Archives 2014

Teen Smoking May Be Declining, but Vaping Has Risen Considerably, According to New Report

vaping with an electronic cigarette

A new federal study has revealed that electronic cigarette use — commonly called vaping — is increasing among children and teens. The implications of the results are being met with mixed reactions among experts.

While e-cigarette use has increased, however, daily cigarette smoking has decreased among all school grades when compared to five years ago. The report found that the number of eighth graders smoking decreased from 2.7% to 1.4%; for 10th graders, the number fell from 6.3% to 3.2%.

High school seniors saw some of the most dramatic decreases in that time, from 11.2% smoking daily five years ago to 8.5% last year — and now down to 6.7% this year.

But one set of numbers is going up: the percentage of teens who have tried e-cigarettes.

The same survey discovered that 17% of high school seniors used an e-cigarette in the last month; only 13.6% have smoked a tobacco cigarette.

Meanwhile, 16% of 10th graders reported using e-cigs while only 7% smoked cigarettes in the last month, and while just 4% of eighth graders had smoked a cigarette, more than double (8.7%) had used an e-cig in that same time.

Although e-cigs were technically invented in the 1960s, they didn’t become popular until about a decade ago. And that popularity, which took off in 2007, coincides with the gradual decreases in smoking among both teens and adults.

Their usage among former smokers has risen by the millions in recent years, but vaping has also caught on among the under-18 set, too, despite e-cigarette sales to minors being illegal in most states.

But the health effects of vaping are still widely debated. In a chicken vs. egg-style debate, the Journal of the American Medical Association has argued that even though smoking is often replaced by vaping, some who try vaping first could begin using tobacco later. Earlier this year, the organization claimed that “e-cigarette use is aggravating rather than ameliorating the tobacco epidemic among youths.”

Lloyd D. Johnston, Ph.D., from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, commented that the data from the study is concerning. “It would be a tragedy if this product undid some of the great progress made to date in reducing cigarette smoking by teens,” he said in the original study.

But from an economic standpoint, Tim Worstall, writing for Forbes, said that vaping is “the most successful smoking cessation project any one has as yet invented,” with no other product halving teen smoking rates in just five years. This, he said, “means that we really shouldn’t be putting roadblocks in front of further adoption of the technology.”

Wounded, Disabled Veterans Get Help With Home Remodeling Projects

Using a tape measure

For many veterans who return home with life-altering injuries and disabilities, the idea of completing a home remodeling project is out of the question.

That’s why charities, donors and organizations across the country are helping veterans remodel their homes this holiday season.

One of these veterans is Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was injured by a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan in 2009 and is now partially paralyzed. The nonprofit Lead The Way Fund, along with NFL player Jared Allen’s Homes For Wounded Warriors charity, is installing a number of features in Remsburg’s home to make it more suited to his unique needs.

According to, Remsburg’s remodeled home will have features like a wheel-in pool, a spa and an in-house gym that will allow Remsburg to continue his rehabilitation in the comfort of his own home. Remsburg’s caretaker will also be able to live in a separate guesthouse the charities are building on the property.

James Island, SC, resident Scott Petrie is another veteran whose home will get an upgrade for the holidays. After a life-changing injury that left him with permanent nerve damage, Petrie is unable to repair or remodel his home on his own, according to a Mt. Pleasant News 2 article.

Operation Homefront, an organization that works to help wounded veterans and their families, will be providing $70,000 and $80,000 worth of home repair and remodeling work for Petrie and his family — for no charge.

Planned upgrades include a hardwood floor replacement, which will add to the home’s aesthetic appeal as well as its property value, along with a newly paved driveway that is easier for Petrie to walk on. News 2 reports that Operation Homefront will also be installing new cabinets, landscape and deck work, new carpets, converting the garage into a ground-floor master suite and more.

Petrie and Remsburg are just two of the many former military members who will receive a holiday gift that makes living with their injuries easier and more convenient this holiday season. Across the country, countless veterans will be able to live more independently and be more at-ease in their own homes — a Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

Lawsuit Targets Wisconsin Open Enrollment Program’s Treatment of Disabled Students

Disabled Woman In Wheelchair Boarding Bus

Wisconsin’s open enrollment program violates federal disability laws, alleges a lawsuit filed last week in the Madison U.S. District Court.

