CDC refines definition of vaping-linked illnesses, lowers case count 0 26

CDC refines definition of vaping-linked illnesses, lowers case count

Mixed messages —

AS CDC clears air on illnesses, Trump announces hazy regulation.


A man smokes an e-cigarette.

Enlarge / A man smokes an e-cigarette.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated and revised the national tally of illnesses linked to the use of e-cigarettes, aka vaping, dropping the count from 450 possible cases to 380 confirmed and probable cases, the agency announced late Thursday.

The new figure follows a clearer clinical definition for the illness as well as further investigation into individual cases. The 380 confirmed and probable cases now span 36 states and still include six deaths, as reported earlier. The CDC added that the current number of cases “is expected to increase as additional cases are classified.”

While health investigators are clearing the air around the clinical aspect of the cases, the cause is still foggy. Though all the cases are associated with vaping, investigators have struggled to identify specific vape products or ingredients that tie all the cases and symptoms together.

So far, investigations have narrowed to focusing on contaminants in counterfeit, black-market, and home-mixed vape liquids, particularly ones containing THC. Many people sickened reported using vape liquids containing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) prior to falling ill. But the culprit or culprits are still under investigation.

Other problems

Meanwhile, the issue of e-cigarette regulation became blurred this week as well. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced intentions to ban flavored e-cigarette products. During the announcement he referenced the current outbreak of vaping-related illnesses, saying:

“We have a problem in our country.  It’s a new problem.  It’s a problem nobody really thought about too much a few years ago, and it’s called ‘vaping’… There have been deaths and there have been a lot of other problems.”

Flavored, nicotine-based vape products have generally not been eyed as a suspect in the vaping-related illnesses and deaths—particularly those products made by mainstream manufacturers, such as Juul and Blu.

Such a ban appears unlikely to impact the current outbreak—but it may help combat another public health concern: teen vaping. The Food and Drug Administration and the CDC have long blamed flavored products for the sharp uptake of e-cigarette use in children and teens. The products include fruity, candy, alcohol, and dessert flavors, which are thought to be targeted directly to youth, echoing the tactics that tobacco companies used to entice and hook customers long ago.

E-cigarette use among middle and high school students rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018, according to the CDC. As such, the CDC and FDA have described youth vaping as an “epidemic.”

Dark episode

Vaping industry groups and proponents, however, argue that it’s dangerous to demonize vaping generally and combine the vaping-related illness outbreak with the issue of teen e-cigarette use.

You’re terrifying people who are benefiting from vaping by not smoking,” Clive Bates, a former chief of the UK charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), told Politico.

ASH and government health agencies in the UK have embraced e-cigarettes as a way to wean people off traditional cigarettes. As such, Bates and others think that US authorities should have more nuanced messaging on vaping dangers, particularly those from the unregulated products linked to the illnesses and deaths. Bates added that the current stance by US agencies is creating one of the  “darkest episodes in American public health… They have lost all their moorings with evidence and good practice,” he said.

(While the UK has a high uptake of e-cigarette use, the country has not seen a similar rash of vaping-related illnesses.)

Still, while vaping advocates oppose the ban on flavored products, it’s unclear when or if it will go into effect. The FDA still has to finalize the regulation and experts expect that e-cigarette makers will challenge the legality of the ban in courts.

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“The Switcher” is real: Witcher 3 on Switch is a blurry, tolerable compromise 0 14

“The Switcher” is real: Witcher 3 on Switch is a blurry, tolerable compromise

Yes, it has wet butts —

How do you shrink such a demanding RPG down to Switch’s weaker specs? This is how.


In good news, you can boot straight into expansion content when loading this version of <em>The Witcher 3</em>. I imagine more than a few fans of the game will use this Switch version to dive deeply into either or both of the expansions.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019101116304400-2AF2C4CCD5F28D087B476BE33BFE1BF8-800×450.jpg”></img><figcaption>
<p><a data-height=Enlarge / In good news, you can boot straight into expansion content when loading this version of The Witcher 3. I imagine more than a few fans of the game will use this Switch version to dive deeply into either or both of the expansions.

Since Nintendo’s Switch console launched in 2016, we’ve seen no shortage of holy-cow ports of games we never thought would work on what turned out to be the most underpowered console of this generation. Doom 2016, Dark Souls, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus—that’s a list of demanding 3D games I never expected to launch on Switch, let alone games I’d actually recommend for the system.

But I do so with a pretty hefty asterisk attached. The charm of these games on Switch comes almost entirely due to them being playable on the go, at which point their severe compromises (image quality, rendering resolution) become much more acceptable. What looks iffy on a full-sized TV is easier to shrug off when seen on a six-inch 720p panel.

This week marks the arrival of arguably the most holy-cow port yet on the portable console: CD Projekt Red’s 2015 action-RPG The Witcher 3. This is a game, after all, whose other console versions required quite a few patches to get their most troublesome spots up to a locked 30 frames per second. We went hands-on over the weekend with the game’s final retail version (which launches for Switch on Tuesday) to answer a crucial question: could we expect playability in CDPR’s acclaimed adventure game on an even weaker system?

Not every polygon came through unscathed

  • In many ways, The Witcher 3 dedicates its Switch polygons where they count.

  • And when pre-baked lighting effects emerge, cinematic scenes can look quite handsome, even if they run closer to 20fps.

  • But while characters and certain scenes can look fantastic, a lot of the game’s default geometry, particularly its foliage, can look quite weird.

  • There’s also the matter of some rampant texture pop-in in some cinematic scenes.

  • Even in this cinematic scene, the effects of reduced screen resolution come into play.

  • Some optimized cinema scenes can look crisp and clear enough.

