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    Judge tosses case against couple who gave pet sitter a bad Yelp review

    Non-disparagement clause can't be used to silence consumers, court finds

    A Texas court has dismissed a $1 million lawsuit that a Dallas pet-sitting company filed against a couple who said the pet-sitters had overfed their goldfish.

    It all began when fish owners Michelle and Robert Duchouquette returned home to Dallas after a brief vacation and found that the water in their fish bowl was cloudy, suggesting that their fish had been overfed by Prestigious Pets, the pet-sitting company. They posted a review on Yelp, complaining they had been unable to talk directly to the pet-sitter and gave the company a one-star rating.

    Prestigious Pets sued, claiming the negative review was libelous and claimed that it breached a nondisparagement clause in its customer agreement.

    It is thought to be the first court case in which a court has held a nondisparagement clause in a consumer contract to be unenforceable, said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who represented the Douchouquettes, along with local counsel.

    “Seeking to silence negative criticism, the owners of Prestigious Pets may well have put their whole company on the line,” Levy said. “Not only did the company lose business when customers were disgusted over the non-disparagement lawsuit, it now is responsible to pay attorney fees and sanctions. This case should serve as a warning to other companies.”

    Michelle Duchouquette said she was gratified by the ruling.  

    "It took lots of hours and many smart minds spending too much time talking about Gordy the betta fish," she said. "Thank goodness they did not lose sight of the real issue: the threats posed by non-disparagement clauses to our right to free speech.”

    A Texas court has dismissed a $1 million lawsuit that a Dallas pet-sitting company filed against a couple who said the pet-sitters had overfed their goldfi...
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    Researchers work towards blood test to check for Alzheimer's disease

    Having such a test could help with early detection and prevention efforts

    New research conducted at Cardiff University could allow for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease, a crucial step towards mitigating the damaging effects that it has on people later in life.

    Using nearly 300 participants, researchers used blood tests to distinguish certain biomarkers which could predict whether or not someone would develop the disease in the near future.

    “Our research proves that it is possible to predict whether or not an individual with mild memory problems is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the next few years,” said Paul Morgan, Director of Cardiff University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute.  

    “We hope to build on this in order to develop a simple blood test that can predict the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease in older people with mild, and possibly innocent, memory impairment.”

    Influential findings

    In order to distinguish the biomarkers, Morgan and his colleagues took blood samples from participants who had mild memory problems and analyzed them for protein content. After a year, the researchers re-assessed each participant.

    They found that nearly a quarter of all participants went on to develop Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, those who went on to develop the disease had three proteins in their blood that differed dramatically at the initial screening from those who remained healthy. This evidence could provide some insight into how these immune system proteins contribute to inflammation and Alzheimer’s as a whole.

    Morgan believes that these findings could greatly influence how health officials handle Alzheimer’s where he lives in the United Kingdom.

    “Alzheimer’s disease affects around 520,000 people in the UK and this number is continually growing as the population ages. As such it is important that we find new ways to diagnose the disease early, giving us a chance to investigate and instigate new treatments before irreversible damage is done,” he said.

    The full study has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

    New research conducted at Cardiff University could allow for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease, a crucial step towards mitigating the damaging effec...
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    Simple ideas for integrating smart technology into your home

    Five budget-friendly ways to get your home working for you

    Smart home devices can turn your home into a welcoming and accommodating respite from the outside world. And turning your abode into a smart home may not be as difficult as you think.

    Figuring out which rooms might benefit from smart home technology is the first step to transforming your space into one that works for you. All you’ll need to do is go room-to-room and think about the tasks you tend to forget.

    Do busy mornings leave you with little time to fire up the coffee maker? Does coming home late at night leave you scrambling to find your light switches? Asking yourself questions like these can help you pinpoint exactly where smart devices could help improve your life.

    Ideas for every room

    Contrary to popular belief, not all smart home technology is expensive or requires a complicated installation process. These simple, budget-friendly ideas can take your home from ordinary to accommodating in no time.