Three families of children with special needs are arguing that it is unconstitutional for the program, which permits parents to enroll children in schools located outside their home districts, to allow school districts to reject students with disabilities. The lawsuit is being brought by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty against the Department of Public Instruction, State Superintendent Tony Evers and three separate school districts.

“There’s an additional set of limitations imposed on families of children with special needs that’s interfering with their ability to exercise the freedom of choice available to everybody else,” Rick Esenberg, WILL president, told Watchdog in a Nov. 24 article.

The lawsuit also states that it is discriminatory for schools to be allowed to set quotas of how many disabled and non-disabled students to accept each year, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Legal History

The law, which was intended to give parents greater control over educational choices for their children, was passed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled state legislature and approved by Gov. Scott Walker. It first came into effect in 2012.

The families for whom WILL is filing the lawsuit have indicated three desired outcomes: that the law be ruled unconstitutional, that schools be blocked from enforcing discriminatory measures and that damages be paid in an unspecified amount.

Disabilities range widely, and the families bringing the lawsuits are referred to only by their initials because the students in question are minors. In adults, lower back pain is actually the leading cause of disability, and the American Chiropractic Association estimates that 31 million Americans suffer from this debilitating pain at any given time.

But it seems clear that the concern over the open enrollment law is directed at learning, as well as physical, disabilities.

Financial Concerns

The rationale behind the law’s treatment of special needs students is that accepting them could cause an “undue financial burden” for some districts.

But according to Esenberg, “There should never be any undue financial burden the way the system works.” This is because any district that incurs additional expense in educating a student is supposed to be able to get those funds from the student’s home district.

But 42% of special education students who attempted to transfer into new districts in the 2012-13 open enrollment period were rejected, the most common reason given by districts being the “undue financial burden” loophole.

School officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit, but have argued that proposed budgetary changes submitted in early November would alleviate concerns over funding, leading to more options for special needs students and their families.

Esenberg said the goal is simply “to come to a resolution where these families have the same freedoms that everyone else has to try to move their children to a public school [that] will better serve their needs.”

Property Management Company Stirs Controversy at Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Young woman on the market
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is one of Boston’s most popular and historic attractions. Composed of four of the city’s famous indoor markets, the shopping center is now known for its indoor and outdoor shopping, restaurants and pushcarts. However, the festival marketplace’s community of retailers and vendors is now divided over changes the facility’s property management company plans to make to the building.While Faneuil Hall Marketplace is owned by the City of Boston, the city leases three of the four buildings–North Market, South Market, and Quincy Market– to Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., a New York real estate company. Accordingly, the city receives a quarter of the rent paid by the marketplace’s tenants, but the actual leases are controlled by Ashkenazy. Recently, the corporation launched a major renovation of the buildings, which will replace the food court in Quincy Market with bars and sit-down restaurants, and also add a boutique hotel in another building.

These changes have largely been welcomed by the vendors and retailers, but many say they were alarmed when they noticed two huge changes in Ashkenazy’s plans: the new plans do not include a place for pushcarts or food counters, and a number of businesses have reportedly received eviction notices.

In a public hearing at City Hall on Monday, December 19, Ashkenazy said four food stalls will be evicted to make room for two sets of elevators and staircases near Quincy Market’s rotunda. Two of this number, Boston Chowda Co. and Monkey Bar, have been offered new leases in different locations. Others, they said, owe a total of $750,000 in unpaid rent.

Despite their statements, however, many retailers are upset with the way the company has treated the evictees. One of the businesses, an Italian fast food stand called Al Mercatino, has been operated by the Bistany family for 30 years. The current owner, Johnny Bistany, reports that they had never been late on rent or had problems with management until they received an eviction notice from a constable in November. Ashkenazy has reportedly suggested that the family merge Al Mercatino with another food stall they own, called West End Strollers, which specializes in Middle Eastern fare. The Bistanys have testified that this is not enough space for the family to continue their operations.

Previously, the property management company had not provided many details on how the changes would affect their tenants until pressed. In response to the displaced push carts, Ashkenazy said that they would be reducing the number of existing pushcarts to 56, instead of 59. However, they said that there were no immediate plans to evict other food vendors. While seemingly less drastic and severe, this announcement has impressed few, especially given the profits Ashkenazy stands to make from the renovations: as previously mentioned, the company collects 75% of Faneuil Hall Marketplace’s tenant rent payments, whereas most property management companies collect only 8-10% of a property’s monthly rent.

If allowed to continue, the renovations will begin in early 2015.

