February 23, 2005

I first read about this idea last year on Slate. Now it is making some wider press and legislators are moving in. Vaporized alcohol works kind of like a breathalyzer in reverse. Instead of drinking alcohol, users inhale the vapors through a special machine that started showing up in European nightspots.

Slate explains:

Part of what makes Alcohol Without Liquid (AWOL) titillating is that it promises to deliver all the pleasures of alcohol with an irresistible twist — that is, none of the familiar downsides of drinking, such as calories and hangovers. Glowing commentary on the Web site promises, “Absolutely no side effects,” and, “If you hate hangovers, you’ll love this.”

Unfortunately these marketing claims are dubious at best.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association took the issue to Congress seeking a ban under the FDA so it can review whether it is safe to inhale alcohol fumes. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says bills are also pending in the Illinois and Missouri legislatures to ban the commercial use of the vapor machines.

Autism Rising?

NBC Nightly News is spending a lot of airtime on what seems to be an epidemic of children being diagnosed with autism. The question is whether there is an increase in the number of children with this condition or whether doctors are now more willing to diagnose it as such.

MSNBC.com reported:

“There is a chance we’re seeing a true rise, but right now I don’t think anybody can answer that question for sure,” says Dr. Chris Johnson, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio and co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Autism Expert Panel.

Parents who believe the disorder is increasing due to some modern threat that is damaging the brains of children have pointed the finger at childhood vaccinations and the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal that was once widely used in many of them. There are also suspicions about lead or other toxins in the environment, diet, viruses and medications. Indeed, some experts say it’s possible that exposures in utero or in early childhood may play a role.

Frustrated parents struggling to cope with a disorder that seemed to appear virtually overnight understandably want answers. But clear insights on this puzzling epidemic are hard to come by.

Studies done in the 1960s indicated that autism was quite rare, affecting only about one person in every 2,000 to 2,500, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other research in 1970 put the figure at one case per 10,000, Johnson says.

Precisely how many people have autism today is unknown. But estimates suggest there are five to six cases of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) per 1,000 people, says Johnson. That roughly equates to as many as one case out of every 166 people.

It’s important to note that today’s figures apply to the whole category of ASDs, which includes autism as well as related conditions like Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Children with these disorders have varying degrees of impaired communication and social interaction.

Friends and Family Stealing Your ID

You would think, by the news coverage we normally see that ID theft is something that strangers do. It is something that happens when you are online or somebody is pawing through your garbage.

But look at this article that my Poynter colleague Larry Larsen found:

About half of all identity theft is committed by close friends and relatives, who lift a wallet or pocketbook and not only steal the bills and credit cards inside, but also the identity that goes with it.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey of 4,000 consumers, about 500 of whom were identity theft victims, conducted by Javelin Research and the Better Business Bureau for CheckFree, Visa and Wells Fargo Bank, reports MarketWatch.

The survey says despite what you might think, ID theft is not growing much worse.

  • The annual dollar volume of identity fraud is highly similar to 2003 figures (adjusted for inflation) at $52.6 billion

  • The number of identity fraud victims dropped from 10.1 million to 9.3 million in 2004 versus 2003

  • The median value of identity fraud crimes remained unchanged at $750; however most identity fraud victims incurred no out-of-pocket costs.

  • The average time to resolve an identity fraud crime dropped by 15 percent — from 33 hours in 2003 to 28 hours in 2004.

The most frequently cited sources of identity theft:

  • Lost or stolen wallet: 29 percent

  • Fraud that occurs during an in-store or telephone transaction: 12.9 percent

  • Corrupt employees: 9 percent

  • Stolen mail: 8 percent

  • Spyware on the computer: 5 percent

  • Sifting through garbage: 2.6 percent

  • Computer viruses: 2.2 percent

  • “Phishing” through fraudulent e-mail: 1.7 percent

ID Theft Resources:

PCWorld says:

The FTC says it received over 635,000 complaints of identity theft and fraud during 2004. According to the data, consumers reported fraud losses of over $547 million last year. Of that, about $265 million was Internet-related.

“A lot of law enforcement that we work with and have spoken to about this do their finances online,” says Sheila Gordon, director of victim’s services for the Identity Theft Resource Center. “It removes the personal element . . . and people steal identities, not computers.”

