Consumer Health Digest #04-12

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 22, 2004


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.


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Major providers file anti-spam suits. America Online Inc., EarthLink Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Yahoo! Inc. have joined forces to file suit under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003, which went into effect Jan. 1. The effort includes six suits charging hundreds of defendants with sending a combined total of hundreds of millions of messages to customers of the four networks. The suits charge that the defendants violated the CAN-SPAM law by:

In April 2003, the four companies formed an alliance that meets regularly to proactively address the spam problem that threatens the effectiveness of e-mail as an essential means of communication. By collaborating with other telecommunications companies and industry partners, the group expects to improve technical standards, enforcement techniques, and litigation. [America Online, EarthLink, Microsoft and Yahoo! team up to file first major industry lawsuits under new federal anti-spam law. AOL news release, March 10, 2004]


Herbal formulations found to vary widely. Researchers from the University of Minnesota have reported the results of a survey of herbal products at twenty retail stores in and around Minneapolis. The chosen herbs were echinacea, St. John's wort, ginkgo biloba, garlic, saw palmetto, ginseng, goldenseal, aloe, Siberian ginseng, and valerian. The authors noted that 43% of 880 products were labeled with the ingredients and dosage that had been used in published studies of the ingredients. The actual ingredients were not measured, but the survey indicated that many manufacturers failed to formulate their products to correspond with available research data. [Garrard S and others. Variations in product choices of frequently purchased herbs: Caveat emptor. Archives of Internal Medicine 163:2290-2295, 2003]


Phony weight-loss patch marketers settle FTC charges. Marketers of the "Peel Away the Pounds" patch, which was widely advertised in infomercials, have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they made false and unsubstantiated weight loss claims in violation of the FTC Act. The FTC complaint alleges that the defendants falsely claimed that the seaweed-based skin patch causes as much as three to five pounds of weight loss per week, and made other false and unsubstantiated claims. The claims included statements like: "Simply follow our system: Place Pound A Patch on your upper body. Then carry on with your everyday lifestyle. Every three days peel off the patch and watch as you take off the pounds. Replace with a new patch and drop more pounds. It's that easy." The settlement requires the defendants to stop making certain false weight-loss claims, and to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims for any other health-related product, program, or service. The FTC's complaint names patch manufacturer Advanced Patch Technologies, Inc. (APT) and its principal, Salomon Btesh; marketers PAP Systems, LLC, Buckhead Marketing & Distribution LLC (BMD), and their principals, Ralf Leszinski and Nancy Duitch; and expert endorser, chemist Jesse Starkman. The FTC complaint also names two "relief defendants" who benefited from the scheme: APT principal Bernard Silverfarb, and BMD affiliate Buckhead Marketing Group, LLC. The FTC has obtained two stipulated final judgments and orders that together require the defendants to pay $1,175,000. One order settles charges against PAP, BMD, Ralf Leszinski, Nancy Duitch, and BMG, and requires a $1 million consumer redress payment. It contains a $24.4 million judgment, which is suspended except for the $1 million payment, with an "avalanche clause" that requires the defendants to pay the full amount if they understated their financial status. The other order settles charges against the others and requires a $175,000 payment. The FTC states that (a) no nonprescription product will cause meaningful weight loss without diet or exercise; (b) claims that patches, creams, and wraps can cause substantial weight loss are a "red flag" for falsity, and (c) marketers should not make those claims; the media should not run them; and consumers should not buy them. [Marketers of "Peel Away the Pounds" patch settle FTC charges of false & unsubstantiated weight loss claims. FTC news release, March 10, 2004]


Two Canadian acupuncturists reportedly used inadequate sterilization. The Quebec government has asked more than 1,100 people to undergo testing for HIV and hepatitis because Suzanne Sicotte, an osteopath who practiced acupuncture illegally in Montreal for 25 years, had failed to follow proper sterilization techniques. Dr. John Carsley, who heads the Montreal public health unit, said Sicotte was dipping needles into a chemical solution instead of using heat to sterilize them. Sicotte was fined CN$7,000 and is no longer practicing acupuncture. [Ray P. More than 1,100 people need blood tests after illegal acupuncture in Montreal. The Canadian Press, March 15, 2004] Earlier this month, in Toronto, a judge gave permission for a $30-million class-action suit against acupuncturist, Sandra Testaguzza, who allegedly spread disease to patients by using unsterilized needles between 2000 and 2002. Concerns over Testaguzza's treatment of her patients began in December, 2002, after about 20 people contracted skin abscesses caused by an unusual organism. [Edwards P. More patients have skin disease: Number rises from 12 to 20 .Acupuncture clinics still closed. Toronto Star, Dec 24, 2002]


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