Consumer Health Digest #05-05

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 2, 2005

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.

Florida State University kills proposed chiropractic school. Florida's Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's public universities, has voted to kill a proposal to set up the nation's first chiropractic college at a public university. In 2003, the Florida State Legislature allocated $9 million to establish a chiropractic college within Florida State University (FSU). University officials declared that the school would be science-based, but many FSU faculty members and alumni were highly skeptical and ran a vigorous campaign to derail the project. Opponents also argued that Florida already has enough chiropractors and that the proposed school would not fit into FSU's mission to become a nationally recognized research university. [Fineout G. State board kills chiropractic school at FSU. Miami Herald, Jan 27, 2005]

Misleading infomercial driving sales of junk book. Infomercial scammer Kevin Trudeau, who signed a court-approved consent agreement prohibiting him from selling health-related products (except publications), has continued his longstanding patters of deception by selling a book called Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. In a frequently aired infomercial, Trudeau falsely claims that government agencies and the food and drug industries are conspiring against "natural cures" and that people who want such information should buy his book. Although the infomercial suggests that the book makes specific recommendations for specific problems, it actually does not. In the book, Trudeau claims that the FTC censored the entire chapter titled "Cures for All Diseases." However, Daniel Kaufman, the lead attorney in FTC's most recent case, told Dr. Stephen Barrett that as long as Trudeau is not promoting brand-name products, he still has the First Amendment right to claim that various methods or product ingredients are beneficial. Frequent airing of the infomercial has driven the book to the #8 position at Amazon Books, but many of the buyers are highly dissatisfied. As of February 2, 2005, more than 60% of the 188 posted reviews have characterized the book as a ripoff. Trudeau has been the target of several FTC regulatory actions and has served time in prison for credit card fraud. Infomercial Watch has posted a detailed analysis of the infomercial.

Dubious obesity suit against McDonald's reinstated. A federal court of appeals has reinstated part of a suit filed in 2003 on behalf of teenagers who claim that misleading advertising has caused them to become obese by frequently eating hamburgers, french fries, and other high-calorie, high-fat foods at McDonald's. The lower-court judge ruled that the complaint was not sufficiently specific and had failed to alleged an adequate causal connection between the alleged injuries and McDonald’s actions. But the appeals court ruled that the plaintiffs are entitled to conduct discovery to explore any possible connection. A McDonald's spokesperson expressed confidence that the suit will eventually be dismissed. The case is another example of unfairly blaming outside influences for the consequences of individual behavior. Casewatch has the full text of both decisions.

Many indoor tanning facilities give irresponsible advice. A survey by Consumer Reports has found "widespread failures to inform customers about the possible risks, including premature wrinkling and skin cancer, and to follow recommended safety procedures, such as wearing eye goggles." The survey included 296 facilities in 12 cities. Seventy-five percent of the surveyed employees said that daily use would be fine, and 35% denied that indoor tanning can cause skin cancer and/or claimed it does not prematurely age the skin. Consumers Union, which does not recommend indoor tanning for anyone, believes that (a) the FDA should promptly implement and publicize its 1999 proposal to reduce ultraviolet exposure limits and require additional consumer warnings; (b) states should have licensing regulations and require parental consent for minors; and (c) facilities should be inspected regularly to ensure compliance with regulations. [Indoor tanning: Unexpected Dangers, Consumer Reports, Feb 2005.]

Bogus British "doctor" gets 10-year prison sentence. Barian Baluchi, a former taxi driver who posed as a psychiatrist, has pled guilty to 30 charges and been sentenced to 10 years in prison. For several years, he promoted himself as "Professor Barian Samuel Baluchi, MB, ChB, MSc, PhD, consultant psychiatrist and neuro-psychiatrist" and falsely claimed that he had trained at Harvard and several other universities. Despite his lack of training, he tricked Britain's General Medical Council into registering him and was able to to provide expert testimony at the Immigration Appeals Tribunal and in other court proceedings. He also fooled the Charity Commission into registering his Harley Street clinic as a mental health charity, which enabled him to get considerable money in grants. His total income is estimated to have exceeded £1.5 million. [Lister S. 'Professor' jailed for 1.5m swindle. Times Online, Jan 27, 2005]

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This page was posted on February 2, 2005.