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Current Events in August 2005

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    Texas Halts Foreclosure Rescue Scam

    Houston woman exploited distressed homeowners, state charges

    Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has won a temporary restraining order and asset freeze that stops a Houston woman from unlawfully exploiting distressed homeowners, some of them elderly, who face imminent foreclosure and eviction.

    The action cites Bobbie Heckard with fraudulently taking possession of the home of an 85-year-old Houston man under the guise of helping the homeowner prevent foreclosure. The man allegedly was led to believe he was only allowing Heckard to consult with his mortgage company, but in fact the transaction allowed her to take ownership of his home.

    "This is an alarming trend we are beginning to see in Texas, and I caution every homeowner to be wary of solicitations for foreclosure relief," said Abbott. "I will take every legal means to see that those who unlawfully strip homeowners of their right to own a home are brought to justice and these consumers property restored."

    The Attorney General acted after learning of this unfolding real estate deception. The order also challenges Heckards associate, Christopher Henderson, to whom she quickly transferred ownership of the property after the Attorney Generals office contacted her about its investigation. Henderson promptly established a $67,000 mortgage on the property fraudulently transferred to him from Heckard.

    Heckards scheme is designed to lure homeowners into transactions they would never consider if they knew the consequences. Heckard obtains a list of homes facing foreclosure, then tries to convince the homeowners that she offers foreclosure rescue services and will correspond with mortgage companies to resolve the problems.

    She then persuades homeowners to sign forms allegedly authorizing her to contact the mortgage companies on their behalf. In fact, the forms the homeowners sign are deeds transferring ownership in the homes to Heckard. Once Heckard obtains title to the property, she sells it, pockets the equity and threatens to evict the original homeowner.

    Abbotts lawsuit asks the court to force the defendants to relinquish all monetary gains derived from these transactions, return this money to all victims and restore their property to them. The suit also seeks a civil penalty of $250,000 if the court finds that the practices were calculated to exploit a person over age 65, plus $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

    Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has won a temporary restraining order and asset freeze that stops a Houston woman from unlawfully exploiting distressed ...

    NHTSA Proposes New Child Safety Seat Rules

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed new requirements for child safety seat manufacturers that choose to make booster seats for older and heavier children.

    The new proposal requires these manufacturers to build seats capable of protecting children up to 10 years old and weighing up to 80 pounds from death or serious injury in 30 mile-per-hour crashes.

    Also, under the proposal NHTSA would use a new, fully instrumented dummy simulating an 80-pound, 10 year-old child to make sure seats meet the proposed new requirements.

    Currently, NHTSA tests booster seats rated to accommodate children weighing a maximum of 65 pounds.

    "Americas kids come in all shapes and sizes, and car crashes are the leading killers of children in this country," said Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "We need to make sure that child safety seats and booster seats protect our kids no matter how large or how small they are."

    The proposal is part of the agencys effort to comply Antons law, which required NHTSA to expand the scope of federal standards governing child safety seats, including booster seats.

    The law was named after Anton Skeen, a four-year boy who was ejected and killed in a car crash in Oregon in 1996.

    NHTSA Proposes New Child Safety Seat Rules...

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      Judge Refuses to Gag Trudeau Critics

      Trudeau's self-published book might not be scientifically impeccable but it is setting sales records

      A federal judge has refused to block the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB) from asking television stations to withdraw misleading infomercials that promote the book, 'Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About.'

      Judge Gary Sharpe ruled that the CPB had given Kevin Trudeau the three days' notice Trudeau's attorneys had requested before the CPB contacts television stations about Trudeau's advertising.

      Trudeau's self-published book might not be scientifically impeccable but it is setting sales records. In the last three weeks, it's been second only to the latest Harry Potter novel. The 570-page collection of Trudeau's ruminations on natural cures is solidly in the #2 spot on the New York Times best-seller list.

      'We're pleased with the judge's decision and soon we will contact television and cable stations informing them of our belief that these infomercials are misleading and the book does not contain the cures that are claimed in these advertisements,' said Teresa A. Santiago, Chairman and Executive Director of the CPB.

