Smokers who pay to be zapped by lasers in an effort to kick the habit are victims of fraud, according to the watchdog group Public Citizen.
Public Citizen has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stop five companies from promoting low-power laser therapy as a means to quit smoking.
The clinics -- Freedom Laser Therapy Inc., the Anne Penman Laser Therapy clinics, New Beginnings Laser Therapy, Laser Concept and the Stop Smoking Laser Center -- are marketing laser therapy as a safe and effective smoking cessation treatment despite the lack of FDA clearance or any evidence that it is effective, according to Public Citizen.
Laser therapy, also known as laser acupuncture, aims a low-power laser beam rather than needles at various points of the body. It is approved by the FDA for marketing only for the temporary relief of pain.
Public Citizen focuses on Freedom Laser Therapy (FLT), which has generated the most news coverage of its activities. FLT claims an 85 percent success rate for curing smoking addiction in just one 30-minute session.
The therapy program costs $399 for the single 30-minute session. According to the Public Citizen petition, the money would be better spent on treatments that have been proven to show some success: nicotine replacement therapy, physician advice, certain antidepressants and individual behavioral counseling.
FLT President Craig Nabat says he wants to open franchises nationwide despite solid evidence that the stop smoking program works.
Early attempts at following up with all clients proved laborious, expensive and ultimately fruitless, Nabat said. "We are not documenting exactly how many people are coming through -- how successful they are," said Nabat, adding that client referrals vouch for the program's effectiveness.
FDA regulations do allow the therapy to be used in investigational clinical trials or studies -- exactly what FLT said it is carrying out at its two locations, in Royal Oak and Santa Monica, Calif.
Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association said that there is no evidence that the laser program works.
Public Citizen charges that that "despite a lack evidence supporting its claims, the company has launched an aggressive marketing campaign to recruit a wide audience of vulnerable clients who are looking to stop smoking."
"In all of its advertising, FLT presents laser treatment as a much more credible option than has been shown in the medical literature," Public Citizen claims.