Consumer Health Digest #02-50

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 10, 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.

European Union votes to restrict tobacco advertising. The European Union (EU) has voted to outlaw tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines, on the internet, and at sports events. The restrictions, most of which will take effect in 2005, were approved by health ministers from 13 of the 15 EU nations. The new rules will also bar tobacco companies from distributing free tobacco products as a promotion, but advertising in theaters, on billboards, or through indirect ads (such as on clothing) will still be permitted. Tobacco advertising on television and radio was eliminated years ago.

FTC attacks Body Solutions weight-loss scam. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has charged Mark Nutritionals, Inc., of San Antonio, Texas, and its officers, Harry Siskind and Edward G. D'Alessandro, Jr., with making false and unsubstantiated claims for Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula. The formula's current ingredients include stevia, conjugated linoleic acid, "proprietary blends" of chromium (such as chromium picolinate, chromium polynicotinate, and chromium cruciferate), aloe vera gel, hydrolyzed collagen, chicory, plant teas, and amino acids (l-lysine, l-ornithine, l-arginine, l-carnitine, l-glycine and trimethylglycine), none of which have been proven effective for weight control.

According to the FTC complaint, the defendants made sales primarily through ads that were read by local radio personalities who pretended to have lost weight using the product. More than 650 stations in 110 cities carried the ads. These ads and the company's Web site claimed that the product would cause result in substantial and permanent weight without diet or exercise, even if substantial amounts of high-calorie foods were consumed. The FTC estimates that since January 1999, the defendants took in more than $190 million in sales of Body Solutions products. [Body Solutions products come under fire by the FTC. FTC news release, Dec 5, 2002] The case illustrates that even though the FTC can get very aggressive after a scam reaches significant size, weight-loss frauds will continue to flourish unless laws are passed to make mail frauds unprofitable. Three possible provisions are: (1) forfeiture of all income from fraudulently advertised products; (2) easy criminal prosecution; and (3) making the media that carry fraudulent ads at least partially accountable for the damage they cause.

On Sept 17, 2002, Mark Nutritionals filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy production. A local news report states that the company owed creditors, including many radio companies, up to $50 million. The report also notes that Siskind had marketed weight-loss cookies through a company called Texas D'Lites, which had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in 1998. [Nowlin S. Body Solutions lays off about 50. San Antonio Express-News, Oct 11, 2002]

Attorneys general in Texas and eleven other states are also suing the company. The Texas suit also names Siskind's wife Patti (Executive Vice President of Mark Nutritionals), Research Foundation, Inc (previously named Health and Medical Research Foundation, which served as the company's "research arm"), and Gilbert R. Kaats, Ph.D. (executive director of Research Foundation, Inc.) [Attorney General Abbott sues national dietary supplement marketer, News release, Dec 5, 2002]

Metabolife hit with $4.2 million verdict. A jury has awarded $4,178,500 to four individuals (and their spouses) who alleged that Metabolife 356 had caused three of them to suffer strokes and other health problems and one to have a heart attack. The plaintiffs alleged that the product was unreasonably dangerous and that the company had negligently and intentionally misrepresenting material facts. The jury concluded that each plaintiff was negligent in using the product but ruled that Metabolife International, Inc., was liable for various amounts of compensatory and punitive damage. [Ephedra diet drug caused heart attacks, strokes. VerdictSearch, Nov 19, 2002] This is the first of many lawsuits filed against different makers of ephedra-containing products to go to trial. Several dozen have been settled out-of-court. [Gugliotta GR. Woman wins $13.3 million against dietary company. Washington Post, Feb 8, 2001] Ephedra poses danger because it can raise blood pressure.

Utah's "holding therapists" withdraw bid for legal recognition. Practitioners of "holding therapy" in Utah have failed in an attempt to set up a licensing board to enable them to escape outside regulation. In September, the Utah Department of Occupational and Professional Licensing charged the prime movers behind the licensing effort with using unethical and coercive restraint techniques that included laying on children while using hands and arms to apply pressure to the abdomen and other areas. [Santini J. License request withdrawn. Salt Lake Tribune, Dec 5, 2002] Proponents of "holding therapy" claim to help children overcome "attachment disorders." Critics correctly counter that the techniques lack validation and are a form of torture. The legislature will take up a bill next month banning the holding techniques, which have been implicated in several deaths, including recent ones in Utah and Colorado.

New book hits chiropractic misconduct. The Naked Chiropractor: Insider's Guide to Combatting Quackery and Winning the War Against Pain promotes what short-term spinal manipulation can accomplish but lays bare how most chiropractors rip off their patients. It states, for example:

Autographed copies are available for $21.95 plus $3 shipping from the author (Preston H. Long, D.C.), 2421 E. Southern Ave., Suite 5. Tempe, AZ 85282.

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This page was revised on December 14, 2002.