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smoking bans

10/16/12 4:00pm

Russia Declares Cold War on Big Tobacco

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A smoker braving the cold for a puff.
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The size of Russia's tobacco market is second only to China's, but it could soon take a hit with the Kremlin's tough new plan to crack down on smoking. A bill with restrictions similar to those found in the West—including outlawing advertising, raising taxes and banning smoking in public spaces—will likely be submitted to parliament next month. "We are ready. This is going to be a harsh measure, but it is absolutely necessary,” says a spokesman for Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. “It will take time—maybe another generation—but we will succeed in defeating smoking and promoting a healthy lifestyle." An estimated 44 million Russians currently smoke, at a rate nearly double that in the US. The country goes through about 390 billion cigarettes a year, which results in enormous profits for the tobacco industry; so naturally, companies and lobbyists are lining up in fierce opposition to the bill. “We have expressed our opinions on certain aspects of the bill,” says a spokesperson for Japan Tobacco International, which controls 37% of the market. "I wouldn't say we are lobbying. We are just letting our position be known." Despite opposition from tobacco companies, officials expect the bill to pass, largely due to its endorsement by President Vladimir Putin. "This law would not exist without Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin],” says Sergei Kalashnikov, head of the Russian parliament’s health committee. “There is tremendous opposition to it, but it will be adopted.”

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By Chrisanne Grise

legalizing Marijuana

10/16/12 3:01pm

Pro-Pot Campaigns Recruit the Right

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Republican Tom Tancredo joins the pro-
legalization movement. Photo via

While prohibitionists like Bill O’Reilly would have you believe that anti-prohibitionists are a bunch of “far left loons,” the truth is far more complicated. Activists in Colorado, Oregon and Washington—the latest marijuana legalization front lines—have been joined by some serious conservative voices, with Republican Tom Tancredo joining now-Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. Mark Slaugh, one of the volunteers for Colorado's pro-pot Proposition 64, has been successfully campaigning in locales that might seem like enemy territory at first glance. He recently attended a rally held by VP nominee Paul Ryan, handing out flyers to make the case to tax and regulate pot like alcohol. Slaugh doesn’t see this as a left or right issue: “It’s fiscally prudent,” he says. “It would be taxed, regulated, monitored. It makes a lot of sense to Republicans.” 

The latest Republican pro-legalization volley comes from Tom Tancredo, the former congressman from suburban Denver who briefly ran for president in 2008. He's launched a radio ad describing marijuana prohibition as “failed government program” that “steers Colorado money to criminals in Mexico.” Comparing marijuana prohibition to the disastrous experiment of alcohol prohibition, Tancredo says, “Proponents of big government have duped us into supporting a similar prohibition of marijuana—even though it can be used safely and responsibly by adults.”

Of course, most of the right isn't convinced: the Romney campaign has announced its opposition to States' rights when it comes to marijuana, and most Republicans remain opposed to full legalization (although 67% of Republicans want to end the federal crackdown on MMJ.) Drug warriors are warning of a “constitutional showdown” if the legalization proposals pass. In a teleconference on Monday, Peter Bensinger, the former DEA administrator, tried to put the pressure on Attorney general Eric Holder to come out publicly against the proposals. "Federal law, the US Constitution and Supreme Court decisions say that this cannot be done because federal law preempts state law," he warned. And that's not all, apparently: “There is a bigger danger that touches every one of us,” Bensinger continued. “Legalizing marijuana threatens public health and safety. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, drug driving arrests, accidents, and drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed. Drug treatment admissions are up and the number of teens using this gateway drug is up dramatically." Bensinger was joined by perennial War on Drugs cheerleaders such as Bill Bennet and John Walters, former directors of the While House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Chief Richard Beary of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP); and Dr. Robert L. DuPont, founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Not everyone treated their intervention with the gravity they would have preferred: “The call today should be taken as seriously as an event by former coal industry CEOs opposing legislation curtailing greenhouse gas emissions,” retorted Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group behind Colorado's likely-to-pass Amendment 64. “They are stuck in a certain mindset and no level of evidence demonstrating the weakness of their position will change their views.”

