Quit spreading germs – and rumors.
Maybe mom wasn’t always right.
Maybe mom wasn’t always right.
On Wednesday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it will ban smoking in all of the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units. HUD Secretary Julián Castro said his main concern is cutting down on the dangers of secondhand smoke: “We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases.”
One major problem with this policy is it seems to single out low-income people for a problem that is universal — secondhand smoke can kill anyone who’s around it. While HUD’s jurisdiction is limited to public housing, the criticism is fair.
But there’s an easy solution to that: Indoor smoking should be banned everywhere — inside bars, restaurants, your home. Full stop. Smoking remains an enormous public health problem, and smoking bans actually do work to curtail the detrimental effects of one of the world’s most dangerous habits.
Although it gets considerably less press than it previously did, smoking remains a huge threat to public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, smoking kills 480,000 people each year. Secondhand smoke alone kills nearly 42,000 people. To put that in perspective, that’s around 8,000 more people than die to either car crashes or gun violence.
So we’re clearly dealing with a major public health crisis. And the research shows that smoking bans can help, particularly with eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke.
In Florida, law enforcement officials said the drug led a man to run naked through a neighborhood, try to have sex with a tree, and claim to be the mythical god Thor. In New York State, a local agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration called the drug “rat poison.” That drug is flakka, the synthetic drug reportedly linked to deranged behavior in several states around the country — and at the center of the latest drug hysteria.
“It actually starts to rewire the brain chemistry. They have no control over their thoughts. They can’t control their actions,” Don Maines, a drug treatment counselor with the Broward Sheriff’s Office in Fort Lauderdale, told the Associated Press. “It seems to be universal that they think someone is chasing them. It’s just a dangerous, dangerous drug.”
But these assertions are unfounded to the people who study new psychoactive drugs, which have been increasingly synthesized by chemists in secretive labs over the past few years. Bryce Pardo, a drug policy expert at the University of Maryland (UMD), said, “I scratch my head at these [claims]. … How do you figure? Because no one has actually established the harms.”
Peter Reuter, another UMD drug policy expert who’s co-writing a paper on synthetic drugs with Pardo, said the media often exaggerates the risks of new drugs. “It is well-known that every new drug is the most dangerous drug that ever came along,” he joked. “This is a fear of the unknown. I’m sure a lot of these are nasty drugs, but nastier than methamphetamine? That’s a high standard.” He added, “These tend to be niche drugs that fade away pretty quickly.”
Warranted or not, the public concern is very real. It seems like six months no longer go by without the media highlighting new fears about an exotic drug that could make us all crazy. Just a couple of years ago, the media drummed up concerns about new psychoactive substances when a man, who turned out to not be on synthetic drugs, allegedly tried to eat someone’s face while on bath salts. And synthetic marijuana — also known as “spice” — has reportedly contributed to a rise in emergency room visits and poisonings, according to the New York Times’s Alan Schwarz.
Part of that is rooted in the fact that different synthetic drugs are coming out more often as chemists use new techniques and sophisticated computer models to craft substances. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which tracks these drugs, has found a steady rise in new psychoactive substances over the past decade:
Dozens of new substances are introduced into the market every year. Most of them come and go without any media attention. But when a drug like flakka, which is apparently cheap and easily attainable, allegedly leads to some erratic behavior in a state like Florida or New York, the media quickly jumps on it.
White middle-aged Americans are dying at an increasing rate, a new analysis of government data shows, a startling turnaround suggesting a rising toll of addiction and mental-health issues is reversing decades of gains in longevity.
Suicides, alcohol and drug overdoses, and death from chronic liver diseases largely drove the reversal, which occurred between 1999 and 2013, according to the analysispublished Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The turnaround occurred primarily among men and women between the ages of 45 and 54 with no more than a high-school education, but rates of those causes of death rose for wealthier middle-aged whites as well as whites in other age groups, according to the study.
