Consumer Health Digest #03-21

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 27, 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.

Illinois bans ephedra in "dietary supplements." On May 25, 2003, Illinois became the first state to prohibit the sale of any dietary supplement containing any quantity of ephedra (ma huang) or ephedrine alkaloids. The Ephedra Prohibition Act (SB 1418) was signed at a ceremony in which Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich stated that the FDA should have done something similar a long time ago. Under the new law, first-time violations constitute Class A misdemeanors punishable by imprisonment for less than one year, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. Subsequent violations constitute a Class 3 felony, punishable by imprisonment for less than 5 years, a fine of not more than $20,000, or both. The law exempts products that are explicitly approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services as safe and effective for their intended use or have FDA approval as an over-the-counter drug. The preamble to the Act states that the FDA has received 18,000 reports of adverse reactions, many of which were experience by people under the age of 40.

Connecticut enacts smokefree workplace law. Following the lead of California, Delaware, and New York, Connecticut has enacted a law requiring all restaurants and bars to be smokefree. The new law, Public Act No. 03-45, requires restaurants to be smokefree by October 1, 2003 and bars to be smokefree by April 1, 2004. The proposal was supported by the Connecticut Restaurant Association, which had opposed similar bills in the past but acknowledged this year that the danger of secondhand smoke to employees and patrons was a growing concern. Maine, Florida, and Massachusetts are considering similar bills.

FDA warns homeopathic eardrop manufacturer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered the Similasan Corporation of Breckenridge, Colorado, to stop marketing its Healthy Relief Homeopathic Ear Drops for treating earache. [Collins B. Warning letter to David Hinton. May 5, 2003] FDA regulations permit nonprescription homeopathic products to be marketed for "self-limiting disease conditions amenable to self-diagnosis . . . and treatment." The FDA letter notes that "earache is usually caused by some underlying disease process that requires diagnosis and treatment by a physician, and accordingly should not be self-treated." Homeopathy is a 200-year-old pseudoscience based on notions that (a) substances that produces symptoms in a healthy person can cure ill people with similar symptoms and (b) infinitesimal doses can be highly potent. The FDA tolerates the marketing of most homeopathic products even though they have not been proven effective. The Similasan warning represents a departure from the FDA's usual policy of ignoring unsubstantiated homeopathic claims. However, although the warning letter demanded compliance within 15 days, Similisan's home page still claims that the product "may help both children and adults to avoid antibiotics."

Pilot program to pay doctors for electronic services. In January 2003, RelayHealth reported that medical office claims were $1.92 lower per member per month and total care reduced $3 per member per month for patients with access to the plan's webVisit service. [The RelayHealth webVisit study: Final results] In March, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA) announced a pilot program to pay physicians for on-line webVisits by established patients who pay an office visit copayment. The program also allows physicians to distribute educational resources and prevention care reminders. [Blue Cross Blue Shield signs contract with RelayHealth to reimburse physicians for webVisits. RelayHealth press release, March 6, 2003] RelayHealth, founded in 1999, provides secure online services that link patients, professionals, payers, and pharmacies.

British media accused of misrepresenting MMR vaccine risk. The Economic and Social Research Council has accused the British news media of unnecessarily frightening the public about measles/mumps/rubella vaccine. The study examined 561 media reports over a seven-month period focused on the possible link between the vaccine and autism. The authors concluded that these reports were either one-sided (presented only accusations of risk) or provided a "balance" of views that caused many readers to conclude that the views of the scientific scientific community were equally divided. [Public duped by media over MMR. ERSC news release, May 23, 2003] Responsible investigations have found no link between MMR vaccine and autism.

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This page was revised on May 29, 2003.