    • Motorized drapes. Swapping out your pull shades for motorized drapes can make life easier and help you manage your energy consumption. With smartphone controlled drapes, you’ll be able adjust the lighting and privacy in your room at the touch of a button.
    • Smart lightbulbs. Energy-efficient, smartphone-controlled lightbulbs can help you save both time and money. Philips Hue lightbulbs, for example, sync to your Wi-Fi router via the Hue Bridge enabling you to control your lighting from your phone. Benefits of installing connected lighting include: the ability to switch off lights automatically after you leave, dimming options, and the ability to make it look like you're home when you're not.  
    • Coffee maker. Smart coffee makers can work with your smartphone to make your morning caffeination routine a bit easier. Instead of groggily measuring out water and grounds, let a smart coffee maker take on the challenge of prepping your morning cup of joe.
    • Outlet adapters. Plugging a smart outlet adapter into the wall can eliminate the struggle of feeling around for light switches or remotes in the dark. Smart outlets can be controlled from your smartphone, so you can effortlessly turn on your lights or TV before walking in the door.
    • Remote garage door access. If you often forget whether or not you closed the garage door, why not install a smart garage door opener? In addition to letting you know if your garage door is currently open or closed, garage door remotes by companies such as Chamberlain allow you to control the door from anywhere.
    Smart home devices can turn your home into a welcoming and accommodating respite from the outside world. And turning your abode into a smart home may not b...
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      Caffeine helps fight memory loss, study finds

      Researchers confirm that caffeine blocks a brain receptor that affects memory problems

      Having that first cup of coffee in the morning can be a great way to start your day, but could it also help keep your memory sharp as you age? One recent study shows that maybe it can.

      A multinational collaboration -- including researchers from France, Germany, and the United States – has found that caffeine can combat the effects of age-related memory impairment. This could point to another way to slow the decline of memory function in older consumers and those affected by cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.

      The researchers have confirmed that a certain receptor in the brain, called adenosine A2AR, is linked to memory impairments related to age. Following up on previous research, they were able to manipulate this receptor to induce a sort of “early aging” that led to the release of hormones related to stress and memory loss.

      “This is part of a larger study initiated 4 years ago in which we identified the role of this receptor in stress, but we did not know whether its activation would be sufficient to trigger all the changes. We now found that by altering the amount of this receptor alone in neurons from hippocampus and cortex – memory related areas – is sufficient to induce a profile that we designate as ‘early-aging’ combining the memory loss and an increase in stress hormones in plasma (cortisol),” said Luisa Lopes, coordinator of the study.

      Potential therapeutic target

      In order to prevent the onset of early aging, the researchers tested a caffeine analogue on animal models. They found that caffeine blocked the receptor from acting properly, which in turn normalized the memory- and stress-related deficits that were created beforehand.

      The researchers believe that their work could allow medical professionals a means of treating memory-related problems in older people and those affected cognitive disorders. Additionally, it has opened the door for further research on the causes of memory dysfunction.

      “In elderly people, we know there is an increase of stress hormones that have an impact on memory. Our work supports the view that the precognitive effects of A2AR antagonists, namely caffeine, observed in Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive impairments may rely on this ability to counteract the loss of stress controlling mechanisms that occurs upon aging,” said researcher director David Blum.

      “This is important not only to understand the fundamental changes that occur upon aging, but it also identifies the dysfunctions of the adenosine A2AR receptor as a key player in triggering these changes. And a very appealing therapeutic target,” added Lopes.

      The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

      Having that first cup of coffee in the morning can be a great way to start your day, but could it also help keep your memory sharp as you age? One recent s...
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      Mortgage applications halt two-week skid

      Contract interest rates were up slightly

      Mortgage applications moved higher last week, ending two straight weeks of declines.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows an increase of 2.8% in the week ending August 26 in it's Market Composite Index, which measures mortgage loan application volume.

      The Refinance Index shot up 4.0% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 63.5% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dipped to 4.5% of total applications, the FHA share increased to 9.7% from 8.9% the previous week, the VA share rose to 12.5% from 12.4%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.6%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) was unchanged at 3.67%, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) inched up one basis point from 3.62% to 3.63%, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA increased to 3.54% from 3.53%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was up one basis point to 2.96%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped to 2.90% from 2.84%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      Mortgage applications moved higher last week, ending two straight weeks of declines.The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Sur...
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      Dazzling Toys recalls chicken toys

      The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small plastic pieces

      Dazzling Toys of Monroe, N.Y., is recalling about 800 egg laying chicken toys.

