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Health Highlights: May 31, 2005

Some Drug Companies Still Don't Release Research Details Tobacco Companies Modified Cigarettes to Appeal to Women: Study Generic Drug Maker Recalls All Products Peruvian Girl Set for 'Mermaid' Surgery Health Professionals Vital in Reducing Tobacco Use: WHO

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

Some Drug Companies Still Don't Release Research Details

Almost a year after pledging to provide more public information about research on new drugs, some pharmaceutical companies in the United States still don't disclose important facts about clinical trials, critics charge.

Big drug companies disagree on how much information they should release about new studies and completed studies for drugs already on the market, The New York Times reported.

Some, like Eli Lilly, have posted hundreds of their clinical trial results on the Internet and promised to release all study results for all the drugs they sell. Others, including Pfizer and Merck, disclose less information and are hesitant to provide any more details, citing competitive factors for that reluctance.

This lack of uniformity in the drug industry means that doctors and patients may not have access to important information about drugs, critics say, the Times quotes critics as saying. Companies that refuse to provide full details about studies can hide negative results by not publishing findings or by releasing only favorable data from the studies they do publish, according to academic scientists and medical journal editors.

"There are a lot of public statements from drug companies saying that they support the registration of clinical trials or the dissemination of trail results, but the devil is in the details," Dr. Deborah Zarin, director of clinicaltrials.gov, told The Times. The Web site, financed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, tracks many studies.

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Tobacco Companies Modified Cigarettes to Appeal to Women: Study

U.S. tobacco companies used more than simple marketing and advertising in their attempts to get women to smoke. The companies modified their cigarettes to emphasize taste, stylishness and perceived health benefits they believed would appeal to women, says a Harvard School of Public Health study.

Researchers made the findings after examining tobacco company documents made public under the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. The information in the study could offer an idea of methods tobacco companies may use in their attempts to increase smoking among women in developing countries, the study authors said.

The study in the June issue of the journal Addiction reveals that for more than 20 years, U.S. tobacco companies studied gender-based differences in product preferences, smoking patterns and motivational factors -- all in an effort to find ways to induce girls and women to smoke, CBC News reported.

That resulted in "light" cigarettes, which promoted the idea of safer smoking and cigarettes that conformed to women's taste and odor preferences and the fact that women had a weaker pull than men when drawing on a cigarette. The companies even investigated the use of appetite suppressants in cigarettes in order to promote weight control through smoking, the study said.

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Generic Drug Maker Recalls All Products

Able Laboratories of Cranbury, N.J., has suspended manufacturing of all prescription drugs and is recalling its entire line of drugs, mostly generic versions of medicines containing the painkiller acetaminophen, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

In a statement posted on its Web site, the FDA cited "serious concerns that [the drugs] were not produced according to quality assurance standards." It did not elaborate on any specific production deficiencies.

Consumers should speak to their doctor about obtaining similar medicines from other sources, the agency recommended, noting that it is sometimes worse to suddenly stop a medication than to continue to use a recalled product.

No other drug manufacturer is affected, the FDA said.

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Peruvian Girl Set for 'Mermaid' Surgery

A year-old Peruvian girl with a rare condition known as "mermaid syndrome" was to have surgery in Lima on Tuesday to separate her legs, which had been fused since birth.

Milgaros Cerron's surgery had been postponed several times due to recurring infections, reported United Press International. The child is among a handful of people with the condition to have survived more than a few days since birth, the wire service said.

The girl's legs were fused down to her feet, giving them the appearance of a mermaid-like tail.

Doctors say the youngster will need more surgery to repair her lower body, including her digestive system.

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Health Professionals Vital in Reducing Tobacco Use: WHO

Health professionals can play a critical role in reducing tobacco use by having the skills to help people stop smoking and by setting an example by not using tobacco themselves, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

The important role of health professionals in tobacco control is the focus of World No Tobacco Day Tuesday.

"Tobacco continues to be a leading global killer, with nearly five million deaths a year. The health community plays a key role in the global effort to fight this epidemic. Health professionals are on the frontline. . . They need to lead by example, and quit tobacco use themselves," Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, WHO Director-General, said in a prepared statement.

Previous research found that even brief advice from health professionals can increase tobacco abstinence by 30 percent. However, a new survey says that many health profession students don't receive adequate training in tobacco cessation techniques.

The Global Health Professionals Survey included third-year dental, medical, nursing and pharmacy students in 10 countries. The survey was released by the WHO, the Canadian Public Health Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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