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Health Highlights: July 18, 2006

U.S. Senate Passes Embryonic Stem Cell Bill Smoking Habits Unchanged, But Most Would Like to Quit: Poll Pregnancy Centers Overstate Abortion Risks: Report Doctor, 2 Nurses Arrested in New Orleans Hospital Deaths FDA Approves Gemzar to Treat Recurrent Ovarian Cancer

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

U.S. Senate Passes Embryonic Stem Cell Bill

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to approve a bill expanding federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, the Associated Press reported. President Bush has long vowed to respond with a presidential veto, the first of his 5 1/2-year presidency.

After heated debate, the Senate vote was 63-37, which is four votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto. A White House spokesman said Bush is unyielding on his stance, despite pleas to pass the legislation from former First Lady Nancy Reagan and Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the wire service said.

Supporters of the measure, however, said the pressure of public opinion would eventually push the government toward funding the controversial research, the AP said. Polls show that as many as 70 percent of Americans support stem cell research.

'There has been an upsurge of demand,' Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., told the AP. 'It has crossed every line we could imagine, certainly partisan lines, ethnic, racial, geographic lines.' Other supporters argue that the research should be permitted under strict ethical rules -- and only on donated embryos that would otherwise be thrown away.

Those opposed to the measure have said such research destroys human life, and with midterm elections just four months away and the Republican majority at stake in Congress, Bush repeated Monday an earlier promise to veto the bill. Neither the Senate nor the House is expected to have the two-thirds majorities necessary to override a veto, the AP reported.

The bill would allow federal funds to be used in research on embryonic stem cell lines derived from fertility treatments that would otherwise be discarded. Though several Republican senators support the measure, the AP said, many GOP lawmakers oppose it, as do conservative voters with whom Bush wants to maintain credibility.

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Smoking Habits Unchanged, But Most Would Like to Quit: Poll

About one in four adult Americans smokes cigarettes and the majority smoke less than a pack a day, numbers little changed since 2000, according to Gallup's annual poll on U.S. consumption habits.

The vast majority of smokers would like to give up the habit but consider themselves addicted to cigarettes. The poll found that most smokers -- 75 percent -- have made serious attempts to quit in the past, but had to make one or two serious attempts before finally quitting. The poll further found that the extent of smoking had not changed dramatically since the late 1980s, when more than three in 10 Americans smoked. From 1944 through 1974, Gallup measured smoking rates at 40 percent or higher.

Fifty-five percent of smokers said they smoked less than a pack of cigarettes a day; 36 percent smoked a pack a day -- 20 cigarettes; while 8 percent reported smoking more than a pack a day. The average smoker puffs on 14 cigarettes each day, according to the poll.

In addition to the 25 percent of Americans who currently smoke, another 26 percent said they used to smoke in the past. That leaves 49 percent of Americans who have never smoked. The poll found that Americans with less formal education were more likely to report being a current smoker than those who had completed college.

Gallup's findings were based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,007 adults, aged 18 years and older, conducted from July 6-9.

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Pregnancy Centers Overstate Abortion Risks: Report

Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives' Government Reform Committee issued a report Monday saying that pregnancy-resource centers are providing false information about the physical and mental health effects of abortion.

Posing as pregnant 17-year-olds, Congressional aides called 25 pregnancy centers that have received some federal funding over the past five years. The aides were routinely told of increased risk for cancer, infertility, and stress disorders, according to the report, which was prepared for Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the Associated Press reported.

A small fraction of the more than 4,000 pregnancy clinics nationwide get federal funding, mostly for promoting sexual abstinence. With a few exceptions, the federal government doesn't give money specifically for the counseling operations, but Waxman's staff said 25 centers got "capacity building grants." Waxman said that while Americans are divided on the abortion issue, no one should support misleading teenagers about basic medical facts, and those centers should be held accountable for the information they dispense.

"It's wrong to pour millions of federal dollars into organizations that are providing false health information to vulnerable teenagers," Waxman said.

Care Net, an umbrella group for evangelical pregnancy centers across the United States, instructs affiliates to tell callers there is a possibility that abortion can lead to greater risk of breast cancer, according to Molly Ford, an official with the organization. She said there have been several studies that say it does, and several that say it doesn't. A 2003 National Cancer Institute workshop, however, concluded that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer, the AP reported.

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Doctor, 2 Nurses Arrested in New Orleans Hospital Deaths

A doctor and two nurses have been arrested in connection with patient deaths at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit the city.

Immediately after the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane, rising floodwaters caused Memorial to lose electricity and temperatures inside the hospital reached over 100 degrees. At least 34 patients died waiting for help, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

The Louisiana attorney general's office said the three were arrested late Monday and booked on suspicion of second-degree murder. Samples were taken from dozens of patients who died in hospitals and nursing homes in New Orleans, with the intention to test them for potentially lethal doses of drugs such as morphine.

It wasn't immediately clear if the three were suspected of mercy killings, the AP said. Last fall, more than 70 people were subpoenaed in an investigation into rumors that medical personnel at Memorial had euthanized patients who were in pain as they waited to be rescued.

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FDA Approves Gemzar to Treat Recurrent Ovarian Cancer

Eli Lilly & Co.'s popular cancer drug Gemzar has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to be used as a treatment for recurrent ovarian cancer, the company said Monday.

This new approval covers the use of Gemzar in combination with carboplatin to treat women who've suffered an ovarian cancer relapse at least six months after treatment, the Associated Press reported.

Ovarian cancer recurs in 90 percent of women who are diagnosed and treated, according to Lilly. There will be an estimated 20,180 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Gemzar already had FDA approval to treat breast cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer, the AP reported.

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