Consumer Health Digest #01-51

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 17, 2001


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. 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.


NCI study concludes that "low-tar/low-nicotine cigarettes" are not safer. A new National Cancer Institute monograph has concluded that cigarettes labeled as "low tar," "mild," or "light" are just as dangerous as other cigarettes. Switching to these cigarettes may provide smokers with a false sense of reduced risk, when the actual amount of tar and nicotine consumed may be the same as, or more than, the previously used higher yield brand. Nicotine addiction results in smokers seeking a constant level of nicotine from smoking each day. The FTC's tests used to measure tar and nicotine levels have provided numbers that have been used for promotional purposes. However, these numbers have been artificially low because the cigarette paper enables air to dilute the smoke during the FTC's machine tests, whereas real smokers maintain their nicotine levels by positioning the cigarettes differently. The monograph details the extent to which the tobacco industry deliberately misled consumers. [Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 13, National Cancer Institute, Nov. 2001] The American Medical Association has cited the new report in its efforts to persuade Congress to permit the FDA to regulate tobacco.


Psychological support fails to prolong breast cancer survival. A controlled study has found that weekly supportive-expressive group therapy improved mood and pain perception but did not prolong survival of women with metastatic breast cancer. The study involved 235 women who were expected to survive for at least three months. [Goodwin PJ and others. The effect of group psychosocial support on survival in metastatic breast cancer. New England Journal of Medicine 345:1719-1726, 2001] The report failed to replicate a similar study reported in 1989 by psychiatrist David Spiegel, M.D., who found that therapy participants survived about 18 months longer.


Colloidal silver marketer sentenced to probation. Steven Tondre, of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, was sentenced on four misdemeanor charges of selling a misbranded product to which he had pled guilty in federal court. He was placed five years' probation, fined $4,000, ordered to pay more than $12,000 in restitution, and given 10 days to take down his Web site. The charges arose from his marketing of "EXP," a colloidal silver solution that he sold for $50 per quart. The Web site falsely claimed that "EXP" would prevent and cure AIDS by "hyperoxygenating the blood" and that "whenever EXP comes into contact with single cell pathogens or any microbial bacteria or viruses, EXP immediately incapacitates and destroys them before they have a chance to multiply or mutate."


Intercessory prayer flunks another test. Mayo Clinic researchers have found no significant effect of intercessory prayer (prayer by one or more persons on behalf of another) on the medical outcomes of more than 750 patients who were followed for 6 months after discharge from in hospital coronary care unit. The patients were randomized within 24 hours of discharge into a prayed-for group and a control group. The prayer involved at least one session per week for 26 weeks by five randomly assigned individual or group intercessors. [Aviles JM and others. Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit population: A randomized controlled trial. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 26:1192-19198, 2001]


Four arrested in anthrax-related stock fraud scheme. Four men have been criminally charged with exploiting fears about bioterrorism and inflating the stock prices by falsely claiming that a hand-held device could be used to prevent anthrax. Government news releases indicate that the men obtained a controlling interest in Spectrum Brands Corp., purchased "DeGERM-inator" devices from the manufacturer, and advertised through the Internet that the device could eliminate anthrax germs on surfaces in a matter of seconds. The defendants allegedly drove up stock prices by buying and selling shares, making it appear that they were widely traded, and then dumped their stock and left legitimate investors holding nearly worthless shares. The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed related civil charges. The DeGERM-inator is a hand-held device that uses ultraviolet rays to sanitize surface areas. The manufacturer's Web site now carries a disclaimer that the device is not recommended for killing anthrax spores. See Quackwatch for additional details.


Skeptical Inquirer now has 25-year index online. The Skeptical Inquirer, the official journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), has added a 25-year index to its Web site. The journal contains many incisive articles about health-related fraud, quackery, and pseudoscience.


NIDDK obesity report updated. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has updated its booklet on obesity, which covers the causes, consequences, diagnosis, and treatment of obesity in adults. [Understanding adult obesity. NIH Publication No. 01-3680, October 2001]


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This page was posted on November 18, 2001.