After Two Deaths in 2014, Powdered Caffeine Is One of the Most Dangerous and Unregulated Drugs Available Online

hospital emergency entrance

Once upon a time, caffeine was just another ingredient in coffee, and being allowed to have a cup after dinner was a privilege and a bit of an adolescent milestone. But if recent news reports are any indication, America’s caffeine consumption isn’t just becoming popular with younger kids and teens — it’s turning into a trend that’s actually very, very dangerous.

Recent reports by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have noted that pure caffeine powder is becoming one of the top methods of caffeine consumption, and that this powder is dangerous enough to lead to death.

The FDA released a consumer warning in July 2014 warning about the dangers of caffeine powder, following the deaths of 18-year-old Logan Stiner in May and 24-year-old Wade Sweatt in June, both of whom consumed fatal amounts of caffeine powder.

In its powdered form, caffeine is incredibly potent, and can lead to a variety of side effects, which may even be fatal. The powder is fairly easy to buy online, and like many drugs sold on the web through “online pharmacies,” it isn’t approved — or even regulated — by the FDA. Nevertheless, as the Wall Street Journal notes, powdered caffeine is still legal, and is even sold on Amazon for about $10 per 8 oz. of powder.

As Robert Herriman explains in a Global Dispatch article, just one teaspoon of caffeine powder is equal to about 25 cups of coffee. Whereas an extra espresso shot or two might give someone the jitters and a pounding heartbeat, ingesting too much pure caffeine can produce heart palpitations, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, and possibly even death.

In light of this year’s fatalities, the FDA has renewed its efforts to educate the public about the dangers of this drug. At the beginning of December, a health advocacy group petitioned the FDA to ban sales of pure caffeine; just recently, the Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety wrote a blog post on the agency’s website giving even greater insight into the dangers of the substance.

Even though these caffeine-related deaths occurred months ago, and even though it’s disconcerting to some that the FDA hasn’t moved faster on this issue, it’s certainly a good sign that the public is starting to listen to the FDA’s warnings.

Mobile Apps Make Holiday Shopping Easier Than Ever This Season

smartphone in hand with blank screen
It’s fair to say that many Americans practically live on their mobile devices. According to the Pew Internet Research Project, 67% of cellphone owners find themselves checking their phones even when it hasn’t rung or vibrated; 44% have slept with their phones beside their bed to make sure that they don’t miss any messages or updates; and 29% of cell owners describe their devices as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Combined with the fact that consumers spend about 60% of their Internet time on mobile devices in comparison to their desktop or laptops, it’s pretty clear that mobile is the dominant way people access the web nowadays.

With so many consumers tethered to their mobile devices, it’s only natural that many would turn to mobile technology to innovate their holiday shopping experiences. Several apps out there have not only been streamlining the holiday shopping experience, but also helping users earn money back.

“It’s a way to make life easier,” said Bryan Leach, the CEO and founder of mobile shopping app Ibotta. “In recent years you’ve really seen the rise of mobile influence in store sales. Look how often people check their phones. It’s a virtual daily habit. It’s addictive.”

The idea behind Ibotta is to attract mobile users back into physical stores, as opposed to relying exclusively on online deals. It offers consumers a cash-back deal when they make a purchase from the 200 different retail brands working with Ibotta, like Best Buy.

Ibotta is simple. Users unlock rebates on products by searching through various categories. Once all is said and done and the user has purchased the goods, he or she takes a picture of the receipt, and within 48 hours, Ibotta will deposit cash back into the user’s account.

In just two years, the app has helped its users earn more than $15 million back on rebates.

Of course, some consumers aren’t entirely sure what they want. They have no specific product in mind. Some of our loved ones can be pretty hard to shop for, after all. For these users, there’s Shopkick, which has already been downloaded six million times.

Shopick offers a feed of deals and products available in the user’s geographic region, providing info on certain goods that are trending and customizing finds based on the user’s past purchases. Essentially, it’s an in-the-know shopping companion. What’s more, Shopkick users accrue points called “kicks” that they then use to get free gift cards.

“It’s really changed the way I shop,” Scherri Umensetter, a Shopkick user of three years. So far, the app has earned Umensetter three $300 Coach gift cards. Now, she exclusively shops at stores that provide her with kicks.

Once the shopping is done, though, users still need a way to get their gifts to the intended recipients, who might be hundreds of miles away. This is where Slice comes in.

