Health Highlights: March 31, 2009

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

U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Tobacco Company Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a challenge by Philip Morris USA over a $79.5 million punitive-damage award to the widow of a heavy smoker, The New York Times reported.

The top court said it should not have agreed to hear the case after all. The case was making its third appearance before the court.

The Oregon Supreme Court had repeatedly upheld a verdict against the cigarette maker from a fraud trial in 1999. In its appeal, Philip Morris said the Oregon Supreme Court had defied an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case.

    • U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Tobacco Company Appeal
    • EPA to Monitor Air Quality at 62 Schools
    • Study Looks at Caffeine Use, Exercise Pain

This week's U.S. Supreme Court's ruling is precedent-setting.

"Business interests had once hoped the high court would use the case to set firm limits on the award of punitive damages, which are intended to punish a defendant for its behavior and deter a repeat offense," The Times reported.

During the 10-year court battle, the value of punitive damages owed to Mayola Williams has grown to about $145 million with interest. Her husband Jesse died of lung cancer after smoking two packs of Marlboro cigarettes a day for 45 years.


EPA to Monitor Air Quality at 62 Schools

Monitoring the levels of toxic contaminants in the air at 62 schools across the United States will begin immediately at some schools and within 60 to 90 days at others, the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.

The schools, located in 22 states, were chosen for air-quality monitoring because they're close to industrial facilities or other pollution sources, the Associated Press reported.

Toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, respiratory and neurological problems will be the focus of the air testing. Children are more susceptible to these pollutants than adults, the agency noted.

A list of schools included in the monitoring program can be found at the EPA's Web site at


Study Looks at Caffeine Use, Exercise Pain

The same degree of caffeine-related pain reduction during exercise occurs both in people who normally consume a lot of caffeine and in those with little or no caffeine intake, according to a U.S. study.

It included 25 fit, college-age males who were divided into two groups -- those who had a caffeine intake of about 400 milligrams per day (equal to three or four cups of coffee) and those who normally consumed little or no caffeine, United Press International reported.

The participants did two high-intensity, 30-minute exercise sessions. They were told not to consume caffeine for 24 hours prior to the sessions. One hour before each session, the participants were given a pill. On one occasion, the pill contained a placebo, and the other time, it contained 5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight, about the same as two to three cups of coffee.

"What's interesting is that we found that caffeine tolerance doesn't matter, we were perplexed at first," study author Robert Motl, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, said in a news release, UPI reported.

"Then we looked at reviews of the literature relative to caffeine and tolerance effects across a variety of other stimuli. Sometimes you see them, sometimes you don't. That is, sometimes regular caffeine use is associated with a smaller response, whereas, other times, it's not," Motl said.

The study was published in the April issue of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.