E-cigarette use rose rapidly in UK, France: European study

LONDON The number of people in France and Britain who have tried an electronic or e-cigarette has risen sharply in just two years, according to a Europe-wide study published on Tuesday.The research, led by scientists at Britain's Imperial College London, looked at attitudes to and use of e-cigarettes across Europe between 2012 and 2014.It found that France had the highest use of e-cigarettes, with the proportion of those who had tried one nearly tripling to 21.3 percent from 7.3 percent.In the UK the figure rose from 8.9 percent in 2012 to 15.5 percent in 2014 - higher than the European average. Using data from more than 53,000 people across Europe - with at least 1,000 from each country - the study also found the proportion of people across Europe who consider e-cigarettes dangerous nearly doubled to 51 percent from 27 percent. E-cigarettes are metal tubes that heat liquids typically laced with nicotine and deliver vapor when inhaled. The liquids come in thousands of flavors, from cotton candy to pizza.Use of the devices has grown quickly in the last decade, with U.S. sales expected to reach $4.1 billion in 2016, according to Wells Fargo Securities. Experts fiercely debate whether the devices can help people give up smoking and whether they are safe - with some studies raising concerns about the toxicity of some of the ingredients. "This research shows e-cigarettes are becoming very popular across Europe - with more than one in ten people in Europe now having tried one," said Filippos Filippidis, who led the European study and published it in the BMJ journal Tobacco Control.Noting that there are still questions about the long-term risks and benefits of e-cigarettes, he added: "We urgently need more research into the devices so that we can answer these questions." The average number of people across Europe who had tried an e-cigarette rose by 60 percent between 2012 and 2014, to 11.6 percent from 7.2 percent.Most people who reported trying e-cigarettes were former or current smokers, although the number who had never smoked tobacco but had tried them also rose.A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday found that in the United States use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices has stalled with about 10 percent of those surveyed using the devices, the same percentage as in a similar poll in 2015. (editing by John Stonestreet)

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South Carolina bans abortion after 19 weeks

CHARLESTON, SC The South Carolina legislature on Tuesday passed a bill banning most abortions after 19 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother's life was at risk, making it the 17th U.S. state to approve such a ban.The bill will head to Republican Governor Nikki Haley's desk, who indicated in March that she would likely sign the legislation.Her office could not be immediately reached for comment.The act, proposed last year in South Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature, passed after it was stripped of exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape of incest. The Senate had approved the bill in March. Sixteen other states have passed similar laws as conservatives seek to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion. Courts have overturned the bans in three states."I believe that life begins at conception and every step we can take to get back to that point is important," the bill's sponsor, Republican Representative Wendy Nanney, said in a phone interview. "In my view and many others it's inhumane to subject that baby to pain at 20 weeks." Critics have said the name of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act goes against medical evidence showing that a fetus at 20 weeks cannot feel pain."This is a dangerous bill for South Carolina women ..., made even more extreme by removing exceptions for victims of rape and incest," Alyssa Miller, South Carolina director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement. "The reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available," Miller said. (Reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Richard Chang)

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'Hyperloop' sled speeds through U.S. desert via electromagnets

