Consumer Health Digest #11-18

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 23, 2011

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.

Graphic cigarette warnings finalized. The FDA has selected nine graphic warnings that must be carried by all cigarette packs, cartons, and ads in the U.S. marketplace no later than September 12, 2012. These warnings, which were proposed last year, are required under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act which was signed into law in June 2009. The warnings are viewable on the FDA's Web site. Their use is expected to have a significant public health impact by decreasing the number of smokers, resulting in lives saved, increased life expectancy, and improved health status. The agency selected the images from 36 original candidates after reviewing the relevant scientific literature, analyzing the results of an 18,000-person study, and considering more than 1,700 public comments.[Required warnings for cigarette packages and advertisements. Federal Register 76:36628-36777, 2011]

FTC warns about cell-phone radiation scams. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has published tips on how to avoid cell phone radiation scams. The agency's warning was made in response to the proliferation of devices that are claimed to absorb electromagnetic emissions from mobile phones. Its warning document states:

There is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from these electromagnetic emissions. In fact, products that block only the earpiece—or another small portion of the phone—are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. What's more, these shields may interfere with the phone's signal, cause it to draw even more power to communicate with the base station, and possibly emit more radiation.

A few reports have suggested that mobile telephone use is related to the development of certain brain tumors. The World Health Organization's International Agency on Research on Cancer recently classified mobile phone use as a 'possible carcinogen' based upon inconclusive epidemiological findings. [NCI Statement: International Agency for Research on Cancer Classification of Cell Phones as "Possible Carcinogen." National Cancer Institute press release, May 31, 2011] However, mobile phones produce very small amounts of non-ionizing radiation and no mechanism is known by which such radiation can cause brain tumors. The largest and most important study to date has reported that overall, cell phone users have no increased risk of the most common forms of brain tumors—glioma and meningioma. In addition, the study revealed no evidence of increasing risk with progressively increasing number of calls, longer call time, or years since beginning cell phone use. [INTERPHONE Study Group. Brain tumor risk in relation to mobile telephone use: Results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study. International Journal of Epidemiology. 39:675-694, 2010]

German study compares naturopathic and medical hospitalization. A study of 918 patients who received "naturopathic complex therapy" has found that they stayed about 60% longer in the hospital and cost about 50% more to treat than comparable patients who received only internal medicine treatment. [Romeyke T, Stummer H. A study of costs and length of stay of inpatient naturopathy—Evidence from Germany. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 17:90-95, 2011] Appropriateness and effectiveness of the treatments were not examined.

Vitamin/MLM schemer arrested. Donald Lapre, who recently was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with his marketing of "The Greatest Vitamin in the World," failed to show up for his arraignment but was arrested soon afterward. [(Not quite) the greatest fugitive in the world! TV pitchman Don Lapre arrested 24 hours after dodging court appearance over '$52 million fraud.' London Daily Mail, June 24, 2011] Quackwatch has a detailed history of Lapre's activities.

Absent "medical director" disciplined. Philip L. Zbylot, M.D., who practices in Austin, Texas, has entered into an agreed order prohibiting him from supervising or delegating medical tasks to other health care providers or unlicensed personnel. The order also requires him to (a) have another physician monitor his practice for eight monitoring cycles, (b) pass within one year and within three attempts the Medical Jurisprudence Exam, (c) complete courses in medical record-keeping and risk management, and (d) pay a $3,000 administrative penalty. In 2009, Zbylot agreed to assume the role of medical director of the Holistic Health Care Center in Boerne, Texas, which had been administering colon hydrotherapy without valid orders from a licensed physician. However, the board found that he never practiced at the clinic, maintained or reviewed any patient records, or directly supervised the clinic personnel, none of whom was licensed. This is the third time Zbylot has been in trouble. In 1976, his license was revoked in connection with his arrest and conviction for possession with intent to distribute cocaine (a felony). He was reinstated in 1981. In 2002, he entered an agreed order to pay a $2,500 administrative fine for failure to renew his license on time. Zbylot's viewpoints about disease and treatment differ greatly from those of standard medical practice. On a radio broadcast in 2009, for example, he claimed that the majority of Americans are suffering from "yeast overgrowth" and that many people need to be detoxified.

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This page was revised on June 25, 2011.