      The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small plastic pieces, both posing a choking hazard to children.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the Bump and Go Action Egg Laying Chickens with lights, music and bump and go action. The battery-powered plastic toy was sold in two styles: a yellow chicken with an orange head and wings and a multi-colored (yellow, green and orange) chicken.

      The chicken toy includes three white plastic eggs that are placed into the back of the chicken, and then released from the bottom. The yellow-colored chicken measures 7 inches wide by 6 inches tall by 7 inches deep. The multi-colored chicken measures 7 inches wide by 5 inches tall by 4 inches deep. The eggs for both toys are one inch wide by one inch tall by one inch deep.

      The toys, manufactured in China, were sold online at www.amazon.com and www.ebay.com from February 2016, through July 2016, for about $12.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled toys and contact the firm for a full refund. Dazzling Toys is contacting consumers who purchased the recalled toys.

      Consumers may contact Dazzling Toys toll-free at 844-222-2812 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at recall.dazzlingtoys@gmail.com or online at www.dazzlingtoys.com for more information.

      Dazzling Toys of Monroe, N.Y., is recalling about 800 egg laying chicken toys. The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small pla...
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      Researchers believe tablets could be the key to diagnosing autism in children

      How a child moves when playing a game on a tablet may show whether or not they have autism

      The number of children who have an autism spectrum disorder seems to be growing all the time. Statistics show that one out every 160 children in North America and Europe suffer from the condition, but many can go undiagnosed for years.

      However, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Strathclyde and start-up company Harimata has identified a novel way to diagnose autism early so that these children can get the help they need. The key, the researchers say, is to have children play games on a tablet.

      “We have shown that children with autism can be identified by their gameplay patterns on an iPad. . . This is potentially a major breakthrough for early identification of autism, because no stressful and expensive tests by clinicians are needed. Early detection is important as this can allow parents and children to gain access to a range of services support,” said researcher Dr. Jonathan Delafield-Butt.

      A better test

      The researchers began the study after recognizing that current standards at diagnosing autism were not ideal.

      “Early assessment of autism allows timely therapeutic intervention, but professional diagnosis of the disorder is difficult and time-consuming,” said Anna Anzulewicz, Director of Research at Harimata.

      “Our aim was to develop a test that would be intuitive, fast, fun and engaging for the children. iPad-based games seemed to be perfect, and they are embedded with powerful sensors, which allow for the precise measurement of the children’s play dynamics.”

      Movement factor is key

      To test the diagnostic effectiveness of tablets, researchers examined 37 children with autism between the ages of three and six. Each child was asked to play a game on a smart tablet computer equipped with a touch sensitive screen and motion sensors. The researchers found that they could determine whether or not a child had autism based on the way in which they moved to interact with the game.

      “This study is the first step toward a validated instrument. Interestingly, our study goes further in elucidating the origins of autism, because it turns out that movement is the most important differentiator in the gameplay data,” said Delafield-Butt.

      “In other words, it is not social, emotional, or cognitive aspects of the gameplay that identify autism. Rather, the key difference is in the way children with autism move their hands as they touch, swipe, and gesture with the iPad during the game. This unexpected finding adds new impetus to a growing scientific understanding that movement is fundamentally disrupted in autism, and may underpin the disorder,” he concluded.

      Serious-game assessment

      The study could be monumental in providing medical professionals with a non-intrusive, easy way to test whether or not a child has autism at an early age. But while the new method looks promising, the researchers say that more work will be needed to validate their findings.

      “This new ‘serious-game’ assessment offers a cheaper, faster, fun way of testing for autism. But work is needed to confirm this finding, and to test for its limitations,” said Delafield-Butt.

      The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

      The number of children who have an autism spectrum disorder seems to be growing all the time. Statistics show that one out every 160 children in North Amer...
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      Children with food allergies more at risk of developing other conditions

      Researchers have connected certain food allergies with higher incidence rates of eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis

      The life of a child with food allergies is a cautious one. Extra measures need to be taken to make sure they aren’t put at risk of a dangerous reaction, but new research shows that the health difficulties with this condition go beyond even that.

      Researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have found that children with food allergies are also more likely to develop eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis. Children with allergies with certain foods are even more likely than others to develop some these conditions.

      “Of the major food allergens, allergy to peanut, milk and egg significantly predisposed children to asthma and allergic rhinitis,” said Dr. David M. Hill, lead researcher of the study.

