Tastes great, less killing

National | Liggett develops nicotine-free cigarettes, study questions pill habits, and other health news

Issue: "China: Caesar’s seminary," Jan. 27, 2001

Tobacco light
This belongs on the shelf next to sugar-free soda and fat-free chips: nicotine-free cigarettes. Liggett Group says it plans to introduce a smoke made from genetically modified tobacco that tastes like conventional brands. With the addiction-causing ingredient virtually eliminated, this could change the smoking debate. Even without nicotine, this won't exactly be a safe substitute. Apparently the unnamed cigarette still has some cancer-causing chemicals in its smoke, but its manufacturer suggests it could be used to help smokers quit. Bennett LeBow, chairman of Liggett's Miami-based owner Vecor Group, said that "a virtually nicotine-free tobacco could provide a nonaddictive alternative to smokers and make smoking a matter of choice." Mr. LeBow is already something of a maverick in the tobacco world. He has acknowledged that smoking kills, settled industry lawsuits, and testified against his own industry. During his tenure, the company unloaded name brands to focus on bargain cigarettes, and it no longer advertises. Liggett wants FDA approval to sell the new cigarette as a stop-smoking aid. If that doesn't work, the new brand could still be sold as a less-addicting cigarette. Nicotine-free cigarettes have been tried before with little success, but Liggett sees a chance with its biotech blend. The company claims it has been successfully tested in the United States and overseas. The anti-smoking movement isn't moved by the new blend. "The smoker compensates (for the low nicotine) by smoking more, so he gets more tar and more carbon monoxide," said John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health. Two-a-days
Did you take your pills today? A new study reports that just over half of Americans take at least two medications each day. Often doctors don't know what combinations their patients consume. The survey of 1,000 participants also reveals that almost half of us take at least one prescription medicine daily. More than a quarter take more than one a day. Of course, people over 65 help send the averages higher. Seniors who take prescription medications take an average of four a day. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists conducted the research; the Maryland-based trade association was trying to find out whether people inform their physicians about nonprescription medications, including vitamins and herbs. Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported taking an average of two nonprescription medications in the previous week. The group recommends that people let health care providers know what pills they take-even the minor ones. The concern increases if a patient is being treated for a major disease or is taking blood-thinning drugs. The ASHP (which represents pharmacists who work in institutions like hospitals and HMOs) warns not to take an herbal remedy or dietary supplement for a condition that is already being treated by a prescription without informing a doctor. If a patient uses a lot of self-medication (using supplements, wellness food, home remedies, etc.), he should explain the whole routine. The pharmacists are concerned about unintended consequences. "We want patients to be aware of the potential for drug interactions that can occur when mixing all of these remedies," said ASHP President Mick L. Hunt, "especially when taking multiple medications each day." Move around a little
Is economy class syndrome for real? Could a long flight in a cramped seat be hazardous to your health? Experts say the problem is sitting still too long. The condition known as deep vein thrombosis erupted in controversy when a British woman died after developing a blood clot during a flight from Sydney to London. Now an Australian law firm plans to sue major international airlines (including British Airways, Qantas, and Air Canada) on behalf of about 1,000 people who allegedly suffered potentially fatal blood clots on board. The suit will claim that the airlines didn't warn passengers of the risks. Scientists haven't established that blood clots are more frequent on airplanes than anywhere else. The "economy class syndrome" name appeared because some people thought it was linked to confined coach class seats. Yet fatal clots have popped up in people sitting in business and first classes, as well as those who sit for long periods in buses, cars, theater seats, and at desks. Dr. Robert McBane, a blood clotting expert at the Mayo Clinic, believes many cases are a result of thrombophilia, a genetic propensity for the blood to clot too easily. He said between 3 and 5 percent of people have that problem. "You don't know who's vulnerable," he said. "We may all be forming blood clots all the time." Experts say the most important thing to do to avoid a clot is to move around. Dr. McBane says deep vein thrombosis is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. He said experts don't know exactly why blood clots start to form in the deep veins of the legs when circulation slows down. The clot can kill if it breaks off from the leg vein and travels to the lungs.

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