Consumer Health Digest #09-46

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
Nov 12, 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.

Major diet pill scammers in trouble again. Basic Research, LLC; Carter-Reed, LLC; Dynakor Pharmacal, LLC; Dennis W. Gay; and Mitchell Friedlander have been charged with violating a 2006 FTC order barring them from making health or weight-loss claims without a reasonable basis. The violations included claims that Relacore reduces “stress-induced” abdominal fat and that Akävar 20/50 lets users “eat all you want and still lose weight.” [FTC charges marketers with making baseless weight-loss claims despite order to stop. FTC news release, Nov 2, 2009]. In 2006, the Commission ordered Basic Research, LLC to pay $3 million on behalf of Gay, Friedlander, and several other defendants, all of whom were prohibited them from making unsubstantiated health or weight-loss claims and misrepresenting the results of scientific studies in the future. Violations of FTC orders carry a civil penalty of up to $16,000 per violation. [Major weight-loss marketers pay $3 million: FTC charged they could not back up claims for six weight-loss products for adults and kids. FTC news release, May 11, 2006] A class-action suit was filed in 2008 against Gay, Friedlander, and several others involved in the scam.

Friedlander is one of the most egregious mail-order health scammers of all time. During the early 1980s, doing business as the Robertson-Taylor Company and at least six other companies, he took in tens of millions of dollars for fraudulent weight-loss aids, hair restorers, sexual stimulants, impotence cures, arthritis remedies, and other vitamin products. [Shearing the suckers. Consumer Reports Feb 1986, pp 87-92] The U.S. Postal Service ended these promotions with a series of cease-and-desist orders.

Class-action status granted in Kimkins diet fraud case. A California court has enabled a suit brought by victims of the Kimkins diet scam to proceed as a class action. The certified class (estimated to include about 40,000 people) is defined as everyone who purchased a membership in the Web site from January 1, 2006 through October 15, 2007. [Notice of pendancy of class action. Say "No" to Kimkins Web site, posted Nov 10, 2009] The suit, filed in October 2007 by 11 former members, charges founder Heidi "Kimmer" Diaz with false advertising, fraud, unjust enrichment, and negligent misrepresentation. The complaint alleges that (a) Diaz falsely claimed to have lost 198 pounds in one year, but in fact remained morbidly obese, (b) members' lifetime memberships were unjustly terminated, (c) Diaz made unjustified claims that the diet is safe, (d) members using the diet plan suffered medical complications that included hair loss, heart palpitations, irritability, and menstrual irregularities, and (e) Diaz's Web site displayed phony "success" stories that used photographs she obtained from Russian and Ukrainian sites with ads from women who wanted to meet prospective husbands. In 2007, Diaz attracted national attention and collected more than $1 million through PayPal after the supermarket tabloid Woman's World published her claims with before-and-after pictures purporting to show how her appearance had changed. However, the "after" picture was not Diaz but had been downloaded from a Russian site. People covered by the suit are not required to take any action at this time.

Tobacco use declining but still a major problem. The American Cancer Society has published a report on the effectiveness of tobacco control efforts in the United States. [Cokkinides V and others. Tobacco control in the United States—Recent progress and opportunities. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 59:352-365, 2009]. The report concludes:

The full text of the report is available online free of charge.

French Scientologists convicted of fraud. A Paris court has levied fines totaling nearly $900,000 against the French branch of the Church of Scientology after finding them guilty of fraud, but the judge did not ban the group from continuing to operate in France. The biggest fines were rendered against the Scientology Celebrity Center in Paris and a Scientology bookstore. Six of the group's leaders were convicted of fraud, with four given suspended sentences of 10 months to two years. Alain Rosenberg, the group’s leader in France, was given a two-year suspended sentence and fined $44,700. Two others were fined $1,490 and $2,980. The case was initiated by two former members who said they were pushed into paying large sums of money in the 1990s, pressed to sign up for expensive “purification courses” and harassed to buy a variety of vitamins and other forms of pharmaceuticals, plus electronic tests to measure spiritual progress. One woman said she had been pressured into spending more than $30,000. [Erlanger S. French branch of Scientology convicted of fraud. New York Times, Oct 27, 2008] The Scientologists have denied wrongdoing and said they would appeal the verdict.

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