Consumer Health Digest #20-14
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 12, 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.
FTC settles with detox tea marketers, warns Instagram posters. Teami, LLC and its owners, Adi Halevy and Yogev Malu, have settled a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint alleging that they claimed without reliable scientific evidence that: (a) their Teami 30 Day Detox Pack would help consumers lose weight, and (b) the company's other teas fight cancer, clear clogged arteries, decrease migraines, treat and prevent flus, and treat colds. Teami allegedly continued deceptive social media influencer practices despite the company receiving a warning letter from FTC staff in April 2018 stating, among other things, that all disclosures on Instagram needed to be viewable without consumers having to click a "more" link. The proposed court order settling the FTC's complaint:
- prohibits the defendants from making the types of unsupported weight-loss and health claims cited in the agency's complaint
- requires for advertisements involving influencers or other endorse, clear and conspicuous disclosures of any unexpected material connection
- imposes endorser monitoring requirements
- imposes a $15.2 million judgment—the total sales of the challenged products—which will be suspended upon payment of $1 million, based on the defendants' inability to pay the full judgment
The FTC also sent warning letters to the ten influencers alleged in the FTC's complaint to have been paid by Teami to create Instagram posts endorsing Teami tea. The warnings noted that the influencers did not provide a clear and conspicuous disclosure of the financial arrangement. [Tea marketer misled consumers, didn't adequately disclose payments to well-known influencers, FTC alleges. FTC press release. March 6, 2020] TruthInAdvertising.org believes that warnings alone are inadequate and that the FTC should seek, as the Securities and Exchange Commission does, financial penalties for non-disclosing influencers that are greater than the payments they received for their endorsements. [TINA's take: FTC lets 'detox tea' influencers off with a warning. TruthInAdvertising.org. March 9, 2020]
Thomsonian medicine credited as blueprint for modern cranks. An illuminating recent essay argues that modern medical pseudoscience in the U.S. is rooted in Samuel Thomson's aggressive promotion of phony treatments and conspiracies in the early 1800s:
Portraying himself as an illiterate pig farmer (he was neither), Thomson barnstormed the Northeast telling rapt audiences things they wanted to hear: that "natural" remedies were superior to toxic "chemical" drugs; that all disease had a single cause, despite its many manifestations; that intuition and divine providence had guided him to botanical panaceas; that corrupt medical elites, blinded by class condescension and education, were persecuting him, a humble, ordinary man, because of the threat his ideas and discoveries posed to their profits.
[Charpentier J. The 19th century roots of modern medical denialism. Undark. April 9, 2020]
Knee-injecting chiropractor settles False Claim Act allegations. David Podell, a chiropractor who previously owned and managed a clinic in Edgewater, New Jersey, has agreed to pay the United States $2 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations that he knowingly billed Medicare for medically unnecessary viscosupplementation injections and knee braces and received illegal kickbacks. [New Jersey chiropractor agrees to pay $2 million to resolve allegations of unnecessary knee injections and knee braces and related kickbacks. US Department of Justice news release. April 6, 2020] Podell and a business partner also promoted a business model to other chiropractors for running and marketing a clinic that specialized in the treatment of osteoarthritis through the administration of fluoroscopic-guided viscosupplementation injections and the provision of knee braces. This led to the formation of Osteo Relief Institutes (ORIs), from which—through his business partner—Podell received a percentage of their collections. The settlement follows the government's earlier settlement with seven former ORIs and their owners, who agreed to pay the United States a total of more than $7.1 million to resolve their False Claims Act liability. Viscosupplementation is a treatment for osteoarthritis in which a gel-like fluid is injected into a patient's knee joint to act as a lubricant and to supplement the natural properties of joint fluid. Podell allegedly caused his clinic and other ORIs to:
- bill Medicare for viscosupplementation injections for patients who did not need them
- use multiple brands of viscosupplements successively on patients without clinical support
- use discounted viscosupplements reimported from foreign countries
- provide unnecessary custom knee braces to patients
- solicit and receive kickbacks from a manufacturer of knee braces in exchange for ordering more of the manufacturer's braces for his clinic
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs lists Podell's chiropractor license status as expired in 2017 due to failure to renew and reports no disciplinary actions against him.
Vaccination found to increase after elimination of nonmedical vaccine exemptions. A study has evaluated the impact of the 2016 California law (SB 277) that eliminated nonmedical exemptions of children from measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination. The study compared two publicly available data sets: (a) state data from 2011 through 2017 for 45 states, and (b) data from separate counties in 17 states from 2010 to 2017. [Nyathi S. and others. The 2016 California policy to eliminate nonmedical vaccine exemptions and changes in vaccine coverage: An empirical policy analysis. PLOS Medicine. Dec 23, 2019] Key findings were:
- At the state level, the California vaccine policy was associated with a 3.3% increase in MMR vaccination coverage, a 2.4% decrease in nonmedical exemptions, and a 0.4% increase in medical exemptions.
- At the county level, the California vaccine policy was associated with a 4.3% increase in overall vaccination, a 3.9% decrease in nonmedical exemptions, and a 2.4% increase in medical exemptions. The largest increases in post-policy county-level coverage occurred in counties with lower pre-policy vaccine coverage.
Fraud rings investigated. Based on interviews with dozens of experts and an examination of thousands of pages of court documents, a new report describes the sophisticated business operations of international fraud rings including those that place robocalls. [Mclean B. Fraud International. AARP Bulletin, April 2020, 12-22] The report advises consumers:
Don't answer calls from numbers you don't know. If you do, be sure to hang up the moment that you realize it's a robocall. Don't say anything. Be skeptical of any offer that sounds too good to be true. Never agree to a proposition involving your money without doing research. If you do happen to fall for a scam, report it to authorities immediately. But importantly, don't beat yourself up.
This page was posted on April 12, 2020.