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    Activists Critical of Camel Cigarettes' 'Cities' Campaign

    Group says new marketing campaign targets young people

    No longer able to use well-known advertising symbols like Joe Camel, Camel cigarettes has adopted a "cities” campaign, decorating packages with images from Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and other trendy American cities.

    But the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is crying foul, calling the campaign an effort to make Camel cigarettes cool, fun and rebellious - and appealing to kids.

    The group said it is reacting to parent company RJR's announcement that it will sell limited edition cigarette packs with the city names in December and January.

    "It is deeply disturbing that RJR is using the good name and hard-earned reputation of these great American cities to market deadly and addictive cigarettes, especially in a way that blatantly appeals to children,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Certainly the citizens and leaders of these cities do not want to be associated with a product that kills more than 400,000 Americans every year. RJR showed truly shameless disregard for the death and suffering its products cause by calling this campaign a 'celebration' of the locations involved.”

    Cigarette companies are prohibited from promoting their products on television and some other media, but not on the Internet. The activist group says RJR launched the campaign online and with direct mail. In the "Break Free Adventure" campaign, the Camel brand "visits" 10 different U.S. locations over a 10-week period. Visitors to the Camel web site can win prizes by reading a clue and guessing where Camel is that week.  

    Each week, a new package design for Camel cigarettes is unveiled that features the name of that week's location and some of its iconic images. Other locations include Route 66; Bonneville Salt Flats, UT; Sturgis, SD; and Winston-Salem, NC.

    The group says the locations involved have several qualities in common, including an association with independent music, fun times, rebellion and freedom of the road.

    "By associating Camel cigarettes with these locations and their trendy reputations, RJR is continuing its longstanding efforts to make the Camel brand appealing to youth,” Myers said. "It truly is the Joe Camel campaign all over again.  It echoes many of the youth-appealing themes of the Joe Camel campaign, in which the now-banned cartoon camel was often depicted with fast cars and motorcycles or having fun at parties.”

    The Campaign called on RJR to immediately end the marketing campaign and withdraw its plans to introduce the special edition cigarette packs. The group said it is also appealing to state attorneys general to investigate whether the promotion violates the 1998 state tobacco settlement's prohibition on tobacco marketing that targets children.

    The group also said it wants the government to step up the implementation of proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing, the graphic cigarette warnings unveiled this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs nationally and in every state; higher tobacco taxes; and smoke-free workplace laws.

    Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids claims new Camel Cigarettes marketing campaign is a back door appeal to kids....

    Air Travel Security Screening Gets More Intimate

    Passengers subjected to body scans, pat-downs

    Since late last week, when new security screening measures went into effect at several of the nation's largest airports, passenger have been subjected to full body scans and, in some cases, intimate pat-downs.

    Despite complaints from travelers that the revealing scans, touching and probing are inappropriate, the Transportation Security Administration says it's something passengers will just have to learn to live with.

    "As always, the safety and security of the American public is our highest priority,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitan. "The threats of terrorism we face are serious and evolving, and these security measures reflect our commitment to using current intelligence to stay ahead of adversaries — working closely with our international, federal, state, local and private sector partners every step of the way."

    The new security measures were put in place, in part, in response to the failed attempt to bomb cargo planes, using explosives-laden printer toner cartridges. Some of the measures aren't seen by the public. They include "adapting inbound cargo targeting rules to reflect the latest intelligence and ordering a ground halt on all cargo coming from Yemen."

    Virtual strip search

    But it's the measures at the security gate that are causing tempers to flare and more modest passengers to blush. Passengers are ask to walk through a scanner that, in effect, sees right through their clothing, leaving little to the imagination.

    It a passenger refuses to be scanned, or if the scan reveals an unidentifiable object beneath their clothing, they then undergo a new, more thorough pat-down, the type one might expect when entering prison or meeting a Mafia don.

    For example, the Washington Post reports the new security measures now in place at the city's three airports routinely involve touching breasts and genitals. The searches are performed by security officers of the same sex as the passenger.

    ConsumerAffairs.com's Truman Lewis encountered nothing out of the ordinary as he traveled through Washington Dulles International Airport Sunday.  He found security lines no longer than usual and said that if full body scans were being conducted, there was no visible sign of it.

    The TSA says it understands how passengers might not like the new up-close and personal approach, but says it's essentially for everyone's own good.

    "The weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we've found during pat-downs speak to this," the agency said on its website.

    Disputing passenger's account

    Last week a female passenger in Los Angeles told a radio talk show that she had been handcuffed to a chair during an encounter with TSA screeners, after refusing a full body scan. TSA posted video of the woman entering and exiting the screening area, disputing the account.

    "We diligently review claims of improper conduct," TSA said on its blog. "But when inaccurate passenger accounts are made either via media outlets or on the blogs, TSA works to resolve them and present both sides of the story.”

    Consumer advocate Ralph Nader told the Post he thinks the new screen procedures are "extremely voyeuristic and intrusive." He predicts TSA will be forced to back down.

    The agency, meanwhile, shows no sign of that yet. It says only a small percentage of passengers end up getting a pat-down.

    "The best way to be prepared at the checkpoint is to remove everything from your pockets prior to screening,” the agency advises. "Also, if you have a hidden medical device, you may want to bring it to the officer's attention before screening. We'll be better able to help expedite your screening that way.”

    However, there appears to be a backlash movement, and according to media reports, it includes pilots and flight attendants, who must also undergo the enhanced security check, on a daily basis.

