Consumer Health Digest #02-09
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 26, 2002
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.
Federal judge curbs "Miss Cleo." A federal judge has entered a stipulated preliminary injunction in the FTC case filed last week against Access Resource Services, Inc. (ARS) and Psychic Readers Network (PRN). The Florida-based companies, which are the largest providers of "psychic" audiotext services in the United States, use a national network of "psychic readers," including the purportedly renowned psychic "Miss Cleo." The FTC charged that the defendants misrepresented the cost of services both in advertising and during the provision of the services; billed for services that were never purchased; and engaged in deceptive collection practices. The defendants also allegedly harassed consumers with repeated, unwanted, and unavoidable telemarketing calls that consumers could not stop. [FTC obtains stipulated preliminary injunction against promoters of "Miss Cleo." FTC news release, Feb 21, 2002] The injunction bars defendants from:
- Falsely advertising that a "reading" will be provided at no cost
- Misrepresenting the cost of the calls
- Calling consumers frequently and repeatedly, and failing to provide consumers with a reasonable method to stop such calls
- Falsely representing that consumers are legally required to pay for services
- Representing that the 900 number provided to callers has been "prepaid," or that the service can be reached through a "free call"
- Using toll-free telephone numbers in advertisements without disclosing that the advertised service is accessed through 900 numbers
The Associated Press has reported that nearly six million people have called the service, with an average call costing more than $60. The companies have also been sued by at least eight other states, and Florida authorities have a separate lawsuit challenging "Miss Cleo" (Youree Dell Harris) to prove that she really is a renowned shaman from Jamaica.
Herbalife facing new class action suit. A class action suit has been filed against Herbalife International and several leading distributors who set up a promotional organization within Herbalife called "The Newest Way to Wealth (NWTW)." The suit alleges that NWTW's set-up constituted an illegal pyramid scheme that Herbalife should have corrected and that the eventual loss to more than 5,000 persons will probably total more than $40 million. [Nancy Jacobs et al. vs Herbalife International et al. U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Los Angeles Division, Case No. 02-01431 FMC, filed Feb 15, 2002]
FDA endorses dental amalgam. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a "Consumer Update" statement that "no valid scientific evidence has ever shown that amalgams cause harm to patients with dental restorations." While indicating that research continues to look for "possible subtle and long-range health effects," the statement notes that in 1997, the World Health Organization concluded that, "Dental amalgam restorations are considered safe, but components of amalgam and other dental restorative materials may, in rare instances, cause local side effects or allergic reactions. The small amount of mercury released from amalgam restorations, especially during placement and removal, has not been shown to cause any other adverse health effects." Similar conclusions have been reached by the United States Public Health Service, the European Commission, the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden, the New Zealand Ministry of Health, and Health Canada. [Consumer Update: Dental amalgams. FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Feb 11, 2002.]
California docs wants legal smoking age raised. The California Medical Association has passed a resolution directing the group's lobbyists to support legislation to raise the legal age for buying or possessing tobacco products. The association also wants to ban their sale to youngsters younger than 21. The current minimum age for buying cigarettes is 19 in Alabama, Utah, and Alaska and 18 in the other 47 states.
FTC targets fraudulent radiation protectors. The Federal Trade Commission has charged two companies with falsely representing that their products reduce consumer risk by blocking nearly all of the radiation and other electromagnetic energy emitted by cellular telephones. FTC charges sellers of cell phone radiation protection patches with making false claims. FTC news release, Feb 20, 2002] According to the FTC complaint:
- Stock Value 1 (SV1), Inc., of Boca Raton, Florida advertised that its "SafeTShield" and "NoDanger" products block electromagnetic energy emitted from cellular and cordless telephones.
- Comstar Communications, of West Sacramento, California, advertised that its "WaveShield," "WaveShield 1000," and "WaveShield 2000" enhance user safety by blocking up to 99% of the radiation entering the soft tissue of the ear canal."
- Both defendants failed to disclose that most of electromagnetic energy emitted by portable phones comes from the antenna and other parts of the phone and is not affected by their devices.
A recent report by the General Accounting Office concluded that scientific research does not demonstrate that the radio frequency energy emitted from mobile phones has adverse health effects, but the findings of some studies have raised questions indicating the need for further investigation. [Telecommunications: Research and Regulatory Efforts on Mobile Phone Health Issues GAO-01-545 May 7, 2001] The FTC advises consumers who wish to limit their exposure to use to short conversations or increase the distance between the antenna and the head by using a hands-free set or a car phone with the antenna outside the car.
Verdict against chiropractic college overturned. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a $285,000 punitive damage award to 19 graduates of Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City. The jury had awarded each of the former students $1 for actual damages and $15,000 in punitive damages for negligently failing to disclose that the students would have to recruit most of their own patients. The appeal court's decision upheld this conclusion but left the students with actual damage awards of only $1 each. The court ruled that the students did not present convincing evidence to show that the college knew that misrepresenting patient availability would result in injury or loss to its students. [Morris M. Punitive damages awarded to ex-students of KC chiropractic college thrown out. Kansas City Star, Feb 22, 2002] The case is important because Cleveland is not the only school where students have trouble finding enough genuine patients to meet accreditation standards. The plaintiffs' attorney has not yet indicated whether a further appeal will be filed.
This page was posted on February 26, 2002.