Watching the World
A New Role for Nicotine?
Pharmaceutical companies market nicotine-laced chewing gum and patches that release nicotine through the skin as short-term aids to quitting smoking. Although these products are supposed to be used for no more than 6 to 12 weeks, many smokers continue to use them for years, reports The Wall Street Journal. Now drug companies are pursuing changes in government regulations to allow marketing of nicotine-delivery systems for long-term use. Some companies do not mind that many users will continue to be addicted to nicotine, although drug companies do not want to gain the same reputation for profiting from addiction that the tobacco industry has. Nevertheless, says David Sachs, director of California’s Palo Alto Center for Pulmonary Disease Prevention: “Virtually every pharmaceutical company sees a tremendous market here.”
“Mexico City is sinking,” states The New York Times. “So much water has been pumped out from the aquifer beneath it to satisfy the metropolitan area’s 18 million residents that the ground is collapsing underfoot at a stunning rate.” Compounding the problem is the fact that “Mexico City has one of the world’s leakiest water distribution systems. About a third of every gallon of fresh water pumped into the system leaks out.” This means that more has to be pumped out and that the city sinks farther. Repair crews fix 40,000 ruptures a year, yet many leaks go unreported. Mexico City, of course, is not the only city that is sinking. Venice, Italy, for instance, has dropped nine inches [23 cm] during the 20th century. But Mexico City has sunk 30 feet [9 m]!
A survey of 16,262 American teenagers has found that approximately 1 in 5 carries a weapon and 1 in 10 has attempted suicide, reports The New York Times. Students from 151 schools nationwide were involved in the survey. Confidential questionnaires were used to obtain information regarding the students’ physical and sexual activities as well as their use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Laura Kann, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, says: “The lesson here is that too many youth continue to practice behaviors that put them at risk—for injury or death now and chronic disease later.”
Deadly Hurricane Mitch
On October 27, 1998, Hurricane Mitch slammed into Central America, killing more than 11,000 people. Additional thousands were missing and presumed dead, and some 2.3 million were reportedly left homeless. Hardest hit were Honduras and Nicaragua. Over four feet of rain fell on rural farmlands, creating what has been described as the area’s worst natural disaster in two centuries. Dozens of villages were literally swallowed up by mud slides or swept away by rising floodwaters. Honduran president, Carlos Flores Facusse, said: “In 72 hours, we lost what we had built, little by little, in 50 years.” Adding to the death and destruction was the isolation. The electrical and phone lines to most of the small towns in the storm’s path were cut. Hundreds of roads and bridges were washed out, leaving survivors stranded for days without food, clean water, or medicine. Relief agencies had enough food but no way to distribute it. In addition to material losses, most people lost their jobs. As much as 70 percent of the main crops of bananas, melons, coffee beans, and rice were wiped out. “Hurricane Fifi in 1974 was nothing compared to this,” said the vice president of Honduras, William Handal. “It took 12 to 14 years of effort to overcome Fifi. This one will take 30 or 40 years.”
According to Canada’s Toronto Star, “about 13 per cent of adults suffer from extreme shyness.” The newspaper reports that this “prevents them from leading full lives.” Experts cited tips for overcoming shyness: “Think of conversation starters from news events, magazine articles, books, hobbies or movies.” “Practise verbal and non-verbal communications skills, including making eye contact [and] active listening.” “Force yourself to do things you fear.” “If you’re a parent of a shy child, it’s important that you provide plenty of opportunities for your youngster to socialize.” The encouragement was not to give up, for experience shows that the more one tries to overcome shyness, the easier it gets.
Effects of Low Birthrate
‘Low birthrates have now become a cause for alarm in the industrial world,’ reports the International Herald Tribune of Paris. Why? Because it means that eventually there will not be enough young people to support an aging population. For example, a number of European countries have populations approaching the point where there are more people over 60 years of age than under 20. Among the reasons cited for an aging population is the trend for couples to put off having children in order to travel, pursue a career, or improve their education. Other reasons given are economic pressures, which make having children “a burden” or “an inconvenience,” and the fact that people are living longer than they did before.
Dutch and Flemish lexicographers recently completed what is said to be the world’s longest dictionary. Containing 45,000 pages in 40 volumes, the Dictionary of the Dutch Language took 147 years to complete, reports Reuters news service. The dictionary was “intended as a model for all modern Dutch dictionaries.” It thus documents words dating all the way back to 1500. The only problem, says the report, is that the dictionary stops at 1976 and is “already out of date.” Says Reuters: “Even if an update is in the works, past performance suggests today’s readers are unlikely to be around for a second edition.”
In March 1978, the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground off the coast of Brittany, France, spilling 230,000 tons of crude oil and contaminating some 220 miles [350 km] of coastline. What damage remains? Since 1992, the effects of this pollution have completely disappeared, even at the very bottom of sand on the beaches, says Professor Gilbert Mille of the faculty of science in Marseilles. The credit for this spectacular recovery goes to naturally occurring bacteria that digest hydrocarbons. Cooperating closely with these microbes are mollusks and worms that constantly turn the sand, moving any oil to the surface, where it is digested by the hungry bacteria.
Sleep Deficit Growing
Americans are “sleeping as much as an hour and a half less per night than [they] did at the turn of the century,” notes Newsweek, “and the problem is likely to get worse.” Why? “People have regarded sleep as a commodity that they could shortchange,” says Terry Young, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Wisconsin. “It’s been considered a mark of very hard work and upward mobility to get very little sleep.” But sleep deprivation can bring many repercussions, including ills that range from depression to heart problems. Rats that were deprived of sleep died after two and a half weeks. “You’re not likely to drop dead in the same way,” states Newsweek, “but sleep deprivation may cost you your life indirectly, when an exhausted doctor prescribes the wrong dosage or a sleepy driver weaves into your lane.” Says sleep researcher James Walsh: “People need to be educated that allowing enough time for sleep and taking strategic naps are the most reliable ways to promote alertness behind the wheel and on the job.”
At least 22,000 children and adolescents die every year in Brazil as a result of accidents, reports the Brazilian Health Ministry. Traffic accidents claim the most lives. However, the president of the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics, Lincoln Freire, declared: “Accidents are avoidable and can no longer be viewed as fate.” Moreover, Tereza Costa, coordinator of a national accident-prevention campaign, pointed out that since ‘government actions in the last 15 years have reduced mortality due to diarrhea, respiratory infections, and infectious diseases,’ accident prevention may also save lives.