    A newly launched protest website, WeWontFly.com, is organizing a national screener opt-out day for November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, which happens to be one of the busiest travel days of the year.

    Airport screeners are using full body scanners and intimate pat-downs in stepped up security measures, leaving many passengers angry and embarrassed....

    New Rules Governing Credit Reports Go Into Effect January First

    The Federal Reserve has provided an online guide on how they will impact you

    Who says the government moves slowly? You get no argument here. After eight years of being passed as part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, new consumer protection regulations are scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2011.

    To prepare us for these new rules, the Federal Reserve has made available an online consumers' guide to credit scores and credit reports which not only outlines the new rules but gives you a refresher course on what a credit score is, how it is used and why it's important to protect your credit history, as if we didn't already know.

    What you probably don't know are the new that rules Congress passed eight years ago. They will require lenders to tell you when negative information on your credit reports is going to mean you will have to pay higher interest rates and fees for loans such as mortgages and credit cards.

    Basically, the new rules require creditors to provide consumers with what's known as a "risk-based pricing notice" when the creditor provides credit on less favorable terms than it provides other consumers. Under the rules, consumers hit with the less favorable credit terms can also obtain a free credit report to check its accuracy.

    The Consumer's Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores  tells you what you should do if you find errors. First contact the credit bureau to formally dispute any mistakes. But then you have to wait for the credit bureau to investigate, which usually takes 30 days.

    The goal with the new rules is to alert you to any negative information on your credit reports so you can make any corrections, which could lead to better loan terms. Creditors offer better terms to consumers with good credit histories and more costly credit to consumers with poor credit histories.

    While a step in the right direction, consumer advocates say more needs to be done to address concerns about credit scores and inaccurate credit reports. They say once you finds an error on a credit report, it's difficult to correct it.

    You may want to check out a new consumer’s guide provided by the Federal Reserve that shows how new rules will impact your credit report ....

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      Bank of America Wants Robo-Sign Suit Tossed

      Lender says plaintiffs might have lost their homes anyway

      Bank of America says that a lawsuit over its practice of "robo-signing” foreclosure affidavits should be thrown out, arguing that the plaintiffs suffered no harm since they could have possibly lost their homes anyway.

      The suit, filed last month in federal court in Indiana, concerns the bank's alleged routine practice of using "robo-signers” - people who signed affidavits by the pile and never asked questions. The practice was allegedly kicked off by the financial crisis and the increasing number of borrowers who defaulted on their loans, sending the bank into "a never-ending game of catch up.”

      As a result, the complaint alleges, the bank hired workers with little experience or relevant knowledge -- "what one industry insider characterized as the 'Burger King kids'” -- to prepare documents to be used in foreclosure proceedings, including affidavits that contained "essential allegations” concerning the bank's rights under the mortgages.

      Affidavits signed "by the hundreds"

      The robo-signers, according to one lawyer, were made up of Wal-Mart employees, hair stylists, and assembly line workers. Florida attorney Peter Ticktin told the Associated Press that the banks' "mortgage servicers hired people who would never question authority.”

      These individuals "signed the affidavits by [the] hundreds, and had no actual knowledge of the facts contained therein,” according to the suit. Unfortunately for Bank of America, signing an affidavit without knowledge of its contents constitutes perjury, not an inconsequential crime by any definition. Bank of America knew the documents were perjured, the suit alleges, but continued to submit them to courts hearing foreclosure proceedings.

      Lead plaintiffs Dwayne and Melisa Davis say that Bank of America foreclosed on their home in 2008, attaching an affidavit signed by Keri Selman. Selman, according to the suit, "is a nationally known robo-signer and, in fact, has been called a 'robo-signer extraordinaire.'” The complaint alleges that the statements in the Selman affidavit "are necessarily purjured,” since it would be impossible for Selman to read all the documentation in the Davis's case "and still read all of the accompanying documentation to all of the other affidavits she signed that same day.”

      BofA: You brought the wrong claim

      The Davises are asking for monetary damages on behalf of themselves and a class consisting of anyone whose property was foreclosed on by Bank of America between October 18, 2006, and the present.

      But Bank of America says that the Davises haven't shown that, by taking the robo-signers out of the equation, the result would be any different.

      "Plaintiffs plead no facts to support their claim that the result, i.e., a judgment of foreclosure, would have been any different,” Matthew Strzynski, an attorney with Krieg DeVault LLP, wrote in response to the complaint.

      The bank also argued that the plaintiffs brought suit under a statute that doesn't apply to their situation. The complaint alleged, among other things, violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, arguing that Bank of America "filed false, deceptive, misleading, and perjured affidavits in connection with the collections of debts.” Bank of America argues, however, that foreclosures are not initiated for the purposes of collecting a debt, but rather to protect the lender's interest in the subject property.

      The suit comes at the same time as news that foreclosures were down nine percent in October, likely due to a moratorium on the practice by several major banks. Bank of America announced on October 9 that it was suspending foreclosures in all 50 states, although it partially lifted the ban less than two weeks later.

      Bank of America Wants Robo-Sign Suit Tossed Lender says plaintiffs might have lost their home anyway...

      Weight Loss Tip: Stop Using Credit Cards

      New study finds link between weight and credit card use

      It's not likely that credit card companies will be forced to post the warning that using these cards could be hazardous to your waistline. But if researchers from Cornell University and the State University of New York are right, they may have uncovered a link between credit card use and obesity.

