WEB SALES: FTC Cracks Down on Misleading Health Info
In an effort to stop companies from misleading Internet users with faulty health claims and deceptive sales pitches, the FTC is expected today to announce legal settlements with four businesses "accused of deceptively marketing health products on the Internet." Although the FTC won't reveal the companies' names, officials say the groups have been "advertising and selling products such as shark-cartilage tablets and magnetic-therapy devices to treat a variety of ailments including arthritis, cancer, chronic back pain, HIV/AIDS, impotence and obesity." According to the American Cancer Society, "Scientific studies have produced no evidence that shark cartilage can prevent or cure cancer in humans." So far, the FTC has found 800 Web sites containing inaccurate health claims. Many think the 1994 law giving "marketers more latitude to explain the 'structure' and 'function' of their products, so long as they didn't falsely promote them as cures, treatments or preventatives" have spurred the increasing number of fraudulent claims. The Wall Street Journal reports that 36% of "regular" Internet users get "important health information from the Web." Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's consumer-protection bureau, said, "People are really going to the Internet for a lot of health information. It's a new way for consumers to educate themselves -- if the information is good. We want to be sure that we maintain the standards in this new medium." David Arjona, owner of the Web site World Without Cancer, which claims that shark cartilage is an effective cancer therapy, said, "We're just trying to help people. What would you do if your spouse or mother had cancer and people are telling you there is nothing that can be done? You would go on the Web." He said the FTC "should not tell anyone what they can and cannot buy on the Internet. It's a free world" (Simons, Wall Street Journal, 6/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.