According to its website, “Slice works seamlessly with your email inbox to find and store the e-receipts from the stuff you buy. We’ll track your package from shipment to delivery… and then go further. Are you eligible for a price adjustment on that shirt? Did the toy you bought last year just get recalled for safety issues? We keep an eye out for important information that you need to know about the things you buy and then make it incredibly easy to do something about it.”

The selling point behind Slice isn’t that it organizes the tracking and shipping of goods, but that it also guides users through a post-purchasing experience. For example, say that a product dropped in price after a user purchased it. Slice would then walk the user through the process of requesting a refund to get that better deal.

Holiday shopping can be a stressful experience, but mobile device users have been having an easier time of it thanks to apps like Ibotta, Shopkick, and Slice. If you still have some shopping to do during this crunch time, consider utilizing your smartphone. You might even get a gift card out of it.

Study Finds that Firefighters Might Be More Susceptible to Melanoma

Beauty woman
Skin cancer is an extremely common disorder, with over 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers diagnosed in two million Americans annually. But while nonmelanoma cancers present their own risks, the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, is far rarer. Unfortunately, a new study suggests that workers in a certain profession might be more susceptible to developing melanoma: firefighters, particularly those who work in Australia.Monash University in Melbourne, in conjunction with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC), recently conducted an analysis on the cancer rates and causes of death among Australian firefighters. Over the course of three years, the research team studied 232,781 firefighters, comparing their information to data from the general population.

While previous studies around the world have found that people who choose this career have elevated incidences of a variety of cancers, the report found that firefighters in Australia have an increased risk of developing both melanoma and prostate cancer. Moreover, firefighters who had worked in the field for over 20 years were especially prone to this higher risk level. Due to smaller population sizes, the researchers are awaiting further data on female firefighters and volunteers who have been exposed to multiple fires.

In response to their findings, the research team has recommended that people involved in this profession take advantage of early detection measures for both prostate and skin cancers, as well as limit their sun exposure to reduce their chances of developing melanoma. The researchers also pointed out that as a population, firefighters seem to be healthier than most Australians.

However, even those who may be susceptible to an increased risk of melanoma may soon have reason to celebrate: an Australian oncologist recently predicted that a cure for melanoma may be “in our sights.”

At a meeting of the Society for Melanoma Research International Congress in Zurich, Dr. Grant McArthur closed the conference by reporting that the research that had been presented had left him feeling “upbeat” about the chances of discovering a cure for a condition that is usually considered incurable.

McArthur, a consultant medical oncologist at the University of Melbourne and director of skin and melanoma services at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, defended his claim by recapping the developments that have occurred in melanoma treatments since 1975. Beginning with chemotherapeutic dacarbazine and ending with interleukin-2, he explained that one year survival rates had increased from 33% to 46% as new treatments had been discovered. According to McArthur, 2014 had been an especially prodigious year for melanoma treatments due to a number of MEK and immune checkpoint inhibitors, which have increased one year survival rates to 80% in some cases. Because of this, he recommended that doctors begin focusing on long-term survival to further assist and potentially cure the disease.

“I think that we have cure in our sights for this disease, which has long been considered incurable,” he said.

For the sake of the millions of people around the world who have skin cancer, including a number of Australian firefighters, let’s hope he’s right.

Aston Martin Designs Unique Car For Latest 007 Film

There may be over 86,500 auto mechanic businesses in the U.S., but none will be so lucky as to work on the new Aston Martin DB10. The new British sports car was specifically designed for the latest installment in the James Bond series, with no other models being created for sale to the public.

Spectre, the title of the new Bond film that was recently announced, is the 24th film in the James Bond series, and marks a 50-year relationship with the British car manufacturer. It is the 12th time an Aston Martin has been featured in a James Bond film.

“To be partnering once again with EON Productions is great news for this company and for everyone around the world that loves to see Bond at the wheel of an Aston Martin,” said CEO of Aston Martin Dr. Andy Palmer, according to CNBC.

Only 10 models of the DB10 were created, all of which will be used for the filming of the movie. That means not even the highest bidders and biggest Bond enthusiasts will be able to get their hands on 007’s newest ride.

In the past, the sporty cars featured in the film series have been put up for sale. The DB5, which Bond was seen driving around in “Thunderball,” “Casino Royale,” and “Sky Fall,” can currently be purchased for just over $700,000. The DBS featured in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” sold for $16,850 when the film came out. Today, it’s worth a whopping $115,000.