      A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that people who use credit cards for food tend to buy more junk food than those who use cash.

      This could be a major discovery for the two-out-of three Americans who are either obese or overweight. They could kill two birds with one stone just by not using credit cards. Lose weight and reduce their debt.

      Authors of the grocery study say they originally tried to find the link between unhealthy food purchases and payment methods. They began by collecting shopping data from an unnamed American store chain. They found that 41% used credit cards, 9% used debit cards, and the remaining 50% paid cash. Further study showed that shoppers who paid with plastic spent far more and bought more junk and impulse items than customers who paid cash.

      To replicate their findings, the researchers conducted a similar test on students, who were told that a large retail chain was opening a store in town and wanted to understand what shoppers buy during a typical trip.

      Computer screens showed subjects 10 healthy items such as oatmeal and 10 junk or unhealthy items such as Oreo cookies. Credit-card shoppers ended up with about three unhealthy items costing $14.07 while cash shoppers bought only two healthy unhealthy items and spent $9.89 on them.

      Next, according to Smart Money magazine, the researchers performed a similar experiment on consumers referred by a market research group, but this time they surveyed participants on their feelings.

      Card shoppers again spent far more on junk than cash shoppers, with no difference in spending on healthy food. Both groups reported paying attention to prices and being aware of the nutritional merits of the items they chose. Members of the cash group, however, found paying far more painful.

      Researchers have discovered a possible link between obesity and credit cards ...

      Researchers Develop Quick Alzheimer's Test

      If approved, new test might reveal results in 30 seconds

      Worried you or a loved one might be showing signs of Alzheimer's disease? Researchers say a new test can let you know for sure in about 30 seconds time.

      A new study, led by Professor David Bunce, while at the Center for Mental Health Research at The Australian National University, has revealed that some apparently healthy adults aged between 44 and 48 years have tiny, white matter lesions in areas of their brains similar to those found in persons with Alzheimer's later in life.

      These lesions can potentially be predicted via a 30-second test that measures a patient's response time. With further research, the test could become commonplace in GPs' surgeries within two years.

      The research also suggests that the neurological decline thought to lead to the development of Alzheimer's disease may begin much earlier in people's lives than was originally thought.

      Signs can be present in people in their 40s

      "Although we cannot be certain that these middle-aged people will go on to get dementia, the results are important," Bunce said. "First, the study is one of the first to show that lesions in areas of the brain that deteriorate in dementia are present in some adults aged in their 40s. Second, although the presence of the lesions was confirmed through MRI scans, we were able to predict those persons who had them through very simple tests."

      If the findings are repeated in laboratories elsewhere, Bunce says the study lays open possibilities for screening, early detection and intervention in healthcare settings.

      "The earlier we can intervene with people vulnerable to eventual dementia, the greater the chances of preventing or delaying the disease onset,” he said.

      The researchers' paper, 'Cognitive Deficits are associated with Frontal and Temporal Lobe White Matter Lesions in Middle-Aged Adults Living in the Community' is published in the open-access journalPublic Library of Science-One.

      Looming problem

      With the huge baby boom generation headed told old age, health officials are worried that Alzheimer's could reach epidemic proportions in the years ahead. For that reason researchers have refocused their efforts, not just on early detection but an effective treatment.

      As of now, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, though some recent research has shown promise. In July, Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London reported that a simple blood test could soon give Alzheimer's patients ten years advance warning that they will get the disease. The breakthrough came after researchers found high levels of a protein can be an early sign of the condition.

      Alzheimer's is a brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Although current Alzheimer's treatments cannot stop the disease from progressing, they can temporarily slow the symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with the disease and their caregivers.

      Researchers say they have developed a new screening test for middle-aged people that can predict the onset of Alzheimer's disease in about 30 seconds....

      Nevada Steps Up Mortgage Fraud Crackdown

      Investigation has uncovered wide range of related crimes

      From the beginning of the housing meltdown, Nevada has been among the hardest-hit states when it comes to foreclosures. With so many homeowners in distress, unscrupulous operators have moved in to exploit the situation.

      "Nevada's standing as number one in home foreclosures in the nation has made us a ripe target for mortgage fraud scammers," said Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

      But Masto is fighting back, in part with a $1,700,500 grant from the U.S. Office of Justice Program. The money will enable the Mortgage Fraud Unit within the Nevada Office of the Attorney General to expand services to deal with Nevada's mortgage fraud and vacant property crimes.

      "The money will assist my Mortgage Fraud Unit in investigating and prosecuting the more than 200 companies for which we've received complaints from Nevadans," Masto said. "These complaints average 50 per company and in some cases, they number into the hundreds."

      More investigations

      The grant will enable the unit to increase the number of cases investigated and prosecuted, increase the amount of funds recovered through restitution for victims and create a plan to sustain the program after grant funds have been exhausted. To date, the Office of the Attorney General has been working in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, federal prosecutors, local law enforcement and state and community agencies to investigate and prosecute mortgage fraud cases.

      The unit has criminal litigation files open against 18 loan modification companies in Clark County, Nev. An additional 51 cases have been designated for civil handling and are at various states of prosecution.

      In the past 12 months, the Mortgage Fraud Unit has executed 15 search warrants and presented 14 large scale mortgage fraud and loan modification cases to the grant jury - each involving hundreds of victims and thousands of pages of documentary evidence.

      The unit has obtained indictments against 20 mortgage fraud defendants for a combined total of 128 felonies. It has successfully obtained convictions against nine defendants to date, resulting in seven felony convictions, four gross misdemeanor convictions and one misdemeanor conviction for mortgage fraud related crimes.

