Consumer Health Digest #08-12
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 18, 2008
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.
MLMs dropped from proposed Business Opportunity Rule. The FTC has withdrawn its proposal to protect prospective distributors from exaggerated income claims by multilevel marketers. In April 2006, the FTC proposed to require all sellers of business opportunities to provide enough information to enable prospective buyers to make an informed decision about their probability of earning money. The most important provisions pertained to MLM companies, in which independent distributors sell products, recruit more distributors, and theoretically profit from both their own sales and those of the people they recruit. This week, after considering public comments, the agency issued a revised notice of proposed rulemaking (RNPR) that excluded MLM companies. The RNPR claims:
- The initial rule would have imposed greater burdens on the MLM industry than other types of business opportunity sellers without sufficient countervailing benefits to consumers.
- Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act remains a "flexible and effective weapon against MLMs that engage in unfair and deceptive practices."
Neither of these claims is valid. MLM companies nearly always exaggerate what new distributors are likely to make. The vast majority of newly recruited MLM distributors do not make significant income. In addition, few if any health-related products have a legitimate market because they provide no significant benefit, are grossly overpriced, or both. Meaningful disclosure, which might deter millions of people each year from wasting their time and money by signing up as distributors, would cost very little. Moreover, the FTC lacks both the willingness or the resources to attack misleading claims by hundreds of companies on a case-by-case basis. Comments on the RNPR can be made online until May 27, 2008. Thereafter, rebuttal comments can be made up to June 16.
Bogus cancer therapist sentenced to prison. Paul John Rana, of Wyndam Vale, Australia, has been sentenced to six months in prison for breaching Australia's Trade Practices Act. [Bogus cancer therapist jailed. Herald Sun, March 20, 2008] Rana and his company, NuEra Wellness. marketed expensive regimens with claims that it could cure cancer. The RANA System, which cost up to AU$35,000, included vitamin and mineral supplements; laetrile (also known as vitamin B17); Cesium or high PH therapy; devices called parasite/energy zappers, Zen Chi Massages, and Magnetic Pulsers; coffee enemas, ozone therapy, diets described as eating according to blood type; live blood analysis; and thermal imaging. In 2006, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) challenged Rana and the company to document their claims. When they failed to provide documents, the ACCC obtained an injunction and initiated criminal charges.
Nutri-Energetics ordered to stop unsubstantiated claims. The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered Nutri-Energetics Systems (NES) to stop claiming that its system can "map the quantum electrodynamics body-field" and that its products can solve a wide range of health problems. NES is based on the notion that the "human body field" is the "master control system of the biochemical processes of the body." Alleged problems are assessed by placing the patient's hand in a "body field scanner" that detects problems that can be corrected by administration of liquid "infoceutical" products that contain traces of minerals encoded to "realign" and "energize" the body field so the body can heal itself. The treatment is available through a network of practitioners who have been trained and "certified" by NES. The advertising brochure that the ASA examined stated:
When you take an Infoceutical as drops in water, the QED information acts as a magnetic signpost to the subatomic particles in your body-field; aligning these particles helps to restore optimal heath ... the NES software is able to 'read' your body-field and compare it to the optimum human body-field, which is encoded into the software. The NES Infoceuticals then provide the proper information (or software) to restore your body's proper functioning. The aspects of the human body-field that a screening reveals include: Major organ systems, Environmental toxins, Nutrition, Musculoskeletal, Emotional states, Viruses/Bacteria. Correction of these essential criteria can be vital in solving a wide range of complaints, including digestion, weight, muscular, nervous and skin problems as well as fatigue, headaches, and other health problems. After a short time using the Infoceuticals, most clients experience increased health, vitality, mental and emotional clarity.
NES told the ASA that the brochure was obsolete and that supportive research has been done since it was published. The ASA responded that the research was insignificant and ordered the company (a) not to make future advertising claims without supportive evidence available and (b) not to claim effectiveness against serious or prolonged medical conditions. [ASA Adjudication: Nutri-Energetics Systems Ltd. March 19, 2008] Current claims on the NES Web site are as blatant as those in the brochure, but the ASA does not have jurisdiction over Internet advertising.
Vaccine-related settlement misrepresented. Antivaccination zealots are misrepresenting the significance of a case that has been dismissed from the Omnibus Autism Proceeding. Early this month, U.S. government agreed to compensate the family of Hannah Poling, one of the approximately 5,000 families that had claimed that vaccines had caused their children to become autistic. Children with proven reactions to certain vaccines are entitled to payment from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). Several years ago, those seeking to link vaccination and autism were grouped together in the Omnibus proceeding. The centerpiece of their argument is that a mercury-containing preservative (thimerosal) causes autism. Although there is no scientific evidence of any such connection, antivaccination groups are claiming that that the Poling case supports their argument. However, Hannah was removed from the Omnibus proceeding because her case differed from the rest. The government concluded that her vaccinations had probably aggravated a rare underlying mitochondrial disorder and produced a brain condition with "features of autism spectrum disorder"—but not autism. This made the family eligible for compensation under the VICP. [Parikh RK. What the Poling autism case means: The widely publicized court victory for the family who claimed vaccines caused autism in their daughter does not prove a link. Casewatch, March 13, 2008]
This page was posted on March 20, 2008.