Consumer Health Digest #03-24

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 17, 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.

Court stops coral calcium infomercials. A federal court in Chicago has issued temporary restraining orders to stop Kevin Trudeau and his company Shop America from claiming that coral calcium supplements can cure cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other serious diseases. Trudeau is also barred from access to the company's funds until a trial determines potential restitution. The improper claims have been widely disseminated through infomercials in which Trudeau hosted interviews with coral calcium's leading promoter, Robert Barefoot. The judge's order was based on a stipulation between the FTC, Trudeau and his company. The FTC and Barefoot appear to be headed for a parallel stipulated agreement with a court session scheduled for June 20th.

The temporary restraining order also applies to Biotape, another product that Trudeau promoted with an infomercial. The FTC is charging that the infomercial violates a 1998 FTC order prohibiting Trudeau from making unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of any product. Biotape's developer, Darrell Stoddard, claims that pain is caused by blockage of "life force" ("chi") and that the tape is conductive mylar that "connects the broken circuits." Users are instructed place a strip of Biotape directly on the parts of their body where they feel pain. The FTC has not filed taken action against Stoddard, but there is good reason to believe it will do so.

Seasilver ordered to halt marketing. On June 13, The FTC filed a complaint and obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting Seasilver USA, Inc., and Americaloe (which manufactures their liquid mineral product) from selling or distributing their product without substantial changes to their labeling and marketing materials. The order also appointed a Temporary Receiver to examine the business and review plans to deal with the FTC complaint. On June 16, government agents removed boxes of documents from the company's headquarters offices in Carlsbad, California. [Supplement maker reportedly under federal investigation: Agents carry off documents from Carlsbad company. NBCSan, June 17, 2003] On June 17, the Receiver advised distributors:

Effective immediately, you must cease and desist from making any false or misleading statements or representations in connection with the marketing, distribution or sale of any Seasilver product, specifically including but not limited to representations that Seasilver cures or treats cancer, enables 9 of 10 diabetes patients to stop insulin, leads to weight loss without dieting, treats or cures typhoid or anthrax, is proven to be non-toxin, and/or provides any other health benefits without competent and reliable scientific evidence. [McNamara TW. Memo to all Seasilver associates, June 17, 2003]

The Receiver also sent a memo to "All Seasilver Business Associates Who Are Operating Websites to Promote and Sell Seasilver Products," stating that if they were operating an independent Web site not authorized by Seasilver they must take it down or risk termination as a distributor. [McNamara TW. Immediate termination of your websites. Memo, June 17, 2003] On the company Web site, the text of all pages with health claims has been replaced with the words "Under Construction."

Seasilver is said to contain colloidal silver and about 90 other ingredients derived from "whole food matrices." It has been vigorously marketed through multilevel marketing, infomercials, and thousands of Web sites. (It and coral calcium appear to be the Internet's hottest products, with well over 100,000 pages locatable with search engines.) The co-chairman of Seasilver USA's medical advisory board is Daniel G. Clark, M.D., whose Florida medical license was permanently revoked in 1983 for unprofessional practice. Quackwatch has a detailed report about Seasilver's history and marketing.

Penis-enlargement scammers forfeit $35 million. Michael A. Consoli, Vincent J. Passafiume, and several others have signed a consent agreement under which they forfeited about $35 million in seized cash property to settle charges that they had marketed penis enlargement pills with false claims. Operating as C.P. Direct, Inc., the trio falsely claimed that their product "Longitude" would permanently enlarge the penis by 1-3 inches; that "Stature" would permanently increase height by 1-4 inches; and "Full and Firm" capsules would increase female breast size by 2-3 cup sizes. The defendants also agreed that they would not resume any form of direct marketing without prior authorization from the Arizona Attorney General and would not enter any business agreement involving the sale of nutritional or electronic products without showing a copy of the settlement agreement to the other parties. Documents in the case indicate that the "before-and-after" photographs had been copied from a competitors' Web site and had no connection with the defendants' products. This appears to be by far the largest financial settlement ever obtained in a quackery-related case. Claim forms for victimized buyers will eventually be available from the property receiver's Web site. For additional information, see Quackwatch.

Quackwatch wins "best site" award. MD NetGuide, the leading Internet journal for physicians, has given Quackwatch its 2002 "Netty Award" as the best Internet site developed and maintained by a single physician. The winner was determined primarily by vote of the magazine's readers after the editors nominated five sites. In describing Quackwatch's history, the editors called it "the bane of Internet-based medical fraud worldwide." [Pass the envelope, please... MD NetGuide, May 2003]

Antioxidant use gets bad report card. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have concluded that long-term supplementation with vitamin E or beta-carotene has not been proven beneficial in preventing cardiovascular disease. To reach this conclusion, they analyzed seven randomized controlled trials of vitamin E treatment and eight of beta-carotene treatment, all of which included at least 1,000 patients. The dosage ranged from 50 to 800 IU for vitamin E and 15 to 50 mg of beta-carotene; and follow-up ranged from 1.4 to 12.0 years. The vitamin E trials involved a total of 81,788 patients, and the beta-carotene trials involved 138,113. Compared with control treatment, Vitamin E did not increase the overall death rate or significantly decrease the risk of cardiovascular death or stroke. Beta-carotene led to a small but significant increase in overall deaths and a slight increase in cardiovascular death. Thus, although epidemiologic evidence has suggested that these antioxidant supplements may be beneficial, clinical trials have found otherwise. [Vivekananthan, DP and others. Use of antioxidant vitamins for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of randomized trials. Lancet 361:2017-2023, 2003] The full text of the article is online, but registration is required to access it.

Cigarette promotion expense hits all-time high. The FTC's latest annual report on cigarette sales and advertising states that in 2001, the six largest cigarette manufacturers spent $11.22 billion on advertising and promotional expenditures in 2001-- 17% more than $9.59 billion spent in 2000 and 67% more than the $6.73 billion spent in 1998. The report also indicates that per-capita sales have fallen steadily since 1994.

Body-wrap marketers sign consent agreement. The district attorneys of Orange County and Santa Clara County have settled a civil lawsuit against Cos-Medical, Inc. and Cos-Medical International, Inc. The complaint, filed last year, charged that defendants had violated California's weight loss contract law and made misleading claims about the effectiveness of programs and products and the profitability of licensing and distributor agreements. The consent agreement includes civil penalties of $40,000 and restitution to eligible customers, and prohibits unsubstantiated claims that body wrap treatments shrink or dissolve fat deposits. [Case against COS-Medical Body Wrap-Weight Loss Centers settled. Orange County District Attorney news release, May 30, 2003]

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This page was posted on June 17, 2003.