Health Highlights: June 17, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

AMA Mum on Menthol Cigarette Exemption

The American Medical Associated voted Tuesday to defer comment on a proviso in federal tobacco legislation that would grant an exemption to menthol while banning other cigarette flavor additives such as mint, clove, and vanilla.

The AMA voted "to refer the decision on menthol to its board, effectively silencing the doctors who wanted the organization to speak out against the exemption," the Associated Press reported. The exemption is key to a compromise that would give regulatory control of cigarettes to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • AMA Mum on Menthol Cigarette Exemption
    • New Alzheimer's Drug Shows Promise
    • U.S. Employers Facing Big Rise in Health Care Costs
    • New Egg Freezing Method Called Safe
    • AMA Report Card Rates Insurers
    • Bone Density Screens Can Be Done Every Five Years: Study
    • Marijuana May Harm Fetal Brain

While the other additives tend to be favored by younger people, menthol is preferred by more than 75 percent of blacks who smoke. That compares to fewer than 25 percent of whites who smoke, the AP said, citing government estimates.

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan, who held the post from 1989 to 1993, is among seven former health secretaries who have written to Congress opposing the menthol exemption.

"If we're banning things such as clove and peppermint, then we should ban menthol," he said. "This bill [if it includes the exemption] will be discriminatory against African-Americans."

But AMA President Dr. Ron Davis is among those who favors keeping the exemption, having said that removing it could threaten passage of the entire bill, the AP reported. "It would change the entire political dynamic," he said.

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New Alzheimer's Drug Shows Promise

The experimental Alzheimer's disease drug bapineuzumab appears to be effective in some patients, according to mid-stage study results released Tuesday by drug makers Wyeth and Elan Corp, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In patients with a gene known to increase the risks of Alzheimer's -- and of developing the disease at an earlier stage -- the drug showed statistically significant clinical improvements. This did not occur in patients without the gene, who were at greater risk for fluid buildup in the brain, especially when taking the drug at higher doses.

Detailed results of the study are expected to be presented July 29 at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago. The drug has received a fast-track designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It's expected that it will be at least two years before Wyeth and Elan apply for FDA approval of bapineuzumab, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The drug is designed to attack beta-amyloid. Many experts believe that a build-up of this substance in the brain causes Alzheimer's disease.

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U.S. Employers Facing Big Increases in Health Care Costs

Health care costs for American employers are expected to increase 9.9 percent this year and another 9.6 percent in 2009, says a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study released Tuesday.

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