CVS Caremark plans to snuff out tobacco sales at stores due to health care focus

CVS Caremark’s decision to pull cigarettes and other tobacco products from its stores could ripple beyond the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain.

The move, which drew praise from President Barack Obama, doctors and anti-smoking groups when it was announced on Wednesday, puts pressure on other retailers to stop selling tobacco from their shelves as well. But first they have to overcome their addiction to a product that attracts customers.

"They don’t make much money on tobacco, but it does draw people into the store," said Craig R. Johnson, president of the retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners.

CVS Caremark Corp. said it will phase out tobacco by Oct. 1 in its 7,600 stores nationwide as it shifts toward being more of a health care provider. CVS, like other drugstore chains, have been adding in-store clinics and expanding their health care offerings. They’ve also been expanding the focus of some clinics to include helping people manage chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes.

CVS CEO Larry Merlo said the company concluded it could no longer sell cigarettes in a setting where health care also is being delivered. In fact, as CVS has been working to team up with hospital groups and doctor practices to help deliver and monitor patient care, CVS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troyen A. Brennan said the presence of tobacco in its stores has made for some awkward conversations.

UN: Vatican adopted policies that allowed priests to rape children

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican "systematically" adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a U.N. human rights committee said Wednesday, urging the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.

In a devastating report hailed by abuse victims, the U.N.committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.

The Vatican promptly objected and its U.N. ambassador accused the committee of having betrayed the international body’s own objectives by allowing itself to be swayed by pro-gay ideologues. He said it appeared the committee simply hadn’t listened when the Holy See outlined all the measures it has taken to protect children.

The report, which took the Vatican by surprise in its harsh tone, puts renewed pressure on Pope Francis to move decisively on the abuse front and make good on pledges to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it. The commission was announced in December, but few details have been released since then.

The committee issued its recommendations after subjecting the Holy See to a daylong interrogation last month on its implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the key U.N. treaty on child protection, which the Holy See ratified in 1990.

GOP conservatives adamant in ruling out immigration overhaul in 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservative Republicans on Wednesday ruled out any immigration legislation in the House this year, insisting that the GOP should wait until next year when the party might also control the Senate.

House GOP leaders unveiled their broad immigration principles last week that gave hope to advocates and the Obama administration that the first changes in the nation’s laws in three decades might happen in the coming months.

Immigration legislation is one of the top priorities for Obama’s second term.

But several of the conservatives were adamant that the House should do nothing on the issue this year, a midterm election year when the GOP is angling to gain six seats in the Senate and seize majority control. Democrats currently have a 55-45 advantage but are defending more seats, including ones in Republican-leaning states.

"I think it’s a mistake for us to have an internal battle in the Republican Party this year about immigration reform," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told reporters at a gathering of conservatives. "I think when we take back the Senate in 2014 one of the first things we should do next year after we do certain economic issues, I think we should address the immigration issue."

Scientists add sense of touch to robotic hand, a step to more lifelike prosthetics

WASHINGTON (AP) -- To feel what you touch -- that’s the holy grail for artificial limbs. In a step toward that goal, European researchers created a robotic hand that let an amputee feel differences between a bottle, a baseball and a mandarin orange.

The patient only got to experiment with the bulky prototype for a week, and it’s far from the bionics of science fiction movies. But the research released Wednesday is part of a major effort to create more lifelike, and usable, prosthetics.

"It was just amazing," said Dennis Aabo Sorensen of Aalborg, Denmark, who lost his left hand in a fireworks accident a decade ago and volunteered to pilot-test the new prosthetic. "It was the closest I have had to feeling like a normal hand."

This isn’t the first time scientists have tried to give some sense of touch to artificial hands; a few other pilot projects have been reported in the U.S. and Europe. But this newest experiment, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, shows Sorensen not only could tell differences in the shape and hardness of objects, he also could quickly react and adjust his grasp.

"It was interesting to see how fast he was able to master this," said neuroengineer Silvestro Micera of Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, who led the Swiss and Italian research team. "He was able to use this information immediately in a quite sophisticated way."

Michigan officer’s decision to examine old files led to woman who escaped in 1977

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A Michigan officer’s decision to look through old files on fugitives led investigators to a woman who escaped from a Michigan prison 37 years ago and was living in San Diego, authorities said Wednesday.

Judy Lynn Hayman, 60, will be returned to Michigan to complete her sentence for attempted larceny.

"We can’t just write it off," said Russ Marlan, spokesman for the Michigan Corrections Department. "We don’t have the ability to say, ‘It’s been a long time. You’re free to go."’