Drugs by the Box

A TV station in Hazard, Ky., has been working on a story that may be as new to you as it is to me.

Danielle Morgan, Reporter at WKYT-TV dropped me a note. (I edited parts of the note for clarity and brevity.)

The Kentucky State Police recently subpoenaed UPS and FED EX to get the number of narcotics being shipped into Eastern Kentucky. The numbers are staggering.

They reported thousands of prescriptions of narcotics coming in every week. Officials found many of them are being shipped from internet pharmacies.

As you may already know, the rogue internet pharmacies offer narcotics without a prescription.

Officials didn’t even know what to charge the recipients with when the busts started, but they have found a few charges, mostly misdemeanors. The only felony they can be charged with here in Kentucky is providing false information to receive a prescription.

There are several angles to this story. I’m sure Kentucky isn’t the only state receiving thousands of prescriptions from international pharmacies straight into the hands of drug dealers.

I actually did a story today after riding along with Operation UNITE officials after local UPS officials asked police to help protect their employees. We went to the Hazard UPS Hub where dozens of people lined up at the will-call window to pick up their packages. Police say many of the packages have been shipped there because the recipients provide false addresses to get multiple prescriptions.

The most common narcotics found so far have been Hydrocodone and Xanax.

You can see her story by clicking here and going to the station Web site.

The station says:

The Commissioner of the Kentucky Bureau of Investigations say the cost of the seized drugs pans out like this:

A bottle of Hydrocone with 60, ten milligram pills sells for 33.99 in a normal pharmacy. While rogue internet pharmacies sell it for 125 dollars.

A bottle of Alprozolam, a generic form of Xanax with 60, two milligram pills sells for 20.79. While online, it sells for 145 dollars.

Why Junk Food Stays in the Workplace

Quick — think about your office vending machine — what do you suppose is the top selling item? Is it the granola bars and packages of seeds? Probably not according to the Pittsburgh-based Management Science Associates Inc., which tracks sales, fruit bars, nuts, and trail mix aren’t even in the top 10. Snickers, M&M Peanuts, and Doritos Nacho Cheesier are the top three sellers in snack vending machines nationwide.

The Boston Globe learned all of this and a lot more about vending machines:

In America’s battle of the bulge, employers are rolling out healthier options in cafeterias, expanding on-site gyms and offering health insurance discounts for exercising.

Just don’t mess with their Snickers.

A push in Massachusetts and in legislatures across the country to reduce sugary soft drinks and fat-laden snacks in public school vending machines apparently hasn’t inspired legions of followers in corporate America.

“If we tried to pull out the unhealthy stuff, there would be a lot of people pulling their hair out at three o’clock,” said Ray Hendrickson, president of Christian Book Distributors.

The company, which employs about 450 people, is expanding its gym and has a popular Weight Watchers chapter. A yoga class may be coming soon. Still, there have been no requests from workers — nor plans by the company — for a change in the assortment of snacks in the building’s vending machines, said Bridget Timmins, who is in charge of purchasing.

“We have our warehouse, call center, and office space, so we have a wide variety of blue-collar and white-collar in this building,” she said. “We can mandate what our children eat, but for such a large company as ours, we can’t say, ‘From now on, we are not going to give you any candy bars.’ “

The low-carb craze that swept the country has started to turn some consumers away from snack vending machines, largely because vendors have not had many low-carb options, according to Gloria Cosby, publisher of Automatic Merchandiser, a magazine that has followed the vending industry since 1958.

But while low-carb, low-fat, and high-fiber fads come and go, she said, granola bars, trail mix, and other items perceived as “healthier” choices continue to collect dust in office vending machines.

“People would come to [employers] and would say we want to see healthy things in the machine,” she said. “Out of 200 people, it may have been three who actually ate the stuff.”

It would be an interesting blog or video experiment to pull junk food from vending machines for one week. I wonder how many newsrooms would shut down — how many newspapers would shutter and newscasts would miss deadlines as newscast producers go into comas set off by Twizzler deprivation.

We are always looking for your great ideas. Send Al a few sentences and hot links.

Editor’s Note: Al’s Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts, and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed, and a link will be provided, whenever possible.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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