Consumer Health Digest #03-20

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 20, 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.

New blood pressure guidelines issued. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has released new clinical practice guidelines for preventing, detecting, and treating hypertension (high blood pressure). The guidelines feature modified blood pressure categories, including a new "prehypertension" level that covers about 22% of American adults (about 45 million persons). High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease; is the chief risk factor for stroke and heart failure; and can lead to kidney damage. It affects about 50 million Americans -- one in four adults. Treatment aims for blood pressure to be less than 140 mm Hg systolic and less than 90 mm Hg diastolic for most people with hypertension (less than 130 systolic and less than 80 diastolic for those with diabetes and chronic kidney disease). Key aspects of the new guidelines include:

The NHLBI Web site has considerable information, including a free consumer booklet (Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure) and a PDF copy of the full report.

Major trade group attacks coral calcium claims. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) which represents the interests of about 70 large dietary supplement ingredient suppliers, manufacturers, and companies that service the industry, has issued a letter urging federal agencies to crack down on coral calcium advertising. The letter's third paragraph states that CRN is concerned that "permitting continuation of such highly visible and fraudulent claims" will undermine consumer confidence in . . . . those responsible companies who provide quality products based on sound science." Although outrageous claims for coral calcium have been flooding cable television and the Internet for at least two years, CRN did not act until the major media began debunking them and it became obvious that regulatory action will be taken. About 10% of CRN's members have been subjected to regulatory action for improper marketing. In a recent interview, an FTC official said that coral calcium "is certainly an area that historically, priority-wise, we would be very interested in." [Packer-Tursman J. From the depths: Many experts don't swallow extraordinary claims for calcium supplements derived from sea coral. Washington Post, May 20, 2003]

FTC spearheading anti-spam initiatives. The Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, three United States Attorneys, four state attorneys general, and two state regulatory agencies have filed 45 criminal and civil law enforcement actions against spammers. In addition, the FTC and 21 U.S. and international agencies are urging organizations in 59 countries to close the open relays that allow spammers to avoid detection by spam filters and law enforcers. [Law enforcement posse tackles Internet scammers, deceptive spammers. FTC news release, May 15, 2003] The FTC has also issued a 16-page analysis of 1,000 spam messages drawn from a pool of over 11 million spams collected from the public, undercover FTC email boxes, and FTC employee inboxes. The report noted that consumers have been forwarding about 130,000 messages per day to the FTC's spam database. About 10% involve health-related products such as dietary supplements, weight loss products and sexual aids.[False claims in spams: A report by the FTC's Division of Marketing Practices, April 3, 2003]

Spammer charged with identity theft and forgery. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has announced the arrest of Howard Carmack, an email marketer known as the "Buffalo Spammer." The charges, four felony and two misdemeanor counts, stem from a scheme Carmack used to send forged spam emails through accounts opened using stolen identities. ['Buffalo spammer' arraigned on identity theft and forgery charges. NYAG press release, May 14, 2003] According to court papers filed by EarthLink in civil litigation Carmack and accomplices used 343 stolen identities to sign up for email accounts through which he sent about 825 million spams offering a herbal sexual stimulants, cable descramblers, get-rich quick schemes, spamming software, and bulk email lists. [Earthlink announces legal action against New York spam ring. Earthlink press release, May 7, 2003] Earthlink's civil case quickly yielded an injunction and a $16.4 million judgment. The Wall Street Journal has published a detailed account of how Earthlink tracked down Carmick's real identity. [Angwin J. Hunting 'Buffalo' - Elusive spammer sends web service on a long chase - EarthLink uses lawyers, private eyes to track sender of online junk. Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2003] The New York Times reported that Carmack previously was convicted of forging postal mail orders.

FTC sues phony "Do Not Call" pre-registry operator. The FTC has filed suit against Ken Chase, of Novato, California, doing business as Free Do Not Call and National Do Not Call List.US. In July 2003, consumers will be able to put their telephone numbers in the FTC's "Do Not Call" National Registry, which telemarketers subsequently will be required to access. When registration opens, registration online or by telephone is free of charge. Bulk third-party registration will not be permitted. Chase's sites falsely offered to place consumers on the list and to prevent unsolicited faxes and junk mail. FTC cracks down on "pre-registration" scams for the National "Do Not Call" List. FTC news release, May 8, 2003] Both sites have been shut down.

Quackwatch debunks chiropractic testimony to IOM "CAM panel. Dr. Stephen Barrett has posted a detailed critique of testimony presented on February 27 to the Institute of Medicine's panel on "complementary and alternative" practices by Anthony N. Rosner, Ph.D., who directs the Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research (FCER). In addition to funding research, FCER also issues publications that promote subluxation-based chiropractic care. [Barrett S. Analysis of misleading chiropractic testimony to the Institute of Medicine's "CAM" committee. Quackwatch, posted May 19, 2003]

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This page was posted on May 20, 2003.