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Health Highlights: July 29, 2006

Group Suing Over Plan B Seeks White House Documents College Students Learning How to Drink Safely, Study Finds Reynolds Spends Millions to Fight Anti-Smoking Measures U.S. Halts Planned Increase in Canadian Cattle Imports Second Face Transplant Patient Sent Home

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

Group Suing Over Plan B Seeks White House Documents

As part of its lawsuit to force the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B, the Center for Reproductive Rights seeks to subpoena White House e-mails and other documents, the Associated Press reported.

The group, which wants to determine whether the White House tried to influence FDA regulators on whether to loosen sales restrictions on Plan B, made the request in a July 21 letter to U.S. District Court Judge Viktor Pohorelsky. The letter was released Friday, the AP said. A hearing on the request will be held Thursday.

The FDA had intended to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B to women aged 17 and older, but delayed its decision to determine how to limit sales to that age group, former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford stated in a sworn deposition given in the suit.

Currently, the emergency contraceptive can only be sold with a doctor's prescription, although a few states allow pharmacists to dispense the pills.


College Students Learning How to Drink Safely, Study Finds

Although 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, less than 13 percent say they have been hurt or damaged property after they imbibe, a new survey of 28,000 students finds.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that the study involving 44 colleges and universities found 73 percent of those students who do drink protect themselves by using designated drivers, limiting what they spend at bars, counting drinks, and expecting friends to speak up if someone has had too much.

Michael Haines, of the National Social Norms Resource Center, noted some protective measures, such as avoiding drinking games and pacing drinks, deserve more attention than others.

"The safest place for college students to drink alcohol is on college campuses. All data points to that," he said. "Yet more is done to force the drinking off campus... Those policies have failed to reduce drinking."

The National Social Norms Resource Center advocates alcohol safety, recognizing student drinking happens and recommending ways to do it safely.

Critics suggest better alternatives include tougher penalties for student drinking and limiting student access to alcohol.


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.


Second Face Transplant Patient Sent Home

A Chinese farmer who received the world's second face transplant last spring was sent home Friday, the Associated Press reported.

Li Guoxing thanked the doctors and nurses after being released from Xijing Hospital in the central city of Xi'an, and said he was "very happy to go home," according to the Xinhua News Agency.

The 30-year-old man's face was mauled by a black bear after he used a stick to try to drive the bear away from his cow herd. During the 15-hour operation in April, an 18-member surgical team gave Li a nose, upper lip, cheek and eyebrow from a brain-dead donor.

Li will get to spend a week with his wife and two children in the remote mountain village where he lives before returning for more treatments, the wire service said.

Last year, French doctors performed the world's face partial face transplant when they gave a woman who had been disfigured in a dog attack a new chin, nose and lips.

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