The FTC wakes up, too

By Phil Plait | September 22, 2008 9:30 am

Hey, who says government is a bunch of morons who can’t do anything right?

Oh yeah, lots of people. But that may change; first the NIH stops a silly antivax-based study, and now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has come out with a warning against fake cancer cures:

The Federal Trade Commission charged five companies with making false and misleading claims for cancer cures and said Thursday that it has reached settlements with six others. “As long as products have been sold there has been somebody out there selling snake oil to consumers,” said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection.

Hurray! The markets are filled with quack remedies. While it’s possible a very small (a very very small) percentage do some good, the overwhelming majority do harm. I say this because even ones that don’t hurt you directly (like homeopathy which is just plain old water) still hurt because people who take these so-called "alternative" medicines aren’t taking real medicine, medicine that can help them.

Of course, the alt-med quacks don’t see it that way. As a legal representative of one of these awful companies said:

In our view it’s a battle between the right to speak and the government’s censorship.

Hey, attorney guy: it’s not censorship if you are falsely advertising a product. There is a legal term for that: fraud.

Kevin Trudeau, convicted scam artistIf you turn on the boob tube late at night, you will be barraged by garbage cures for common ailments — like from convicted con artist Kevin Trudeau. I wonder how many people have died because they read his books and tried to eat coral to cure their cancer.

Don’t even get me started about Enzyte — though the lying manufacturer of that pill which preys on those with low self-esteem is now facing 25 years in prison… where I’m wondering if his bunkmate won’t need to use Enzyte at all.

I’m thrilled to see action against these evil flim flammers who have been making us sicker all these years. Sure, caveat emptor — people buying this snake oil should perform due diligence — but when they are lied to about the products, fraud laws come into play.

We do need to educate people, teach them to think critically and to be skeptical about claims, especially medical ones. Eventually everyone may someday be able to make healthy decisions. But that’s a long way off, and in the meantime, I’m glad to see at least some of the perpetrators of bad medicine facing the law.


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