Consumer Health Digest #20-10
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 15, 2020
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.
Marketers warned about coronavirus claims. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have sent warning letters to seven companies allegedly selling unapproved products that may violate federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat coronavirus (COVID-19): (a) Vital Silver, (b) Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., (c) N-ergetics, (d) GuruNanda, LLC, (e) Vivify Holistic Clinic, (f) Herbal Amy LLC, and (g) The Jim Bakker Show. These companies advertised products including teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver as able to treat or prevent the coronavirus disease even though no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products are currently available to treat or prevent the virus. [FTC, FDA send warning letters to seven companies about unsupported claims that products can treat or prevent coronavirus. FTC press release. March 9, 2020] The warning letters:
- advise the recipients to immediately cease making all claims that their products can treat or cure coronavirus
- note that if the false claims do not cease, the FTC may seek a federal court injunction and an order requiring money to be refunded to consumers
- instruct the recipients to notify the FTC within 48 hours of the specific actions they have taken to address the agency's concerns
Missouri's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against Jim Bakker and Morningside Church Productions, Inc. for misrepresentations about the effectiveness of "Silver Solution" as a treatment for COVID-19. On the February 12, 2020 Jim Bakker Show production that aired nationwide, Bakker and guest Sherill Sellman, a "naturopathic doctor" who has been selling colloidal silver products on her Web site, allegedly claimed that "Silver Solution" can cure coronavirus. [AG Schmitt files suit against Jim Bakker for selling fake "coronavirus cure". Missouri Attorney General news release, March 10, 2020] Bakker has also falsely claimed that the product cures all venereal diseases.
New York's attorney general recently ordered the Jim Bakker Show to stop marketing Silver Solution, sent a cease and desist order to Sellman, and sent a cease and desist order to The Silver Edge company, which claimed its Micro-Particle Colloidal Silver Generator "beats coronavirus" and there is "clinical documentation" to prove it. The order to Dr. Sellman requires her to immediately affix a disclaimer on her website to make clear that her products have not been evaluated by the FDA and that none of her products are intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. [Attorney General James orders companies to stop selling fake treatments for coronavirus. NY Attorney General press release. March 11, 2020] The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns that colloidal silver can cause serious side effects, can cause poor absorption of some drugs, and is not supported by scientific evidence for use against any disease or condition.
Conspiracy peddler Alex Jones has also been ordered to cease and desist selling and marketing products as a treatment or cure for coronavirus disease. Through his InfoWarsStores Web site, Jones has been marketing and selling toothpaste, dietary supplements, creams, and several other products as treatments to prevent and cure the coronavirus. According to New York's attorney general, Jones fraudulently claims that these products are a "stopgate" against the virus and that the United States government has said his Superblue Toothpaste "kills the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range." Jones also makes deceptive claims about the benefits and medicinal powers of nano silver or colloidal silver. [Attorney General James orders Alex Jones to stop selling fake coronavirus treatments. NY Attorney General press release. March 12, 2020] On March 10th, Jones was arrested for driving while intoxicated. [Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones arrested for DWI in Travis County. CBS Austin, March 10, 2020]
COVID-19 consumer resources available. Key resources for consumers about the pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and its causal agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), include the:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) online index page for COVID-19 information, which includes links on How to protect yourself, if you think you are sick, Symptoms, Older adults & medical conditions, and Prepare your family along with links to resources for the community, information for health care professionals, and recent information updates
- World Health Organization's Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak page, which provides links to useful information pages for the public including a Myth busters page
- Food and Drug Administration's Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) frequently asked questions page
- Federal Trade Commission's tips to avoid being scammed by people taking advantage of fears surrounding coronavirus
- Consumer Reports resource hub, which provides consumers with practical articles about coronavirus categorized into five focus areas: health, home, daily life, your tech, and your food
Bogus COVID-19 prevention and treatment exposed. Recent commentaries about COVID-19 misinformation and quackery include:
- Hall H. Alternative medicine exploits coronavirus fears. Science-Based Medicine. Feb 4, 2020.
- Shapiro N. Fears of the COVID-19 coronavirus provide more opportunity for misinformation about 'miracle cures'. Forbes. March 1, 2020.
- Bilton N. Coronavirus is creating a fake-news nightmarescape. Vanity Fair. March 2, 2020.
- Levinovitz. A. The coronavirus is not mother nature's revenge. Foreign Policy. March 5, 2020.
- Colson T. A fake claim that cocaine cures the coronavirus is spreading online, and the French government was forced to tell people that it won't. BusinessInsider.com. March 9, 2020.
- Saigol L. Dubious coconut and kale cures, rip-off masks and malicious emails. Beware of these coronavirus scams. MarketWatch. March 10, 2020.
- Bellamy J. Chiropractors falsely claim they can protect patients from coronavirus. Science-Based Medicine. March 12, 2020.
- Caulfield T. Misinformation, alternative medicine and the coronavirus. Policy Options. March 12, 2020.
- Jackson M. How scammers are spreading horrifying coronavirus disinformation to millions. Union Journal. March 14, 2020.
- Jones S. As coronavirus panic heats up, so do sales of snake oil. New York. March 15, 2020.
Supplement industry reports increased product sales. Even though no dietary supplement or herb has been proven effective against viral infections, the number of "hits" returned with Google searches for "coronavirus + 'immune support'" has more than tripled during the past week. NUTRAingredients-USA, which reflects the views and activities of the dietary supplement industry, reports that sales of products promoted for "immune support" have increased. [Shultz H. Panic buying of immune products causes shortfalls; greater supply gaps loom in months ahead NUTRAIngredients-USA Web site, March 16, 2020]
Sellers of legitimate COVID-19 protection supplies ordered to stop price gouging. Cease and desist notifications have gone to businesses in New York for charging excessive prices for hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays, and rubbing alcohol in violation of a statute that prohibits the sale of goods and services necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers at unconscionably excessive prices during any abnormal disruption of the market. [AG James: price gouging will not be tolerated. NY Attorney General press release. March 10, 2020]
This page was posted on March 16, 2020.