Consumer Health Digest #04-46

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 16, 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

Many federal employees found to have bogus credentials. The Government Accountability Office (formerly called the Government Accounting Office) has discovered that more than 400 federal employees have degrees from diploma mills or other nonaccredited schools and some of these credentials were even obtained at government expense. The GAO investigators purchased several health-related degrees and also set up a fictitious school that obtained certification from the U.S. Department of Education that would enable its students to obtain loans through the Federal Family Education Loan Program. [Diploma Mills: Diploma mills are easily created and some have issued bogus degrees to federal employees at government expense. GAO-04-1096T September 23, 2004] The findings were presented at a hearing before the Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, Committee on Education and the Workforce, of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Court sides with Consumer Reports' criticism of Ionic Breeze. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a lawsuit that the Sharper Image Corporation filed against Consumers Union (CU) over reviews of the Ionic Breeze Quadra air cleaner. The suit, filed in September 2003, concerned articles in the October 2003 and February 2002 issues of Consumer Reports which concluded that the Ionic Breeze was "ineffective" as an air cleaner and produced "almost no measurable reduction in airborne particles." CU is now entitled to reimbursement from Sharper Image for the legal fees and expenses incurred in its defense. In dismissing the Sharper Image lawsuit, the court concluded that the company "has not shown that the test protocol used by Consumers Union was scientifically, or otherwise, invalid," and had not "demonstrated a reasonable probability that any of the challenged statements were false." [Chesney MM. Order granting Consumer Union's special motion to strike. In Sharper Image Corporation v. Consumers Union. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Case No. 03-4094 MMC, Nov 9, 2004] In other articles, Consumer Reports has criticized the claims made for ozone-generating "air purification devices" of the type marketed by Living Air, Alpine Industries, and EcoQuest. Californians have filed at least two class-action lawsuits for consumers who bought Ionic Breeze air purifiers from Sharper Image during the past five years.

FDA asked to stop sale of dubious flu product. Dr. Stephen Barrett has asked the FDA to stop the Washington Homeopathic Pharmacy of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, from selling "Influenzinum 30C," a homeopathic product said to "treat and possibly prevent flu symptoms." The pharmacy states that it makes the product each year by taking actual vaccine and repeatedly diluting it with distilled water or alcohol. However, the dilution is so great that no molecule of flu vaccine remains, which means that the product cannot possibly work as claimed. In addition, it has never been scientifically tested. [Barrett S. Stay Away from homeopathic flu vaccine "substitutes. Homeowatch, Nov 16, 2004]

"7-Day Miracle Cleanse" debunked. Infomercial Watch has posted a detailed analysis of the history and claims for the 7-Day Miracle Cleanse, a collection of herbal products whose ingredients include laxatives. The product is promoted on cable television and the Internet in a 30-minute infomercial narrated by Paris A. DeAguero, who heads the marketing company. Aguero calls himself "the Health Man" and claims that he "is considered by many to be the healthiest person alive." He also claims that (a) most people develop health problems because "mucus plaque" and "millions of parasites" accumulate in their intestines and (b) that users of the product will lose weight and achieve "a body immune to all sickness" by expelling the "mucus plaque" and "parasites." His approach is based on a theory of "autointoxication" that achieved some medical popularity about a century ago but abandoned after scientific observations proved it wrong. In 1919 and 1922, it was clearly demonstrated that symptoms of headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite that accompanied fecal impaction were caused by mechanical distension of the colon rather than by production or absorption of toxins. Moreover, direct observation of the colon during surgical procedures or autopsies found no evidence that hardened feces accumulate on the intestinal walls. Dr. Stephen Barrett has asked the FDA and FTC to investigate. [Barrett S. Don't Buy the 7-Day Miracle Cleanse. Infomercialwatch, Nov 13, 2004]

"Cancer salve" distributor sentenced to prison. Gregory James Caton, 48, has been sentenced to 33 months imprisonment to be followed by 3 years supervised release for marketing several products with claims that they could cure cancer and other diseases. Court documents indicate that from 1999 to 2003, doing business as Alpha Omega Labs, Caton and his employees sold Cancema Tonic III (a purported cancer cure) and H3O (claimed to be effective against athlete's foot, cuts and burns, eczema, fingernail fungus, chronic gas, gastroenteritis, gingivitis and periodontal disease, halitosis, herpes sores, ophthalmia, psoriasis, sore throat, strep throat, and wounds). [Lake Charles man sentenced for selling and shipping unapproved new drugs. USDOJ news release, Aug 24, 2004]

FTC curbs another phony weight-control product. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has entered a stipulated final order against American Dream Enterprises, LLC, and its owner, Andres Fernandez Salvador. The Miami-based defendants marketed a weight-loss dietary supplement -- "Fat Seltzer" -- which, when added to water, produces bubbles. According to the FTC's complaint, the defendants claimed that the effervescent action, when combined with Fat Seltzer's ingredients, causes substantial and permanent weight loss without the need to exercise or diet. The settlement prohibits the defendants from making unsubstantiated claims that Fat Seltzer, or any dietary supplement, over-the-counter drug or cosmetic causes substantial weight loss without the need to diet or exercise, or causes permanent weight loss. The defendants are also to pay $185,000 in monetary relief and could be liable for approximately $1.5 million if the court finds that the defendants misrepresented their financial condition. [FTC continues crackdown on scams aimed at Hispanic consumers. FTC news release, Oct 6, 2004]

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This page was posted on November 16, 2004.