      'Shamefully, Mr. Trudeau has been preying on the hopes and fears of people with serious illnesses,' said Santiago.

      Because the CPB has already given Trudeau at least three days' notice, Judge Sharpe said a temporary restraining order is not necessary.

      Judge Sharpe also said that this was his first ruling in the case. He noted that Trudeau had issued a press release on Aug. 18 that claimed that Judge Sharpe had issued a restraining order against the CPB. No such order was issued, Judge Sharpe said.

      Judge Refuses to Gag Trudeau Critics...

      Gasoline Prices Spur Talk of Regulation and Price Controls

      Ever-rising gasoline prices have politicians thinking and talking about whether gas prices should be regulated

      Ever-rising gasoline prices have politicians thinking and talking about whether gas prices should be regulated.

      The Public Utilities Commission in Hawaii has imposed a cap on the price of gasoline, the first state in the nation to do so.

      The debate over possible regulation has come up in five other states. Politicians in Michigan, Oregon, California, New York and Connecticut have publicly debated and talked about price regulation.

      Many economists warn that prices caps and regulations could actually send gas prices higher.

      Federal investigations claim to a have pored over oil industry documents and transactions in search of illegal behavior. So far they have been unable to find any evidence of price fixing.

      The Service Station Dealers of America complain that wholesalers are limiting competition and thus pushing prices higher. They contend that gasoline is a commodity many consumers depend upon and as such ought to be regulated.

      The American Petroleum Institute, on the other hand, says regulating prices would be a disaster. API represents the oil and natural gas industry.

      The U.S. embraced price regulations following the 1972 Arab Oil Embargo. President Richard Nixon ordered the controls for on oil and gasoline that remained in force until 1981. The price controls were blamed for volatile prices, shortages and long lines at gas pumps.

      With gasoline prices now approaching historic record levels, the debate is beginning anew. The previous record high for gasoline occurred in 1981 when gas prices are adjusted for inflation.

      Gasoline Prices Spur Talk of Regulation and Price Controls...

      Judge Orders Ohio Travel Agencies To Pay Up

      Consumers left stranded by a pair of Columbus, Ohio, travel agencies may not be going anywhere but they'll have some walking-around money

      Consumers left stranded by a pair of Columbus, Ohio, travel agencies may not be going anywhere but they'll have some walking-around money.

      Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge John Connor has ordered Morena Tours Inc., Victoria Travel Inc. and their owners to pay civil penalties totaling $450,000, provide nearly $40,000 in reimbursement or restitution to their victims and cover court costs.

      Businesses have an obligation to deliver promised goods and services to consumers, Attorney General Jim Petro said. That didnt happen in this case, leaving some victims trapped out of town without a ticket home and others at home with ruined vacation plans and empty wallets.

      Specifically, the judge ordered the defendants to pay a $25,000 civil penalty for each violation of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA). That means Morena and its principal owner, Meibe C.S. Villumsen, must pay $125,000 each in civil penalties. Victoria and its principal owner, Jens Villumsen, owe $100,000 each.

      The defendants failed to show at a July 15 damages hearing, at which several of the victims testified about the nature and extent of their losses. At that hearing and in his filings with the court, Petro proved the travel companies and their owners violated the CSPA by charging consumers credit cards without authorization, making false or misleading statements to consumers and failing to disclose their restrictive refund policies.

      While Victoria Travel is no longer in business, Morena Tours continues to operate.

      FCCPC Judge has ordered Morena Tours Inc., Victoria Travel Inc. to pay civil penalties and provide nearly $40,000 in reimbursement to their victims and cov...

      Coffee A Health Drink?

      Perky Industry-Funded Research Says So; Others Not So Sure

      Could your daily coffee fix actually be doing you some good? A study funded by the cocoa industry suggests it might, showing that the beverage is a significant source of antioxidants, which can protect the body from cancer.

      The research, funded by the American Cocoa Research Institute, says coffee drinkers appear to have higher levels of antioxidants than those who dont drink the beverage. The findings were presented as a weekend conference of the American Chemical Society in Washington, DC.

      Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the findings were not surprising, but she cautioned that there's more to health than antioxidants. Most experts are looking beyond antioxidants to the combination of vitamins, minerals other nutrition in specific foods, she said.

      Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close, said study leader Joe Vinson, a chemistry professor at the University of Scranton.

      Both caffeinated and decaf versions appear to provide similar antioxidant levels, he added.

      Study authors caution that their findings dont prove that drinking coffee is good for you, since they didnt make a determination about how many of the antioxidants from coffee are actually absorbed by the body. Researcher Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton also cautioned that coffee should be consumed in moderation. He said it is important to consume fresh fruit and vegetables, which are also good sources of antioxidants.

      Unfortunately, consumers are still not eating enough fruits and vegetables, which are better for you from an overall nutritional point of view to their higher content of vitamins, minerals and fiber," he said.

      Antioxidants help the body ward off harmful free radicals, which can damage cells and DNA. Studies have shown them to have a number of other health benefits, including protection against heart disease.

      Vinson and his associates analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 different food items, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, spices, oils and common beverages. The data was compared to an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture database on the contribution of each type of food item to the average estimated U.S. per capita consumption.

      Coffee came out on top, on the combined basis of both antioxidants per serving size and frequency of consumption, Vinson said. Java easily outranked such popular antioxidant sources as tea, milk, chocolate and cranberries, he says.

      Of all the foods and beverages studied, dates actually have the most antioxidants of all based solely on serving size, according to Vinson. But dates are not consumed at anywhere near the level of coffee.

      Coffee has been linked to an increasing number of potential health benefits, including protection against liver and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinsons disease, according to some recently published studies.

      In February, a team of Japanese researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that people who drank coffee daily, or nearly every day, had half the liver cancer risk of those who never drank it. The protective effect occurred in people who drank one to two cups a day and increased at three to four cups.

      Last year, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking coffee cut the risk of developing the most common form of diabetes.

      But theres also a downside: Java can make you jittery and cause stomach pains, while some studies have tied it to elevated blood pressure and heart rates. More research is needed, particularly human studies, to firmly establish its health benefits, Vinson said.

      While the findings would seem to encourage people to go out and drink more coffee, Vinson emphasizes moderation. One to two cups a day appear to be beneficial, he says. If you dont like coffee, consider drinking black tea, which is the second most consumed antioxidant source in the U.S. diet, Vinson said.

      Bananas, dry beans and corn placed third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

      Coffee A Health Drink?...

      Salmonella Fears Prompt Spice Recall

      August 28, 2005
      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is advising processors and re-packers that Majestic International Spice Corporation of Montebello, CA, is voluntarily recalling its dried Extra Fancy Basil spice in 12.5 kilogram bags. The recall was initiated after FDA inspectors found the product contaminated with Salmonella Blockley.

      Salmonella is a well-known cause of both outbreaks and sporadic disease in various parts of the world and as such poses a potential health threat. FDA said it is issuing the advisory out of concern that the firm has not adequately alerted its consignees to the problem.

      The only identification on the 12.5 kilogram paper bags is a white paper label stating Extra Fancy Basil 12.5 KGS. The exact dates of sale are unknown but we believe the product was sold beginning in late April 2005.

      Salmonella is a microorganism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella bacteria often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the microorganism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The contamination was noted after routine testing by FDA revealed the presence of Salmonella Blockley. The recall was the result of the FDA sampling. The company has ceased the distribution of the product in question.

      The agency said processors or repackers who received this product should discontinue using it and contact their local FDA office.

      Salmonella Fears Prompt Spice Recall...

      Protein-Rich Diet Boosts Benefit of Exercise

      Everyone knows that a good weight-loss program combines diet and exercise, but a new University of Illinois study reports that exercise is much more effective when it's coupled with a protein-rich diet.

      "There's an additive, interactive effect when a protein-rich diet is combined with exercise. The two work together to correct body composition; dieters lose more weight, and they lose fat, not muscle," said Donald Layman, a U of I professor of food science and human nutrition.

