Consumer Health Digest #01-14
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 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.
Newspaper rips lid off BioPulse cancer fraud. Ten former patients (or family members) have told reporters about their negative experiences at BioPulse International, a Tijuana clinic that offers insulin coma and other dubious treatments to cancer patients. Three patients stated that they had continued costly treatment after being assured that they were significantly better, but when they returned to the United States, x-ray films and bone scans revealed that their condition was unchanged or worse. Dr. Heriberto Valenzuela, president of Tijuana's Society of Radiologists, said that BioPulse had withdrawn as a client of his radiology group because the group's reports showed no benefit from the clinic's treatments. Valenzuela indicated that other "alternative" clinics have stopped using his services for the same reason. (Crabtree P, Dibble S. Too good to be true? Some BioPulse patients angry about its claims, results. San Diego Union-Tribune, March 31, 2001.)
Cancer quack indicted again. A federal Grand Jury for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has indicted Gregory Earl Caplinger on 39 counts of wire fraud. For many years, Caplinger falsely represented himself as a medical doctor who was board certified in internal medicine, immunology, and oncology, even though he has had no medical training whatsoever. Most of the criminal counts involved wire transfers of large sums of money from patients seeking treatment at his former Dominican Republic clinic. In July 2000, after a 6-day trial. a North Carolina jury convicted Caplinger of wire fraud and money laundering related to investments in his clinic and alleged medication. However, he did not show up to hear the verdict and is now a fugitive. The new charges carry a maximum possible sentence of 195 years imprisonment and a $9.75 million fine. [Press release, United States Attorney's Office, March 29, 2001.]
Women and Smoking: New Surgeon General report. U.S. Surgeon General David Thatcher, M.D., has released a 620-page report warning that women now account for 39% of all smoking-related deaths each year in the United States, a proportion that has more than doubled since 1965. The report's major conclusions include:
- Despite all that is known of the devastating health consequences of smoking, 22% of women smoked cigarettes in 1998.
- In 2000, 29.7% of high school senior girls reported having smoked within the past 30 days.
- Since 1980, approximately 3 million U.S. women have died prematurely from smoking related neoplastic, cardiovascular, respiratory, and pediatric diseases, as well as cigarette-caused burns.
- Lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women; it surpassed breast cancer in 1987. About 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths among women who continue to smoke are attributable to smoking.
- Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of lung cancer and coronary heart disease among women who are lifetime nonsmokers.
- Infants born to women exposed to environmental tobacco smoke during pregnancy have a small decrement in birth weight and a slightly increased risk of intrauterine growth retardation compared to infants of nonexposed women.
- Women who stop smoking greatly reduce their risk of dying prematurely, and quitting smoking is beneficial at all ages.
- Smoking during pregnancy remains a major public health problem despite increased knowledge of the adverse health effects of smoking during pregnancy.
- Tobacco industry marketing is a factor influencing susceptibility to and initiation of smoking among girls, in the United States and overseas. Tobacco ads and promotions targeted to women are dominated by themes of social desirability and independence.
Bills seek federal regulation of tobacco products. On March 15, Representative Greg Ganske, M.D. (R-Iowa) and 38 co-sponsors introduced the FDA Tobacco Jurisdiction Act of 2001 (H.R. 1043), which would enable the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. The bill's introduction occurred nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the FDA could not regulate tobacco without Congressional authorization. H.R. 1043 would validate rules the FDA proposed in 1996 and direct the agency to include additional restrictions on marketing, advertising, and access as described in the 1997 agreement between state attorneys general and tobacco companies. Six more representatives have signed on as co-sponsors. On March 20, Rep Ganske introduced the FDA Tobacco Authority Amendments Act (H.R. 1097), which would give similar power to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. That bill has 53 co-sponsors. Both bills were referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Their texts can be accessed by searching for them in the Thomas Register.
California court orders mail-order school shutdown. After a lengthy court battle, the California Department of Consumer Affairs received authority to permanently close Columbia Pacific University (CPU), a correspondence school that has been operating illegally in that state for several years [DCA press release, March 12, 2001]. On February 21, 2001, a Marin County Superior Court Judge entered a final judgment ordering CPU to:
- Pay $10,000 in penalties to the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education.
- Permanently stop operating or offering any educational programs in California.
- Notify all students enrolled from June 25, 1997 to December 1, 2000 of the injunction and of their right to a refund.
- Provide refunds to all students within 30 days of their request.
- Provide a status report to the Court by June 30, 2001.
Failure to comply with the above order constitutes contempt of court, which is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. However, CPU now uses a Montana address and still appears to be soliciting students. It's Web site does not mention the California order. Further information on CPU and some of its notable holders of health-related "degrees" is available on Quackwatch.
York University faculty opposes chiropractic affiliation. On March 28, the Atkinson College Faculty Council rejected a motion that "the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies establish an association with the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC) and that this association lead to offering the DC (Doctor of Chiropractic), with a York approved curriculum." The vote was 26 against, 21 for, and 2 abstentions. (Atkinson is a college within the University that has nursing and health policy and management programs. York's Faculty of Pure and Applied Science voted similarly in 1998.
Dr. Barrett wins prestigious award. On March 30, Stephen Barrett, M.D., received the American Association for Health Education's 2001 Distinguished Service Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the health and well-being of mankind through health education." AAHE represents more than 7,500 health educators and health-promotion specialists. The award is presented annually to one or more organizations or individuals outside of the health education profession. Since 1975, 28 organizations and five other individuals have received it.
Exposé of Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D. Probe newsletter has published a double issue describing the activities of Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D., who claims to cure cancer with dietary modification, supplements, enzymes, and coffee enemas. In April 2000, a jury awarded $282,000 in damages to the husband of a 40-year-old college professor who had died of Hodgkin's disease in 1995. The jury found Gonzales negligent because he failed to arrange "appropriate testing" to track the cancer, relying instead on a radionics device that allegedly determines "cancer rates" from a hair specimen. In 1994, after investigating six of Gonzalez's cases, New York State licensing authorities had concluded: (a) his "alternative protocol" did not entitle him to an alternative standard of care; (b) he had failed to correctly interpret signs and symptoms of disease progression, and (c) he had treated the patients incompetently. Despite these problems, NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has awarded a large grant to Columbia University to study his work. The 16-page report is available for $10 from Probe, Box 1321, Cathedral Station, New York, NY 10025.
This page was posted on April 2, 2001.