Consumer Health Digest #09-36

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 3, 2009

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.

NCCAM promoting quack teaching. Two investigators have found that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is funding low-quality educational programs in schools that train health professionals. From 2000 to 2003, NCCAM awarded 5-year education grants to 14 such schools in the United States and to the American Medical Students Association Foundation. The stated purpose of the grants was to integrate evidence-based information about "complementary and alternative medicine" ("CAM") into the curricula. After examining Web sites operated by grantees, the investigators concluded that their teachings about herbal remedies, chiropractic, acupuncture, and homeopathy were severely biased toward CAM and lacked appropriate criticisms. In several cases, they base positive conclusions on low-quality clinical trials without mentioning that larger, high-quality trials reported negative results. The investigators concluded that the programs they reviewed had failed to uphold educational standards and lack appropriate oversight. [Marcus DM, McCullough L. An evaluation of the evidence in "evidence-based" integrative medicine programs. Academic Medicine 84:1229-1233, 2009] The bottom line—through not explicitly stated in the article—is that NCCAM should stop funding programs that promote worthless methods to professional students.

Court slams deceptive infomercial marketers. A federal district court has ordered the marketers of Supreme Greens and "Coral Calcium" to pay large refunds. [Court rules in favor of FTC, Orders supplement marketers to pay nearly $70 million for consumer refunds. FTC news release, Aug 27, 2009] In July 2008, the court concluded that Donald W. Barrett, his associate Robert Maihos, and two companies they control (Direct Marketing Concepts, Inc. and ITV Direct, Inc.) had deceptively claimed that Supreme Greens was effective against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis and would be absorbed better and faster than other calcium products. The court froze the defendants' assets, ordered them to pay $48.2 million for consumer refunds, and barred them from making deceptive claims or unauthorized credit or debit card charges in the future. In a separate but related judgment, after finding that they had misrepresented Coral Calcium, the court ordered Allen Stern and two companies he controls (King Media, Inc., and Triad ML Marketing, Inc.) to pay $20.4 million and to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims in the future. The FTC's lawsuit, filed in 2004, included other defendants who settled in 2005. [Developer and marketers of “Supreme Greens with MSM” settle FTC charges. FTC news release, Oct 6, 2005] The FTC Web site has links to several of the court documents.

During the past ten years, Barrett and Kevin Trudeau have probably been the top producers of misleading health-related infomercials in the United States.

Trudeau appeal gets mixed ruling. The U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a contempt ruling against Kevin Trudeau but ordered the lower court to reconsider its penalties. Since 1998, the FTC has charged Trudeau with false advertising and obtained consent agreements several times. In 2006, he began using infomercials to market The Weight-Loss Cure "They" Don't Want Your to Know About. The supposed "cure" was centered around the use of injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). However, scientific studies demonstrated that HCG injections didn't cause weight loss and regulatory actions by the FTC and FDA have curbed their use in the United States. In September 2007, the FTC charged Trudeau with violating a 2004 consent agreement by misrepresenting the book's contents and asked the Illinois Federal Court to hold him in contempt. The court did so, banned him, for three years, from involvement in any infomercials for publications in which he has a financial interest, and ordered him to disgorge $37,616,161, which the judge said was a reasonable approximation of the loss consumers suffered as a result of Trudeau’s deceptive infomercials. In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed that Trudeau had misrepresented the book's contents. However, the appeals judge said that the lower court judge had failed to explain how he had calculated the penalty and that a three-year ban without an opportunity for reinstatement upon good behavior was too harsh for a civil contempt ruling. The lower court still has wide discretion in setting penalties and could consider a criminal contempt finding if Trudeau is given an adequate opportunity to defend himself against such a charge. Casewatch has posted the relevant documents.

Australian allergy scam stopped. The Federal Court of Australia has ordered Allergy Pathway Pty Ltd.—formerly called Allergy Elimination Pty Ltd, (AAE)—to stop misleading consumers about the efficacy of treatment at its clinics. In a case brought by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, the court declared that the company had falsely represented that:

Before the court decision, the AAE Web site stated that the clinic used a muscle response test (MRT) to determine alleged negative body reactions. The test was performed by pushing down on the patients outstretched arm while the patients holds a vial containing a homeopathic solution of the substance being tested. If the arm muscle tests "weak," the patient would continue to hold the vial while the practitioner ran a device down the spine and pressed on "acupressure points" to "relax the body" and to "strengthen the organ systems" said to "correspond" with the body's major organ systems. These methods closely resemble those of Nambutripad's allergy elimination technique (NAET).

The case was settled with a consent agreement under which the Keir and his company pledged not to engage in similar conduct for a period of three years. The court also ordered the company and its director, Paul Frederick Keir, to publish corrective advertising notices in newspapers, in its clinics, and on its Web site and to send letters to current and former customers detailing the contravening conduct and the outcome of the ACCC's action. In 2008, at Melbourne Magistrates Court, AAE pleaded guilty to five charges under the Health Professions Registration Act 2005 and was fined $500 and ordered to pay $3,000 toward the cost of the prosecution. [Chinese Medicine Regulation Board of Victoria Newsletter. Dec 2008, p 11]

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This page was revised on September 4, 2009.