Consumer Health Digest #04-38

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 21, 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

Court opposes dentist's use of "inferior" medical degree. The Kansas Court of Appeals has supported the state medical board's right to stop a dentist from professional use of a medical degree from a school that is not approved by the board. The case concerns Steven L. Thomas, D.D.S., a prominent oral surgeon who in 1999, received a medical degree from the University of Health Sciences Antigua (UHSA) in St. Johns, Antigua, West Indies. Kansas's law bars professional use of the M.D. degree by individuals who lack a medical license. The appeals court ruling notes that Thomas received his "M.D." through an "advanced standing" program where he spent 8 weeks on the USHA campus. However, he did not obtain postgraduate training or complete an examination required to obtain a medical license. In upholding the board, the appeals court concluded that Thomas's medical education and training were "vastly inferior to that of licensed M.D.'s," and that "by seeing the M.D. initials after Thomas' name, the public, patients, hospitals, and other health care practitioners could be misled to believe that Thomas has the same sort of training and experience as a licensed medical doctor." Thomas is president-elect of the American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (ACOMS). The UHSA Web site lists 47 dentists who obtained medical degrees from the school between 1999 and 2003. The list includes two other ACOMS officers (Steven A. Guttenberg, D.D.S. and Brian M. Smith, D.M.D.) and one of its board members (Charles Hasse, DDS). Another ACOMS board member (Timothy S. Troiano, D.D.S.) is listed as a current student. Dental Watch has the full text of the appeal court's ruling.

FTC may nail physicians who endorse bogus products. American Medical News has reported that the FTC plans to look more closely at doctors who endorse baldness cures, weight-loss schemes, and other dubious products marketed through television infomercials. Doctors who tout such products could face financial penalties, orders that would stop them from appearing in future commercials, and the risk of negative publicity. The American Medical Association supports the Commission's efforts. [Albert T. Doctors who tout iffy "cures" will face critical eye of FTC. American Medical News, Sept 27, 2004]

Top mail-order scammer gets 18-month prison sentence. A. Glen Braswell, who holds the all-time record for the number of government enforcement actions against an a mail-order marketer, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for tax evasion. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Braswell was subjected to more than 140 civil regulatory actions related to false claims for products claimed to cure baldness, enlarge the female breast, delay the aging process, cause weight loss, remove "cellulite," and improve the growth and appearance of fingernails. He spent several months in prison following a conviction in 1983 for mail fraud, perjury, and tax evasion, but received a controversial pardon from President Bill Clinton on his last day in office (January 20, 2001). Most of Braswell's recent marketing has been done under the name Gero Vita International, which appears to have had total sales exceeding $1 billion since 1995. By pleading guilty, Braswell admitted participating in a scheme to overstate Gero Vita's business expenses by using bogus invoices from a Bermuda shell company that he owned. Braswell and Gero Vita are still facing false advertising charges by the Federal Trade Commission. See Quackwatch for additional information about Braswell and his activities.

Chitosan manufacturer penalized. Natrol, Inc., and its president Elliott Balbert have agree to pay $250,000 to settle charges that they made false and misleading advertising claims for their chitosan-based weight loss products, some of which contained more lead than allowed by state law. Starting in 1998, they marketed Absorbitol Fat Binder, making claims that the chitosan ingredient in the product would cause the user to lose weight by absorbing fat and that it could bind "178% more fat than other brands" and 10.8 ml of fat "per gram of active ingredient." In 2001, it began marketing Chitosan 500 mg, Ultra Chitosan Fat Intercept, and Ultra Chitosan Fat Intercept Plus with similar claims. An investigation found that there is no valid scientific evidence to support claims that the ingestion of chitosan causes fat to be "trapped" or "bound" in the human G.I. tract, or that the use of chitosan-based dietary supplements causes any significant or noticeable weight loss results. The investigation also revealed that Chitosan 500 mg, Ultra Chitosan Fat Intercept and Ultra Chitosan Fat Intercept Plus contained lead in amounts that exceeded the 0.5 microgram daily limit allowed by Proposition 65. Under the stipulated judgment, the defendants must pay a fine of $220,000 and costs of $30,000. The judgment also prohibits them from making any unsubstantiated fat-binding or weight-loss claim about any chitosan-based product and requires them provide clear and conspicuous Proposition 65 warning for any chitosan-based product that would expose the user to more than 0.5 microgram of lead daily. [California district attorneys reach $250,000 settlement of misleading advertising and Proposition 65 case with dietary supplement manufacturer Natrol, Inc. Sonoma County District Attorney press release, Sept 14, 2004]

Delicensed dentist selling quack device. Hal A. Huggins, D.D.S., the leading critic of the use of amalgam fillings, is marketing the "Rita Meter," a low-voltage device that supposedly enables dentists to determine the order in which amalgam fillings should be removed and replaced. In the mid-1980s, the FDA ordered him to stop marketing a similar device called the Amalgameter. In a sharply worded letter, the agency said that the device lacked a scientific basis and that its use could lead to the unnecessary loss of teeth. In 1986, Huggins's dental license was revoked after an Administrative Law Judge concluded that his treatments were "a sham, illusory and without scientific basis." However, he still promotes his ideas through seminars, telephone consultations, and the Internet. Dr. Stephen Barrett, who noted that the Rita Meter is not listed in the FDA's "510k" database of approved devices, has asked the FDA to stop its sale. [Barrett S. Regulatory action against the Amalgameter. Device Watch, Sept 21, 2004]

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This page was posted on September 21, 2004.