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Health Highlights: July 6, 2006

Florida Supreme Court Rejects Record Tobacco Verdict Decline in Youth Smoking Stalls: Report Mental Disorders, Partner Strife Top Causes of Violent Deaths Pre-Surgery Chemotherapy Helps Stomach Cancer Patients Back-Pain Sufferers Would Give Up Sex for Relief: Study

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

Florida Supreme Court Rejects Record Tobacco Verdict

Florida's Supreme Court has rejected a $145 billion verdict against tobacco companies -- the most damages ever awarded by an American jury.

Calling the verdict "excessive," the justices approved an appellate court ruling that it had been a mistake to certify a class-action lawsuit representing some 300,000 to 700,000 ill Floridians. Certification led to the award for damages in 2000, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The justices did, however, reinstated damages to two cancer-stricken smokers, $2.85 million to Mary Farnan and $4.023 million to Angie Della Vecchia, who brought the original suit. A third award for $5.8 million to another smoker, Frank Amodeo, was not restored in Thursday's ruling, the AP said.

The lawsuit, accusing the tobacco industry of misleading people about the dangers of smoking, was filed in 1994 and led by a pediatrician, Dr. Howard Engle. The husband-and-wife legal team of Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, who filed the suit in Miami, declined immediate comment Thursday, according to AP.

John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, called the court's decision a "huge disappointment."

"Despite the legal complexities behind today's ruling, one thing remains certain -- tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in this country and the companies producing these deadly agents continue to do so at the expense of the health and well being of this nation," he said.

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Decline in Youth Smoking Stalls: Report

Cigarette use among America's high school students was unchanged from 2003 to 2005, suggesting that the national decline in youth smoking observed in the six years prior might have stalled, according to U.S. figures released Thursday.

In its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 23 percent of high school students were current smokers, down from 36.4 percent in 1997. The national health objective for 2010 is to reduce current smoking rates among high school students to 16 percent or less.

Factors likely contributing to the lack of continued decline include smaller annual increases in retail cigarette prices during 2003-05; potentially less exposure or availability among youths to mass media smoking-prevention campaigns; less funding for comprehensive statewide tobacco-use prevention programs; and substantial increases in tobacco industry expenditures on advertising and promotion in the United States, from $5.7 billion in 1997 to $15.2 billion in 2003, the report said.

The report also said that after decades of decline, smoking in movies, which has been linked to youth smoking, increased rapidly beginning in the early 1990s and by 2002 was at levels seen back in 1950.

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Mental Disorders, Partner Strife Top Causes of Violent Deaths

Mental-health disorders, intimate partner conflicts and felony-related crimes were the leading contributing factors to suicides and homicides in seven U.S. states during 2003 and 2004, a study released Thursday found.

Intimate partner violence and felony-related crimes were key causes of homicides during the period, while mental-health problems and partner conflicts played the largest role in suicides, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS).

The statistics for suicide and homicide rates showed a decrease of 6.2 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively. The causative findings are expected to be used to develop prevention strategies to reduce the number of violent deaths nationwide, the report said.

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Pre-Surgery Chemotherapy Helps Stomach Cancer Patients

Stomach cancer patients who receive chemotherapy both before and after surgery live longer, British researchers report.

The study, published in the July 6 New England Journal of Medicine, said the results provide a new treatment option for operable stomach cancer. Chemotherapy cut the risk of death by one-quarter, compared to surgery alone, and also shrank tumors and improved survival without a return of cancer, the Associated Press reported.

Conducted primarily in Britain, the study followed 503 patients who received chemotherapy before and after surgery for stomach cancer or cancer of the esophagus. A five-year follow-up found that 36 percent of those who got chemotherapy were still alive, compared to 23 percent of those who only had surgery.

Surgery is the standard treatment for stomach cancer, with all or part of the stomach removed. In the United States, about 22,300 new cases of stomach cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year, and about 11,400 people will die of the disease, AP said.

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Back-Pain Sufferers Would Give Up Sex for Relief: Study

More than half the respondents in a national survey of lower back-pain sufferers said they would abstain from sex for six months if it meant finding relief.

Conducted by the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP) and medical technology manufacturer Smith & Nephew, the survey also found that one-third of those questioned said work, personal relationships and quality of life were severely affected by their back pain.

Among other findings released Thursday by ASIPP:

  • 60 percent said lower back pain severely or substantially limited their everyday activities, including picking up their children and grandchildren.
  • On average, respondents reported missing more than one day of work per week, or up to nearly two months per year due to back pain.
  • 48 percent waited three months or longer to seek medical attention for their lower back pain.
  • 65 percent were willing to give up dessert for a year, 54 percent undergo root canal, 41 percent give birth or 37 percent go skydiving if it meant no more back pain.

In addition, many respondents said they had already given up activities because of their back pain, with 72 percent eliminating exercise or sports-related activities, and 46 percent reporting having given up sex.

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