.5m in terms of health, violence and crime.
"The annual healthcare costs of alcohol in England alone are £1.7bn to £2.4bn."
Delegates also heard calls for a minimum price on alcohol, and opinions that such a move would stop supermarkets offering the cut-price drinks deals that have put many pubs out of business.
Robertson said a charge of at least 50p a unit would reduce problems such as underage drinking as well as saving the NHS £1.3bn in 10 years

Ferrari-Marlboro F1 sponsorship deal provokes anger of the health lobby

Health experts have reacted with fury to news that one of the world's largest tobacco firms has renewed its sponsorship of the Ferrari motor-racing team.

In a one-sentence press release, "Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro" recently said it had "extended its collaboration agreement with Philip Morris International to the end of 2015".
Some estimates suggest the deal could be worth up to $100m (£62m) to the Formula One team, which has been sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes since 1984.
The EU banned tobacco advertising in motorsport in 2007. But the new deal means the team's name away from the track – and on parts of its website – remains Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro.
Both Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) have written to Jean Todt, president of Formula One's governing body, the FIA, urging him to investigate the deal.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said the deal gave Ferrari "an unfair advantage over other teams which no longer take tainted tobacco industry sponsorship".
Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP's tobacco advisory group and director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, said the deal appeared to breach EU laws prohibiting tobacco sponsorship.
Britton suggested that the real value of the deal lay in continuing the "subliminal" links between the two brands. He said the red, black and white colours of Ferrari bore a close resemblence to those of Marlboro, creating strong links between the two companies.
"People are aware Ferrari is sponsored by Marlboro," he added, "and the positive assets of the Ferrari team – things like danger and manliness – all translate to the brand."
Last year Ferrari removed a barcode livery from its Formula One cars after complaints that it resembled Marlboro branding.
Anne Edwards, director external communications, at Philip Morris International, declined to comment on the value of the sponsorship deal.
"We believe that our partnership agreement with Ferrari complies with all applicable laws," she said. "Today, there is no Marlboro branding

Monday, July 4, 2011

What a drag … Iceland considers prescription-only cigarettes

Tobacco bill proposes outlawing sales, with only doctors allowed to prescribe cigarettes to addicts unable to kick habit

Iceland is considering banning the sale of cigarettes to help society 'wake up' to the dangers of smoking. Only 15% of the population light up regularly.

The parliament in Reykjavik is to debate a proposal that would outlaw the sale of cigarettes in supermarkets, service stations, duty-free shops and kiosks. Only pharmacies would be allowed to dispense cigarettes to customers with a valid medical certificate.

Under the mooted initiative, doctors will be encouraged to help addicts kick the habit with treatments and education programmes. If these do not work, only then they may give out prescriptions – and only to patients who commit to regular health checks.

Unlike other prescription products, cigarettes would not be subsidised, and would continue to be sold at their full market value, about 900kr (£4.90) in Iceland. But according to proponents of the bill, if each pack were priced according to the real cost of cigarettes to society (in healthcare, etc), they would actually retail at 3,000KR.

The private members bill is being led by the former health minister Siv Fridleifsdottir, who claims she has the support from members of five parties in parliament. She told the Frettabladid newspaper that society had to "wake up" once and for all to the well-known dangers of smoking.

A spokeswoman from the ministry of welfare said on Monday that the proposal was "very serious" but had limited chances of success. "Siv Frideleifsdottir is a very serious politician and this is a very serious proposal," said Anna Baldursdottir, political advisor to the minister of welfare, Gudbjartur Hannesson.
"Whether it not it eventually becomes law, I do not know. I seriously doubt it." The idea will be debated in the Althing, Iceland's parliament, in the autumn, when politicians return from recess,
she added.

Iceland has successfully halved smoking rates over the past 20 years. In 1991, 30% of the population smoked; today, only about 15% of 15- to 89-year-olds light up regularly, according to Baldursdottir, giving it the lowest smoking rates in Europe. This success is attributed to huge increases in tobacco tax, which accounts for 228kr a pack of 20 cigarettes, as well as the drop in disposable income among islanders since the financial crash of 2008. It was also the first country to ban tobacco advertising in shops.

As an isolated island, Iceland arguably stands a greater chance of success were they to introduce such draconian measures. With no neighbouring countries and rigid customs controls at ports and airports, it will be difficult for anyone to smuggle in contraband cigarettes.

Why do more women in the north east smoke than men?

Health teams call a public meeting, suggest it's more than stress from the recession and air special worries about the young

Women smoking - they've overtaken men in the habit in the north east partly because of influences on girls which are 'more insidious than mere peer pressure'
Andy Capp's the one with the fag surely? Florrie has the curlers and the rolling pin. Such is the old image of the north east of England. But Durham university health scientists are alarmed at one way in which it has changed.

Their survey has just found that women smokers now outnumber men in the region, which according to Dr Andrew Russell of the uni's Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience is globally rare. Stress and its worsening by recession almost certainly play a part, but why more on women? What other causes may there be?

A public discussion tomorrow, Tuesday, organised by the institute and Durham city's Forum for Health hopes to make some progress in finding out.

It's being held at the Dales Suite, Collingwood College, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LT at 6pm, and organisers are looking for leads to new empirical studies, as well as giving their own opinions and hearing others.

You need to let them know if you plan to come, via this form here.

Here's what Dr Russell says in advance:

"Men's smoking rates have declined dramatically over the past few years in the north east and now appear to be lower than the national average. Women's have not declined nearly so fast - they appear to have plateaued at a level higher than the national average.

Smoking rates are highest in areas of greatest economic deprivation and also go up in times of recession.We need to consider whether for some women, smoking is a response to stress in their lives,one of the few 'pleasures' that are relatively easily acquired.

"but the tobacco industry has had a large part to play in encouraging more women to take up smoking by perpetuating the myth of smoking as glamorous, risqué and a form of defiance. New brands come out all the time specifically aimed at women.

"We're proposing a cross-cultural study looking at women's relationship to tobacco in other societies in order to understand how best to tackle the situation in the North East of England. I'll be outlining my plans at the meeting."

His colleague Dr Sue Lewis has meanwhile specialised on trying to find out why women and girls are getting the habit so young. She says:

"We need to understand the particular issues faced by young smokers – and those trying not to be smokers – in disadvantaged communities; what particular pressures they faced when they started smoking, what factors encouraged continued smoking and what makes it particularly difficult to quit.

Our research included interviewing young people at a youth club in county Durham in an ex-mining village which, according to the national index of deprivation, is in the 10% most deprived wards in a county that is already among the most deprived nationally.

These young people spoke of the social pressures of smoking, that you're left out if you don't and at as young as 8 years old, the older kids hassle them into taking up the habit. It has become a status thing, an identity formation issue, an aspect of personhood and therefore not as simple as – and far more insidious than – mere peer pressure.

One particular young girl talked about her depression over her smoking addiction – there's clearly not even any pleasure there to offset the obvious risks.

Also plain was the ease with which youngsters gained access to cigarettes, talking of the 'fag houses' where people would sell them cigarettes in ones or twos no matter what their age."

Thoughts welcome. Anna Lynch, the NHS director of public health for county Durham will be at the meeting too.