Consumer Health Digest #12-36

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 18, 2012

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.

FTC escalates anti-robocall program. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is challenging the public to create an innovative solution that will block illegal commercial robocalls on land lines and mobile phones. As part of its ongoing campaign against these prerecorded telemarketing calls, the agency is offering a $50,000 prize for the best technical solution. [FTC challenges innovators to do battle with robocallers. FTC news release, Oct 18, 2012] The FTC is also working with industry insiders and other experts to identify potential solutions. However, current technology still allows shady telemarketers to cheaply autodial thousands of phone calls every minute and display false or misleading caller ID information. Among these are the notoriously annoying calls from "Rachel from Cardholder Services." Since September 1, 2009, the only legal sales robocalls are ones that consumers have stated in writing that they want to receive. Political calls, survey calls, and charitable calls remain legal and are not covered by the 2009 ban. Large-scale commercial robocalls typically involve financial fraud but can also become a colossal nuisance to the vast majority of recipients who reject what is offered. The FTC advises consumers who receive such calls to hang up rather than pressing a number offered to supposedly stop further calls. So far, the FTC has brought 12 enforcement actions, collected $5.6 million in penalties, and shut down companies responsible for more than 2 billion illegal calls, For more information about the FTC's robocall initiatives, see Drs. Barrett and London believe there should be laws that ban all unsolicited robocalls, regulate phone-broadcasting sites, and make participants in large-scale illegal robocalling schemes subject to criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

Cranberry products not proven effective against urinary tract infections (UTIs). Cochrane Collaboration reviewers are skeptical about the use of cranberry juice and powders for preventing bladder and kidney infections. Studies through 2008 had suggested that cranberry juice might decrease the number of symptomatic infections over a 12-month period, particularly for women with recurrent UTIs. However, with the addition of 14 more studies, the totality of evidence now suggests otherwise. The reviewers concluded: "Given the large number of dropouts/withdrawals from studies (mainly attributed to the acceptability of consuming cranberry products particularly juice, over long periods), and the evidence that the benefit for preventing UTI is small, cranberry juice cannot currently be recommended for the prevention of UTIs. Other preparations (such as powders) need to be quantified using standardised methods to ensure the potency, and contain enough of the 'active' ingredient, before being evaluated in clinical studies or recommended for use." [Jepson RG and others. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Collaboration Review, Oct 17, 2012]

FDA warns acupuncture device marketer. The FDA has warned the marketers of Electro Meridian Imaging (EMI) devices to stop selling them without FDA clearance or approval. The device has been claimed to "measure the 24 meridian points on the body" to help diagnose and treat patients. The warning letter was sent to Acu-International Supplies and its president, John A. Amaro. Amaro, a chiropractor, founded and operates the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture through which he promotes his views mostly to fellow chiropractors. The FDA's action is significant because the agency has done almost nothing to impede the sale and use of electrodiagnostic devices purported to balance the flow of "energy" through meridians (imaginary channels).

Ukrain developer arrested. Dr. Edzard Ernst has reported that Wassil Nowicky, developer of the dubious cancer remedy ukrain, has been arrested on suspicion of commercial fraud. [Ernst E. A telling story about "alternative" cancer cures and their purveyors. Edzard Ernst blog, Oct 14, 2012] The report is the first article posted to Ernst's new blog on "alternative medicine."

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