FTC Halts Bogus Cancer Cures

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The Federal Trade Commission has brought to a halt two peddlers of bogus cancer cures that were targeted during Operation False Cures, a law enforcement sweep announced last fall. The FTC charged the companies in the sweep with making unsupported claims that their concoctions treated, cured, or prevented one or more types of cancer. With these two cases concluded, all but two of the 11 cases brought during the sweep have been resolved.

Mary T. Spohn, individually and doing business as Herbs for Cancer – The FTC’s administrative complaint alleged that Spohn marketed Chinese herbal teas that purportedly treated and cured many different types of cancer. After Spohn failed to respond to the complaint, the Administrative Law Judge issued an order on default judgment and initial decision against her on November 5, 2008. After Spohn failed to appeal, the judge’s order and initial decision became the final order and decision of the Commission. The final FTC Order prohibits false and deceptive claims that the products treat or cure cancer or have other health benefits.

According to Spohn’s advertisements, 16 of the teas her company sold were formulated to fight 16 different types of cancer. A 17th type of tea was represented as a “special formula” for “cancers not on our list.” The FTC’s administrative complaint charged that Spohn, individually and doing business as Herbs for Cancer, violated the FTC Act by making false and deceptive claims that these formulations effectively treat and cure cancer, and by falsely claiming that some of them are scientifically proven to work. In addition to the FTC action, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent Spohn a warning letter.

The FTC Order prohibits Spohn from representing that any dietary supplement, food, drug, device, or health-related service or program is effective in treating or curing any type of cancer, unless the representation is true, non-misleading, and supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. The Order also prohibits Spohn from making any representation about the benefits, performance, efficacy, safety, or side effects of any dietary supplement, food, drug, device, or health-related service or program, unless the representation is true, non-misleading, and supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. Additionally, the Order prohibits her from misrepresenting the information in any test or study.

The Order requires Spohn to provide the Commission with a contact list of all consumers who bought any Cancer Tea Formula from Herbs for Cancer on or after January 1, 2005. In addition, the Order requires Spohn to notify these consumers alerting them to the FTC findings, and prohibits her from selling or otherwise disclosing the names, or a variety of other types of identifying information, of any of the consumers on the list. Finally, the Order contains various record-keeping provisions to assist in monitoring Spohn’s compliance with its requirements.

Native Essence Herb Company – According to the FTC’s administrative complaint, Native Essence Herb Company and its principals violated federal law by making unsubstantiated claims that herbal concoctions such as a variety of essiac tea blends (including blends containing cat’s claw), Maitake mushroom extracts, and the herb chaparral were effective for treating and curing a variety of cancers, eliminating or shrinking tumors, and preventing breast cancer. In addition, the complaint alleged that the company falsely claimed scientific studies had proven that some of the challenged products were effective.

According to the proposed settlement announced today, Native Essence Herb Company and its principals, Mark J. and Marianne Hershiser, are prohibited from representing that their products prevent, treat, or cure any type of cancer unless the representation is true, non-misleading, and supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

The proposed settlement order also requires the respondents to notify all customers who have bought their products since January 1, 2005 that they should consult with a medical professional before using any alternative or herbal product to treat cancer, and that no reliable scientific studies exist to support claims that these products are effective in treating or curing cancer. Finally, the respondents are prohibited from making representations about any health-related products without competent and reliable scientific evidence.

The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement was 4-0. The FTC will publish an announcement regarding the agreement in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through May 4, 2009, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. To file a public comment, please click on the following hyperlink: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2009/04/d9328publiccomment.pdf and follow the instructions at that site.

NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $16,000.

Copies of the documents associated with these cases are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

(FTC File No. 081 3123; Docket No. 9331)
(FTC File No. 082 3115; Docket No. 9328)
(2 Cancer Cures.wpd)

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Betsy Lordan,
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-3707
STAFF CONTACT:
Erika Wodinsky (Native Essence),
Western Region
415-848-5100