It will be up to the state Parole Board to determine how long Hayman will be imprisoned. She had served eight months of an 18- to 24-month sentence for attempting to steal clothes from a Detroit-area store. She could face a separate criminal charge for the escape.

Hayman’s capture wasn’t the result of an intense search. It happened mostly because of winter weather and an officer’s decision to blow the dust off old files.

FACT CHECK: GOP I-told-you-so chorus over health overhaul study misrepresents its conclusions

WASHINGTON (AP) -- New estimates that President Barack Obama’s health care law will encourage millions of Americans to leave the workforce or reduce their work hours have touched off an I-told-you-so chorus from Republicans, who’ve claimed all along that the law will kill jobs. But some aren’t telling it straight.

The analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the law will give several million people an opportunity to work less or not at all, because they won’t be stuck in jobs just for the sake of keeping the health insurance they get from employers. To some Republicans, that amounts to "wreaking havoc on working families," "dire consequences for workers" and a shower of pink slips across the land -- conclusions unsupported by the report.

The study estimates that the workforce will be reduced by the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers by 2021 as people choose to leave it. More would take early retirement, work fewer hours or otherwise rearrange their work-home balance to take advantage of new subsidies for health insurance and new markets for individual policies that don’t depend on having a job.

In a key point overlooked in the GOP response, the report says: "The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor."

In other words, workers aren’t being laid off. They are taking themselves out of the workforce, in many cases opening job opportunities for others.

Mysterious outdoor noises traced to rare ‘frost quakes’ that crack ground, startle homeowners

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Chuck Herron heard the loud thud, then another and another. It sounded like someone was dropping big snowballs on the roof of his home.

The house is more than 100 years old and creaks, Herron said, but he had "never heard anything like that before."

As his neighbors in tiny Paris, Mo., huddled around televisions Sunday for the Super Bowl, many were startled by similar strange noises. Some even saw flashes of light and called 911.

Scientists say the community experienced a rare natural phenomenon known as a "frost quake," which happens when moisture in the ground suddenly freezes and expands. If conditions are just right, the soil or bedrock breaks like a brittle frozen pipe, generating mysterious noises that range from an earthquake-like rumble to sharp cracking sounds sometimes mistaken for falling trees.

This winter has been ripe for frost quakes, known technically as cryoseism. Temperatures have been frigid, but occasional warm-ups have allowed for thawing. And the temperature swings have sometimes been abrupt.

NYC medical examiner: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s autopsy inconclusive, further tests needed

NEW YORK (AP) -- Four people were taken into custody on drug charges after police investigating Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death executed search warrants, two people with knowledge of the investigation said Wednesday, and the medical examiner’s office said more tests are needed to determine what killed him.

There was no timetable for Hoffman’s autopsy to be finished, said medical examiner’s office spokeswoman Julie Bolcer, who declined to discuss the pending tests. Toxicology and tissue tests are typically done in such cases.

Police believe the Oscar-winning actor may have died from a drug overdose, though his death is being investigated as suspicious pending a more definitive ruling by the medical examiner.

Hoffman was found dead Sunday with a needle in his arm, and tests found heroin -- but no traces of the potent synthetic morphine additive fentanyl, which is added to intensify the high and has been linked to 22 suspected overdose deaths in western Pennsylvania -- in samples from at least 50 packets in his apartment in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, law enforcement officials have said.

The four people were taken into custody Tuesday night after police executed search warrants at several city apartments based on a tip provided by a confidential source that they may have supplied Hoffman with drugs, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because investigators have not obtained evidence to corroborate the reported connection.

Lifelike sculpture of sleepwalking man wearing underpants causes stir at Mass. college

WELLESLEY, Mass. (AP) -- A remarkably lifelike sculpture of a man sleepwalking in nothing but his underpants has made some Wellesley College students a bit uncomfortable, but the president of the prestigious women’s school says that’s all part of the intellectual process.

The sculpture entitled "Sleepwalker" of a man in an eyes-closed, zombie-like trance is part of an exhibit by sculptor Tony Matelli at the college’s Davis Museum. It was placed at a busy area of campus on Monday, a few days before the official opening of the exhibit, and prompted an online student petition to have it removed.

The sculpture is a "source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault" for many, according to the petition, which had nearly 300 signees on Wednesday.

The petition started by junior Zoe Magid called on President H. Kim Bottomly to have the artwork removed.

That appeared unlikely, according to a joint statement issued Wednesday by Bottomly and museum Director Lisa Fischman.