      A higher-carbohydrate, lower-protein diet based on the USDA food guide pyramid actually reduced the effectiveness of exercise, Layman said.

      Forty-eight adult women participated in Layman's 4-month study, published in the August 2005 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. One group ate a protein-rich diet designed to contain specific levels of leucine, one of the essential amino acids. A second group consumed a diet based on the food guide pyramid, which contained higher amounts of carbohydrates.

      Both groups consumed the same number of calories, but the first group substituted high-quality protein foods, such as meats, dairy, eggs, and nuts, for foods high in carbohydrates, such as breads, rice, cereal, pasta, and potatoes.

      "Both diets work because, when you restrict calories, you lose weight. But the people on the higher-protein diet lost more weight. Some people refer to this as the metabolic advantage of a protein-rich diet," said Layman.

      The study included two levels of exercise. "For one group, we recommended that they add walking to their lives. They usually walked two to three times a week, less than 100 minutes of added exercise," the researcher said.

      The other group was required to engage in five 30-minute walking sessions and two 30-minute weightlifting sessions per week. In both groups of dieters, the required exercise program helped spare lean muscle tissue and target fat loss.

      But, in the protein-rich, high-exercise group, Layman noted a statistically significant effect. That group lost even more weight, and almost 100 percent of the weight loss was fat, Layman said. In the high-carbohydrate, high-exercise group, as much as 25 to 30 percent of the weight lost was muscle.

      While this protein-rich diet works for everyone, it seems to be even more effective for people who have high triglyceride levels and carry excess weight in their midsection -- a combination of health problems known as Syndrome X.

      "The protein-rich diet dramatically lowered triglycerides and had a statistically significant effect on trunk fat, both risk factors associated with heart disease," he said. "Exercise helped dieters lose an even greater percentage of body fat from the abdominal area."

      The protein-rich diet works so well because it contains a high level of the amino acid leucine. Leucine, working together with insulin, helps stimulate protein synthesis in muscle. "The diet works because the extra protein reduces muscle loss while the low-carbohydrate component gives you low insulin, allowing you to burn fat," he said.

      "We believe a diet based on the food guide pyramid actually does not provide enough leucine for adults to maintain healthy muscles. The average American diet contains 4 or 5 grams of leucine, but to get the metabolic effects we're seeing, you need 9 or 10 grams," he noted.

      To achieve that leucine level, the researcher recommended adding dairy, meat, and eggs, all high-quality proteins, to the diet. According to Layman, losing weight doesn't have to mean relying on supplements to fill in nutritional gaps in your diet. "If you use a high-quality protein approach to your diet, you can actually improve the overall quality of your diet while losing weight," he said.

      Protein-Rich Diet Boosts Benefit of Exercise...

      France to Publish Airline Blacklist

      The French Transport Ministry has announced plans to publish a list of airlines that have been banned from landing in French territory due to safety violations

      The French Transport Ministry has announced plans to publish a list of airlines that have been banned from landing in French territory due to safety violations. Transport Minister Dominique Perben also indicated that safety inspections of planes making stopovers at French airports will be increased.

      The move follows the crash in Venezuela last week of a charter airliner operated by Trans Caribbean Airways that killed 152 passengers from the French island of Martinique and 8 crew members.

      The Ministry's Internet site will also publish a list of authorized companies, including charter airlines. Switzerland and the U.K. began publishing similar lists in January 2004 and there is strong pressure for the European Union to create a Europe-wide blacklist.

      This would solve a big problem with airline safety in Europe. Each country currently conducts its own aircraft inspections, frequently without knowing what other countries may have found. Most authorities agree that such a continent-wide list is long overdue.

      The recent spate of fatal accidents has focused attention on the problem. Europeans are flying more and more airlines are being created to handle the traffic, especially low-cost charters. This puts a greater strain on the inspectors who have to certify that an aircraft is safe to fly. Inevitably there are lapses, often with fatal consequences.

