Consumer Health Digest #11-33

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 6, 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.

Steve Jobs was a quackery victim. Steve Jobs, the ultrasuccessful Apple Computer CEO who died this week of pancreatic cancer, delayed recommended surgery for nine months while treating himself with a diet. Although Jobs stated publicly that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, a Fortune Magazine reporter learned that Jobs was actually diagnosed in 2003 with a rare form of pancreatic cancer that has a high cure rate if treated early. But instead of undergoing the operation, he relied on worthless dietary treatment. [Elkind P. The trouble with Steve Jobs. Fortune Magazine, March 8, 2008] It may be impossible to determine whether the delay decreased his survival time and quality of life. But it is clear that whatever time and energy he used in pursuing "alternative" methods could have been spent doing something more useful.

Infomercial scammer commits suicide. Donald Lapre, one of the nation's most persistent infomercial scammers, was found dead in his jail cell two days before his scheduled trial for mail fraud was due to begin. Press reports indicate that he committed suicide by cutting his neck with a razor. Lapre, whose dubious marketing activities have spanned more than 20 years, had been charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with his marketing of "The Greatest Vitamin in the World." In a 2004 infomercial, Lapre claimed that his vitamin product contained "all you need for optimal health" and that independent advertisers (distributors) would get paid $1,000 or "up to $200 a month for life" every time they got 20 people to try it. But the indictment indicated that he greatly exaggerated the program's income potential and ultimately persuaded 226,794 people to invest more than $51.8 million. Quackwatch has a detailed history of Lapre's activities.

Fluoridation in the news. Although water fluoridation is an extremely valuable public health measure, battles over whether to implement it are scattered throughout the United States. Two events are newsworthy:

New "health freedom" coalition formed. Joseph Mercola, D.O., who operates a high-traffic health disinformation Web site has announced the formation of Health Liberty, a nonprofit coalition whose goals include promoting organic foods and targeting fluoridation, vaccination, genetically modified foods, and the use of amalgam fillings. [Mercola J. New plan to help you take back your health freedoms., Oct 3, 2011] In a video accompanying the announcement, Mercola stated that he plans to donate $1 million to catalyze the project. The coalition members are:

The "health freedom" argument involves deception by misdirection. It focuses on individual freedom but does not consider how people who fail to protect their health put the rest of society at physical and/or financial risk. Failing to vaccinate, for example, decreases herd immunity so that contagious diseases spread more widely.

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This page was revised on October 7, 2011.