Consumer Health Digest #16-44
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 27, 2016
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 issues homeopathic advertising guidelines. The Federal Trade Commission has announced a new policy toward homeopathic product advertising. The agency also released its staff report on its 2015 workshop. Homeopathy, which dates back to the 1700s, is based on the medically disputed notion that disease symptoms can be treated by repeatedly diluted doses of substances that supposedly produce similar symptoms when provided in larger doses to healthy people. Many homeopathic products are diluted to such an extent that they no longer contain even a single molecule of the initial substance. The policy statement notes:
- The FTC will hold efficacy and safety claims for OTC homeopathic drugs to the same standard as other products making similar claims. Companies must have competent and reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims, including claims that a product can treat specific conditions. The statement also describes the level of scientific evidence that the Commission requires for such claims.
- For the vast majority of OTC homeopathic drugs, the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product's efficacy. Thus health-related claims for these products are likely to be inherently misleading.
- Unsubstantiated claims may be permitted if the advertising or labeling effectively communicates that: (a) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and (b) the claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.
- Any such disclosures (a) should stand out and be in close proximity to the product's efficacy message, (b) might need to be incorporated into that message, and (c) should not be undercut by additional positive statements or consumer endorsements. If the "net impression" of an ad conveys more substantiation than a marketer has, it will violate the FTC Act.
The marketplace would be more efficient if product labels and ads would list only ingredients and include no efficacy claims, as recommended by Dr. Stephen Barrett. [Barrett S. Comments and proposed testimony for the FTC workshop on advertising for over-the-counter (OTC) homeopathic products. July 29, 2015] But the FTC appears willing to permit efficacy claims accompanied by "sufficient" negative disclosures.
Canadian court authorizes class-action suit against chiropractors. The Quebec Superior Court has authorized a class-action suit to proceed against 13 chiropractors and their insurers. The plaintiffs were treated for back pain at Zero Gravity clinics with a spinal decompression machine called the Axiom DRX 9000. The company went bankrupt in 2013, but the suit is directed against the individual chiropractors: Yves Bélanger, Marc Bureau, Amelie Jean, Bertrand Canuel, Patrick Fortier, Mario Amyot, Yoland Guimond, Catherine Morin-Noiseux, Valérie Bouthillier, Giovanni Ippolito, Caroline Huot, Jean Theroux, and Marie-Noelle Side. All of the case documents are in French. The complaint (in French) and Google's English translation of the judge's ruling are available online. The complaint states:
- In 2010, Health Canada banned sale of the device, saying that the manufacturer had failed to provide scientific evidence that the device is effective.
- The College of Quebec advised chiropractors to stop advertising and using the device and subsequently disciplined 9 of the 13 chiropractors.
The law firm handling the case is Ménard, Martin of Montreal. Press reports indicate that 650 people have signed up, but up to 8,000 people might be eligible. [650 people get permission to sue chiropractors. CTV News Montreal, Nov 23, 2016]
Spinal decompression is an expensive high-tech form of mechanical traction that can relieve some cases of back pain but has been widely promoted with unsubstantiated claims that it can correct degenerated and herniated discs without surgery. [Barrett S. Be wary of spinal decompression therapy with VAX-D or similar devices. Chirobase, Nov 25, 2016]
Documents from Congressional hearings on quackery posted. Casewatch now has full reports on six of the seven days of hearings on health frauds and quackery held in 1963 and 1964 by the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Together they provide a comprehensive look at the marketplace of that era and government efforts at controlling the problem.
This page was posted on November 27, 2016.