      France to Publish Airline Blacklist...

      Consumers Union Wants More Data on Mad Cow Testing

      Wants the agency to release details on the more than 400,000 cattle tested

      Consumers Union is raising questions about the credibility of the U.S. Department of Agricultures (USDA) expanded voluntary mad-cow surveillance program and is asking the agency to release details on the more than 400,000 cattle tested.

      In a letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, the group cited serious deficiencies uncovered by the Office of Inspector General in the earlier years of the program.

      Consumers Union specifically requested data on:

      • The geographic location of sampled cattle (including the state where the cow was born, raised, and slaughtered);

      • The age of the cattle tested (CU currently supports testing of all cattle above 20 months);

      • The disease/high-risk status of the cattle (for example, did they show symptoms of central nervous system disease, which are common symptoms of mad cow.

      The government keeps telling Americans that they can trust that their beef is safe from mad cow, even going so far as to say that finding BSE is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Yet, since the agency has so far failed to publicly disclose any information whatsoever about the details of the program, it makes us wonder how meaningful their search for the disease is at all, says Dr. Michael Hansen, PhD, a Senior Scientist with Consumers Union.

      We want to know exactly which cattle were tested and whether or not they really represent the most valid scientific sampling of the highest-risk animals from across the country. If the USDA wants to truly reassure the American people, they should answer our questions. Their failure to do so would make us wonder what the agency is hiding, adds Hansen.

      Consumers Unions letter comes after the USDAs announcement last month that a cow originally pronounced last November to be negative for mad cow disease turned out upon re-testing to be positive.

      Consumers Union Wants More Data on Mad Cow Testing...

      Higher Minimum Credit Card Payments Add to Consumer Queasiness

      Higher payments will pay off debt faster but may upset monthly budgets

      As if skyrocketing gas prices and housing bubble worries weren't enough, the one-two punch of stricter bankruptcy laws and rising minimum credit card payments may cause even more financial pain for consumers this fall.

      Under rules instituted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in 2003 and phased in through the end of 2005, the minimum amount required for paying a credit card balance each month is increasing from 2 percent to 4 percent or more, depending on the bank that issued the card.

      The average American carries roughly $10,000 in credit card debt, and though raising the monthly minimum may help them get out of debt faster, those already struggling to make their payments may see this as more burden than blessing.

      If your debt is $15,000, for instance, and you pay $300 a month with an interest rate of 13 percent, it would take you nearly twenty years to pay off the debt, with nearly $9,000 in interest, according to the Cardweb.com credit card information site.

      Doubling the payment to $600 would enable you to pay off the debt in 29 months, with interest of $2,3667.56.

      However, many Americans simply do not have the financial means to pay off their debts any faster. Retirees on fixed incomes, young adults just getting out of college, and low-income families may have a tough time adjusting their debt load to meet the new payoff rate, especially with rising gas prices and the high cost of housing.

      A Heavy Load

      In addition, the recently passed bankruptcy "reform" law makes it more difficult for Americans to liquidate their debts through filing bankruptcy.

      Rather than simply being able to file Chapter 7, under the new law, consumers must meet strict income and expense guidelines that determine how much they can pay towards their debt, and whether or not their debt load qualifies for bankruptcy. The law takes effect in October 2005.

      The housing market boom has been driven partially by the popularity of "creative" loans, such as adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) and interest-only payments. Overextended consumers and highly-leveraged homebuyers may find themselves in a severe financial pinch if housing values flatten and monthly payments when principal payments kick in or interest rates rise.

      Combine that with the doubling of monthly credit card payments, and many consumers face financial disaster.

      Good News

      The news isn't all bad, however. A recent survey by the American Bankers Association showed that 42 percent of card owners paid their balances off in full each month, up from 39 percent in 2004.

      Consumers paying off their balances in full was a direct contributor to the massive profit shortfall experienced by financial services giant MBNA, leading to their buyout by Bank of America earlier this year.

      Individual bankruptcy petitions actually decreased in July 2005, as the race to file before the new laws took effect began to slow down. Nearly a million individuals have filed for bankruptcy so far this year.

