Consumer Health Digest #06-49
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 5, 2006
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.
California Supreme Court weakens libel protection. The California Supreme Court has ruled that Internet users who republish false and defamatory statements that were written by others are not liable for their content. The case arose after Ilena Rosenthal falsely stated to a newsgroup that a police report had said that a Canadian physician, had stalked several women. Rosenthal was informed that the statement was false and that the police had found no evidence of wrongdoing. She refused to retract the message and has continued to this day to falsely suggest that the doctor had actually stalked someone. The original libel was created by Tim Bolen, a professional character assassin who was hired to attack critics of Hulda Clark, an unlicensed naturopath who claims that herbs and a low-voltage electrical device can cure cancer and other serious ailments. When a libel suit was filed against Bolen and Clark, Rosenthal was included as a defendant. However, her attorney asserted that the Internet Decency Act protected her. This law was passed to protect operators of bulletin boards and other interactive sites from the impossible task of monitoring and regulating everything posted to their sites. The trial judge dismissed Rosenthal from the case. The 1st District Court of Appeal put her back in, ruling that Internet discussion group operators who ignore notices that something is defamatory can be liable as a "distributor," in the same way a bookseller who knowingly sells a defamatory book would be. The Supreme Court acknowledged that "blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications," but it ruled that the "plain language" of the law exempted Internet intermediaries from defamation liability for republication. In other words, the court ruled that until Congress chooses to revise the law in this area, plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may seek recovery only from the original source of the statement. The suit against Clark and Bolen has been on hold but will resume when the Rosenthal appeal is final. Quackwatch has comprehensive information about the libel campaign and Clark's activities.
FTC halts phony height-gain product. Sunny Health Nutrition Technology & Products, Inc. and its owner, Sunny Sia, who marketed purported height-enhancing pills will pay $375,000 to settle FTC charges that their advertising claims were deceptive. The FTC's complaint charged the defendants with misrepresenting that:
- HeightMax causes users to grow an additional 2 to 3 inches in 6 months.
- Clinical tests prove that regular use for 6 months causes a 10% to 25% gain in height, and use for more than a year causes a 20% to 35% gain in height.
- HeightMax increases lean body mass and reduces body fat in users ages 12-25.
- William Thomson, an expert with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, created HeightMax after years of research and clinical trials. (Actually, "Thomson" was invented by the defendants.)
The defendants were also charged with making false or unsubstantiated claims for Liposan Ultra Chitosan Fat Blocker, a weight loss supplement, and Osteo-Vite, marketed to older consumers for bone-building. The HeightMax product was advertised in English and Spanish on the Internet, on radio, and in the back pages of magazines such as Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and Maxim. The settlement also holds the defendants potentially liable for $1.9 million in the event that they misrepresented their finances. [FTC targets bogus claims for pill advertised to make kids taller. FTC news release, Nov 28, 2006]
Court enjoins cancer/AIDS quack. A Tennessee Circuit Court judge has ordered Oludare Samuel Olomoshua and his Nigeria-based Wisdomite Spiripathology Healing and Music Mission to stop claiming that Olomoshua is a medical doctor, a Ph.D., and a cancer and HIV/AIDS specialist who can cure potentially fatal or terminal diseases. The judge also assessed $38,000 in penalties and $1,275 in attorneys' fees for failing to comply with a temporary injunction ordered last month. [Attorney General obtains civil contempt order against purveyor of purported cures to cancer and HIV/AID. News release, Tennessee Attorney General, Dec 5, 2006] Olomoshua, who represented himself as a "spiripathy scientist," claimed that diseases are "destructive spirits" and that God had sent him to stop them. His now-defunct Web site claimed that "Spiripathology Medicine give [sic] perfect cure guarantee to terrible diseases." In 2005, in addition to prayers, he marketed sprays, lotions, oils, and syrups such as "Anti Multiple Sclerosis." The state got involved after consumers complained that they had paid for Olomoshua's treatments but weren't healed.
Quackwatch fundraising appeal. Quackwatch now sponsors 20 Web sites with over 3,700 pages of information and traffic exceeding 4,000 per day on their home pages. Dr. Barrett would appreciate donations to help fund further research, speed up development of several of the sites, defray legal expenses, and move his office to a more efficient workspace.
This page was posted on December 6, 2006.