Consumer Health Digest #19-36
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 8, 2019
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
Google will ban ads for unproven or experimental medical techniques. Google is revising its healthcare and medicines policy to ban advertising for unproven or experimental medical techniques such as most stem cell therapy, cellular (non-stem) therapy, and gene therapy. The policy will prohibit ads selling treatments that: (a) have no established biomedical or scientific basis, or (b) are rooted in basic scientific findings and preliminary clinical experience, but currently have insufficient formal clinical testing to justify widespread clinical use. [A new policy on advertising for speculative and experimental medical treatments. Google, Sept 6, 2019] The ban reportedly will take effect in October. [Wan W. McGinley L. New Google policy bars ads for unproven stem cell therapies. Washington Post, Sept 6, 2019] MIT Technology Review has criticized Google for years of brazenly profiting from health-care scams, noting:
Ads from stem-cell clinics have been a fixture of Google's search results for years, funneling desperate patients to a growing industry of doctors who collect blood or other cells from patients, then re-inject them. Testimonials from celebrity NFL players and others have helped spread the quackery to sports medicine and orthopedics centers. [Google is banning ads for quack cures after years of profiting from them. MIT Technology Review, Sept 6, 2019]
Stemell, Inc. warned for selling unapproved umbilical cord blood/products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered Stemell, Inc. of San Juan Capistrano, California, and its president and Chief Executive Officer, Peyman Taeidi, Ph.D., to stop manufacturing and distributing unapproved products (StemL UCB-Plus and StemL UCT-Plus) derived from umbilical cord blood and umbilical cord. The FDA noted that the company was found in an inspection to have significant deviations from current good tissue practice (CGTP) and current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) requirements, including deficient donor eligibility practices and environmental monitoring that put patients at risk. The agency expressed concern that the unapproved products might be contaminated with microorganisms or have other serious product quality defects. [FDA sends warning to company for selling unapproved umbilical cord blood and umbilical cord products that may put patients at risk; continues to warn patients of the risk of unapproved stem cell therapy. FDA news release, Sept 3, 2019]
AH Media online beauty products "free trial" scheme halted. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that AH Media Group, LLC (AH Media) and the company's owners, Henry Block and Alan Schill have agreed to a court-ordered preliminary injunction temporarily barring them from a wide range of conduct such as:
- misleading consumers about supposedly "free trial" offers for at least eight different product lines
- enrolling them in unwanted ongoing monthly subscription plans
- billing them without their authorization
- making it nearly impossible for them to cancel or get their money back.
According to the FTC's complaint, since at least April 2016, the defendants operated an online subscription scam involving sales of cosmetics and dietary supplements, including Amabella Allure, Adelina, Parisian Glow, and Tone Fire Garcinia, with claims that they promote younger-looking skin or weight loss. [FTC obtains preliminary injunction halting online beauty product sellers' deceptive "free trial" offers. FTC press release, Sept 6, 2019] The defendants allegedly:
- used deceptive websites to charge consumers for both the "trial" product and ongoing monthly subscription plans
- claimed consumers would have to pay only a small shipping and handling fee for the trial, usually $4.99 or less, while burying the true cost of these trials behind small-font "terms," links, and faded background text
- after two weeks, charged unsuspecting consumers around $90 for the trial product and enrolled them in unwanted subscription plans with additional monthly charges
- used deceptive upsell pages to trick consumers into a second product "trial" and related subscription plan
- facilitated the fraud with a network of shell companies and straw owners to process consumer payments that made it more difficult to be detected by consumers and law enforcement
- did not allow consumers to cancel online, forcing them to call a customer service number
- frequently put callers to the customer service numbers on hold for a long time
- used fraudulent versions of their Web sites to dispute chargeback requests when consumers contacted their credit card companies to challenge the unauthorized charges
- defrauded consumers nationwide out of more than $35 million through illegal credit and debit card charges.
In a three-minute video from 2011, the FTC offered tips to consumers about free-trial offers.
"Alternative medicine" symposium published. The special, expanded September/October 2019 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine has as its theme "The Health Wars: Fighting Medical Pseudoscience" and includes these timely articles:
- The remedies of National Geographic, by Victor Benson
- National Geographic book is a 'natural' disaster, by Harriet Hall
- Quackery at WHO: A Chinese affair, by Cees N. M. Renckens and Thomas P.C. Dorlo
- Magic water, by Joe Nickell
- Laser acupuncture: High-tech placebo, by Sébastien Point
- The new phrenology, by Robert Stern
- Unskeptical: Indian scientists' opinions of ayurvedic medicine, by Barry A. Kosmin
- Suing for science, by Nicholas Little
Full-text of the articles are available in the print issue and online, but a Skeptical Inquirer subscription is required for full-text online of all but the first two articles.
This page was posted on September 8, 2019.