      Some wonder if the timing of the new bankruptcy laws and the deadline to phase in new minimum payment rates is a coincidence.

      As one pundit put it, "Your credit card payment just doubled. Isn't that newsworthy? Don't you think this should be shouted from the house top?Profit loss is at stake if [those deeply in debt] can more easily declare bankruptcy and have this debt written off before the new law takes effect."

      Others applaud the higher minimum payments, even if they cause short-term pain for some consumers. Most economists agree that American consumers are saving way too little and carrying way too much debt.

      Higher Minimum Credit Card Payments Add to Consumer Queasiness...

      Nexgrill Recalls Jenn-Aire Outdoor Gas Grills

      August 25, 2005
      Nexgrill Industries is recalling about 644 Jenn-Air Model 720-0100 Natural Gas Outdoor Gas Grills. A hose connecting the natural gas source to the grills main manifold may not have been supplied with these grills. Without this hose, the gas would be emitted into the air, creating a potential fire hazard. Consumers should not use the grill until the main burner hose is provided.

      Jenn-Air Outdoor Gas Grill Model Number 720-0100 NG, an outdoor gas grill with four main burners, a side burner and a rotisserie burner. It is made of stainless steel and is used with natural gas. Model numbers are located on the back panel of the grill. The brand name Jenn-Air is on a plate on the grill lid.

      The grills were sold at Lowes Stores nationwide from April 2004 through May 2004 for about $800.

      Consumers without a connecting hose should not use these grills, and contact Nexgrill to obtain a free hose. Registered consumers have received a notification of this recall.

      Consumer Contact: Contact Nexgrill toll free at (800) 554-5799 between 9 a.m. 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Nexgrill Recalls Jenn-Aire Outdoor Gas Grills...

      XPress Pharmacy Spammer Jailed In Minnesota

      A man some consider to be "public nuisance number one" when it comes to Internet spam is behind bars

      A man some consider to be "public nuisance number one" when it comes to Internet spam is behind bars. Christopher W. Smith was hauled before a federal judge this week on multiple charges relating to Xpress Pharmacy Direct, an online drug marketing business. He was ordered held without bond pending a hearing.

      According to the indictment, Smith generated millions of spam emails from March 2004 to May 2005, offering prescription drugs. He allegedly generated more than $20 million from illegal sales of drugs to people who did not provide proof of a prescription.

      Under the indictment, Smith is accused of several counts of conspiracy to dispense controlled substances, wire fraud, money laundering, distributing controlled substances and introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce.

      Smith is notorious among groups combating spam emails, who say he is one of the worlds largest producers of unwanted junk email. His spam operation was shut down earlier this year after federal officials seized the assets of Xpress Pharmacy and appointed a receiver.

      Indicted along with Smith were Dr. Philip Mach, of Franklin Park, N.J., and Bruce Jordan Lieberman, of Farmingdale, N.Y. The indictment charges Mach, at Smiths behest, wrote 72,000 prescriptions for controlled substances over a 14 month period. Its alleged Mach wrote prescriptions for consumers all over the U.S. without having any contact with them. Lieberman, Smith former accountant, is accused of helping to launder money from the operation.

      XPress Pharmacy Spammer Jailed In Minnesota...

      Pros and Cons Dog Long-term Aspirin Use

      Long-term benefits may be outweighed by possible side effects

      Women who took two or more aspirin or nonaspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) per week for more than 10 years significantly reduced their risk of colorectal cancer, according to an article in the August 24/31 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

      At the same time though, the researchers said there is a downside to substantially higher doses of aspirin than currently recommended for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

      Recent randomized intervention trials have demonstrated that regular use of aspirin in patients with a history of colorectal adenoma (benign tumor) or cancer reduces the risk of recurrent adenoma within 1 to 3 years. But, whether long-term use of aspirin similarly reduces the risk of colorectal cancer and, if so, at what dose, has been unclear.

