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Health Highlights: Nov. 21, 2019


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

Massachusetts Passes Bill to Ban All Flavored Vaping Products

A bill banning flavored vaping and tobacco products was passed by the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday and could become the first such statewide legislation in the United States.

The bill -- which would also put a 75% excise tax on vaping products and force health insurers to cover tobacco cessation counseling -- was previously passed by the state House of Representatives and now goes to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, the Associated Press reported.

It's not clear whether Baker will sign the bill, but in September he declared a public health emergency and ordered a temporary ban on the sale of vaping products.

The bill would immediately ban sales of flavored vaping products and sales of menthol cigarettes would be banned as of June 1, 2020, the AP reported.

"This legislation is a critical step to help end the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop tobacco companies from using appealing flavors to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said in a written statement.

"It would make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products," he noted.

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Medicare's New Online Drug Plan Finder Might Lead to Higher Costs

Medicare's newly-overhauled prescription plan finder can direct unsuspecting users to coverage that's much more expensive than necessary, experts say.

The plan finder -- which recently got its first major update in a decade -- serves about 60 million Medicare recipients and is the most commonly used tool on Medicare.gov, the AP reported.

Government officials say the revamp will help beneficiaries take advantage of their insurance options, but program experts and people who help with sign-ups say the tool can obscure out-of-pocket costs that seniors should factor into their choices.

"I want to make sure people are given the most accurate information and they're making the best decision -- because they are the ones stuck with it," Ann Kayrish, senior program manager for Medicare at the nonpartisan National Council on Aging, told the AP.

"If they pick the plan based solely on the premium they are likely getting a plan that could cost them thousands more in a calendar year," Christina Reeg, heads of an Ohio Department of Insurance program that helps Medicare enrollees find the right plan, told the AP.

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White House Meeting on Teen Vaping Set For Friday

A meeting to discuss high rates of teen vaping in the United States will be held Friday at the White House, officials say.

They said that medical experts, health advocates and industry representatives will meet with President Donald Trump, the Associated Press reported.

It's recently been suggested that Trump is backing away from a pledge made in September to ban virtually all e-cigarette flavors.

There's been a sharp rise in e-cigarette use among U.S. teens, but the federal government has not yet finalized regulations for the devices, the AP reported.

In the absence of federal government action on vaping, several states have moved to ban flavored vaping products. That's led to legal challenges from the industry and lobbying of lawmakers and the White House to prevent new rules that would affect adults' use of e-cigarettes.

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House Committee Passes Bill to Decriminalize Pot on Federal Level

A bill for the U.S. government to decriminalize and tax marijuana was passed Wednesday by a House committee in a 24-10 vote.

The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and permit states to make their own rules on the drug, the Associated Press reported.

It would also levy a 5% sales tax on marijuana products and would require federal courts to erase prior marijuana convictions.

Many Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in some form and federal policy on the drug has lagged behind states, committee members noted.

The vote supporting the bill "marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy and is truly a sign that prohibition's days are numbered," Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a statement, the AP reported.

But it wasn't immediately clear if the proposal would be reviewed by other committees and when, or if, a vote would take place in the full House. The proposal has better chances of passing in the Democratic-controlled chamber than in the Republican-held Senate, the AP said.

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