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Health Highlights: May 24, 2016

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

Family of Baseball's Tony Gwynn Sues Tobacco Industry

The family of deceased baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn is suing the tobacco industry.

Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer in 2014. In a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Monday in Superior Court in San Diego, his family accuses Altria Group Inc. and several other defendants of inducing Gwynn to start using smokeless tobacco while he attended San Diego State University between 1977 and 1981, The New York Times reported.

Gwynn became addicted and used one-and-a-half to two cans of smokeless tobacco for 31 years, from 1977 to 2008. The lawsuit says that's the equivalent of four to five packs of cigarettes a day.

No damages are specified in the complaint, which requests a jury trial on grounds of negligence, fraud and product liability, The Times reported.

Gwynn's family claims he was the target of a tobacco industry scheme to get him addicted to smokeless tobacco while he was a rising star athlete at university. The industry was trying to boost its appeal to blacks at the time, and Gwynn was a "marketing dream come true," according to the lawsuit.

"Now that the family understands how he was targeted, they understand that the industry knew they had this highly carcinogenic product and they were marketing it to people like Tony," said David Casey, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, The Times reported.

"They want to hold them accountable and let a jury make a decision as to what is proper in this case," he added.


Former NFL Player Bubba Smith Had CTE Brain Disease: Researchers

Former NFL player Bubba Smith had a concussion-related brain disease when he died at age 66 in 2011, researchers announced Tuesday.

Smith had stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death, according to the researchers at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. Stage 4 is the most advanced, USA Today reported.

"Prior to his death, Smith was reported to have developed significant cognitive decline, including memory impairment and poor judgment," the researchers said in a news release. "He was also unable to complete many tasks of daily living on his own, such as paying bills, shopping, or traveling."

The brain of the Pro Bowl defensive end was the 90th of 94 brains of former NFL players in which CTE was detected by the brain bank, a collaboration of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation, USA Today reported.

Following his retirement in 1976 after 10 seasons in the NFL, Smith became an actor and appeared in six Police Academy movies.


Adult Smoking Rate Has Largest Drop in More Than 20 Years: CDC

The smoking rate among American adults fell from 17 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2015, the largest one-year decline in more than 20 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The smoking rate has been declining for decades, but typically falls one percent or less in a year, the Associated Press reported.

The last time there was a larger-than-normal decrease was between 1992 and 1993, when the rate dropped 1.5 percent, said the CDC's Brian King.

The reasons for the 2 percent decline between 2014 and 2015 are unclear, and whether there will be another significant drop this year is uncertain, the AP reported.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness in the U.S. and causes more than 480,000 deaths a year, according to the CDC.


'Natural' Insect Repellants Lose Effect Quickly: Study

"Natural" insect repellants don't provide protection against mosquitoes or ticks anywhere near as long as those with synthetic chemicals, a Consumer Reports study finds.

The results mesh with advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBC News reported.

"Consumer Reports tested products to see which work best against the Aedes mosquitoes that spread Zika as well as against Culex mosquitoes, which spread West Nile, and the ticks that carry Lyme," the Consumer Reports study said.

"We looked at 16 repellents with a range of active ingredients, including conventional chemicals like DEET, synthetic plantlike compounds that resemble those found in nature, and plant oils like citronella and rosemary."

The three most effective repellants each contained a different synthetic chemical: DEET, picaridan or a derivative of eucalyptus. The repellants were effective for at least seven hours, NBC News reported.

"Five of the six plant-oil-based repellents we tested lasted an hour or less against Aedes mosquitoes, the kind than can spread Zika," the study said.


NFL Tried to Influence Government Study on Concussions: Report

A new Congressional report claims that National Football League officials tried to influence the outcome of a government study that examined the link between concussions and brain disease.

Rep. Frank Pellone (D-N.J.), who oversaw the report, said in a statement Monday that the NFL tried to convince the U.S. National Institutes of Health not to award the study to a researcher the league felt was biased, the Associated Press reported.

The NFL backed out of a $30 million donation for brain research after the NIH went ahead and awarded a $16 million grant for the study to that researcher, Robert Stern, the wire service reported. Stern, from Boston University, is a leading expert on the link between football concussions and brain diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, according to the AP.

The NFL flatly denied the findings.

"The NFL rejects the allegations," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. The league acknowledged it had raised concerns about the study and a potential conflict of interest involving Stern. However, McCarthy insisted the league communicated its concerns through the proper channels, the AP reported. Also, the league stands by its $30 million promise, McCarthy added.

Critics have claimed the NFL has long downplayed the link between football and brain damage, and that an NFL committee on brain injury had minimized the link between repetitive head trauma and brain damage.

"This investigation confirms the NFL inappropriately attempted to use its unrestricted gift as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics," Pallone said. "Since its research agreement with NIH was clear that it could not weigh in on the grant selection process, the NFL should never have tried to influence that process."

Pallone also told the AP that the report found that NIH officials acted properly. NIH policy prohibits donors from influencing which researchers receive grants.

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