Consumer Health Digest #03-03

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 21, 2003

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.

Glenn Braswell (mail-order scammer) arrested for income tax evasion. Almon Glenn Braswell, who raked in hundreds of millions of dollars marketing mail-order "anti-aging" products with misleading claims, has been charged with conspiring to evade millions of dollars in corporate and personal income taxes. The indictment also charges attorney William E. Frantz, of Marietta, Georgia, and Robert B. Miller, a certified public accountant who resides in Canyon Country, California, with conspiring to evade corporate tax by falsely boosting expenses of his companies. [Owner of California dietary supplement company arrested at Florida home on federal charges of evading payment of millions in income taxes. U.S. Dept. of Justice press release, Jan 14, 2003] During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Braswell was subjected to more than 140 civil regulatory actions related to false claims for products claimed to cure baldness, enlarge the female breast, delay the aging process, cause weight loss, remove "cellulite," and improve the growth and appearance of fingernails. In 1983, he was also convicted for mail fraud, perjury, and tax evasion, for which he subsequently served several months in prison. In recent years, most of Braswell's marketing has been done under the name Gero Vita International. If convicted of all charges in the current indictment, Braswell faces a maximum possible penalty of 51 years in federal prison. Quackwatch has additional information on Braswell and his activities.

FTC spearheads cross-border anti-fraud effort. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and agencies from 16 other countries have joined forces to combat telemarketers, spam emailers, or misleading advertisements who market bogus products, services and investments to consumers from one country to another. The most common cross-border frauds involve phony prize promotions, foreign lottery schemes, advance-fee loan rip-offs, travel offer scams, and unnecessary credit card loss "protection," but health-related products are sometimes involved. The project includes one Web site describing the anti-fraud program and another for lodging complaints.

British homeopath suspended. The British General Medical Council (GMC) has found family practitioner Michelle Langdon, guilty of serious professional misconduct and banned her from practicing for three months. According to press reports, Langdon had advised a couple that the gastrointestinal symptoms of their 11-month-old were caused by "geopathic stress patterns" beneath their home and then "dowsed" for a remedy by swinging a crystal attached to a chain over a book of herbal remedies. A hospital emergency department subsequently found that the child had gastroenteritis. The GMC also examined evidence that another patient had been prescribed a herbal remedy for a sore throat after the doctor dowsed for the treatment and that a third patient was given homeopathic remedies for a sore throat. [Three-month ban for homeopathy GP. BBC News, Jan 16, 2003]

Study examines poison control center data on dietary supplements and herbs. British researchers who surveyed poison control centers in the United States have expressed concern about adverse events associated with the ingestion of herbal and dietary supplements. The researchers concluded that their findings justify product registration, mandatory reporting of adverse events, and other types of increased government regulation. [Palmer ME and others. Adverse events associated with dietary supplements: An observational study. Lancet 361:101-106, 2003]

Showtime attacks pseudoscience. Magicians Penn & Teller will host a provocative weekly series called "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" in which they use principles of trickery and "hidden camera" investigations to "smoke out nonsense peddlers and reveal how they operate." The episodes will air on Friday nights at 11 PM Eastern Standard Time and be repeated once or twice during the following week. The first program, "Talking with the Dead," will debut Friday January 24th. The second program will cover various aspects of "alternative medicine."

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This page was revised on January 24, 2003.