Consumer Health Digest #04-26

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 29, 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.

Defiant laetrile seller receives 5-year sentence. Jason Vale, president of the New York-based Christian Brothers Contracting Corp., to 63 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release. The sentencing judge also concluded that Vale, who had made at least $500,000 from illegal laetrile sales, had committed fraud in his marketing of Laetrile and defrauded the U.S. Government by claiming that he qualified for Legal Aid. As a result, Vale was also ordered to reimburse the government $31,000 for the costs of his court-appointed defense attorney. [Lengthy jail sentence for vendor of laetrile -- a quack medication to treat cancer patients. FDA news release, June 22, 2004] In 1999, Vale was ordered to pay $631,585 to America Online for misusing its services to send out more than 20 million unsolicited e-mail messages promoting apricot pits and laetrile tablets as a cure for cancer. Most of his business was conducted under the name "Christian Brothers." In 2000, acting on a complaint by the FDA, a federal district court judge ordered Vale to stop selling these products. Although Vale signed a consent decree, he defiantly continued his sales activity through a network of Internet sites, toll-free telephone numbers, and shell companies. Last year, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Vale guilty of criminal contempt. Quackwatch has additional background information about Vale and laetrile.

Metabolife International hit with $7.4 million verdict. A jury in Houston, Texas has awarded $2.4 million in actual damages and $5 million in punitive damages to Rhea McAllister, who, at age 35, suffered a stroke one month after starting to take Metabolife 356. The product, widely marketed as a weight-loss aid, contained ephedra, which can dangerously raise blood pressure. McAllister's lawyers argued that the company knowingly sold a dangerous product without testing it. In 2002, a jury in Alabama awarded $4.1 million in damages to four people who suffered heart attacks or strokes after taking Metabolife 356. In April 2004, federal regulators banned the use of ephedra supplement products after the herbal stimulant was linked to 155 deaths and many serious injuries. The San Diego Tribune has reported that Metabolife or its insurers have paid at least $5 million to settle 29 other lawsuits and that more than a 150 others are pending. [Crabtree P. Metabolife loses 2nd suit, must pay $7.46 million. San Diego Tribune, June 24, 2004]

FTC sues Biotape infomercial marketers. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit in California charging that Smart Inventions, Inc., a California-based direct response TV company, and its chief operating officer, Jon D. Nokes, made false and unsubstantiated claims that "Biotape": (a) significantly and permanently relieves severe pain caused by surgical procedures, arthritis, migraines, and other serious conditions; and (b) is superior to other products and treatments, such as over-the-counter analgesics and topical creams and ointments, in eliminating or relieving severe pain. Darrell Stoddard, who developed Biotape and is featured in the infomercial along with the infomercial host Kevin Trudeau, is also named as a defendant. The defendants advertised Biotape, which resembles electrical tape, primarily through a 30-minute infomercial that aired nationally on cable stations that included Women's Entertainment, The Discovery Channel, and the Inspirational Network. The infomercial offered Biotape in conjunction with Stoddard's book, "Pain Free for Life" and directed consumers to apply Biotape to the parts of their bodies where they experience pain. Biotape was purported to contain a "space age conductive mylar that connects the broken circuits that cause the pain." A sheet of 10 adhesive Biotape strips costs approximately $10. A separate action charging Trudeau with violating a 1998 federal district court order is pending in an Illinois court. [Claims that "Biotape" relieves severe pain challenged by the FTC. FTC news release, June 24, 2004]

Hyaluronic acid marketers ordered to stop making unsubstantiated claims. The FDA has ordered Hyalogic LLC to stop making unsubstantiated claims that its hyaluronic acid product, Synthovial 7, can increase cushioning, joint lubrication, and motility of painful arthritic joints. [Warning letter to Mark G. Ganaban, May 5, 2004]

Montana sues alleged "spirit healers." The Montana Board of Medical Examiners is seeking an injunction to stop Andrew and Tamara Overlee, of Columbia Falls, Montana, from continuing to dispense medical and psychological services that include communicating with alleged "spirit doctors" who speak through them. The couple, doing business as Joy of Healing, claim to diagnose illnesses by channeling the spirit of Robert Koch, a German physician who won a Nobel Prize for medicine in 1905 and died in 1910. The board is seeking an injunction based on the findings of two undercover investigators. Andrew Overlee allegedly told one of them that she had polyps and then claimed that he removed scar tissue on her "urethra gland." [Sabol C. Even 'spirit doctor' can't operate without a license. Daily Interlake, June 16, 2004]

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This page was posted on June 29, 2004.