Consumer Health Digest #04-14

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 6, 2004

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.

Consumer Reports rips supplement "dirty dozen." Consumer Reports magazine has listed 12 "dietary supplement" ingredients that have been linked to serious adverse events or (in one case) pose strong theoretical risks:

The article notes that, unlike drugs, dietary supplements can be marketed without any testing for safety or effectiveness. [Dangerous supplements: Still at large. Consumer Reports 69(5):12-17, 2004]

Defendants added to Braswell case. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has added six more defendants to the complaint pending against A. Glenn Braswell. Last year, the FTC charged Braswell, the editor of his magazine, and four of his corporations with making false and unsubstantiated claims for a variety of mail-order dietary supplement products. The additional defendants are Hasley Holding LLC; Health Quest Publications, Inc.; G.B. Data Systems of Canada; Ronald Lawrence. MD, PhD; Hans Kugler, PhD, and Chase Revel. Lawrence, a neuropsychiatrist in Malibu, California, is executive director of the Council on Natural Nutrition, a nonprofit organization whose stated purpose is to educate physicians and the public about supplements, vitamins, and herbal products. The FTC's original complaint stated that Braswell had established the Council, paid Lawrence for his endorsement, and then misrepresented them as independent and objective. Quackwatch has detailed reports on Braswell's activities.

Phony diploma seller receives prison sentence. Ronald Pellar (aka Ronald Dante), 75, who reportedly made millions of dollars selling phony diplomas, has been sentenced to eight months in prison, ordered to pay restitution of $45,835, and ordered to forfeit a $1.5 million yacht that prosecutors say was bought with money from the scheme. According to court documents, Pellar set up a business office in San Clemente, California and falsely represented that Columbia State University (CSU) was a government-approved university in Louisiana and had sufficient faculty and accreditation to confer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees by correspondence in as little as one month. His promotional materials included a catalog that falsely told prospective students that CSU's administration was composed of PhDs and medical doctors and that the school had received full accreditation from legitimate agencies. The catalog cover featured a photograph of a building that bore no relation to the fictitious CSU or its San Clemente office. CSU's mailing address in Metairie, Louisiana was merely a mail-forwarding service. Operator of Orange County 'diploma mill' indicted on federal mail fraud charges. FBI news release, April 18, 2003] In the early 1990s, Pellar got into trouble for misrepresenting the training and credentials he provided through "Perma-Derm Academy" and the "American Dermalogy Association" workshops. In 1991, the Federal Trade Commission obtained a permanent injunction barring certain misrepresentations and requiring payment of $143,750 for consumer redress. In 1998, Pellar was sentenced to 67 months in prison for violating the injunction. ["FTC "Project Scofflaw" Defendant Sentenced: Ronald Dante receives 67-month prison term. FTC news release, Feb 25, 1998]

FBI raids California surgery clinics. The FBI and other law-enforcement agencies have raided four Southern California clinics as part of a 15-month investigation of a "rent a patient" scam believed to involve hundreds of millions of dollars billed for unnecessary surgery. The scheme involves unnecessary and overpriced procedures for patients recruited with cash rewards. On March 18, ABC's Primetime reported that (a) a Primetime correspondent was offered $800 to undergo major surgery for hyperhidrosis, which causes the hands to sweat excessively, and (b) a producer who sought plastic surgery for her face was asked to fly to California and coached about how to ask for a colonoscopy, after which the insurance proceeds would finance the cosmetic operation. [A healthy dose of fraud: Primetime investigates a gigantic medical insurance scam, March 18, 2004] The raids took place at the Bel Air Surgical Institute and Valley Multi-Specialty Surgery Center in Los Angeles and two other facilities in Orange County.

FDA warns 16 companies to stop false weight-loss claims. The FDA has ordered 16 companies to stop making false and misleading claims for weight-loss products promoted online. Many of these products are falsely claimed to block starch, carbohydrates and fat calories while allowing consumers to lose weight without any lifestyle changes. The products included: Block It™, Carb Intercept, Carb Zapper, Chito Block 2000 Plus C, Chitosan 500mg, Dream Shape, Dreamshape, Extreme Carb Blocker, F Block Chitosan, InShape, Lean Image Carb Blocker, Liposin, Metabo Fat Blocker, Metabo FatBlocker™, Starch Blocker 1000, Super Chitosan, Super Starch Blocker 1000, TrimSpa Carb Blocker, TrimSpa Fat Blocker, Ultra Block 2000 plus C, Ultra Carb Blocker, Ultra Carbo Blocker 2000, Ultra Carbo Blocker 3000, Ultra Carbohydrate Blocker 2000, and Zone Fat Blocker. [FDA warns distributors of dietary supplements promoted online for weight loss. April 1, 2004]

BBC to phase out "junk-food" ties. The British Broadcasting Corp. has announced that it would phase out ties between its popular children's TV characters and fatty or sugary snack foods. Largely funded by British taxpayers, the BBC licenses its cartoon characters around the world for both food and nonfood products. The BBC said that while it will still license special treats, such as birthday cakes or holiday fare, its brands will no longer be linked with everyday products high in fat, salt and sugar. The change is expected to be completed within two years as the current licenses expire. The new policy is a response to growing concern over children's diets and the rise in childhood obesity. Last year, the company ended its joint promotions with fast food restaurants. More than 100 of the United Kingdom's health and consumer groups have called for a ban on "junk food" advertisements, but government officials favor voluntary action by the food and advertising industry.

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