Consumer Health Digest #03-43
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 4, 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.
Senate passes anti-spam bill. Spurred by the enormous public response to the FTC "Do Not Call" Registry, the U.S. Senate has voted 97-0 to pass the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 ("CAN-SPAM Act of 2003"). The bill (S. 877), sponsored by Senators Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), provides for both civil and criminal penalties. The civil penalties include:
- a requirement that senders of marketing e-mail to include a return address so the consumer can tell them to stop
- a requirement that unsolicited messages include clear notification that the message is an advertisement, and a valid physical postal address
- a prohibition on false and deceptive headers and subject lines so that consumers can immediately identify the true source of the message, and so that Internet companies can identify the high-volume senders of spam
- a provision to triple the monetary damages imposed on spammers who engage in particularly nefarious spamming techniques such as using automatic software programs to "harvest" e-mail addresses from Web sites, and using "dictionary attack" software to send messages to a succession of randomly generated e-mail addresses in search of real recipients.
- strong enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission, state Attorneys General, and Internet service providers (ISPs), with the potential for multimillion-dollar judgments
The criminal provisions create penalties of up to 5 years in prison for:
- hacking into somebody else's computer to send bulk spam
- using "open relays" to send bulk spam with an intent to deceive
- falsifying header information in bulk spam
- registering for 5 or more e-mail accounts using false registration information, and using these accounts to send bulk spam
- sending bulk spam from somebody else's Internet protocol addresses
The bill also requires the FTC to (a) report to Congress within 9 months with a plan to implement a "do-not-spam" list, similar to the "do-not-call" list, (b) share any potential drawbacks or difficulties with implementing such a list, (c) write rules for mandatory labeling of pornographic messages, and (d) consider mandatory labeling for unsolicited e-mail generally, as well as possible financial rewards for tech-savvy citizens who help trace hard-to-find spammers. The legislation also gives the FTC the authority to implement a do-not-spam list. However, the FTC has expressed concerns that such a registry would do more harm than good because unethical spammers might exploit the massive listing to gather more e-mail addresses and because a U.S. registry would not stop the many spammers who operate from overseas with little fear of U.S. law enforcement.
A European Union anti-spam directive that also targets automatic calling system unsolicited faxes went into effect last week.
Homeopathic zinc cold remedy marketers sued. Dennis and Debra Christensen of Almena, Michigan have filed suit against the marketers of Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel, a homeopathic product claimed to "reduce the severity and duration of common cold symptoms even when treatment is started as late as the second day after onset of illness." The suit alleges that Dennis Christenson sustained permanent loss of his sense of smell following a single application of the product. Several similar cases were reported at a recent meeting of the American Rhinologic Society. The case report authors state that direct application to the inner lining of the nose has long been known to produce loss of the sense of smell. The suit is posted on HomeoWatch.
Oregon physicians charged with illegal Internet drug sales. The Oregon Attorney general has charged two doctors with illegally marketing prescription drugs. One is Steven Gabriel Moos, M.D, who did business as the Frontier Medical Clinic of Tigard, Oregon and the Center for Men's Health, LLC. The other is Thomas Holeman, M.D., of Milwaukee, a Tigard clinic employee. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants:
- Falsely advertised that "Viaglide," a female arousal cream, contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra.
- Sold products without a prescription and without examining or taking a medical history from the user.
- Prescribed, promoted, and sold human growth hormone (HGH) by misrepresenting it to consumers as a harmless panacea for the effects of aging when, in fact, the FDA has not found it to be safe and effective for that purpose.
- Sold prescription drugs to their patients that had been provided to the defendants as free samples. (Federal law prohibits the sale of prescription drug samples.)
The case was initially referred to the Oregon Department of Justice by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners (BME), which, in 2000 placed Moos on ten years of probation for problems associated with advertising and selling prescription drugs over the Internet. The BME subsequently became aware of Moos's criminal indictment in Multnomah County for unlawful drug use and a criminal investigation in California related to practicing medicine without a license. His medical license was suspended by the BME on an emergency basis in January 2003, and the suspension was confirmed as a final order in April 2003. The FDA, which had a parallel investigation under way, provided additional input into the case. [Attorney General files lawsuit against two Oregon medical doctors. News release, Oct 23, 2003]
Study finds saw palmetto ineffective. Australian researchers have published the results of a randomized, double-blind study of 100 men under 80 years of age with symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy who took either saw palmetto extract (320 mg/day) or a placebo for 12 weeks. All participants had some improvement. However the saw palmetto extract was no more effective than a placebo for improving prostate symptom scores, erectile function, or peak urinary flow rate. [Willetts KE, Clements MS, Champion S, et al. Serenoa repens extract for benign prostate hyperplasia: a randomized controlled trial. BJU International 92:267-700, 2003]
Skeptic's Dictionary published. John Wiley & Sons has published a 450-page edition of The Skeptic's Dictionary, which includes close to 400 definitions and essays on supernatural, occult, paranormal, and pseudoscientific topics, including about 100 health-related items. Most of the information is adapted from the Robert Todd Carroll's Web site, which has been averaging more than 500,000 hits a month. The book is available from Amazon Books for $13.97 plus shipping.
This page was posted on November 4, 2003.