International Treaty on Tobacco Control / Research Projects on Glaucoma

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Sarah Long. Coming up ... an international treaty on tobacco is now in effect, but some say it is not strong enough.

Later, we have a report on some research projects to learn more about glaucoma, a leading cause of preventable blindness.

A treaty that just went into effect aims to reduce a major cause of death and disease. The treaty is called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It is the first public health treaty negotiated by the World Health Organization.

More than one hundred sixty countries have signed it. Countries that sign the treaty then must approve it within their government. So far, fewer than sixty countries have done that.

But only forty countries needed to ratify the treaty to bring it into force. The treaty went into effect on February twenty-seventh.

Nations that ratify the treaty must raise prices and taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. They must fight illegal trade in tobacco products. And they must place controls on second-hand smoke, smoke from other people's tobacco.

The treaty also bans advertising and other marketing campaigns for tobacco. But this is true only if such a ban would not violate a national constitution.

The treaty calls for tobacco companies to make public all the substances they use to make cigarettes. And health warnings could not include information that might lead people to believe that some cigarettes are less harmful than others. Experts say there is no such thing as a safe cigarette.

Also, governments that approve the treaty must support programs to help people stop smoking. And there must be educations programs to urge people not to start.

Countries that have yet to ratify the treaty include the United States. It says some parts violate the Constitution and others are unacceptable. China is another country that has not approved the treaty.

Health officials say developing countries are the biggest growth area for tobacco, and tobacco-related diseases.

The World Health Organization estimates that each year almost five million people worldwide die from the effects of smoking. At current rates of growth, experts say the number could reach ten million a year by two thousand twenty.

Smoking causes or increases the risk of many diseases. These include cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women who smoke may damage their unborn child. Also, a recent study offered more evidence that breathing tobacco smoke as a child increases the risk of lung cancer later in life.

Public health experts praise the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. But there is criticism that the treaty does not go far enough. Doctor Derek Yach (pronounced yahk) supervised the writing of the treaty while chief of anti-tobacco efforts at the W.H.O. He is now a professor at Yale University in the United States.

Doctor Yach says the treaty is "toothless" without additional agreements known as protocols to strengthen it. He told The Associated Press that any work on protocols is over a year away from even being discussed.

He said developing nations need financial help to carry out the treaty. He also called for clear guidance on what countries need to do. There are no targets for reducing demand for cigarettes. So, Doctor Yach says, there is no way to measure success.

And there are no punishments for countries that fail to act. But they will have their records examined at United Nations conferences. The first one is set for next February.

The World Health Organization, a U.N. agency, estimates that more than one thousand million people smoke. It says more than eighty percent of smokers live in developing countries. And it says tobacco kills one-half of those who keep using it.

You are listening to SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. This is Sarah Long with Bob Doughty in Washington.

Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye diseases. Without treatment, it can cause people to go blind.

In the United States alone, it is estimated that three million people have glaucoma. But the Glaucoma Research Foundation says half of them do not know even know it. Often there are no warning signs.

Eye doctors can test for glaucoma. But they have more to learn about the causes. Medicines and operations can control but not cure glaucoma.

Glaucoma prevents the clear fluid in the eye from flowing normally. This generally increases pressure within the eye. The raised pressure can damage the optic nerve, which carries images from the eye to the brain.

The chance of developing glaucoma increases if a person has diabetes. The risk of glaucoma also increases with age and family history of the disease. There is greater risk as well in people who are nearsighted. That is, they must be close to an object to see it clearly.

The Glaucoma Research Foundation in San Francisco, California, recently announced almost one million dollars in research grants. The group launched the second three years of a campaign it calls "Catalyst for a Cure."

The foundation awarded money to researchers in laboratories at four universities in the United States. These are Johns Hopkins University, the University of Utah, the University of Washington and Vanderbilt University. Each laboratory will receive more than one hundred ninety thousand dollars.

The foundation is also providing six pilot project grants of up to thirty-five thousand dollars. The Glaucoma Research Foundation says these awards are to help projects get started. After that, the scientists may be able to receive financial aid from companies or the government.

David Friedman received one of the pilot project grants. He works at the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He plans to collect medical records of African Americans with two or more brothers or sisters with glaucoma. Experts say black Americans have a greater risk of glaucoma than white people.

Doctor Friedman will help researchers who want to study the genes responsible for glaucoma in these families. He will confirm that all the people have this disease. In the words of the foundation: "The greatest limitation to genetics research for glaucoma is the lack of well-described patient populations."

Markus Kuehn of the University of Iowa in Iowa City also received a pilot project grant. He recently identified an unusual family of cats. All of the kittens born into this animal family develop glaucoma early in life. Markus Kuehn is trying to identify the gene responsible for glaucoma in these cats. The goal then would be to learn if this same gene is also responsible for glaucoma in children.

Keith Martin of the Center for Brain Repair at Cambridge University in England is studying stem cells. He is investigating whether these cells can protect against damage caused by glaucoma. The goal is to help patients with severe glaucoma.

Sayoko Moroi works at the W.K. Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She is studying how patients react to glaucoma medicines. Doctor Moroi uses a process called fluorophotometry [flur-oh-foh-TOM-eh-tree]. This process measures the change in fluid production of the eye in reaction to glaucoma drugs.

Hemant Pawar also works at the Kellogg Eye Center. He is trying to find the gene that causes a kind of glaucoma that produces growths in the iris part of the eye. His work could lead to early interventions.

The final grant winner is Robert Nickells at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Doctor Nickells is working to create a genetic test to identify people with an increased risk of glaucoma. With such a test, eye doctors might be able to take steps to prevent the disease.

SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Jill Moss, Jerilyn Watson and Ed Stautberg. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. If you have a question about science that we might be able to answer on the air, send it to special@voanews.com. Please join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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Source: International Treaty on Tobacco Control / Research Projects on Glaucoma
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