      Andrew T. Chan, M.D., M.P.H., of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues examined the influence of aspirin and NSAIDs on the risk of colorectal cancer in a large group of women. The study included 82,911 women, enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study, who have been providing data on medication use biennially since 1980 and followed up through June 1, 2000.

      Over the 20-year period, 962 cases of colorectal cancer were documented. Among women who regularly used aspirin (2 or more standard [325-mg] tablets per week), there was a 23 percent reduced relative risk for colorectal cancer compared with nonregular users. However, significant risk reduction was not observed until more than 10 years of use.

      The benefit appeared related to dose: compared with women who reported no use, the relative risk for cancer was 10 percent greater for women who used 0.5 to 1.5 standard aspirin tablets per week; 11 percent lower with 2 to 5 aspirin per week; 22 percent lower with 6 to 14 aspirin per week; and 32 percent lower with more than 14 aspirin per week.

      Women who took more than 14 aspirin per week for longer than 10 years had a 53 percent lower relative risk for colorectal cancer. A similar dose-response relationship was found for nonaspirin NSAIDs.

      The incidence of reported major gastrointestinal bleeding events per 1000 person-years also appeared to be dose-related: 0.77 among women who denied any aspirin use; 1.07 for 0.5 to 1.5 standard aspirin tablets per week; 1.07 for 2 to 5 aspirin per week; 1.40 for 6 to 14 aspirin per week; and 1.57 for more than 14 aspirin per week.

      "Our study supports a possible role for aspirin in cancer prevention, which has been demonstrated by prior adenoma recurrence trials. However, any substantial impact of aspirin on cancer necessitates early initiation and prolonged, consistent use. Many toxicities of aspirin, including gastrointestinal bleeding, are dose-dependent. Thus, future studies will need to thoroughly consider the risk-benefit profile for aspirin/NSAID chemoprevention among various risk groups and compare such a strategy with other potential prevention efforts," the authors conclude.

      Women who took two or more aspirin or nonaspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs per week for more than 10 years significantly reduced their risk of c...

      AOL Agrees to Clean Up Cancellation Procedures

      Company Bows to Demands of New York Attorney General

      New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has reached agreement with America Online (AOL) that requires the internet service provider to reform its customer service procedures. Under the agreement, AOL will alter the incentives it offers to customer representatives who seek to persuade subscribers not to cancel their service.

      "This agreement helps ensure that AOL will strive to keep its customers through quality service, not stealth retention programs," Spitzer said.

      Technically, the agreement applies only to consumers living in New York but it provides ammunition for the thousands of consumers in other states who have had similar problems.

      For years, consumers have complained that they have been unsuccessful in canceling their AOL service despite numerous attempts.

      "I have tried time and time again to cancel my AOL account. They continue to draft monies out of my account unauthorized," said Dona of Columbia, SC, in a recent complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com. They currently owe me $51.85 that was drafted from my checking account and have yet to give it back to me.

      In response to approximately 300 consumer complaints, Spitzers office began an inquiry of AOLs customer service policies. The investigation revealed that the company had an elaborate system for rewarding employees who purported to retain or "save" subscribers who had called to cancel their internet service.

      In many instances, such retention was done against subscribers wishes, or without their consent.

      "My father passed away and I called America Online to cancel my internet service with them, since I really only used it to talk to my dad there was no reason to continue it," Rhonda of Lynchburg, VA, said. Three months later, money was still being taken from her checking account.

      Under the system, consumer service personnel received bonuses worth tens of thousands of dollars if they could successfully dissuade or "save" half of the people who called to cancel service.

      For several years, AOL had instituted minimum retention or "save" percentages, which consumer representatives were expected to meet. These bonuses, and the minimum "save" rates accompanying them, had the effect of employees not honoring cancellations, or otherwise making cancellation unduly difficult for consumers.

      Many consumers complained that AOL personnel ignored their demands to cancel service and stop billing.

