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By | Lewis Page 31st July 2007 15:06

Reg health roundup: good and bad news today

Laser printers as bad as cigarettes and not as tasty

An astonishing barrage of IT-industry health related stories broke overnight, engendering an emotional rollercoaster of alternating terror and hope here at Vulture Central.

First up was the news from Down Under that Australian medical-fear researchers have discovered that laser printers will kill you. According to The Age, your office printer "could be posing as much danger to the lungs as a drag on a cigarette".

The Age reports on research by Professor Lidia Morawska of the Queensland University of Technology (suggested acronym: QUoTe). It seems that laser printers are constantly vomiting out "dangerous levels of tiny toner-like material".

Toner-like? Or actually toner, maybe? If it isn't actually toner coming out of there, what the hell is it?

"These [printer] particles are tiny like cigarette smoke particles," Professor Morawska told The Age. "When deep inside the lung, they do the same amount of damage ... the results can range from respiratory irritation to more severe illness such as cardiovascular problems or cancer."

We say: holy crap. When, oh when will the government and/or the UN finally act? Instead of fooling about driving the smokers out onto the street, why in the name of all that's holy haven't they implemented a crackdown on the poison-spewing printers of death?

Obviously, any deviant so addicted to paper that they just can't do without is welcome to stand in the street and print stuff out, or do it in the privacy of their own home or car. But it's wholly unacceptable for these marginal narco-terrorists to drag the rest of us down with them in an invisible, silent snowstorm of lung-dissolving particulate filth.

Fortunately, the revelation of the chemical-warfare threat lurking under the desk was counterbalanced by some more positive news for those following an IT-friendly lifestyle.

According to Reuters, "exercise and moderate caffeine consumption together could help ward off sun-induced skin cancer". Helpfully, this was accompanied by a pic of delicious, life-giving, caffeine-laden espresso gurgling from the machine.

The message was clear. Drink coffee and you won't get cancer. Disappointingly, however, it turned out that the coffee'n'cardio cancer-busting regime is so far shown to work only in "hairless mice".

Apparently, boffins from Rutgers University in New Jersey found themselves with a lot of totally bald mice on their hands. It's perhaps best not to ask why, though it might have something to do with the fact that other eggheads have after huge efforts managed to meddle with mice's DNA in such a way that they are born congenitally insane.

Naturally enough, the Rutgers scientists seized the heaven-sent opportunity to toast their bald mice under ultraviolet lamps while making some of them run on exercise wheels and drink coffee. Others had to work but got no coffee, still others went on a student style coffee-but-no-work regime, and a final contingent just sat about and soaked up the rays. This last group died in droves: this was assumed to be due to the ultraviolet, but it's always possible that the Rutgers people had left a laser printer in the room.

Apparently, heavy caffeine intake while toiling endlessly to get nowhere on a pointless treadmill was far and away the healthiest lifestyle, boding well for many of us. Bald laboratory rodents following this regimen showed a "400 per cent" increase in "ability to kill off precancerous cells that could lead to skin cancer". But, in fact, the mice showed a very worthwhile 100 percent boost just by drinking the coffee (or just by doing exercise, but who cares).

The Reuters hacks had clearly missed the main scoop: just drinking coffee can ward off skin cancer. Well, for sure if you're a completely bald mouse, anyway. By extension it ought to work for IT people (and tech hacks), as long as they aren't covered in downy fur - the more so as these people seldom go outside during daylight hours.

Based on this, it logically has to be at least possible that a steady diet of cheap whiskey is good for you in some way.

What does all this mean? We're not sure. But it seems enough to justify a comprehensive programme of tests on partially-bald humans to see whether drinking rotgut enables them to survive in the presence of laser printers.

We'll let you know how it turns out. ®

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