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Consumer Health Digest #03-39

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 7, 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.

National "Do Not Call" list takes effect. Despite efforts by the telemarketing industry (which the public probably regards as moral and credible as the tobacco industry), the FTC's Do Not Call system has begun to operate. As of October 1, more than 50 million telephone numbers registered with the FTC are off-limits to unsolicited calls from companies that do not have established business relationships with the recipients. Two weeks ago, after a federal judge in Oklahoma ruled that the FTC lacked the authority to run the registry, Congress quickly passed a law to clarify that it does. On September 25, in a case brought by the American Teleservices Association, a federal district judge in Utah ruled that a registry that prohibits calls from businesses but not charitable and political groups, is unconstitutional. But on October 7, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the FTC's request to stay the district court order while the FTC is appealing it. Consumers can file complaints beginning Saturday, October 11 at 6 p.m. at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222. Those who registered before August 31 can complain about any telemarketing call received after October 1. To file a complaint, you must know the date of the call and either the name or the phone number of the company that called. Consumers who put numbers on the registry after September 1, 2003, must wait three months before filing a complaint. The registration process will reopen on October 8th. Both judges who ruled against the list received a flood of calls from angry consumers.

Neways pleads guilty to illegal HGH sales. Neways International, of Springville, Utah, has pleaded guilty to a felony count of illegally distributing a product containing human growth hormone. The product, called BioGevity, was was touted as having a rejuvenating effect, including having the ability to "lower cholesterol, lower triglycerides, increase IGF-1 levels [insulin-like growth factors], improve sexual frequency, decrease wrinkle appearance, [and] increase body fat loss." Neways' promotional material also claimed that its oral spray was the equivalent of injectable HGH. As part of a plea agreement with the government, Neways has agreed to pay a criminal fine of $500,000 and to forfeit $1.25 million, which represents the profits it made by selling BioGevity from March 1999 until April 2000, when it removed the hormone from its formula. Neways sold about 100,000 bottles of BioGevity during the time it contained HGH in the product. HGH cannot be sold without a doctor's prescription. As part of its guilty plea, the company officials have agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation being conducted by the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations. Sentencing is expected to take place in December. [US Attorney, Central District of California. Utah company pleads guilty in illegal sale of human growth hormone. Press release Oct 3, 2003] Neways is a multilevel company that markets through a network of independent distributors. The company's Web site states that BioGevity contains "lurong Extract with growth nutrients to support already healthy cells, and the uptake of amino acids" and "supports the body's own natural production of growth nutrients" to "help you maintain youthful vitality." Lurong extract is said to be derived from deer antler velvet. A BioGevity fact sheet dated July 2000 states that it also contains bovine colostrum, ginkgo biloba, and vitamin C and that it "aids the body's overall health," "supports against the effects of aging," provides growth nutrients to maintain cellular health," "maintains cardiovascular function and already normal blood pressure," and "assists the body's natural immune function," "enhances athletic performance," supports reproductive function, "enhances mental acuity," and "supports healthy weight management." These claims have not been scientifically substantiated. In 2002, Neways founders and owners Thomas and Leslie DeeAnn Mowers surrendered executive control of the company after being charged with tax evasion and conspiracy for allegedly failing to report $3 million in commissions on overseas sales of cosmetics and health supplements. [Hunt S. Neways owners plead innocent on tax evasion charges. Salt Lake City Tribune, Dec 21, 2002] A subsequent indictment charged former Neways corporate attorney James Thompson of Chandler, Arizona, with conspiracy and obstructing an IRS investigation and lodged a second conspiracy charge against the Mowers, saying all three tried to conceal an additional $1 million in Neways sales. [Grand jury adds to indictment. Salt Lake City Tribune, April 10, 2003] The company's annual sales have been reported to exceed $400 million.

California cuts chiropractic Workers' Comp coverage. California Senate Bill 228, which takes effect on January 1, 2004, states that for injuries occurring on or after that date, an employee shall be entitled to no more than 24 chiropractic and 24 physical therapy visits per industrial injury. The new law, part of a 6-bill package intended to curb runaway costs, was passed in the wake of a two reports which concluded that the costs of treating back strains and sprains for injured workers with physical medicine services, such as manipulations, exercise, hot and cold packs and massage are greater when the care is directed by chiropractors than when it is managed by physicians. [Barrett S. New California law limits Workers' Compensation visits to chiropractors. Chirobase, Oct 7, 2003]

"Ab Force" marketers charged with false claims. The FTC has charged that Telebrands Corp., TV Savings LLC, and their owner, Ajit Khubani have falsely claimed that their "Ab Force" belt can cause loss of weight, inches, and fat; causes well-defined abdominal muscles; and is an effective alternative to regular exercise. The businesses are located in Fairfield, New Jersey. In May 2002, the agency filed similar charges against other marketers of similar belts. [Marketer of electronic abdominal exercise belt charged with making false claims. FTC alleges "Ab Force" belt won't provide rock-hard abs. FTC news release, Oct 3, 2003] The FTC has taken four previous actions against Ajit Khubani and Telebrands. In 1990 and 1996, the Commission obtained consent judgments prohibiting Khubani and his corporations from violating the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (Mail Order Rule) and requiring them to pay penalties of $35,000 (1990) and $95,000 (1996). In 1999, the FTC modified the existing 1996 consent judgment with the defendants and obtained penalties of $800,000 to resolve alleged violations of the Mail Order Rule. In addition, in 1996, the FTC obtained an administrative order prohibiting Khubani and Telebrands from violating the FTC Act in connection with the marketing of television antennas and hearing aids.

FDA homeopathic regulation examined. HomeoWatch has republished a 2001 article that examines passage of the federal law that has enabled homeopathic products to be marketed without scientific proof of safety or effectiveness. The 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, spearheaded by a Senator who was also a homeopath, recognized products listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia as drugs. The article's author, an FDA Historian, postulated that FDA officials did not oppose this provision because they believed it would enable the agency to attack bogus products masquerading as homeopathic. Today, thousands of homeopathic products -- both listed and unlisted -- are marketed with false claims that they are effective. [Junod SR. An alternative perspective: Homeopathic drugs: Royal Copeland, and federal drug regulation. HomeoWatch, Oct 7, 2003] The agency has attacked some of the most egregious promotions, but the vast majority have been left alone.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield blasts unproven allergy methods. The Blue Cross/Blue Shield Technical Evaluation Center has published scholarly position statements which conclude that sublingual immunotherapy and serial endpoint testing have not been substantiated and should therefore not be covered by its insurance plans. Sublingual immunotherapy involves placement of allergen preparations under the tongue. Serial endpoint testing involves the injections of increasing doses of antigen to determine the concentration at which the reaction changes from negative to positive.

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This page was posted on October 8, 2003