Consumer Health Digest #01-06
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 5, 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.
Clinton pardons mail-order felon. The 140 convicted felons Bill Clinton pardoned just before leaving office included A. Glenn Braswell, who was convicted in 1983 of mail fraud, perjury, and tax evasion in connection with selling products claimed to promote hair growth, remove cellulite, and increase bust size. Pardons normally require demonstrated good conduct for a substantial period of time after the criminal sentence is completed. Braswell's current mail-order scams hardly fit that description. U.S. News and World & World Report states that he is under investigation by the FDA, FTC, IRS, and several state attorneys general and that a federal grand jury in Los Angeles is investigating him for money laundering and tax evasion. [Pasternack D. Another dubious pardon: Why did Clinton forgive a felon under fresh investigation? U.S. News & World Report, Feb 12, 2001.] The attorney who represented Braswell in his pardon efforts was a former U.S. attorney who represented Al Gore in his Florida recount efforts. But so far, no one connected with Braswell's pardon has publicly explained how and why it was done. See Quackwatch for comprehensive background information on Braswell.
MotherNature.com shutting down. MotherNature.com, which went online in 1996 and redesigned its Web site in 1998, has announed that it is going out of business and is liquidating its assets. Its 5000-page site marketed more than 18,000 products, most of which were vitamins, other supplements, herbs, or homeopathic products. Its features included:
- An "Encyclopedia of Natural Health" that recommended products for more than a hundred conditions. Many of the recommendations were preposterous.
- A "Wellness Advisor Network," which practitioners could join and get a "mini web site" containing their picture, office address, treatment philosophy, and supplement recommendations. Advisors were entitled to receive 20% of the sales generated through their mini site or to have the amount donated to one of eight charitable organizations. On January 20, 2001, 118 practitioners and clinics were listed.
- Moderated message boards where "members" could share experiences and seek advice from one another.
- Full-text posting of 20 health-related titles from Rodale Press, with whom MotherNature.com maintained a strategic partnership. Several of these books are filled with misleading advice about treatment. In April 2000, Rodale Press owned 6.4% of the common stock.
Although sales grew steadily, they were minuscule compared to the company's advertising budget. For further information, see http://www.quackwatch.org/12Web/mothernature.html
NCAHF Speakers Bureau. The National Council Against Health Fraud is organizing a speakers bureau. All NCAHF members are eligible for listing. Entries for posting to NCAHF's web site should be sent to Dr. Barrett.
HON survey. The Health on the Net Foundation, the leading organization attempting to promote Web site quality, is conducting a survey of use of Internet to obtain health information. The survey, which takes about 30 seconds to complete, is supported by more than 80 organizations in 21 countries.
Astrologer arrested. The Associated Press has reported that astrologer Ambalal Shantidas was arrested after predicting that another earthquake would hit the state of Gujarat, India, an area that had already been devastated by a quake. Other astrologers followed with similar predictions, creating panic that led many people to sleep out in the open. Shantidas was charged under an Indian law that makes spreading rumor an offense.
Vaccination safety supported. The February 1, 2001, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reports on two controlled epidemiologic studies favorable to vaccination. One investigated the vaccination history of MS patients who had relapsed between 1993 and 1997. The researchers found no association between MS relapses and tetanus, hepatitis B or influenza vaccination. [Confavreux C. Vaccinations and the risk of relapse in multiple sclerosis. NEJM 344:319:-326, 2001] The other examined whether multiple sclerosis (MS) developed more frequently among women who had been vaccinated against hepatitis B within two years before their first MS attack. The researchers found no association between vaccination and the onset of MS and no relationship between the number of doses of vaccine received and development of the disease. [Asscherio A and others. Hepatitis B and the risk of multiple sclerosis. NEJM 344:327-332, 2001.]
Saccharin label warnings will stop. The Saccharin Warning Elimination via Environmental Testing Employing Science and Technology Act ("SWEETEST Act"), which was signed into law in December 2000, will eliminate the warning message from products containing saccharin. A warning that "saccharin has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals" has been required for more than 20 years, even though many scientific groups had opposed it. The requirement followed in the wake of a study in which very large doses of saccharin caused bladder tumors in rats. The SWEETEST Act was passed after a National Toxicology Program review concluded that saccharin poses no health hazard to humans. The report concluded that (a) the observed bladder tumors in rats arise by mechanisms not relevant to humans and (b) no data in humans suggest that a carcinogenic hazard exists. [Appendix B. Agents, substances, mixtures, or exposure circumstances removed from the report on carcinogens. In Report on Carcinogens, 9th edition. Bethesda, MD: National Toxicology Program, 2000]
Prunes becoming "dried plums." In June 2000, the FDA granted a request by the California Prune Board to use the tern "dried plums" as an alternative to "prunes." On November 29, 2000, the California Prune Board became the California Dried Plum Board. The board's 2000/2001 marketing objectives are to (a) increase awareness that prunes are dried plums, (b) change the image of prunes from "old and laxative" to healthy and contemporary, and (c) increase trial and usage among younger target markets. Research conducted by the board had shown that younger consumers were more likely to try "dried plums" than "prunes" and had a more positive image of dried plums. Regardless of their name, prunes are an excellent fat-free substitute for butter, margarine, and oil in baked products and are a good source of vitamin A and fiber.. [2000/01 domestic marketing program. California Prune News No 116, Aug 2000.]
This page was updated on February 15, 2001.