      Connecting conditions

      Although food allergies are very prevalent in young children in the U.S., Hill points out that eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis are even more pervasive, and that something needs to be done about them.

      “Eczema, asthma and allergic rhinitis are among the most common childhood medical conditions in the U.S. Disease rates for these conditions seem to be changing, prompting a need for more information and surveillance,” he said.

      The researchers found the connection between food allergies and the aforementioned conditions after examining records for over one million urban and suburban children included in the CHOP Care Network between 2001 and 2015. After dividing the records into two cohorts and analyzing them, they found that having a food allergy coincided with much higher incidences of eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis.

      “For patients with an established diagnosis of food allergy, 35 percent went on to develop asthma; and patients with multiple food allergies were at increased risk of developing asthma as compared to those with a single food allergy. Similarly, 35 percent of patients with food allergy went on to develop allergic rhinitis,” said senior author Dr. Jonathan Spergel.

      Landmark study

      The study is importnat because it is the first to examine connections between food allergies and related conditions at this scale. Previously, smaller studies had been conducted that investigated a connection between food allergies and asthma, but they were limited in scope.

      “Using provider-based diagnosis data provided important information often lacking in existing studies. We found different disease rates than previously reported, and our research provides key data to shape future efforts aimed at prevention, diagnosis and management of these common pediatric conditions,” said Spergel.

      The full study has been published in BMC Pediatrics.

      The life of a child with food allergies is a cautious one. Extra measures need to be taken to make sure they aren’t put at risk of a dangerous reaction, bu...
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      Banks increasingly coming under cyberattack

      Four in 10 consumers say their accounts have been compromised

      Banks and other financial institutions spend billions of dollars on information and data security, mainly because they are such lucrative targets for cybercriminals.

      Yet despite this spending and proactive defense, more than one-third of consumers say their personal bank accounts have been compromised. Almost 80% of financial institutions admit hackers have penetrated their defenses within the last two years.

      These facts turned up in a new study by KMPG, which says banks can turn this negative into a positive.

      "Financial institutions have a real opportunity to solidify trust with their customers by demonstrating that security is a strategic imperative, and that they are taking every possible precaution to protect consumers," said KMPG's Jitendra Sharma. "Consumers have a lot of options in this environment, so companies must get it right as the battle for customers is fierce."

      Holding banks to a high standard

      Indeed, consumers hold banks to a high standard. The survey showed that 37% said they would switch banks if their current financial institution did not cover their losses from a cyberattack. Nearly as many would leave if the bank didn't get out in front of the incident and acknowledge it in a timely manner.

      In spite of the high-frequency attacks, the survey found the financial sector is the most proactive when it comes to defending against cyberattacks. About two-thirds of the financial sector executives polled for the study said their companies had invested in data security in the past year.

      Not even the Federal Reserve has been exempt from cyberattack. A CNN report in June said the Fed has been under “constant” cyber-attack since at least 2011. The network listed at least 50 reported incidents it labeled as “unauthorized access” or “information disclosure.”

      How consumers can help

      The American Bankers Association (ABA), meanwhile, says there are steps consumers can take to make their banking transactions more secure. Its most basic tip is to create highly complicated and random passwords, avoiding pet names and other predictable combinations.

      It says consumers should also monitor their accounts on a regular basis. Don't just do it when the monthly statement arrives.

      Also, make sure computers and mobile devices are protected from viruses and malware. Don't give out your personal financial information in response to an unsolicited email, no matter how official it may seem. The ABA says your bank will never contact you by email asking for your password, PIN, or account information.  

      Banks and other financial institutions spend billions of dollars on information and data security, mainly because they are such lucrative targets for cyber...
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      RushCard introduces new mobile app

      Cardholders can easily freeze their account if the card is lost or stolen

      RushCard, a popular prepaid money card, is introducing a new. free mobile app it says will provide new safety features, while enhancing the card's functionality.

      It is available on both the Android and iOS platforms.

      One of the safety features allows the user to freeze activity if the card is lost or stolen. By engaging “Pause Protection,” a user can temporarily stop purchases on the card.

      Another feature is “One Touch Access,” which allows cardholders to access their accounts on a mobile device by using a fingerprint instead of a password or PIN.

      The app also includes a pharmacy benefit e-card, which gives cardholders discounts on prescription drugs at Walmart.

