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Health Highlights: July 28, 2006

Landis: I Didn't Cheat Reynolds Spends Millions to Fight Anti-Smoking Measures U.S. Halts Planned Increase in Canadian Cattle Imports Agent Orange Linked to Genetic Damage in Vietnam Vets Consumers Warned on Home DNA Tests Doctors Test Vaccine to Help Smokers Quit

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

Landis: I Didn't Cheat

In his first public appearance since a doping test showed elevated levels of the male hormone testosterone, the American winner of this year's Tour de France cycling race proclaimed his innocence at a Friday press conference in Madrid.

"I ask not to be judged by anyone, much less sentenced by anyone," asserted 31-year-old Floyd Landis, who "uncategorically" denied cheating in this year's race. "All I'm asking for is that I be given a chance to prove I'm innocent," he told reporters.

Asked repeatedly what may have caused the elevated levels of the hormone, Landis said that he and other male athletes generally had more of the hormone in their bodies than non-athletes. "As to what actually caused it on that particular day, I can only speculate," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Landis had permission to take cortisone shots for hip pain and an oral medication for hypothyroidism, the AP reported. He said his doctors were investigating whether those drugs may have contributed to the testosterone test reading.

Allegations against Landis surfaced Thursday when his cycling team, Phonak, announced he had tested positive for abnormal testosterone levels after completing the race's 17th leg.

The cyclist has been suspended from the team pending results of a second test. If that sample confirms the initial finding, he will be fired from the team.

The second test will be carried out in the French laboratory at Chatenay-Malabry in the next few days, news reports said.


Reynolds Spends Millions to Fight Anti-Smoking Measures

North Carolina-based tobacco company Reynolds American Inc. is bankrolling a number of campaigns against proposed state smoking bans and cigarette tax hikes, the Associated Press reports.

Reynolds, the second-largest cigarette maker in the United States, plans to spend $40 million to defeat proposed smoking bans in Arizona and Ohio and proposed cigarette tax increases in California and Missouri, the AP said.

In Arizona and Ohio, Reynolds is funding efforts to compete with anti-smoking measures that will go before voters in November. In Ohio, the company is working with the bar and restaurant industry to push a measure that would roll back anti-smoking laws already passed by more than 20 local governments.

As part of its efforts, Reynolds is providing funding to pro-tobacco groups with names such as the "Non-Smoker Protection Committee" in Arizona and "Smoke Less Ohio," the wire service said.


U.S. Halts Planned Increase in Canadian Cattle Imports

The United States announced Friday that it's stopped plans for a major increase in beef and cattle imports from Canada, due to recent Canadian cases of mad cow disease.

Four cases of mad cow have been detected in Canada so far this year, making for a total of seven over the past few years. Some of the recent cases involved animals that were born after Canada implemented cattle feed safety precautions that should have prevented the animals from becoming infected, the Associated Press reported.

The United States had decided to allow resumption of imports of older cattle from Canada. However, the U.S. Agriculture Department has halted those plans, which were under final consideration by the White House.

No decision on resuming these kinds of Canadian imports will be made until officials have completed an investigation into the recent mad cow cases, the AP reported.


Agent Orange Linked to Genetic Damage in Vietnam Vets

The chemical Agent Orange caused major genetic damage to New Zealand troops who served in the Vietnam War, a new study concludes.

Scientists at Massey University in New Zealand found that 24 Vietnam veterans suffered significant genetic damage, compared with a similar-sized group of soldiers who did not serve in Vietnam, BBC News reported.

The findings could have an impact on legal action against the U.S. manufacturers of Agent Orange -- Dow and Monsanto -- and the U.S. government.

Agent Orange was used by the U.S. military in Vietnam to kill jungle foliage and make it easier to find North Vietnamese fighters. It's estimated that about 21 million gallons (80 million liters) of the chemical were sprayed on North and South Vietnam, BBC News reported.

The chemical has been blamed for a number of health problems suffered by soldiers and millions of Vietnamese civilians.


Consumers Warned on Home DNA Tests

Home DNA tests that promise consumers customized nutrition advice based on their individual genetic makeup have no medical value, congressional investigators said Thursday.

A year-long investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that the companies are, at best, selling bad advice through their Internet sites, the investigators said.

"I want to send a message to consumers across the country: Buyer beware," Gregory Kurtz, who led the probe, told the Associated Press.

The self-test kits, which cost from $99 to $1,000, can be purchased on the Internet and in some stores. Consumers send in a cheek swab for DNA analysis, fill out a lifestyle questionnaire, and receive nutrition advice.

But investigators, who bought kits from companies selling through four Web sites, created 14 pretend customers and found that the advice varied greatly and contained generalities such as "do not smoke" and "customers" with bad diets may risk heart disease, the GAO reported. One company advised three of the customers to buy a "personalized" dietary supplement blend at a cost of more than $1,880 a year, which the company claimed could repair damaged DNA, AP reported.

Genetics experts, however, told the GAO that there is no pill that can repair DNA damage and that some of the blend's megadose vitamins might even cause harm.

Representatives from the gene-testing companies said Thursday that they were providing an important service and were being criticized unfairly because they had not had a chance to see, or respond to, the allegations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking into whether the tests violate any regulatory requirements, the AP reported.


Doctors Test Vaccine to Help Smokers Quit

Doctors across the United States are testing an experimental vaccine for smokers that makes the immune system attack nicotine the same way it would an invading germ.

The radical new treatment could immunize smokers against the nicotine rush that fuels their addiction, the Associated Press reported Thursday. About 300 smokers are currently testing it out in Madison, Minneapolis, Omaha, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and New York City.

The large study got underway after four smaller studies suggested the safety and effectiveness of NicVax, by Nabi Biopharmaceuticals, a Boca Raton, Fla., biotech company. The vaccine keeps nicotine from reaching the brain, making smoking less pleasurable and, theoretically, easier to give up, the AP reported.

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