      More than $300,000 for victims

      Prosecutions have resulted in restitution orders totaling more than $306,332 payable to victims. The unit currently has 10 cases awaiting jury trial against 12 defendants. Over 184 cases are pending investigation.

      Masto said the ongoing investigations have uncovered a wide range of wrong-doing. Utilizing a number of state laws, she has prosecuted cases ranging from forgery; embezzlement; obtaining money by false pretenses; false, deceptive or misleading advertising; deceptive practices; money laundering and racketeering.

      In 2007 the Nevada legislation passed a mortgage fraud law, expanding the kinds of activities that have come under investigation.

      While investigating mortgage fraud cases, Masto's office has also uncovered extenuating issues and multiple criminal activities including organized crime; racketeering; overseas call centers; use of offshore bank accounts; international extradition issues; large scale, sophisticated forgery and identity theft; fake social security cards; fake drivers licenses; homes and vehicle purchased illegally and leased to members of an organized prostitution ring; drugs; child pornography; a possible homicide; misuse of overseas Swiss bank accounts; international fraudulent transactions with investors from overseas companies; and an individual on the United Kingdom's top ten most wanted list.

      Nevada has just received a large federal grant to assist local officials in prosecuting the increasing number of mortgage fraud cases....

      Female Veterans Less Likely To Abuse Drugs, Alcohol

      Study finds male veterans more susceptible to substance abuse problems

      Could women be more mentally equipped to deal with life after they've served their country?  

      According to a new spotlight by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), female veterans aged 20-39 are far less likely to engage in binge drinking or the use of substances such as cigarettes and illicit drugs than male veterans of the same age group.

      The results were drawn from SAMHSA's 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The survey collects data by administering questionnaires to a representative sample of the population through face-to-face interviews at their places of residence.

      The differences were most pronounced in terms of binge drinking, which is classified as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion.  

      While 22.9 percent of female veterans reported binge drinking in the past month, 43.2 percent of male veterans in this age group had engaged in it within the same period.

      There was also a significant difference in the levels of substance abuse between female and male veterans age 20-39 regarding illicit drug use. While 13.1 percent of male veterans used illicit drugs in the past month only 9.6 percent female veterans used drugs.

      Similarly there was a significant difference in cigarette use levels. Past month cigarette use for males was 40.9 percent, while it was 33.4 percent for female veterans.

      However, female veterans did report similar habits as their male counterparts when it came to non-medical use of prescription drugs such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, or sedatives -- about 4 percent for men and approximately 3.5 percent for women.

      SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. said that while female veterans may not abuse drugs or alcohol as much as male veterans, they still may have other critical health care needs due to the unique conditions they may have experienced during their service. Hyde said it's essential that comprehensive behavioral health care systems are provided to meet the challenges facing all veterans.

      "The nation's service women and men have sacrificed much for their country and the nation must do everything it can to provide comprehensive health care to meet their behavioral health needs and those of their families," said Hyde.

      Female Veterans Less Likely To Abuse Drugs, AlcoholStudy finds male veterans more susceptible to substance abuse problems...

      Federal Reserve Provides Clarity On Credit Reports and Credit Scores

      New online publication answers questions about credit reports and their importance to consumers

      A new online resource from the Federal Reserve provides practical answers to questions about credit reports, credit scores, and the importance of protecting personal credit histories.

      The Consumer's Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores describes the content of a credit report, explains how a credit score is used, and discusses the role of credit bureaus in collecting and disseminating this information.

      Mortgage lenders, banks, insurers, utilities, employers, and other businesses may obtain credit reports from credit bureaus to assess how an individual manages his financial responsibilities.

      Consumers need to know what's in their credit report and understand how negative information, such as late payments or a bankruptcy filing, might affect a lender's decision to grant credit.

      The guide answers questions ranging from "What is a credit score?" to "How can I get a free copy of my credit report?" to "How long does negative information stay on my credit report?" It contains tips to help consumers improve their credit scores and provides step-by-step instructions for correcting an error in a credit report.

      More help available

      The Consumer's Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores is one of several online Federal Reserve publications, such as 5 Tips for Improving Your Credit Score. It contains such nuggets of information as the importance of making sure information in your credit report is accurate and understanding how your credit score is determined.

      Another Fed publication 5 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Credit Card, discusses with consumers the importance of paying bills on time and making more than the minimum payment on a credit card bill.

      Many of these publications are available in Spanish.

      Federal Reserve Provides Clarity On Credit Reports and Credit Scores New online publication answers questions about credit reports and their importance...

      Lottery Dreams Aren't All About Spending Sprees

      They do however reflect today’s economic picture

      What would you do if you won the lottery? What do you think most people would say? If you answer go on the biggest spending binge of my life, you'd be wrong/

      No, according to a survey conducted by Market Strategies International, most people say the first thing they'd do is pay off their debt.

      In fact, paying off debt was the top choice of consumers, regardless of income level. Over one-third responded that it would be the first thing on their list should they be lucky enough to win the lottery.

      Market Strategies, a global market research and consulting firm, conducted its new Consumer Financial Outlook study in September.

      Mark Willard, senior vice president of Market Strategies' Financial Services Division, says the top answer seems to correlate with the shift to the more conservative "pay as you go, live within your means" financial approach his firm is seeing in other parts of our research results. Willard adds that "we believe this to be a long-term effect of the recent economic challenges and perhaps the most fundamental change in economic outlook since the Great Depression."