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. May 11 A car-sized sled powered by electromagnets rocketed to more than 100 miles (160 kph) an hour through the Nevada desert on Wednesday in what the Los Angeles company developing the technology said was the first successful test of a futurist transit system called hyperloop.Hyperloop One is among several companies competing to bring to life a technical vision by Elon Musk, the founder of rocket maker SpaceX and electric car company Tesla Motors, who suggested sending pods holding passengers and cargo inside giant vacuum tubes between Los Angeles and San Francisco.It's a matter of debate how soon - or whether - passengers and cargo will ride the system at velocities approaching 750 miles per hour (1,200 kph), but Hyperloop One already has raised $80 million from backers including clean technology venture capitalist Khosla Ventures; high-speed railway SNCF, the French National Rail Company; and GE Ventures.Brogan BamBrogan, a former SpaceX engineer who co-founded Hyperloop One, called the test a major milestone."Technology development testing can be a tricky beast," he said to a crowd of 300. "You never know on a given day if things are going to work exactly like you want." The sled began on a train track and then was rocketed to 105 miles per hour by electromagnets as electricity was shot into copper coils. After a short ride, the sled ran into a sand trap, sending out silicon sprays. If all goes according to plan, sleds will levitate and carry pods in a test later this year. Gigantic tubes already are scattered around the Las Vegas area test site.Company Chief Executive Rob Lloyd on Wednesday forecast a hyperloop would transport cargo by 2019 and passengers by 2021. "We're practicing large, fast construction that includes robotic welding. Techniques that allow us to create a perfect production level," he said. "What people think takes years should take quarters."Musk created a stir by saying California could build a hyperloop from San Francisco to Los Angeles for around $6 billion, a 10th of the cost of the state's high-speed rail project.Skeptics say real-world challenges ranging from construction permits to making the new technology work mean the costs are likely to be far greater. "The hyperloop might be promising, but it's still unproven and just an idea. High-speed rail is a proven technology that's been in use around the world for decades," said Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman with the California High Speed Rail Authority.A hyperloop, she said, will run into the same challenges of any other large infrastructure project, including funding, right of way, environmental permits, approvals and clearances. "None of it is easy," she said.Alon Levy, a mathematician who writes about mass transit for the blog Pedestrian Observations, said the cost estimates from hyperloop backers do not fully take into account difficulties such as engineering turns at jet speed or even digging tunnels."I do think Hyperloop can be built. But making it work requires much more money than the builders think, and much more than conventional high-speed rail," he said. (Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Peter Henderson and Leslie Adler)

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Russian oil chief Sechin: OPEC's unity effectively extinct

MOSCOW May 10 OPEC is effectively extinct as a united organisation and the time when it could determine global oil market conditions should be forgotten, Igor Sechin, head of Russia's biggest oil firm Rosneft, told Reuters.The comments are the first from Russia's most influential oil executive after leading crude producers failed to agree to freeze output to support prices at a meeting in Qatar last month. Sechin, a long-standing ally of President Vladimir Putin, has expressed sceptical views about OPEC before, saying that top oil producer Russia should stick to its own strategy and protect its market share. "The 1970s, when a series of the largest Middle East producers could determine global oil market conditions by creating cartel structures such as OPEC, should be forgotten," Sechin told Reuters in e-mailed comments. "At the moment a number of objective factors exclude the possibility for any cartels to dictate their will to the market. ... As for OPEC, it has practically stopped existing as a united organisation." (Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Alexander Winning/Andrew Osborn)

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North Carolina faces Monday deadline on U.S. challenge to bathroom law

WASHINGTON North Carolina officials say they will respond by Monday to the U.S. government's challenge to a controversial law on public restroom access for transgender people, but it was unclear if the state would defy Washington and risk a legal battle.In the newest chapter of transgender Americans' fast-evolving fight for equal rights, the federal government has notified North Carolina that its law is a civil rights violation. The law, which went into effect in March, requires transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate.If the state does not pull back from implementing the first-of-its-kind statute, it could face a federal lawsuit, according to three letters that the U.S. Justice Department sent last week to North Carolina officials.The department declined to say whether it would take legal action, but the letters suggest it is willing to do so, setting the stage for a potentially costly court fight over an issue that has already sparked several boycotts against the state. The letters were "a statement that they clearly are ready to litigate" on behalf of transgender people in North Carolina, said Chai Feldblum, a commissioner at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission works with the Justice Department to investigate discrimination charges by public employees.The president of the University of North Carolina system and a spokesman for North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said in response to inquiries from Reuters that they would respond to the Justice Department by a Monday deadline that the department set. But the state officials declined to say how they would reply. The state's department of public safety, , which also received a letter, did not respond to requests for comment. McCrory and other Republican state leaders publicly affirmed their support for the law after they got the letters last week. They said the Justice Department's conclusion that the law discriminates against public employees and university members amounts to government "overreach." If state officials do not abandon the law and the Justice Department successfully sues for a court order forcing the state to stop enforcing it, the state would have to comply or face the loss of federal funding.North Carolina stands to lose $4.8 billion in federal funding, mainly educational grants, if it does not back down from the law, according to an analysis by lawyers at the University of California, Los Angeles Law School. The Justice Department and McCrory squared off over the same issue last year through amicus briefs in a case involving a similar bathroom rule at Virginia schools. The administration's position was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the same court that would hear appeals in any future federal case over the North Carolina law.The law is already being challenged in federal district court by critics including the American Civil Liberties Union. (Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, NC, and Julia Edwards in Washington; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Mary Milliken)

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