Health Highlights: Dec. 31, 2008

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

Drug Makers Agree to Voluntary Ban on Doctor 'Freebies'

The pharmaceutical industry has agreed to a voluntary moratorium on giving doctors branded items that advertise some of the country's most prescribed drugs, The New York Times reported.

Starting Jan. 1, doctors will see supplies of trinkets such as Viagra pens, Zoloft soap dispensers and Lipitor mugs cut off in a move that proponents of the moratorium say is a step toward eliminating influencing doctors' prescribing habits. But skeptics say the move is only a superficial measure, doing little to curb the far larger amounts of money that big drug companies spend to try to influence physicians.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Drug Makers Agree to Voluntary Ban on Doctor 'Freebies'
    • Smoking Ban Cut City's Heart Attack Hospital Admissions
    • Firm Says FDA OKs Its Generic Version of Nicotine Gum
    • Chemo Medication Errors Common in Outpatient Setting: Study

About 40 drug makers, including Eli Lilly & Company, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer have signed on to the code, the Times reported.

Drawn up by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the new code bars companies from giving doctors branded pens, staplers, flash drives, paperweights, calculators and the like, the Times said. The new guidelines reiterate the group's 2002 code, which prohibited firms from giving physicians expensive gifts such as tickets to sporting events or resort stays, and asked drug companies that finance medical courses, conferences or scholarships to let independent experts choose study materials and scholarship recipients.

In a statement, Diane Bieri, executive vice president of the manufacturers' group, said the updated guidelines were not an admission that gifts could influence doctors, but were meant to emphasize the educational nature of the industry-doctor relationship, the newspaper said.

According to the Times, big firms last year gave away almost $16 billion in free drug samples to doctors and spent an estimated $6 billion more on sales visits and other promotions.

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Smoking Ban Cut City's Heart Attack Hospital Admissions

A comprehensive municipal smoking ban in effect in Pueblo, Colo., cut that city's heart attack hospital admissions rate by 41 percent over a three-year period, according to a study released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before the ordinance took effect July 1, 2003, the study said, there were 399 hospital admissions for heart attacks in Pueblo in the 18 months before the law, compared to 237 heart attack hospitalizations from 18 months to three years after implementation, the CDC reported in its publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"These findings provide support for considering smoke-free policies an important component of interventions to prevent heart disease morbidity and mortality," the report said.

The study also said evidence indicates that secondhand smoke exposure produces rapid adverse effects on heart function, blood, and vascular systems that boost the risk of a cardiac event. Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure, the study concluded.

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