  • What you’re really looking for is real-time gameplay, and the rest of this gallery focuses on that.

  • We don’t have pixel-counting gear in-house, but in action, this looks on par with Doom 2016‘s Switch port.

  • The physics attached to these trees in a wind storm makes them look pretty convincing—at least, as opposed to some of the lower-poly foliage in other scenes.

  • There’s one wolf and one deer in there. That can be kind of hard to discern, even in action.

  • The view distance is okay, but nothing to scream home about.

  • Low-res Witcher.

  • There’s more than bad weather affecting the visibility in this moment.

  • Witchers can just barge in anywhere, can’t they.

The good news is that our initial impressions reveal a mostly locked 30fps refresh rate—stable enough to where the slightest frame rate hiccups have been nigh unnoticeable in our first few hours of play. The most crucial moments of battle and enemy management aren’t ruined by the on-screen action herking and jerking. This is met by some seriously quick loading times; getting from a cold boot to a loaded game save is rarely more than 60 seconds, and loading times between parts of the world are even faster.

The bad news, as can be seen in the gallery above, is that Witcher 3 on the Switch looks a lot more like Witcher 2. For starters, its apparent resolution is some of the blurriest we’ve ever seen on Switch in both docked and portable modes. While the results look comparable to Doom 2016, Witcher 3 is a much slower game, and it demands that you let your eyes linger over massive, dramatically lit landscapes and towns. The blur draped over all of that scenery is more noticeable than, say, a rapid-fire pulse of shotguns through demons’ faces.

Those landscapes are covered in foliage, a fact that impressed back in 2015 with CDPR’s dense rendering system working nearly as well on console as it did on PC. But that system’s polygon count and texture density have both been scaled back dramatically to get trees, shrubs, and other greenery working on Switch. This was probably done to preserve facial detail on pretty much every human character in the game, which is certainly a preferable compromise, but the disconnect between an emotionally brooding Geralt and a dinky, PlayStation 2-era wall of vines is one fans will have to accept if they want to marathon this version of Witcher 3 on the go.

Other major settings like shadow resolution, ground textures, and hair physics have also been scaled back, which you can argue is acceptable or annoying based on your personal preferences. The lower resolution of the Switch screen makes these downgrades a little more tolerable, in my opinion. But enough of the game’s geometry has been noticeably de-tuned that it stands out in the game’s lengthy, well-written cinema scenes (which, I should note, often struggle in the frame rate department, sometimes dipping into 10-15fps range).

One moment, the game will smother its scenery in some of the most handsome, pre-baked lighting effects you may have ever seen on Switch. The next moment, a tight zoom on Geralt and his allies stutters with texture pop-in and grungy foliage effects nearby. That kind of startling visual contrast shows up in this Switch port more than I expected.

Totally playable—just be warned

I don’t mean to say Witcher 3 is unplayable or ruined by the effort spent getting it into Switch-compatible shape. However, completely new players should be warned that CDPR’s cinematic vision for the game is compromised just enough to take this port out of my running for a clear-cut recommendation. If you’ve already played Witcher 3 and want an excuse to burn through it anew on the go, complete with convenient “fast forward to the expansions” shortcuts, then yes, this port is a great reason to return to Nilfgaard. If you don’t have any other consoles or a decent gaming PC, then “Switcher 3” is absolutely playable. (Plus, in my personal opinion, it’s better than Switch’s Skyrim as an on-the-go RPG, even with low resolutions and other visual compromises.)

But if you do have another hardware option and aren’t necessarily itching for a purely portable RPG, take a breath and look at other systems’ heavily discounted versions before making this your very first way to play the game.

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Liveblog: Google’s Pixel 4 (and friends) launch event starts 10/15 0 5

Liveblog: Google’s Pixel 4 (and friends) launch event starts 10/15

Tune in tuesday —

Tune in at 10am ET for the Pixel 4, Pixelbook Go, Nest WiFi, and more.


Promotional image of two smartphones side by side.

Enlarge / Google’s first official picture of the Pixel 4.

It’s that time of year again! Google’s big hardware event kicks off Tuesday, October 15 at 10am Eastern, and we’ll be there with full live coverage of the event. That starts with a liveblog, where we’ll be covering everything announced at the show as it happens.

This year should see a whole suite of Google products launch. Headlining the event will be Google’s next smartphone, the Pixel 4, with a 90Hz display, an air-gesture system powered by Google’s radar “Soli” technology, and a next-gen version of the Google Assistant. There should also be a new Pixelbook, the Pixelbook Go, which sees a return to a more traditional form factor after the collapse of the Pixel Slate.

With Nest’s recent demotion from a standalone company to a Google smart home sub-brand, we should see two new products with the weird branding of “Google Nest.” We’re expecting to see a sequel to the Google Wifi called the “Google Nest Wifi.” This new rev of Google’s mesh Wi-Fi system will reportedly have a primary router that hooks up to your modem and then several satellite devices that are both Wi-Fi mesh nodes and Google Home speakers that accept Google Assistant voice command and can play music. A second-gen Google Home Mini should also launch at the show with an aux jack and better sound, and this one will be rebranded “Google Nest Mini.”

Finally, there’s expected to be a new version of the Google Pixel Buds. Hopefully this time they are fully wireless.

While a lot about Google’s future lineup has leaked, there’s still plenty we hope to learn from the show. We don’t know the prices, release dates, or (probably very limited) country availability for anything. Other than some text descriptions, the Nest Home Mini, Nest Wifi, and new Pixel Buds are mostly mysteries. We’re also not exactly sure why you would want Project Soli in a smartphone or what other surprises Google has in store for the Pixel software.

All will be revealed October 15 at 10am, so be sure to follow along live.

Liveblog starts in:

View Liveblog

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