      "We are dedicated to providing safe, simple and affordable products to our customers to help them achieve their personal and financial goals," said Ron Hynes, CEO of RushCard.

      Popular alternative to bank accounts

      Founded in 2003 by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, RushCard is billed as a solution to the millions of "unbanked" consumers, those who for one reason or another do not have a traditional bank account with checking and debit card privileges.

      The card is an inexpensive service that allows consumers to have their paychecks and benefits payments direct-deposited to their cards, allowing them to make purchases immediately and get cash from ATMs. It has generally recorded high satisfaction scores from consumers. Simmons says the new app is simply a way to make the card easier to use.

      "From the early days of prepaid, RushCard helped shape this industry and continues to provide innovative products that are easy to use, convenient to access and help provide financial opportunity to our customers," he said.

      RushCard customers can get directions for downloading the “Make Moves” app here.

      RushCard, a popular prepaid money card, is introducing a new. free mobile app it says will provide new safety features, while enhancing the card's function...
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      Truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators explodes

      One killed, four injured in the accident near a Takata warehouse in Texas last week

      A truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators and propellants exploded in Texas last week, destroying a home and two cars, killing one person, and injuring four others. The volatile airbags have been at the center of the largest series of auto recalls in history and have been blamed for at least 14 deaths worldwide.

      Authorities said the truck accident occurred last Monday, Aug. 22, near Eagle Pass, Texas, where Takata has a warehouse that stores inflators that are manufactured across the border at its plant in Monclova, Mexico. 

      Killed in the explosion was Lucila Robles, whose home was destroyed in the incident. Robles’ remains were found Tuesday and identified on Wednesday after her niece, a dentist, compared the remains with dental records, the Eagle Pass News Gram reported.

      Robles' home was leveled by the blast, leaving only charred remains of her car as evidence of the disaster, local reports said.

      The inflators use propellants containing ammonium nitrate, a volatile chemical compound that are said to be highly sensitive to heat and humidity. The weather in Eagle Pass was in the 90s last week with humidity readings around 80%, the National Weather Service reported.  

      Millions of cars with Takata airbags have been recalled, some more than once. To check whether your car is among them, jot down your VIN number (which you can find on the left side of your windshield) and go to SaferCar.gov/vin/.

      "Strict safety procedures"

      The News Gram said Takata employees were stationed at the local library last week to advise residents who had found any of the combustable containers to report their location, so that the potentially lethal items could be picked up safely. "Takata immediately deployed personnel to the site and has been working closely with the subcontractor and the appropriate authorities to investigate this incident," the company said in a statement.

      “Takata has strict safety procedures relating to the transportation of its products that meet or exceed all regulatory requirements,” the company said. “Our thoughts are with the family of the woman who died as a result of this accident, and with the four people injured.”

      More than 100 million vehicles worldwide have been slated for recall to replace Takata inflators.

      A truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators and propellants exploded in Texas ...
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      Vaping among teens may not be that problematic, researchers suggest

      One study finds that most teens vape for the flavorings and not nicotine

      Recent trends among teens seem to favor vaping with e-cigarettes, with many high- and middle school students saying that they’ve tried it. While many fear that this habit could lead to nicotine and smoking dependence, a new study suggests that the problem may not be that worrisome.

      Researchers have found that many teens that vape don’t do so for the nicotine; instead, many teens say that the flavors offered by e-cigarette products are the drawing point. This throws into question the supposition that teens are vaping nicotine in the first place and that there is a “nicotine epidemic” amongst this age group.

      Vaping for flavor

      The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing the results of the 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey, wherein teens were asked about their vaping experiences. The survey was a nationally representative study of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students.

      Out of 15,000 students who took part in the survey, nearly 4,000 admitted to having vaped at some point. Narrowing the numbers further, the researchers found that 1,701 had done so at least once, 1,085 had done it up to five times, and 616 had done it at least half a dozen times.

      When asked what they had vaped most recently, two-thirds of respondents gave the answer “just flavoring.” Vaping nicotine came in second by a large margin, with only 13% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders, and 22% of 12th graders giving that answer. Vaping marijuana was even less pervasive, with only 14% of 12th graders, and 6% and 7% of 8th and 10th graders giving that answer, respectively.

      Targeted interventions

      These findings indicate that vaping nicotine is not nearly as big of a problem as many experts have stated in the past. This is good news, say the researchers, because interventions to stop vaping can be modified to be more specific and effective.  

