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Smoking vaccine

3/05/12 11:46am

Smoking Vaccine for Teens Deemed Too Costly


Australians say anti-smoking drugs aren't
cost-effective. Photo via

Australian researchers have deemed a possible vaccination campaign of anti-nicotine shots for teenagers too expensive and ineffective to justify moving forward. In the best case scenario, they believe, the vaccine would cut the number of 12-to-19-year-olds who start smoking from 10% per year to 2%. But citing already-tested anti-smoking vaccines such as Nicvax, they conclude that the drugs would need to achieve better results, require fewer doses and be more cost effective to make a large program worthwhile. "Since we finished our study, Phase III trial results [of NicVax] have become available that fail to show any benefit of a vaccine for smoking cessation, suggesting this 'best case scenario' is highly unrealistic," says Coral Gartner, the University of Queensland researcher who led the study. Each year of sickness or disability that teens receiving the shots would avoid by not smoking could cost anywhere from $80,000 to $530,000—well above Australia's public funding cut-off of $50,000. Gartner thinks other anti-smoking strategies should be considered, such as banning tobacco advertising and higher tobacco taxes. But some believe that a vaccination program could still be viable in the US, where these public funding cut-offs don't apply. "Cost-effectiveness is one consideration, but not the sole consideration, with regard to decisions about vaccine use in the US," says Dr. Grace Lee, a professor at Children's Hospital Boston. She points out that a meningitis vaccine currently recommended for children in the US is thought to cost more than $100,000 for each year of life saved.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Designer Drugs

3/05/12 10:35am

"Blueberry Spice" Blamed In Outbreak


The herbal product is coated in chemicals with
THC-like effects. Photo via

A chemically laced herb variety of a street drug called "blueberry spice” has caused at least 15 users to fall seriously sick in Casper, Wyoming. State officials say the victims, mainly teens and young adults, sought medical care after experiencing vomiting and back pain after smoking or ingesting the substance; three people have even been hospitalized for kidney failure. “At this point, we are viewing use of this drug as a potentially life-threatening situation," says Wyoming state epidemiologist Tracy Murphy. According to the DEA, “spice” is coated with chemicals that are meant to mimic THC—the active ingredients in marijuana—giving users a similar experience to smoking pot. The DEA first tracked spice back in 2009, and since then the number of users has continued to rise. A ban on five of the chemicals used to make spice was extended by the DEA last week, but authorities continue to struggle to keep up with the ever-changing chemical make-up of the herbal product, as manufacturers circumvent bans by adjusting their recipes.

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By Valerie Tejeda


3/05/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: March 5, 2012


Smoking themselves sad? Photo via

By Will Godfrey

Medical marijuana

3/02/12 5:18pm

NYC Inches Towards Medical Marijuana


New York could ape California's progressive
policies. Photo via

While states like Colorado and California have steamed ahead with progressive marijuana policies, New York seems stuck behind. This week however, the New York City Council resoundingly passed a resolution calling on the state legislature to pass two bills to legalize medicinal pot use.The resolution was sponsored by Danny Dromm (Democrat, Jackson Heights), who has some serious progressive credentials, recently making the news as an outspoken critic of Republican Peter King’s anti-Muslim crusade. A few politicians, like Republican Vincent Ignizio and Democrat Vincent Gentile, sat the vote out. But it still passed by a massive 44-3 margin. The loudest dissenting voice belonged to Democrat Peter F. Vallone Jr., who represents Astoria. Vallone—who recently helped to shut down a proposed graffiti art exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum on the basis that it would "encourage criminality"—called the proposed measure a “prescription for disaster.”He went on to speculate that if medical marijuana were legalized it would end up being “sold near schools.” This assertion was countered by Dromm, who pointed out that the current law criminalizes cancer patients and others with serious illnesses who could benefit from MMJ. The vote is encouraging, but supporters can't celebrate just yet. The medical marijuana bills might still be doomed to languish in Albany, where clearing the Republican-controlled Senate won't be easy. The Marijuana Policy Project is encouraging supporters to sign its petition, urging New York lawmakers to pass an effective MMJ law.

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By Tony O'Neill

Four Loko

3/02/12 4:40pm

Four Loko Under Fire—Again


Critics claim Four Loko's packaging appeals
to teens. Photo via

The much frowned-upon alcoholic beverage Four Loko is currently under review again for how it presents itself and its alcohol content. The Federal Trade Commission is weighing further action—especially now that many members of the public and health professionals have joined a campaign to write in and sway its hand. The FTC has said that Four Loko is implied to have the same amount of alcohol as two beers—but at 12% alcohol in a super-sized can, it's really closer to four or five. Four Loko brokered a deal with the FTC last year to switch to a resealable can—displaying a warning that one full serving is as alcohol-heavy as four beers—to dissuade drinkers from downing the lot at one sitting.

The FTC then asked for public comments on this settlement—and got them. Over 200 critics have written to say it's not enough, and that the product's fruity flavors and colorful packaging—neon-colored camouflage print described by the New York Times as “what an army of Teletubbies would wear into battle”—are a clear attempt to entice underage drinkers. Four Loko's founders previously told The Fix that the colorful design was “so it would pop off the shelf,” rather than to tempt teenagers. “We never had a conversation where we said we want people under 21 to drink our product,” said Jaisen Freeman, one of the drink's creators. “We don’t win in those scenarios.”

In 2010, the FDA neutered the drink's caffeine content after Four Loko-fueled alcohol poisonings piled up: “We were looking at $25 million in inventory [to be destroyed]," Four Loko's founders told us last year. The FTC might soon send them back to the drawing board again. Many of the comments recently received by the FTC want Four Loko to lower its alcohol content—or even an outright ban, although the FTC has no such authority. The final decision on whether to approve or alter the current settlement is expected in the next two months.

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By Bryan Le

quitting smoking

3/02/12 3:06pm

Despite Bloomberg, Asian New Yorkers Smoke On


While smoking rates of other populations
have fallen, Asian New Yorkers stay at a
steady 17%. Photo via

Though most of New York's population is smoke-free, many of the city's Asian residents are still unable to kick the habit. Mayor Bloomberg's media blitz against smoking has helped to drop smoking rates in other groups—from 20.8-12.5% among blacks, and 23.8-15.6% among whites—but Asians' 17% rate hasn't budged. Why? “It's a largely accepted part of our culture,” says one Chinese-American woman interviewed by the New York Times. Nearly 70% of men in China and South Korea smoke. Cigarettes are smoked over business dinners and given as gifts to friends on holidays. And if younger generations of Asian New Yorkers have a problem with smoking, they can't exactly make their parents or grandparents stop. Asking elders to stop smoking is seen as disrespectful, not helpful, says Dr. Donna Shelly, a researcher who has studied New York Asian smoking habits. The New York Health Department is reacting to the problem with targeted Chinese-language ads, Chinese speakers manning the phones at 311, and smoking-related cancer ads on ethnic news channels.

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By Bryan Le


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