Consumer Health Digest #04-36

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 7, 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

FTC nails leading infomercial scammer. Kevin Trudeau, whom the FTC says has appeared or marketed hundreds of infomercials, has signed a consent agreement under which he will pay a $2 million penalty and be banned from appearing in, producing, or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public, except for truthful infomercials for books, newsletters, and other informational publications. In addition, he is prohibited from making health claims for any type of product, service, or program in any form of advertising. The current case involved false claims that Coral Calcium Supreme, a dietary supplement purportedly made from Japanese marine coral, provided the same amount of bioavailable calcium as two gallons of milk, could be absorbed into the body faster than ordinary calcium, and could cure cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, lupus, and other illnesses. In a separate infomercial, Trudeau claimed that Biotape, an adhesive strip, provided permanent relief from severe pain, including debilitating back pain, and pain from arthritis, sciatica, and migraines. The Commission also charged Trudeau with violating a 1998 FTC order against making false claims for several products. The current settlement also covers his companies: Shop America (USA), LLC, Shop America Marketing Group, LLC, and Trustar Global Media, Limited. An FTC official stated that the ban is "meant to shut down an infomercial empire that has misled American consumers for years." [Kevin Trudeau banned from infomercials. FTC news release, September 7, 2004]

During the early 1990s, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Trudeau served nearly two years in prison. In 1990, he pled guilty to larceny in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, state court in connection with $80,000 in worthless checks he had deposited at a bank. The sentencing memorandum said that he had posed as a doctor to increase his credibility with bank officials. In 1991, he pled guilty to credit-card fraud in Boston federal district court. One of his misdeeds in the federal case was misappropriating for his own use the credit-card numbers of customers of the memory-improvement courses that he offered at the time. [Emshwiller JR. Nutrition for Life's top recruiter has a criminal past despite convictions, Trudeau gets new distributors to fork out the cash. The Wall Street Journal, Jan 19, 1996]

BodyFlex marketers settle FTC charges. Marketers of the BodyFlex+ System have agreed to settle FTC allegations that they deceptively advertised that BodyFlex causes users to lose from 4 to 14 inches in the first 7 days. BodyFlex is an 18-minute routine involving stretching, deep breathing, and exercises with the BodyFlex Gym Bar, a plastic exercise bar with a resistance band. In 2003, the defendants promoted BodyFlex in a heavily-aired national infomercial and on the Internet with claims that "in just seven days you can lose from 4 to 14 inches guaranteed." The FTC's complaint, as amended in January 2004, charges that the defendants made false and unsubstantiated claims that: (a) BodyFlex causes users to lose from four to 14 inches across six body areas in the first seven days without reducing calories; (b) BodyFlex causes users to burn enough body fat to achieve the claimed inch loss in the first seven days; and (c) a clinical study proves that BodyFlex causes significant fat loss and inch loss in the first seven days. The amended complaint names Savvier, Inc. and Savvier, LP, California companies; their principals, Jeffrey Tuller and Jack Ching Chung Chang; BodyFlex, Inc., a Nevada corporation; and its principal and BodyFlex spokesperson Greer Childers. The proposed final order (a) prohibits the defendants from making unsubstantiated claims, for any product, service, or program that purports to provide weight-loss, inch- loss, fat-loss, exercise or fitness benefits, and for any dietary supplement, food or drug, and (b) requires Savvier LP to establish and administer a $2.6 million consumer refund program under which dissatisfied consumers can receive either a full refund or a pro rata share, depending on the consumer response to the refund offer. Savvier LP will send notices to BodyFlex purchasers describing how they can receive a refund. After the refund program is completed, any unused funds will be disgorged to the U.S. Treasury. The FTC has established a consumer hotline number for BodyFlex: 202-326-2935. The order also contains a $36 million "avalanche clause," which would make this entire amount immediately due if the court finds that the defendants misrepresented their financial condition. [BodyFlex marketers settle FTC charges of false and unsubstantiated inch and fat loss claims. FTC news release, Sept. 1, 2004]

Criminal charges brought against breast and penis enlarger sellers. Angela De'Mere Lane of Clarksdale, Mississippi, is facing 20 criminal charges in connection with the sale of dietary supplements alleged to enhance the breast ("Erdic" and "Phoenaz) and penis ("Adagin"). The indictment states that from January 1998 to December 2001 she and Steven L. Lane conspired and executed a scheme to defraud consumers that involved false advertising, making unauthorized credit card charges, and failing to deliver products. In addition, when customers complained about the products they were told that they needed to stay on the product longer. Doing business as Busting Loose, Inc., Dazzle, Inc., and Phoenaz, Inc., the pair achieved total sales of over $6 million from more than 5,000 victims nationwide. Steven Lane has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and agreed to permit the Court to order restitution of all amounts obtained by fraud through the sale of the three products. The indictment is posted on Casewatch. Complaints about Erdic advertising have been upheld by New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority (2003) and the British Advertising Standards Authority (twice in 2004).

Washington Post article cries out for better herbal regulation. The Washington Post has published a comprehensive report on PC-SPES, the alleged herbal prostate cancer cure that was spiked with a hormone and an anticoagulant that caused adverse events, including several deaths. The sellers are facing lawsuits by at least 35 victims (or their survivors), including men whose breasts grew so large they had to have them surgically removed and others who bled to death. The FDA's ability to protect the public from fraudulent herbal products was crippled by the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act. [Gillis J. Herbal remedies turn deadly for patients: Suits fail to bring tougher rules. Washington Post, Sept 5, 2004]

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This page was posted on September 7, 2004.