Consumer Health Digest #05-13

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 29, 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.

FDA orders "Vitamin O" marketer to stop illegal claims. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered Donald Smyth and his companies, R-Garden Inc., and Rose Creek Health Products, Inc. of Kettle Falls, Washington, to stop claiming that their "Vitamin O" products are effective against a long list of diseases and conditions. [Breen CR. Warning letter to Donald L Smyth. Feb 8, 2005] Products of this type, referred to as "stabilized" or "aerobic" oxygen," have been promoted for several years with false claims that they can cure disease by increasing oxygen delivery to the cells. Some sellers falsely claim that "oxygen deficiency" or "oxygen starvation" is an underlying cause of disease and has been increasing because the oxygen content of the earth's atmosphere has been decreasing and junk food does not contain enough oxygen. In 2000, the FTC announced that Smyth and his companies had signed a consent agreement under which they were required to pay $375,000 for consumer redress and to stop making any unsubstantiated representations about "Vitamin O" or any other food, drug, or dietary supplement. [Marketers of "Vitamin O" settle FTC charges of making false health claims; Will pay $375,000 for consumer redress. FTC news release, May 1, 2000] Despite the injunction, they continued to break the law. One booklet mailed to prospective customers, for example, contained more than 150 testimonials claiming benefit for asthma, canker sores, chronic bronchitis, cough, diabetic ulcers, ear infections, fatigue, glaucoma, hemorrhoids, arm and shoulder pain, immune weakness, lung embolism, memory loss, obesity, prostate problems, shingles, and many other problems.

Disciplinary action withdrawn against Robert Sinaiko, M.D. The Medical Board of California has dropped its case against Dr. Robert Sinaiko. In 1999, the board concluded that Sinaiko had "departed from the prevailing standard of practice of medicine" by using antifungal drugs and other questionable methods to treat three adults and a nine-year-old child for nonexistent "Candida" problems. He was assessed $49,472.79 for administrative costs and ordered to undergo five years' probation with stringent supervisory conditions. Instead, however, he closed his office and appealed the board's ruling. In September 2004, a California appeals court concluded that the medical board should have admitted testimony from Sinaiko's expert witnesses, and it returned the case to the board for further consideration. By that time, Sinaiko had been out of practice for more than five years; the composition of the medical board had changed; California had a new law relating to the practice of "alternative medicine"; and the board apparently became concerned that if it pursued the case and was not successful, Sinaiko might sue to recover his legal expenses. In 2005, Sinaiko and the board entered a settlement agreement under which he agreed not to sue and the board (a) withdrew the original accusation, (b) vacated its previous decision, and (c) restored his medical license to "good standing." Quackwatch has further details.

Enzyte marketers raided. The Associated Press has reported that Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals has been raided by federal officials who searched three of the company's Cincinnati-area offices and froze one of its bank accounts. The company is best known for its television commercial in which "Smiling Bob" touts Enzyte pills for "natural male enhancement." The Cincinnati Better Business Bureau and the Ohio Attorney General have received thousands of complaints about the company's billing practices. A postal inspector said the company's records will be examined to determine whether it violated mail-fraud laws by billing customers for products they didn't want after a 30-day free trial. In October 2004, the FDA ordered Berkeley and its president, Steve Warshak to stop making illegal health claims for two other products. [Heppe CA. Warning letter to Steve E. Warshak, Oct 14, 2004]

Doctors targeted in "advance fee" scams. The American Medical Association is warning that the perpetrators of "419" advance-fee scams have become more sophisticated in misleading their victims. The basic scheme, which arose about 25 years ago in Nigeria, is named after the Nigerian criminal code section that outlaws it. The basic technique is to tell the targeted victim that someone who is entitled to millions of dollars neede help (including a deposit, the target's bank account number, or both) to get the funds out of the country. Whereas most "419" solicitations are sent randomly by e-mail, scammers are now using genealogical information or other persinal information to target specific individuals whom they have investigated. [Cook B. New scams focusing on familiar target—doctors. American Medical News, March 28, 2005]

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This page was posted on March 29, 2005.