Consumer Health Digest #02-20

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 14, 2002


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.


Recognition likely for questionable massage therapy accreditation agency. In December 2001, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity of the US Department of Education recommended that the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) be recognized as the accrediting agency for massage therapy schools in the United States. About 65 schools now have COMTA accreditation. Dr. Stephen Barrett, after examining the offerings of dozens of these schools, has concluded that that nearly all of them advocate and teach one or more irrational practices and that COMTA either ignores or promotes this problem. [Barrett S. Massage therapy: Riddled with quackery. Quackwatch, May 11, 2002] However, since the Secretary of Education has granted approval to an astrology school, there is no reason to believe that the unscientific teachings of massage therapy schools will prevent COMTA from being approved.


FTC and ACCC attack exercise belt frauds. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has charged that the marketers of three widely advertised electronic abdominal exercise belts (AB Energizer, AbTronic, and Fast Abs) have falsely advertised that users will get "six pack" or "washboard" abs without exercise. The FTC's complaints allege that the ads have falsely represented that the devices (a) cause fat loss and inch loss; (b) give users well-defined abdominal muscles; and (c) are equivalent or superior to ordinary abdominal exercises, such as sit-ups or crunches; and (d) are safe for all users. The FTC is also challenging the marketers' refund, shipping, and warranty practices. [FTC charges three top-selling electronic abdominal exercise belts with making false claims. News release, May 8, 2002] The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has filed similar charges against AbTronic promoters. [ACCC takes action against 'AbTronic' promoters. ACCC news release, May 9, 2002] The FDA noted that these devices can cause muscles to contract but they do not increase muscle size enough to affect appearance. [Consumer information on electronic muscle stimulators. FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health, April 10, 2002]


Massive Internet archive posted. The Wayback Machine enables searchers to explore many Web sites and pages as they appeared as far back as 1996. Among other things, it provides access to misleading ads that were removed in response to government regulatory action. As of October 2001, the site had archived about 10 billion pages totaling over 100 terabytes of data and was said to be growing at a rate of 12 terabytes per month. The site operators hope to add a full-text search engine.


TIME science writer blasts antiamalgamists. Time magazine's Web site has posted a column by science writer Leon Jaroff urging U.S. Representative Diane Watson to modify her views on amalgam fillings. The article was a response to Watson's introduction of a bill to prohibit interstate commerce of mercury intended for use in dental fillings by 2007. Calling Watson "scientifically unsophisticated," Jaroff concludes that her association with amalgam opponents "can only tarnish what has been an otherwise worthy career" and advises her to get over her "amalgam hang-up" and "learn not to be taken in by quacks." [Jaroff, L. There's nothing dangerous about 'silver' fillings: But some in Congress continue to insist there is. Time.com, May 8, 2002] Although mercury by itself is classified as a toxic material, the mercury in amalgam is chemically bound to other metals to make it stable and therefore safe for use in dental applications. Quackwatch has posted a point-by-point rebuttal to some of Watson's "unsophisticated" statements. Meanwhile, a similar California bill (AB 2270) was defeated in committee. [Berthold M. California defeats amalgam bill. ADA News 33(9):12, 2002]


Scientology pays $8.67 million to settle lawsuit. The Washington Post has reported that the Church of Scientology has paid $8,674,843 to settle a case that was filed in 1980 by Lawrence Wollersheim, a former member who blamed church policies for injuring his mental health. [Leiby R. Ex-Scientologist collects $8.7 million in 22-year-old case. Washington Post, May 10, 2002] According to the article:

According to an article on Factnet, the Church paid because it was afraid that the hearing could result in certain evidence being presented at the hearing that would jeopardize its tax-exempt status.


Aloe and cascara banned as OTC laxative ingredients. The FDA issued a final ruling that aloe and cascara sagrada will not be included in the final monograph for over-the-counter laxative drug products because they have not been proven safe and effective as stimulant laxatives. As of November 5, 2002, aloe extract, aloe flower extract, cascara fluidextract aromatic, cascara sagrada extract, casanthranol, cascara sagrada bark and cascara sagrada fluidextract will no longer be allowed in nonprescription laxative products. [Status of certain over-the-counter Category II and III active ingredients, Federal Register 67:31125-31127, 2002] The new rule does not protect consumers from these ingredients in products that are legally marketable as "dietary supplements."


Pennsylvania enacts "Do-Not-Call" law. Pennsylvania's Telemarketer Registration Act, signed into law on April 2, calls for the development of a statewide "Do-Not-Call" list of people who wish to minimize telephone solicitations. Once the list is available, telemarketers that call Pennsylvania consumers will be required to purchase it and remove every name from their calling lists within 30 days of receiving the list. Violations carry a civil penalty up to $1,000, or $3,000 if the person is age 60 or older. The law does not restrict calls (a) made in response to a consumer's previous request, (b) where an established business relationship exists, (c) made by a tax-exempt charitable or fraternal organization, made on behalf of a veterans' organization, or made on behalf of a political candidate. [Fisher M. Telemarketer do-not-call list. Pa. Consumer Advisory, April, 2002]. Several other states have passed similar laws, and the FTC is considering establishment of a national list.


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This page was posted on May 14, 2002.