As a car company with a small marketing budget and low vehicle sales, Aston Martin’s long-standing relationship with the Bond film series has been a huge influence on the company’s success. Many Bond enthusiasts jumped at the opportunity of being able to purchase the same vehicles 007 drove in past films. While they won’t be able to do so this time around, Aston Martin is using the opportunity to showcase the direction they are headed in in the future.

Fans may not be able to buy the newest 007 car, but they can get a sneak peak of the new look of Aston Martin whenSpectre hits theaters on November 6, 2015.

Google Breaks Tradition and Rolls Out Penguin Updates During Holiday Season

'SEO' highlighted in green
At a time when 75% of internet users never scroll past the first page of search results, it’s no wonder that search engine optimizers hang onto Google’s every word. Adapting to the updates put forward by the search engine giant is one of the main ways that online marketers stay relevant.

The holiday season is usually a break for optimizers. After Google’s “Florida” update went live in Nov. 2003, the company generally refrained from updating ranking algorithms during the holidays.

But marketers who thought they could snooze through November and December this year are in for a rude awakening. Despite the fact that Google has claimed several times that it avoids holiday updates, search engine experts are reporting a flood of new updates to the Penguin algorithm.

Google Penguin disrupted SEO practices dramatically when it first hit the web in 2012. Until Google Penguin, techniques that were considered “black hat” in the SEO community, like spamming and link schemes, worked just as well as white hat techniques. Penguin was built to detect and penalize sites using techniques that don’t meet Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

When sites are penalized by Google Penguin, they have to wait until the filter runs again to have those penalties lifted, even if they clean up their spam problems overnight. Publishers who were penalized by Penguin 2 had to wait a year for their penalties to be lifted.

Now, Penguin is pushing through several more updates in the wake of Penguin 3.0, which went live in October. According to Search Engine Land, there have been at least three updates since 3.0, just in time for the Thanksgiving shopping weekend.

According to Google, these updates are part of the ongoing Penguin 3.0 rollout, but they still have experts concerned. Updates usually don’t take this long to launch, and they rarely cause such dramatic changes so late in the process. These signs usually indicate a new update, not the tail end of an old one.

So far, Google has confirmed Penguin 3.0, which impacts about 1% of queries, and Penguin 3.1, which Google considers part of 3.0. Publishers are still waiting for confirmation on what they’re calling Penguin 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4, which seem to have rolled out on Dec. 2, 5 and 6 respectively.

As Data Shows the 2014-2015 Flu Strain To Be Deadlier Than Expected, A Shocking Number of Americans Are Still Not Vaccinated

Flu allergy. Sick girl sneezing in tissue. Health

Flu season has been well under way in the U.S. for a couple months now, but according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year’s flu strain is a little bit different — and a little more dangerous — than strains in previous years.

The flu tends to be a bit unpredictable from year to year, and because so many patients only have minor symptoms when they catch the virus, many instances of infection go unreported, thus making it difficult for researchers to know just how dangerous it is each year. In fact, experts note that anywhere from 5-20% of Americans could come down with the flu each year, meaning that anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans are infected annually.

Now that the 2014-2015 flu season is in full swing, researchers have been able to get a better idea of just how serious it will be. The Washington Post recently reported that this season’s flu strain has claimed five young victims already and has put an unusually large number of patients in the hospital.

The Post also notes that two particular anti-viral medicines in flu vaccines — oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) — are expected to be particularly important in combating the flu this year.

But as CDC Director Thomas Frieden has noted, only about one in every six Americans has received a vaccine this year, and experts are more than a little worried about that statistic.

Certain groups of people are more likely to get the flu than others, including children, the elderly, and pregnant women. In past years when vaccines have been scarce, these groups were targeted first to receive vaccines. But now that plenty of vaccines are available, and they’re more affordable than ever before, medical experts are worried that Americans aren’t taking the flu seriously enough.

As USA Today reporter Liz Szabo notes, flu vaccines don’t necessarily prevent the flu, but they do give immune systems an extra boost, and they make the symptoms milder and shorter in the event a person does contract the virus.

Perhaps, however, so much uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of vaccines is enough to convince people outside of the extra-vulnerable age groups that they can fight the virus well enough on their own. Unfortunately, researchers will probably only be able to answer this question for certain after this flu season has ended — and if this year’s strain is as dangerous as predicted, that might be too late for too many Americans.