      As the for next six choices in order of popularity seem to follow what you would expect lottery dreams to be made of:

      • 25 percent would buy a house
      • 15 percent would either (a) help family and friends, or (b) save or invest (tie)
      • 11 percent would buy a car
      • 10 percent would take a vacation
      • 6 percent would help others or donate to charity

      Surprisingly, the age of the respondent has little effect on the choice. Willard said every respondent from age 30-70 chose to pay off debt first. Only Gen Xers, those age 21-29, put it second, behind buying a house. Of course, that seems logical in that they may not yet have been old enough to amass a lot of debt or have been able to purchase a home at their age.


      Photo source: New York State Lottery

      Most people say that if they won the lottery they would use the money first to pay off their debt before anything else...

      Alcohol Abuse Can Lead To Holiday ER Visits

      Doctors issue pre-holiday appeal for moderation

      The holidays lead to celebrations and celebrations often involve alcohol. Too much alcohol can lead to all sorts of problems, not least of which are unwanted visits to the hospital emergency room.

      The nation's emergency physicians, who sometimes are forced to work overtime around the holidays, are warning against excessive alcohol consumption and urging people to use good judgment.

      "Very few things are more heartbreaking than to see a family suffer the loss of a loved one because of an alcohol-related tragedy, and during the holidays, people take risks," said Dr. Sandra Scheider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.  "A fun holiday celebration can turn into a nightmare in the blink of an eye, and it can happen to anyone, and we don't want that to happen."

      People impaired by alcohol are a danger to themselves and others. Seventy-nine thousand deaths occur annually as a direct result of excessive alcohol use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Many more are injured.

      All kinds of accidents

      "Alcohol-related injuries are not always driving-related incidents like some may assume," said Schneider. "Emergency physicians have treated patients who have been seriously injured while decorating a home for the holidays."

      For example, Schneider says its not a good idea to get up on the roof to string holiday lights after having several drinks. She said emergency physicians have seen alcohol-related injuries that range from serious falls to using dangerous power tools incorrectly and doing tasks that require significant amounts of balance.

      "These activities are dangerous under any circumstances," said Schneider. "When you add alcohol to the mix, all of a sudden cognitive skills are lessened, personal judgments change, and your ability to think coherently is decreased."

      Health problems

      Not only can too much alcohol cause accidents, heavy drinking over time can also lead to high blood pressure and even damage the heart.  Those with heart conditions can put themselves at great risk if they drink or eat excessively during the holidays.  

      Some people can also be affected by a condition known as "holiday heart syndrome."   This condition is basically an irregular heartbeat pattern that may develop largely because of excessive drinking in people who are otherwise healthy individuals.

      Of course, drunk driving is also a major concern throughout the year, especially around the holiday season.  

      "Drunk driving is 100-percent preventable," said Schneider.  "Don't get behind the wheel of a car if you've had too much to drink.  You are not only a danger to yourself, but also to everyone else on the road."

      The doctors who staff emergency rooms have some advice: go easy on holiday celebrations this year, when it comes to alcohol....

      Washington State Bans Alcoholic Energy Drinks like Four Loko

      The potentially harmful drinks now banned in two states

      Washington State is following in Michigan's recent footsteps and is banning sales of all alcoholic energy drinks, including the much-buzzed-about Four Loko.

      Gov. Chris Gregoire joined Washington State Liquor Control Board Chair Sharon Foster on Wednesday to announce an emergency rule that bans the sale of alcoholic energy drinks in Washington state.

      "At my request, the board this morning voted to ban this new breed of alcoholic drinks in our state. I applaud its members for their action," Gregoire said. "I was particularly concerned that these drinks tend to target young people. Reports of inexperienced or underage drinkers consuming them in reckless amounts have given us cause for concern."

      The emergency rules will be in effect for 120 days, during which time the WSLCB will seek to make the rules permanent.

      The vote comes after nine Central Washington University students became dangerously ill after drinking Four Loko.

      Law enforcement officers reported the students had blood alcohol levels ranging from 0.12 to 0.35 percent, more than four times the legal limit.

      A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.30 percent is considered potentially lethal.

      "Quite simply, these drinks are trouble. They contain up to 12 percent alcohol -- more than twice the amount found in most beer," Gregoire said.

      "Added to that are large amounts of caffeine, which can mask the effects of alcohol. By taking these drinks off the shelves we are saying 'no' to irresponsible drinking and taking steps to prevent incidents like the one that made these college students so ill."

      Foster said the board is acting in the interest of public safety and acting now so alcoholic energy drinks cannot do anymore harm in the state before the Food and Drug Administration can act.

      Mixing alcohol with caffeine drinks isn't new, but energy drinks like Four Loko have been recently gaining popularity with underage drinkers because they're cheap, potent, and so sweet they mask the taste of alcohol.

      Mixing alcohol with caffeine is also not a good idea. Research suggests that the combination of caffeine and alcohol create a so-called "wide-awake drunk" and may impair a person's ability to judge his or her level of intoxication.

      Risky behavior

      This can lead to continued consumption of alcohol and risky behaviors such as driving while intoxicated, assaults and other violence.

      A University of Florida survey of 800 randomly selected, college-age bar patrons found that those who consumed alcohol and caffeine were more intoxicated than those who only had alcohol, and four times more likely to say they wanted to drive home.