      “Because many US youth who use vaporisers do not vape nicotine, they are candidates for primary interventions, which are particularly strategic to combat nicotine use, because they take place before the need to address nicotine’s addictive properties,” they said.

      Additionally, the researchers say that designating e-cigarettes as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) may be unfair since most teens do not use them for that purpose, although they do say that vaporiser use does increase tobacco and nicotine prevalence.

      The full study has been published in Tobacco Control

      Recent trends among teens seem to favor vaping with e-cigarettes, with many high- and middle school students saying that they’ve tried it. While many fear ...
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      iPads prove to be as effective as sedatives for keeping kids calm before surgery

      Parents and kids are both less anxious when iPads are present prior to surgery requiring anesthesia

      Apple’s tablets aren’t just for catching up on Curious George or playing a few rounds of Angry Birds. For kids, iPads may serve as a powerful calming agent prior to undergoing surgery.  

      New research presented at this year’s World Congress of Anaesthesiologists (WCA) shows that iPads are as effective as sedatives in lowering kids’ pre-surgery anxiety.

      When kids had to be separated from their parents before surgery, the use of iPads was found to increase the quality of anesthesia induction. Better still, parents were less stressed and more satisfied with the anesthesia when iPads were involved.

      Better anesthesia results

      The primary goal of the study was to compare the anxiety levels of children given midazolam (a sedative commonly administered before anesthesia) with children who played games on an iPad before surgery.

      Psychologists were brought on board to help assess participants at several nerve-wracking stages: upon arriving at the hospital, when separated from their parents, during induction, and in the post-anaesthesia care unit. Parents’ anxiety and satisfaction with anesthesia was also measured.

      Parents and nurses alike noted that anesthesia was more effective to children who used an iPad prior to surgery. Lead author Dr. Dominique Chassard said that midazolam can help dull children’s parental separation anxiety, but agreed that iPads can greatly reduce stress and increase parental satisfaction with anaesthesia.

      Advantages

      "Use of iPads or other tablet devices is a non-pharmacologic tool which can reduce perioperative stress without any sedative effect in paediatric ambulatory surgery," said Chassard.

      The familiarity of an iPad can help calm kids’ nerves in a scary situation, but it also boasts another advantage: no side effects.

      Unlike midazolam -- which may cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, or even hardening of the skin at the injection area, according to Everyday Health -- the iPad has no lingering after-effects.

      A paper on the study will be published later this year. 

      Apple’s tablets aren’t just for catching up on Curious George or playing a few rounds of Angry Birds. For kids, iPads may serve as a powerful calming agent...
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      Feds want speed limiters on big trucks

      Physically restricting speeds would save lives and fuel, the plan's backers say

      Speed limits are one thing; speed limiters are something else -- and it's speed limiters that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx would like to see on heavy trucks.

      Foxx thinks big trucks should be equipped with devices that would physically restrain them from going faster than a predetermined speed.

      “There are significant safety benefits to this proposed rulemaking ,” Foxx said. “In addition to saving lives, the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment.” 

      Foxx said capping truck speeds would reduce the 1,115 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks that occur each year and save $1 billion in fuel costs.

      "Basic physics"

      The proposal Foxx and colleagues unveiled Friday discusses the benefits of setting the maximum speed at 60, 65, and 68 miles per hour. It would apply to trucks, buses, and other vehicles with a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds.

      “This is basic physics,” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Even small increases in speed have large effects on the force of impact. Setting the speed limit on heavy vehicles makes sense for safety and the environment.”

      The rule would apply to new trucks, not the ones currently on the road, because of the difficulty and expense involved in retrofitting existing trucks.

      The proposal has been floating around various agencies and departments since 2006, when the nonprofit group Roadsafe America filed a petition requesting it. The American Trucking Association later endorsed the plan.  

      The proposal is now open for comments from citizens. You can submit your comment here.

      Speed limits are one thing; speed limiters are something else -- and it's speed limiters that U.S. Transportation S...
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      Why parents are afraid to leave their kids alone

      It's judgment, not danger, that parents fear most

      Gone are the days of allowing kids to walk to the store on their own or spend the day adventuring with friends. These days, parents don’t feel comfortable leaving children alone for even a short period of time.