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By Tony O'Neill

Eating Disorders

10/16/12 2:02pm

Kids at Risk for Eating Disorders Have Higher IQs

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Can identifying risk factors early on help with
prevention? Photo via

Children at high risk for eating disorders demonstrate significant cognitive differences from those at lower risk, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Medicine. Researchers at the UCL Institute of Child Health (ICH) drew from a study of 6,200 children between ages 8 and 10 and they discovered that those with a close relative with anorexia on average have a higher IQ and better working memory (the ability to temporarily hold and process useful information). However, these kids were also found to have poorer attentional control in general. Children with a bulimic family member tended to have difficulty assembling objects, illustrating poorer visuo-spatial skills than the control group. According to study author Radha Kothari, studying kids who are at risk—instead of those who have developed eating disorders—rules out diet as a contributing factor. "This meant we could focus on characteristics that might increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, rather than characteristics which might be the result of an eating disorder," she says, and this type of insight that could eventually help support prevention-based treatment. Dr. Nadia Micali, who led the research, says: "Although more research is needed to clarify these results, these findings should nevertheless help in the identification of vulnerable children, and in furthering our understanding of which neuropsychological characteristics may make a child susceptible to an eating disorder."

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By Chrisanne Grise

bath salts

10/16/12 12:44pm

Bank Exec Who Sued LAPD May Be Bath Salts Addict

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Was Mulligan on bath salts when he claims
the LAPD beat him up? Photo via

Just in time for Halloween: another eery news appearance from bath salts. This time, a Deutsche Bank executive, who filed a $50 million police brutality claim against the LAPD in May, might have been addicted to bath salts—if a confession he made just two days before the alleged beatings is anything to go by. The LAPD has released audio of Brian Mulligan, the bank's managing director and vice chairman of media and telecommunications, after he frantically flagged down a cop, claiming that a helicopter was following him. The officer is heard calmly pointing out the lack of helicopters in the vicinity, at which point the exec admits to recently taking "White Lightning"—a commercial name for the synthetic drug compound known as bath salts. Mulligan told the cop that he'd used the drug more than 20 times and that it "felt like his face was melting off" the first time he tried it—which sounds like a great reason to go back for more. Two days after this incident, the exec claimed that LAPD officers searched his car without reason and that, when he tried to flee, the cops beat him mercilessly, resulting in 15 fractures to the nasal area, a broken scapula, and facial lacerations severe enough that he "barely looked human." The LAPD claims that a man matching Mulligan's description was trying to open people's car doors and when they tried to stop him, he "took a fighting stance" and charged the officers. The bath salts revelation will likely be used against Mulligan should he follow through with his lawsuit; both of his lawyers have since dropped him as a client.

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By McCarton Ackerman

drug rumors

10/16/12 11:46am

Rihanna Denies Cocaine Claims

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The twitpic that started the coke controversy.
Photo via

Pop superstar Rihanna may be unabashed about her marijuana use, but she apparently does not like being associated with harder drugs. The "We Found Love" singer faced accusations of smoking cocaine after she tweeted a picture of herself rolling a cigarette that appeared to be drug-laced at the Coachella music festival in April. Now, she is emphatically putting those rumors to rest in a new interview with Vogue magazine. “They knew what it was,” she says about the Coachella pictures. “They knew it was marijuana. It was completely clear to them.” Rihanna went on to deny ever using the hard stuff. “I don’t do cocaine. I don’t like being associated with anything that’s untrue,” she says. Even with the constant controversy surrounding the singer’s habits, her manager believes in this case, no press is bad press. “It’s the rawest form of freedom of expression, right?” says manager Jay Brown. “She has the right to express herself, and I know she’s being playful. I know when she’s being serious and when she’s just having fun.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

withdrawal

10/16/12 10:52am

"Love Hormone" Oxytocin May Relieve Alcohol Withdrawal

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Oxytocin is released during moments of
bonding. Photo via

Oxytocin—the “love hormone,” not the opioid pain reliever—can relieve withdrawal symptoms in people with alcoholism, a new study finds. Researchers found that the need for benzodiazepines to ease withdrawal symptoms was five times lower in people given oxytocin, compared to a placebo. However, an extremely small sample size—just 11 participants—means that the research must be considered extremely preliminary. Still, its implications are fascinating. Oxytocin is a complex character: its levels peak at orgasm and during labor and breastfeeding—all times when social bonds are being formed. Research on rodents shows that it's involved in creating monogamous relationships and that essentially, it helps link your partner to your pleasure system. So togetherness is bliss, while rejection or distance means withdrawal. Could oxytocin similarly bind you to a drug? The fact that it relieves withdrawal suggests it may be making similar links: it’s not addictive in itself, but it connects the brain’s addiction-related pleasure areas to specific people, or, perhaps, drug-related cues.

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By Maia Szalavitz

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