      Combining stimulants such as caffeine and depressants such as alcohol is also bad for the body. It can place undue strain on the heart and central nervous system, dehydrate the body and hinder the body's ability to metabolize alcohol.

      The combination can also cause a depressed respiratory system and vomiting during sleep when the stimulants wear off.

      Critics of Four Loko and other alcoholic energy drinks say the companies appear to target teens and college students, using social networking sites, interactive fan websites and product giveaways at events.

      Critics and officials also worry these potentially harmful drinks can easily be confused with their non-alcoholic energy drink counterparts.

      Washington State Bans Alcoholic Energy Drinks like Four LokoThe potentially harmful drinks now banned in two states...

      Thinking about Remodeling Your House? Here Are Some Tips to Keep the Costs Down

      These suggestions will help give your home a quality make-over for less than you’d expext

      If you live in your home long enough, sooner or later you're going to have to do things to maintain it such as replace the roof, or paint the outside. And in many cases, you may even want to do some remodeling as a way of giving your old house that new house look, especially if you are getting it in shape to sell. 

      Home improvements aren't cheap. And if you try to do them cheaply it usually ends up costing you more in the end because inexpensive materials don't last as long as those of better quality and contractors will make low bids only to be followed by low-quality work. 

      To help in your efforts to keep remodeling costs contained without sacrificing quality here are six solid tips supplied by CNN Money to get good quality for less.

      The first tip is to renovate during an economic slump like the one we're having because contractors are eager for work. They tend to be more willing to cut deals when they have a lot free time on their hands.

      Second, do the work off season. If you do a project when other homeowners aren't, you could save you about 10%, according to Robert Wilkos, who runs an HVAC and plumbing business in Panama City, Florida. For example, in autumn, put in a new patio or lawn irrigation system even though you won't be using it until the following spring. And in winter, finish the basement or install central air. Then wait until summer to replace your old furnace or install a gas fireplace. Get the bids during the busy season, then ask, "If I'm willing to wait, will you give me a discount?"

      Third, look for a mom-and-pop contractor. If you have a choice between large outfits where the boss or a salesman bids on the job, then sends a crew to work and a small, or family-run one where the boss is the lead laborer, choose the small one. It will have leaner operations and lower overhead so they can charge less than the big guys.

      Fourth, combine small jobs into one. If a handyman charges $75 for a service call, you get more for your money by saving up odd jobs such as replacing a faucet or installing a ceiling fan.

      Fifth, you might be able to get a tax deduction. Give your demolition castoffs -- sinks, paneling, doors, and the like -- to a building product reuse center. Call your local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. You can find it through habitat.org. They'll send a truck to collect the stuff. Get a receipt and you can deduct the value of the items as a charitable donation.

      Sixth, put some of your own sweat into the process. Take on some simple projects yourself, such as sealing your new fencing or staining the deck. Or pay your teenager a modest amount to do it. Who knows? If the kid's good, the contractor might even give him a job next summer.

      Here are some ways to save on the cost of re-modeling your home...

      More Shoppers Are Using Cash Instead of Credit

      Remember the days when cash was king? They may be returning

      Government figures show Americans are shopping again and that consumer spending up 2.2% so far this year, but with a difference. Instead of putting their purchases on credit cards, they are paying with cash in the form of paper money or debit cards.

      The Nilson Report (not to be confused with Nielsen) tracks payment systems and it says customers are already showing a strong preference for cash. Even though consumer spending is up, none of the four major credit-card companies have benefited from the increase.

      According to the Nilson Report, Visa credit-card transactions were down 1.2% in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2009 while MasterCards were used for about 10.2% of all card transactions, also down. Discover transactions also dipped slightly. Only American Express reported unchanged card usage.

      Consumers appear to be spending money they currently have, paying for purchases with a debit card or actual cash. The dollar amount paid with debit cards has grown 15% this year while spending on credit cards was up just 1.9%.

      Debit-card usage is expected to grow 8% to 12% annually, according to the TowerGroup, which tracks bank cards.

      James Brown, emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and former director of the university's Center for Consumer Affairs told Smart Money that a lot of people "are leery of credit cards and don't want to fall back into debt - that's why you're seeing this migration."

      Out of favor

      There are other signs as well. Gift cards have fallen out of favor. After nine consecutive years of gains, gift cards are on the wane. Sales of gift cards are expected to drop to $86.2 billion, an 11% decline from their peak in 2007, according to CardHub.com.

      Why would gift cards suffer? Aren't they like cash? Not really. Shoppers want to avoid pitfalls like expiration dates and inactivity fees that can quickly erode a card's value. Even if you use a portion of the gift card, these inactivity fees can kick in if the rest of the card remains unused for at least 12 months.

      Some consumers are selling their gift cards for around 10% to 20% less than face value to third-party sites like GiftCards.com, CardHub.com, PlasticJungle.com and GiftCardRescue.com. Sales at GiftCardRescue.com are up 1,000% through October of this year compared to the same period in 2009. PlasticJungle.com says sales have more than doubled through the middle of this year.

      Dan Horne, professor of marketing who tracks the gift-card industry at Providence College, spoke to Smart Money about this trend. He says people would rather use the cash anywhere they like than be restricted to a specific store.

      Within a few months, consumers could save up to 2.5% on most purchases by paying with cash. A clause in the financial reform bill allows merchants to discount items for shoppers who pay with dollars. And the Justice Department settlement last month with MasterCard and Visa allows retailers to discourage the use of rewards credit cards or other credit cards they deem expensive in order to avoid the high fees that card issuers charge when a store customer pays with plastic.