      You might think safety has something to do with the shift, but evidence suggests that American children are safer than ever. So why are parents keeping their kids on such a tight leash? 

      Social scientists at the University of California, Irvine say it's because leaving kids alone on purpose often comes with a fair amount of judgment from others.

      Socially unacceptable

      Researchers say parents’ fears of leaving children alone have become amplified in recent decades, to the point that leaving kids alone has become socially unacceptable.  

      “Without realizing it, we have consistently increased our estimates of the amount of danger facing children left alone in order to better justify or rationalize the moral disapproval we feel toward parents who violate this relatively new social norm,” said lead author Ashley Thomas, cognitive sciences graduate student.

      This moral disapproval came to the surface when participants were asked, in a survey, to rate the risk of leaving children alone in five different scenarios. When children were left alone on purpose, they were perceived to be in greater danger than when their parents left them alone involuntarily.

      Separating judgment from risk

      This finding was surprising to researchers, who argue that leaving a child alone on purpose is much safer than leaving a child alone by accident because "parents can take steps to make the situation safer, like giving the child a phone or reviewing safety rules.” 

      The fact that people think the opposite, says co-author Barbara Sarnecka, suggests that they “morally disapprove of parents who leave their children alone, and that disapproval inflates their estimate of the risk."

      Sarnecka says these findings could be important to lawmakers and enforcers, as they show that moral judgments may often cloud a person’s assessment of risk to a child.

      "At a minimum, these findings should caution those who make and enforce the law to distinguish evidence-based and rational assessments of risk to children from intuitive moral judgments about parents -- and to avoid investing the latter with the force of law."

      The full study has been published online in the journal Collabra.

      Gone are the days of allowing kids to walk to the store on their own or spend the day adventuring with friends. These days, parents don’t feel comfortable ...
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      The extra risks of using smokeless tobacco products

      Researchers find bacteria that cause infection and illness

      It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers associated with smokeless tobacco products, which include substances ranging from chewing tobacco to dissolvable pills and gums.

      They say that these tobacco delivery methods also carry bacteria that can cause infection and lead to illness. And, as with most kinds of bacteria or pathogens, prolonged exposure increases the risk to the person using these products.

      “Some species have been identified as causative agents in spice-related outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting. Additionally, they produce a mild toxin which, in large quantities could cause illness,” said Steven Foley, coauthor of the study.

      Health risks

      The researchers found several bacteria that could be a cause for concern among consumers. Bacteria from the Bacillus species are known to cause the intestinal discomfort described above by Foley, but other bacteria from the Stapphylococcus species could be even more troubling.

      These bacteria, which include Stapphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus hominus, could turn nitrates found in the body into nitrities, which could lead to potentially carcinogenic formations.

      Part of the reason that these bacteria are able to pose so much danger to people is due to the way in which smokeless tobacco products are consumed. Those using the products tend to hold them in their mouth for long periods of time so that the nicotine can enter the bloodstream. This increases the amount of time that consumers are exposed to bacteria.

      The practice is especially dangerous to those who have developed gingivitis or other oral health issues, which can be common for smokeless tobacco users. Researchers say that some of the bacteria present in these products can easily enter the bloodstream in these consumers and cause dangerous heart valve infections.

      Informing policy decisions

      Up to this point, not much data had been collected on the microbial threats present in smokeless tobacco products. The researchers hope that their work will help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration form policies around the production and distribution of these substances so that consumers can avoid some of the dangerous health risks.

      The full study has been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

      It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers assoc...
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      Which retailer has the best gift card?

      Sephora wins the top spot in the RSR Research survey, Starbucks is second

      Consumers obviously like to give and receive gift cards. It allows the recipient to get what he or she wants and isn't nearly as tacky as cash.

      In fact, giving a gift card from a particular retailer allows the giver to personalize it a bit, choosing a retailer the recipient happens to like.

      But beyond personal preferences of retailers, which retailer does the best job with its gift card program? That's a question RSR Research asks each year in its annual study of best gift card practices.

      The survey ranks the digital gifting experiences of 100 of the nation’s top retailers, restaurants, and – for the first time this year – airlines. The retailers are judged on how well they utilize the mobile platform, and include omni-channel payments, bulk buying, and the ability to purchase cards with credit card loyalty program points.

