Consumer Health Digest #01-27

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 2, 2001


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.


Top naturopath call's Hulda Clark Zapper "preposterous." The FTC has obtained a temporary injunction against Marvin and Miguelina Beckwith, of Blaine, Washington, who had been selling Zappers and herbs through their "cancercure.com" Web site. Doing business as Western Dietary Products Co., they had claimed that their "Zapper Electrical Unit" is effective against Alzheimer's and HIV/AIDS and that various herbal products can cure cancer and several other serious diseases. The FTC's case was supported by three lengthy affidavits that thoroughly debunked Hulda Clark's theories and treatments.


Tobacco company pays $1 million to lung cancer victim. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, thus ending the first case in which a cigarette company has paid damages for a cigarette-connected illness. The plaintiff, Grady Carter, who began smoking at age 16 or 17, sued the company in 1995 after he developed lung cancer. In March 2001, the Florida Supreme Court upheld a 1996 jury verdict and ruled that payment could no longer be delayed, and Carter received $1,087,191 as full payment plus interest on an award of $750,000. The case officially ended on June 29th when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a final appeal. The appeal centered around whether the 1969 Cigarette Labeling Act, which required health warnings on cigarette packs, would bar state-court claims that the tobacco industry failed to adequately warn the public about the health risks of smoking. Some courts have ruled that it does, but the Florida Supreme Court permitted Carter to argue that the company had acted fraudulently by not disclosing the full extent of dangers it knew about.


Amazon Honor System enables online donations. Amazon.com has set up a system that enables visitors to donate from $1 to $50 online to support sites they like. NCAHF and Quackwatch have both signed up for the service.


FTC sues Streamline International. The Federal Trade Commission has filed suit against Utah-based Streamline International and two of its officers doing business as Action Enterprises and WorldWide Opportunities Network. The suit charges that since 1996, the defendants have fraudulently promoted "Streamline" as a lucrative business, even though the vast majority of participants in the Streamline program achieve little or no financial success. Participants were required to make minimum monthly purchases in order to be eligible to earn recruitment-related commissions from the purchases of their "downline"—individuals beneath them in the organization. The FTC charged that the set-up was an illegal pyramid scheme because retail sales were neither encouraged nor required and were incidental to making money through recruitment of new participants. The program also promoted herbal products with the false claim that they contain only ingredients that appear on the FDA's list of substances generally recognized as safe. "In reality, the complaint says, several products contained comfrey, which can cause liver damage and other problems. [FTC sues nationwide Internet scam: "Health-care" products sold to mask pyramid operation; safety of products misrepresented. FTC news release, June 20, 2001]


FTC summarizes online enforcement actions. The Federal Trade Commission has posted an 80-page summary of the actions it has taken against online scams since 1994. The total number of cases is 180. The earlier ones were financial schemes, but many of the recent ones involved health-related products. [Commission Enforcement Actions Involving the Internet and Online Services, updated May 10, 2001]


Doctors often reluctant to give accurate cancer prognosis. A study of 258 physicians treating about 300 cancer patients at five hospices in Illinois have reported that they would not communicate any survival estimate 23% of the time, would communicate the same survival estimate they formulated 37% of the time, and would communicate a survival estimate different from the one they formulated 40% of the time. Of the discrepant survival estimates, 70% were overly optimistic. The survey also revealed that (a) older patients were more likely to receive frank survival estimates; (b) the most experienced physicians and those who were least confident about their prognoses were more likely to favor no disclosure over frank disclosure; and (c) female physicians were less likely to favor frank disclosure over pessimistically discrepant disclosure. [Lamont EB, Christakis NA. Prognostic disclosure to patients with cancer near the end of life. Annals of Internal Medicine 134:1096-1105, 2001]


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This page was posted on July 2, 2001.