      The result, according to Smart Money, could be a system of price tiers, where retailers offer different prices for each product based on method of payment - with cash the cheapest. Doug Kantor, counsel to the Merchants Payments Coalition, a coalition of retail trade groups, said retailers would "love to be able to offer discounts for cash” and that could soon happen.

      To counter this shift to cash, credit-card companies are offering cash to encourage consumers to sign up and make purchases. Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub.com, which tracks credit card offers says that to qualify for up to $100 cash bonuses, consumers need a FICO credit score of at least 720. Of course, just like cash for checking account offers, credit card issuers expect to make thousands of dollars off these accounts. These cards are mainly offered to consumers who pay in full every month, represent a low risk of default, but who are heavy credit-card users who net credit-card issuers about 1% of the total purchase price each time they swipe their card fees that merchants pay the card companies, he says.

      To get the $100 sign-up bonus, you'll have to give up cash, too, at least in the short term. With the Chase Freedom Visa card, consumers have to charge at least $799 in the first three months to get $100, and with the Discover More card, you'll have to charge at least $500 in the first three months for $100. And even then, most issuers post the money as a credit to your statement. Just like the old saying puts it, "you have to spend money to make money."

      New data shows consumers are turning their backs on credit cards in a shift back toward spending with cash...

      You're Not Too Busy To Exercise During The Holidays

      Adding a few extra steps to regularly scheduled holiday preparations can burn calories

      Americans busy with holiday preparations may not even want to think about trying to go to the gym for the next couple months. But since the average person gains about 10 pounds between Halloween and New Year's, staying active is an important part of fighting off holiday bulge.

      Experts at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center say by adding heart-pumping twists to tasks already on a holiday to-do list, men and women can get daily exercise throughout the holiday season

      "It's important to maintain your fitness as much as possible during the holidays, but don't worry if you're too busy to go to the gym," says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson.

      "Many holiday activities offer ways to get the 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity that your body needs to help fight off many forms of cancer and other diseases."

      Exercising also helps the body burn off the mini candy bars, mashed potatoes, sugar cookies, and champagne Americans indulge in between October to January.

      "You can break up your 30 minutes of daily exercise into three 10-minute or two 15 minute chunks as your schedule allows," said Basen-Engquist.

      Here's how to turn exercise excuses into heart rate-boosting opportunities this holiday season.


      Stop driving around in search of a parking space near the door. Park far from the entrance or, if you're taking the bus or train, get off a stop or two early. This way, you'll pack in some extra walking.

      "For walking to count as exercise, you should be a little out of breath and feel your heart beating a little faster," Basen-Engquist says. "You should be able to talk in short sentences, but not sing holiday songs."

      Once you're inside, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator and, if possible, carry your purchases instead of using a shopping cart. This will help get your heart pumping and strengthen your muscles.

      Hosting guests?

      Readying the house for guests -- and cleaning up after they leave -- is a great way to sneak in aerobic activity.

      Basen-Engquist recommends focusing on activities that use large muscle groups, like the legs and back. This includes vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing, gardening and even taking multiple trips upstairs to put away laundry or holiday decorations.

      "The most important thing is to get your heart rate up at a consistent level," Basen-Engquist says. "You should sustain the activity for at least 10 minutes without stopping."


      Use these tips to speed up your heart rate when on the road:

      Flying or taking the train or bus? While waiting to depart, take a brisk walk around the terminal -- and avoid moving sidewalks. When you arrive at your destination, make your walk to baggage claim or the exit a quick one.

      Driving? Add physical activity to gas and bathroom breaks. Kick a soccer ball, throw a Frisbee or take a brisk walk.

      Staying at a hotel or with friends or relatives? Many hotels offer gyms and even exercise classes. If that's not an option, maybe use an exercise DVD or check the TV for exercise shows. Or explore the area by taking a jog, walk or hike.

      None of these work for you?

      If you can't fit exercise into your holiday activities, try these tips:

      • Use your lunch break to jog or take a brisk walk.
      • Take the stairs at work.
      • Schedule workouts in advance.
      • Enlist a friend or partner to walk with you during the holidays. Buddying up provides motivation and gives you a chance to catch up and stay connected.
      "Remember, it's hard to start exercising after you've gotten out of the habit,” Basen-Engquist says. "By making physical activity part of your holiday plans, you'll ensure you have the momentum to keep exercising in the New Year.”

      You're Not Too Busy To Exercise During The Holidays Adding a few extra steps to regularly scheduled holiday preparations can burn calories...

      How Would Like to Get Your Next Flu Shot Without Getting Stuck with a Needle?

      There’s a new device that uses a high-velocity liquid stream to deliver medicine

      Have you been postponing getting that vaccine or flu shot? Does going to the doctor fill you with dread over the possibility the visit might require getting injected with a long needle? Well now you can stop worrying.

      A new device that uses needle-free injection technology uses a high velocity stream of liquid that delivers vaccines or medications without piercing the skin.

      Kathleen Callendar is the 69-year-old founder of PharmJet, a startup company based in Golden, Colorado that produces these gadgets. She told CNN-Money that the process takes less than one-third of a second and while it may not be entirely painless, it is more gentle than a needle and feels "like a tiny rubber band snapping against you."

