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Health Highlights: July 7, 2007

U.S. Tobacco Tax Hike Considered, May Help Pay for Health Insurance Quarantined TB Patient Says He Was 'Tricked' into Isolation Counterfeit Toothpaste Has More Bacteria Than First Thought Penalty in China for Drug Agency Corruption: Death Great Lakes Fish Unfit to Eat: Report Burger King Banishing Trans Fats

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

U.S. Tobacco Tax Hike Considered, May Help Pay for Health Insurance

An increase in the United States tobacco tax to help pay for children's health insurance?

To some, it sounds like poetic justice. The Associated Press reports that the Democrat leadership in Congress is considering $50 billion in additional funding for federal children's health insurance programs, and the possibility exists that much of the money could come from an increase on tax the U.S. government puts on the sale of each pack of cigarettes.

While the Democrat leadership hasn't committed to a higher cigarette tax, the A.P. reports, lobbyists representing the health industry have been campaigning hard for the additional levy. The current rate is 39 cents a pack.

"I've every reason to believe an increase in the tobacco tax will be part of the way expanded health insurance for children is paid for," the wire service quotes Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, an advocacy group that promotes universal health insurance, as saying.

About 45 million American smoke cigarettes, the wire service reports, and the federal tax generates approximately $7.2 billion to the general fund of the U.S. Treasury.


Quarantined TB Patient Says He Was 'Tricked' into Isolation

Andrew Speaker claims he was deceived by federal officials into being quarantined after being told he had a particularly virulent and contagious form of tuberculosis.

In an interview with the Associated Press Friday, Speaker, a 31-year-old attorney who made headlines in May when he made a flight to Europe after having been told about his medical condition, repeated that that he wasn't aware of how serious health officials believed his condition to be.

He has been in isolation in a Colorado hospital undergoing treatment for the past month.

He told the wire service he would have gladly gone into quarantine if health officials had asked him to. But Speaker said they asked to him to visit a New York City hospital for testing after his European vacation. He did so, he told the A.P., and armed guards were then posted outside his door. "They tried to trick me when it was unnecessary," Speaker, who is the first American quarantined since 1963, told the wire service.

"I'm worried about people coming after me," the A.P. quotes him as saying. Speaker became the focus of a CDC investigation - and an international uproar - when proceeded in May with a long-planned wedding trip to Europe after health officials said they advised him not to fly.

CDC officials also said a May 22 test result indicated Speaker had extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, or XDR-TB, which is extremely difficult to treat. But Speaker's doctors said last week that subsequent testing has shown only the less-dangerous multidrug-resistant TB.


Counterfeit Toothpaste Has More Bacteria Than First Thought

Early testing in Canada of recalled counterfeit Colgate toothpaste suggests it may harbor more harmful bacteria than first suspected, the government's Health Canada agency said Friday.

The products are labeled "Colgate Fluoride Toothpaste Herbal" and "Colgate Fluoride Toothpaste Maximum Cavity Protection," the CBC reported. In its initial announcement June 29, Health Canada said the products were believed to contain harmful bacteria, and that consumers should stop using the toothpaste immediately.

The packaging has several typographical errors including a statement that the phoney product came from "SOUTH AFRLCA" and had been sanctioned by the "South African Dental Assoxiation."

Separately, Health Canada also said the antifreeze chemical diethylene glycol had been found in three more brands of Chinese toothpaste imported into Canada, the CBC said.

Canadian officials said they've now confiscated 24 unapproved brands of Chinese toothpaste that contain the chemical, which experts say can be lethal if ingested.

U.S. officials have similarly confiscated thousands of tubes of toothpaste imported from China that contain the chemical, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned Americans not to use any brand of toothpaste that comes from China.


Penalty in China for Drug Agency Corruption: Death

A once high-ranking official in China's food and drug agency has been sentenced to death for allegedly approving counterfeit drugs and for accepting bribes, The New York Times reports.

Until two years ago, Cao Wenzhuang was in charge of drug registration approvals at the State Food and Drug Administration, the newspaper said. He's convicted of taking more than $300,000 in bribes from drug companies.

Less than two months ago, the agency's director was sentenced to death by the same Beijing court for accepting $850,000 in bribes. Four other senior agency officials have been sentenced to long prison terms, the newspaper said.

The harsh sentences have been handed down amid growing international criticism of China's lax food and drug policies. Recent scandals include a huge recall of Chinese-made pet food ingredients that were found to contain an industrial chemical, and a global recall of Chinese toothpaste that contained a chemical used to make antifreeze.


Great Lakes Fish Unfit to Eat: Report

Fish found in the Great Lakes are so contaminated by industrial pollution that they're unsafe to eat, the Toronto-based group Environmental Defense says.

The chemicals include dioxins, PCBs, and methyl mercury, the Globe and Mail reported.

Contamination is worst in Lake Ontario, but is worrisome even in Lake Superior, the least polluted body, the newspaper said.

Although PCBs, once a byproduct of electrical equipment, were banned in the 1970s, some fish including salmon, rainbow trout, walleye, pike and lake trout still harbor unsafe levels, the environmental group said.

Canada's Ministry of Environment rejected the report's conclusions, the newspaper said. An agency spokeswoman said contaminant levels in fish have been falling, noting that the ministry also has devised more rigorous standards for contaminant levels that are safe for people to eat.

Environmental Defense said its report wasn't meant to discourage people from eating fish entirely, but to promote the need to clean up the waterways.


Burger King Banishing Trans Fats

By the end of next year, the Burger King fast food chain says it will be using trans-fat-free cooking oil at all 7,100 restaurants in the United States.

The world's second-largest hamburger chain behind McDonald's, Burger King said it was already using the trans-fat-free oil at hundreds of U.S. restaurants, the Associated Press reported. The company said it would meet the trans fat ban sooner if adequate supplies of the alternative oil became available.

Trans fats, usually listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, have been shown to clog arteries, raise so-called "bad" cholesterol, and promote heart disease.

In May, the Washington, DC-based Center for Science in the Public Interest sued Burger King, claiming it was taking too long to introduce a healthier oil, the wire service said. At the time, Burger King said it expected to begin a national rollout of its trans-fat-free oil by the end of the year.

Earlier this year, McDonald's announced it had selected a healthier alternative; Starbucks announced in May that it would end use of trans fats by the end of the year; Wendy's said it began using a trans-fat-free oil in August 2006; KFC in April said its fried chicken now contained zero grams of trans fats; and Taco Bell also said it had switched to a trans fat-free oil, the AP reported.


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