Consumer Health Digest #04-18

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 5, 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.

Major spammers facing prosecution. The U.S., Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on two spam operations that have clogged the Internet with millions of deceptive messages. The FTC charged Phoenix Avatar and its Detroit-based principals (Chris Chung, Mark M. Sadek, James J. Lin and Daniel J. Lin) with sending illegal spam to sell bogus diet patches. Recipients who clicked on a hyperlink in the message were connected to one of the defendants' many Web sites. The agency alleges the defendants grossed nearly $100,000 per month from product sales. The FTC alleges that the claims made for these diet patches are false and that the patches, which sold for $59.95, would have no effect at all. The spammers hoped to obscure their identities by using innocent third-party e-mail addresses in the "reply-to" or "from" fields of their messages. Faulty addresses would then cause tens of thousands of undeliverable e-mails to bounce to others, sometimes getting the third parties themselves mislabeled as spammers. At the FTC's request, a U.S. District Court Judge entered a Temporary Restraining Order requiring an end to illegal spamming and deceptive product claims and freezing the defendants' assets. The four defendants have also been criminally charged with violating the CAN-SPAM Act, which went into effect January 1. In the second case, the FTC filed civil charges against Global Web Promotions Pty Ltd., an Australian company, which advertised a similar diet patch and falsely claimed that its human growth hormone products "HGH" and "Natural HGH" could "maintain [a user's] appearance and current biological age for the next 10 to 20 years." The products were shipped to consumers from within the United States. The diet patch was sold for $80.90, and the HGH products cost $74.95. Since January 1, 2004, consumers have complained to the FTC about 490,000 spam messages linked to Phoenix Avatar and 399,000 messages for Global Web Promotions. [FTC announces first Can-Spam Act cases: Two operations generated nearly one million complaints to agency. FTC news release, April 29, 2004] A recent report from New York research firm Basex estimates that spam accounts for nearly half of all Internet traffic—as many as 15 billion unsolicited e-mail messages a day—and costs companies about $20 billion a year in lost productivity and computer costs.

Dermatologists call for tanning device ban. Concerned about the rising incidence of deadly skin cancers, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) has issued a position statement urging the FDA to ban the manufacture and use of tanning devices for nonmedical purposes. [AADA position statement on indoor tanning. amended Feb 7, 2004] If a ban is not feasible, the group urges increased regulation that includes:

Two more argyria cases from colloidal silver reported. Two men who took colloidal silver for about a year have been diagnosed with argyria at the dermatology clinic at the VA clinic in Reno, Nevada. Both got their ideas from the Internet and believed that the silver would protect them against infection. [Cohen LE and others. Effects of Internet quackery: Argyria in the silver state. Federal Practitioner 21(4):9-17, 2004] Argeriua is a condition in which silver salts deposit in the skin, eyes, and internal organs, and the skin turns ashen-gray. Many proponents claim that colloidal silver can't cause it, but at least nine cases have now been reported. [Barrett S. Colloidal silver: Claims without benefit. Quackwatch, May 5, 2004]

Penn & Teller's "Bullshit!" starts second season. Penn & Teller have returned to Showtime with another series of programs debunking popular misconceptions. Last season's topics were: Talking to the Dead; Alternative Medicine; Alien Abductions; Second Hand Smoke; Baby Bullshit; Sex, Sex, Sex; Feng Shui; Bottled Water; Creationism; Self-Helpless; ESP; Eat This!; Ouija Boards; Near Death Experiences; and Environmental Hysteria. CD and VHS recordings of the entire series are available for about $45.

Another chelationist charged with misconduct. Robban A. Sica, M.D., who operates the Center for the Healing Arts in Orange, Connecticut. is facing disciplinary action for questionable management of about 40 patients. She is charged with improperly using chelation therapy to treat cardiovascular disease, failing to obtain adequate consent for such treatment, and failing to properly manage many of these patients whom she said were suffering from heavy metal toxicity. Chelation therapy is a series of intravenous infusions containing EDTA and various other substances. Physicians associated with the American College of Advancement in Medicine claim falsely that it is effective against cardiovascular disease and many other problems. Chelation has valid use in some cases of heavy metal poisoning. However, chelationists often diagnose it in patients with no history of toxic exposure and use treatment protocols that differ from standard protocols. Sica has also faced regulatory actions and civil suits in connection with "sham" ownership of professional medical corporations in New York and New Jersey. [Barrett S. Regulatory Actions against Robban Sica, M.D. Quackwatch, May 4, 2004]

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This page was posted on May 5, 2004.