      The agreement requires AOL to:

      • Eliminate any requirements that its customer service representatives maintain a minimum number of "saves" in order to earn a bonus;

      • Record all service cancellation requests and verify action on the request through a third-party monitor;

      • Provide refunds to all New York consumers who claim harm based on improper cancellation procedures, up to four months worth of service;

      • Pay $1.25 million to the state in penalties and costs.

      The claim form for New York consumers seeking refunds is available at Attorney General Spitzers website.

      AOL Agrees to Clean Up Cancellation Procedures...

      Feds Snuff Smoke Away Claims with $1.3 Million Penalty

      Their Web site promises an end to nicotine addition with the purchase of a "Smoke Away" kit

      Their Web site promises an end to nicotine addition with the purchase of a "Smoke Away" kit. The government says the companys claims play fast and loose with the truth. The result is a $1.3 million settlement between the marketers of "Smoke Away" and the Federal Trade Commission.

      The FTC charges the company deceptively marketed the dietary supplement kits by claiming they would allow smokers to quit smoking quickly, easily, permanently, and without cravings or other side effects. The FTC charged the defendants did not have a reasonable basis for the claims they made about Smoke Away or for their claims that it is more effective than FDA-approved smoking-cessation products.

      The FTC also charged that two doctors who endorsed Smoke Away in advertisements did not properly use their expertise, and that one, a chiropractor, did not actually have the expertise she was represented as having.

      The company marketing Smoke Away and its owner have agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle the charges.

      They also are prohibited from making any claims about the benefits, performance, efficacy, safety, or side effects of Smoke Away or any other smoking cessation product or program unless those claims are true, non-misleading, and substantiated.

      All of the defendants are prohibited from making any claims about the benefits, performance, or efficacy of any food, drug, or dietary supplement unless those claims are backed by scientific evidence. If either doctor is endorsing one of those products as an expert, they must actually have exercised their expertise by examining or testing the product.

      The chiropractor cannot misrepresent her expertise, training, and experience.

      The FTCs complaint challenged a number of claims made about Smoke Away in a national television infomercial, 60- and 120-second national television ads, 60-second radio spots, and on Web sites. Specifically, the FTC alleges the advertising claimed that:

      • Smoke Away enables smokers to quit smoking in seven days or less;

      • Smoke Away enables smokers to quit smoking quickly, effortlessly, and permanently;

      • Smoke Away eliminates nicotine cravings;

      • Smoke Away users have no withdrawal symptoms or side effects, such as weight gain, insomnia, or tension; and

      • Smoke Away is more effective than nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and prescription medications for smoking cessation.

      The FTC filed a complaint against Emerson Direct, Inc. (doing business as the Council on Natural Health) of Naples, Florida, the corporation that marketed Smoke Away; its owner Michael J. Connors, also of Naples, Florida; Thomas De Blasio, M.D., a physician from Manalapan, New Jersey; and Sherry Bresnahan, D.C., a chiropractor from Algonquin, Illinois. Emerson Direct marketed Smoke Away, while De Blasio and Bresnahan appeared as expert endorsers in advertisements.

      Emerson Direct and Connors offered two versions of Smoke Away. Each version included various dietary supplements made of combinations of vitamins, herbs, and other ingredients.

      The FTCs complaint further alleges that those five claims made by Emerson Direct and Connors were false or unsubstantiated, and that Emerson Direct and Connors also misrepresented that they provide timely refunds to consumers who requested such refunds. The FTC also alleged that Emerson Direct, Connors, and Bresnahan misrepresented that Bresnahan was an expert in nicotine addiction or smoking cessation.

      Finally, the complaint alleges that Bresnahan and De Blasio both made the five claims listed above concerning Smoke Away, and that they did not have a reasonable basis for those representations or exercise their purported expertise in the fields of nicotine addiction or smoking cessation by adequately testing or examining Smoke Away.

      The order against Emerson Direct and Connors requires them to pay $1.3 million; if they misrepresented their financial condition, the full $61 million suspended judgment will be due. Finally, Emerson Direct and Connors must notify current and future distributors, resellers, and sales agents about the settlement.

      Feds Snuff Smoke Away Claims with $1.3 Million Penalty...