Consumer Health Digest #05-40

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 4, 2005


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.


"Dr. Phil" McGraw facing class-action lawsuit. Three dissatisfied customers are seeking class-action status for a suit against psychologist Phil McGraw and a company through which he marketed products under the "Shape Up!" brand name. The suit, filed in Los Angeles in 2004, alleges that McGraw falsely claimed that the products would cause weight loss by promoting fat metabolism and reducing carbohydrate cravings and appetite swings. The products, which cost about $120 for a month's supply, were supposedly tailored for the person's "body type," a concept for which there is no scientific support. The Los Angeles Times has reported that the FTC dropped an investigation in 2004 when the company agreed to stop marketing the products. [Selvin M. Class status sought for 'Dr. Phil' diet case. Los Angeles Times, Oct 3, 2005] The suit is posted on Casewatch.


Bogus device operator hit for large penalties. A King County Superior Court Judge has ordered Monte Kline, who prescribed dietary supplements and other products based on the results of electrodermal testing (EDT), to pay a $1 million civil fine for 9,426 violations of the State of Washington's Consumer Protection Act and practicing medicine, naturopathy and acupuncture without a license. The judge also ordered Kline and his clinic, Pacific Health Center, of Bellevue, Washington, to (a) deposit more than $700,000 into a trust account for repaying former customers, (b) pay the state for the cost of processing the case, (c) refrain from the unlicensed practice of any form of health care for which a license is required, (d) refrain from representing in advertising or in practice that EDT can guide appropriate treatment for any human ailment, and (e) refrain from preparing or selling homeopathic remedies in conjunction with diagnosing medical conditions.

The state Court of Appeals has partially stayed the Superior Court's order while Kline appeals it, but he is not allowed to continue testing without posting a $200,000 bond. The case began in 2003 when the Washington Attorney General accused Kline and the clinic of misrepresenting the significance of his credentials and the diagnostic capabilities of EDT. EDT is a bogus procedure claimed to detect "imbalances" in the flow of "electromagnetic energy" through the body. The devices are fancy galvanometers that reflect how hard the operator presses a probe against the patient's skin. No such device can be legally marketed in the United States for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Kline has a "PhD in Nutrition & Wholistic Health Sciences" from Columbia Pacific University, a nonaccredited correspondence school that was ordered to cease operations in California in 2001. The court orders have been posted to Casewatch.


Flagrant vitamin scammer ordered to halt illegal claims. The FDA has ordered Don Lapre to stop claiming that "The Greatest Vitamin in the World" is effective against a long list of serious diseases and conditions. [Walker SJ. Warning letter to Donald Lapre, July 19, 2005] Since 2003, Lapre and an associate have been using Web sites and infomercials that promise large bonuses to people who become sellers of the product. Quackwatch has a detailed report on his past activities.


FTC spearheads Internet consumer protection alliance. A multimedia campaign to help consumers stay safe online has been launched by a partnership that includes cybersecurity experts, online marketers, consumer advocates, and federal officials. The participants include the Department of Homeland Security, United States Postal Inspection Service, Department of Commerce, GetNetWise, National Cyber Security Alliance, Anti Phishing Working Group, TRUSTe, i-SAFE America, AARP, National Consumers League, Direct Marketing Association, SANS Institute, WiredSafety.org, National Association of Attorneys General, and Better Business Bureau. [FTC and partners urge consumers to be on guard online. FTC news release, Sept 27, 2005] The campaign's new OnGuard Online Web site contains tips, articles, videos, and interactive activities that address how to recognize scams; shop securely; avoid hackers and viruses; and deal with spam, spyware, and phishing. Its article on Spam Scams includes weight loss claims and cure-all products among the ten types of spams to screen out.


New book about vaccine shortages. Paul A. Offit, M.D., who directs the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has produced a detailed account of the 1955 disaster in which Cutter Laboratories, which was licensed to produce a killed-virus polio vaccine, shipped many lots containing live virus that caused 70,000 cases of illness, with 200 cases of permanent paralysis and 10 deaths. The book describes how the resultant lawsuits triggered events that have discouraged vaccine development and production to this day. The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis is available from Amazon Books for $18.15 plus shipping.


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This page was revised on October 5, 2005.