What makes these quacks different from all other quacks?

These quacks are in a bit of trouble. The FTC and FDA have decided that they are sick of bogus cancer cures, and have sued a handful of companies.


And more important, are they going to go after more snake oil salesmen? There is nothing special about the companies the FTC is going after. They make the usual bogus claims—“our particular magic herbs detoxify, boost immunity, and cure cancer.”

Hopefully, ChrisH will weigh in on some of the legal issues, but one of the interesting facets of these cases bears directly on the Quack Miranda Warning. According to ABC News:

In a May 27, 2008, the FDA acknowledged that Spohn had “attempted to disclaim” some of the statements about products sold by the company, Herbs for Cancer.

The FDA noted that the site contained the message: “Disclaimer: The FTC and FDA require us to place this disclaimer here, please read. Herbs for cancer are not intended to cure, treat, or diagnose your illness.”

In the letter, the FDA told Spohn, “However, untrue or misleading information in one part of your site will not be mitigated by inclusion of such a “disclaimer.'”

Wow. I have regularly complained that snake oil salesmen are allowed to operate unmolested by simply giving the completely disingenuous disclaimer. Is this a sign that the Quack Miranda Warning may someday lose it’s magical power of protection?

Another fun piece of the FTC complaint is “the letter”—the FTC is requiring the cancer herb quack to send “an exact copy” of a letter to all customers:

Dear [Recipient]:

Our records show that you bought [name of products] from our website www.HerbsForCancer.com. We are writing to tell you that the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has found that our advertising claims for these products were false or unsubstantiated, and has issued an Order prohibiting us from making those claims in the future. The Order entered against us also requires that we send you the following information about the scientific evidence on these products.

Very little scientific research has been done concerning the above noted products as a treatments or cures for cancer in humans. The scientific studies that have been done do not demonstrate that these products, or the ingredients in these products, are effective when used as treatments for cancer.

It is very important that you talk to your doctor or health care provider before using any alternative or herbal product, including the products named above. Speaking with your doctor is important to make sure that all aspects of your medical treatment work together. Things that seem safe, such as certain foods, herbs, or pills, may interfere or affect your cancer or other medical treatment, or other medicines you might be taking. Some herbs or other complementary or alternative treatments may keep your medicines from doing what they are supposed to do, or could be harmful when taken with other medicines or in high doses. It also is very important that you talk to your doctor or health care provider before you decide to take any alternative or herbal product, including the products named above, instead of taking conventional cancer treatments that have been scientifically proven to be safe and effective in humans.

If you would like further information about complementary and alternative treatments for cancer, the following Internet web sites may be helpful:

1.The National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq; or

2.The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines:


You also can contact the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER or 1-800-422-6237.

Herbs For Cancer

I love that. I really do. Unfortunately, people who have already “drunk the Kool-Aid” (yes, I know, “Flav-R-Ade”, or in this case, tea) may fall prey to various false ideas encouraged by their cult leader (FDA-Big Pharma conspiracy; “hey, it’s working for me”; “what could it hurt?”).

And since this particular complaint and news story is about a particular altmed cult leader, let’s see how she responded to the charges (hint: she pulls out her well-worn set of the Denialists’ Deck of Cards).

Mary Spohn, who sells the magic teas, starts with the “freedom of choice” gambit:

“I’m not against chemo and radiation,” she said. “I just don’t think that should be our only choice.”

I love the false dichotomy: “chemo and radiation…our only choice.” Cancer therapy is much more complicated than she would have us believe. The real choice is science-based therapy vs. magical herbs.

“If we lose this, then we have lost a major battle, and our only recourse will be to take drug-based modalities in treating any kind of disease. They will literally take our right away to buy a vitamin out of the store,” she said.

ZOMG! The government is taking away our rights!!!11!!

Which rights are we really talking about here? The right of consumers to be defrauded? The right of charlatans to make false claims?

I hope that this move represents a start, not a isolated event. You will probably hear a noisy schrei from the quacks complaining of oppression, conspiracies, etc. You can bet that Gary Null and Joe Mercola will give it some press. But the only thing being lost is the ability of crooks to defraud vulnerable individuals.

I’ll drink to that (but not the magic tea).