      Sephora is number one

      Earning the top spot this year is Sephora, which racked up 55 out of a possible 66 points. Starbucks was second with 50.5 points, followed by The Home Depot (46.5 points), Dunkin' Donuts (44.5 points), and Amazon (43 points).

      “Sephora is honored to be ranked top once again in the RSR Benchmark study,” said Lisa Kueffel, vice president of client experience at Sephora. “Gift cards are a key element of our digital strategy focused on delivering excellent omni-channel experiences to our clients. Working in partnership with CashStar has helped us to grow our program and achieve our goals.”

      CashStar President and CEO Ben Kaplan says a number of its clients are represented in the upper ranks of the survey.

      “We are pleased to see that merchants are investing more in digital gifting and striving to improve the experiences they provide to consumers,” he said.

      The survey authors note that Sephora got high marks for scoring well in the top three criteria: discoverability, purchase experience, and recipient experience.

      Importance of digital gift cards

      This year, 81 of the 100 merchants in the judging offered digital gift cards. RSR said it updates its criteria each year to focus on capabilities that set retailers apart. These criteria evolve each year so it keeps retailers on their toes.

      “Consumers are increasingly engaging with retailers through digital channels first, creating a demand for the retailer to be where the customer is,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR Research.

      That, she says, requires retailers to be able to handle all the things a customer wants from them in the digital space, and that includes gift cards.

      “We’ve learned over the years just how complex digital gifting is on the desktop. This year leaders excelled at mobile,” Baird said. “However, too many of those evaluated are continuing to struggle with mobile optimization of their programs.”

      Gift cards continue to be a bigger part of the holiday shopping season, as well as becoming the go-to gift for grandparents who have a hard time keeping up with grandchildren's evolving tastes.

      Gift cards now account for more than $100 billion in sales each year. About 93% of consumers either give or send one.

      Consumers obviously like to give and receive gift cards. It allows the recipient to get what he or she wants and isn't nearly as tacky as cash.In fact,...
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      New car sales post a slight decline in August

      Consumers might find the best deals at GM dealers

      New car sales have helped power the U.S. economy in recent years, but the sales pace is definitely slowing.

      With a string of record sales months, demand for new vehicles appears to be on the decline. A forecast from J.D. Power estimates new car sales will be down in August by 6.5% from August 2015 – a significant drop.

      John Humphrey, senior vice president of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power, said until earlier this year, new vehicle sales had grown every month since September 2010. This year, sales have gone down in each of the last four months.

      “Softening retail sales amid low interest rates, relatively cheap gas and automakers pushing more aggressive incentives may be an indicator that further growth in this cycle will be difficult,” Humphrey said. “There is opportunity for some catch-up in the all-important Labor Day selling period, but as momentum slows, the industry will need to be cautious to balance volume and margin, as incentives are close to record levels."

      Smaller decline seen

      Edmunds.com also forecasts a sales drop, but not as much of one. It predicts sales actually rose slightly in August over July, but will end up being slightly lower than August 2015.

      "The summer isn't delivering explosive sales like we saw last year, but the industry is still on pace to set an annual sales record," says Edmunds.com Executive Director of Industry Analysis Jessica Caldwell.

      She says carmakers have stayed disciplined about managing their inventories and don't feel the added pressure to provide big incentives in order to make sales. But with declining sales, consumers should find plenty of good deals.

      Readjusting market

      Kelley Blue Book (KBB) also sees a modest sales decline for August. The automotive valuation service is projecting a 2% year-over-year drop in sales. Even so, Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book, says the market remains healthy – it's just readjusting.

      “The mix of sales is divided, with demand for utility vehicles continuing to grow at the same time that car sales are falling,” he said. “As we reach the peak of the market, Kelley Blue Book will keep an eye on a few key factors, including increased fleet penetration in 2016 combined with flat retail demand, rising incentive spend [sic] from automakers, and used car prices, which have yet to respond to the growing supply of off-lease vehicles.”

      Any changes in the direction of these factors, he says, could speed up a decline in new-car sales.

      For consumers, the report suggests where they might find the best deals. KBB reports GM sales will likely be down for a fifth straight month, meaning dealers might be more likely to make deals. On the other hand, Hyundai and Kia are gaining market share, suggesting those dealers might be a bit less likely to offer generous incentives.

      New car sales have helped power the U.S. economy in recent years, but the sales pace is definitely slowing.With a string of record sales months, demand...
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