      Analysts say PharmaJet's spring-powered device has big potential, and not just for people who are afraid of needles. They estimate 16 billion injections are given each year in developing countries and that in some cases the needles are reused or improperly thrown away. In those situations vaccines meant to prevent diseases end up spreading them instead.

      Carlos Castillo-Solorzano is a doctor with the immunization unit of the Pan American Health Organization, which is affiliated with the United Nations and based in Washington, D.C. He's quoted by CNN-Money as saying research on developing needle-free devices has been ongoing for decades. But it has always been too expensive for broad usage particularly in the developing countries where they're most needed.

      PharmaJet won federal clearance for its first product in early 2009, following a rigorous U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process that included testing injectors more than 30,000 times each and exposing them to extreme heat and humidity. Last year, the company's needle-free injector was used to give seasonal flu and H1N1 shots in a handful of public clinics in New Jersey.

      In an interview with CNN-Money, Herbert Yardley, health officer at the Department of Environmental and Public Health Services in New Jersey's Sussex County, says it's now in "the second year and we have people asking for the needleless option." Yardley adds that he doesn't like needles "and this way, we don't have to pay for medical waste disposal or worry about needle-stick injuries."

      Yardley says that more than 10 clinics in his county now offer needle-free injections using PharmaJet technology. About 30% of patients opt for the needle-free shot. Yardley sees it as the wave of future.”

      According to CNN-Money, this year, around 40 pilot programs using PharmaJet injectors were launched across the United States and abroad. Customers include American pharmacy chain The Little Clinic and Los Angeles County's public health clinics, along with Brazil's Ministry of Health, which has rolled out needle-free injections in the Sao Paulo region. PharmaJet won't disclose how much revenue it's pulling in at the moment, but says executives say sales for the first quarter of 2010 topped their revenue for all of 2009.

      The company still has a long way to go. For starters, it's not the only needle-free solution on the market. Competitors, say CNN-Money, include MedImmune, which has developed a nasal spray vaccine, and Bioject, maker of a needle-free gadget powered by a carbon dioxide cartridge.

      And though PharmaJet's durable injectors are cheaper than the competition, they're still not cheap enough for use in the developing world. Currently, PharmaJet injectors -- which can be reused thousands of times -- cost about $100 a pop. The single-use, needle-free syringes feed into the injector cost from 30 cents to $1.

      Callendar told CNN-Money that, as production volume rises, the cost of PharmaJet's injectors will drop low enough for it to become a viable option for developing countries.

      In the meantime, she's hard at work on getting FDA clearance for a second device: a needle-free injector that uses the same high-velocity technology as its predecessor, but injects medicine into the top layer of skin, rather than penetrating into the muscle.

      Scientific studies suggest that a smaller amount of vaccine can be used to get the same antibody effect when drugs are injected this way. If it works, the new device could immunize five people with the same amount of vaccine now used for just one patient. 

      If your anxiety over needles prevents you from getting a vaccine or a flu shot, you now have no excuses because of needle free technology...

      Samsung Galaxy Tab Hits The Tablet Computer Market

      T-Mobile starts selling it today, Verizon tomorrow

      The tablet competition got more crowded today when T-Mobile started selling the Samsung Galex Tab. Verizon Wireless begins selling the tablet computer tomorrow.

      Sprint will begin selling the product November 14.

      Verizon will sell the Galaxy Tab for $599.99. The T-Mobile price, with a two-year agreement, is $399.99.

      The handheld device runs the Android 2.2 system and features a seven-inch touch screen. It comes with a Web browser and has full support for for Adobe Flash 10.1 for video and mobile gaming; and a 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird Application processor.

      "This is an incredible time in mobile technology, and as a company we're excited to add the Samsung Galaxy Tab to our portfolio," saidMarni Walden, vice president and chief marketing officer for Verizon Wireless. "The Samsung Galaxy Tab brings together the reliability of Verizon Wireless' 3G network and the power of Android 2.2 to deliver on our promise of providing consumers and business customers with a host of options to help manage their lives."

      Popular mobile applications, including V CAST Music and V CAST Song ID, VZ Navigator, Slacker Radio, Kindle for Android, BLOCKBUSTER On Demand presented by V CAST Video, and the exclusive golf game, 'Let's Golf,' will be available on the Samsung Galaxy Tab. In addition to text, picture and video messaging, the Samsung Galaxy Tab will also feature V CAST Apps, Verizon Wireless' mobile storefront offering hundreds of applications for businesses and consumers at launch.

      Verizon Wireless customers can add a monthly access plan beginning at $20 a month for 1 GB on their Samsung Galaxy Tab.

      Faster speed

      T-Mobile says its HSPA+ mobile broadband network will deliver a speed boost allowing the 3G-enabled device to load Web pages and videos even faster than in areas of 3G coverage. The company calls is a complete entertainment device.

      "Customers want richer, deeper interactions with entertainment and online content through connected, portable mobile broadband devices that are small enough to carry and big enough to share with friends and family," said Jeremy Korst, director of broadband products and services, T-Mobile USA. "T-Mobile's unique offerings on the Galaxy Tab paired with the power of T-Mobile's new network allow us to bring a truly differentiated portable entertainment offering to market."

      The Galaxy Tab is widely viewed as competition for the iPad, which is mostly used on AT&T's network, though Verizon will soon begin selling a model. Time Magazine technology writer Harry McCracken says the Galaxy is not as polished and complete as the iPad. But he says in many ways it's different, offering consumers "a genuine choice, not an echo."

      Samsung's Galaxy Tab is the latest device to take on Apple's iPad....