By contrast, death rates declined for blacks and Hispanics in that age group over the same period, the study found.
No other rich country has experienced a similar turnaround in mortality rates, said the authors, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who are economics professors at Princeton University. Mr. Deaton won the Nobel Prize in economics this year for work that has involved improving the rigor of data on consumption, poverty, health and other measures that underpin public policy.
The findings reveal an under-examined public health crisis and illustrate tragic ways in which many people are responding to physical and mental pain, adversity and changing life situations, the researchers say. The behaviors they have turned to—drinking, drugs and suicide—are so widespread that they have offset declines in other major causes of death in midlife, such as lung cancer, according to the study.
“What we see here is a group that’s in quite a lot of distress,” said Ms. Case, an expert in development and health economics.
Dozens of Chipotle restaurants in Washington and Oregon are temporarily closing due to an outbreak of E. coli. Health officials have linked 19 cases in Washington and three in Oregon to Chipotles in those states. Eight people have been hospitalized: Seven from Washington, one from Oregon.
According to the Washington State Department of Health, though the outbreak appears to be connected to food served at Chipotle, the specific source of contamination has yet to be determined and is still under investigation. The restaurants have closed voluntarily while awaiting updated information.
In a statement, State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist implored anyone who thinks they may have fallen sick from eating at Chipotle within the past three weeks should consult a healthcare provider, particularly “the elderly and very young children,” who “are more likely to become severely ill from this kind of E. coli infection.”
The investigation is being conducted by local and state health officials along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Washington State Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Why is breast cancer so much deadlier in black women than in white women? On the heels of an alarming new report that black women have caught up with their white counterparts in breast cancer rates, the question has taken on a fresh urgency.
But the answer is elusive.
The report, which the American Cancer Society released on Thursday, is a warning that breast cancer will cause an increasing loss of life for black women, who are already hit hardest by the disease. Black women are less likely to die of breast cancer today than they were 25 years ago. But a vast racial disparity in mortality rates has continued to widen: in 2012, black women were 42% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.
Researchers have known for decades that breast cancer takes a deadlier toll on black women. “Hundreds of studies have looked at the differences in incidence and mortality rates between black women and white women,” said Linda Blount, CEO of the non-profit Black Women’s Health Imperative. “Hundreds. We can tell you it exists – the ‘what’. What we don’t know is the ‘why’.”
Thursday’s report points to several possible explanations for why the incidence of breast cancer is rising in black women. (In white women, the rate has remained flat for a decade.) Obesity is on the rise in black women, and black women are having fewer children, later in life. Susan Brown, who directs health education programs for the Susan G Komen breast cancer foundation, added that black women breastfeed at comparatively low rates. All are risk factors associated with breast cancer.
Other researchers have pointed to disparities in comprehensive access to competent medical care to explain both the incidence rate and mortality rate. A 2014 analysis of morbidity rates in the country’s 50 largest cities found that black women in Los Angeles were 70% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. In New York, that number was 19%, leading researchers to believe that the city’s superior hospital and transportation system could be factors.
On Monday, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced “there is convincing evidence” that eating bacon, salami, hot dogs, and other processed meats can increase the risk of cancer in humans.
Sadly, that ushered in a lot of sloppy journalism and needless panic. Some news outlets are suggesting that processed meat is now considered just as bad for you as cigarette smoke. That is wildly false.
The main thing the IARC established was a casual link between eating processed meat and certain types of cancer in humans, chiefly colorectal cancer. But the actual risk is quite modest — and far, far smaller than the cancer risks from smoking. Munching on the occasional bacon strip simply isn’t that dangerous.
The trouble is that the IARC uses a very confusing scale for classifying carcinogens. The group first examines various substances — from sunlight to alcohol to various chemicals — and then reviews all scientific evidence to see whether these substances can be linked to any type of cancer in humans. The group then classifies these substances based on the answer to this question. Here’s a chart: