Modern Snake Oil Salesman
(This 768th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on December 18, 2005.)
Last week I recommended books for holiday giving. This week I strongly recommend that you NOT purchase a book that has been on the best seller non-fiction lists for months. Millions of copies have already been sold and for many weeks it even topped that list ahead of books like Doris Kearns Goodwin's wonderful Team of Rivals about President Lincoln's cabinet.
The book I urge you NOT to buy is Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About (Alliance).
First off, the title is misleading. Only 18 of 571 pages are devoted to specific ailments. Almost all of the rest of the book is a screed against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In his introduction Trudeau "thanks" these two agencies "for being a direct inspiration for me to write this book and expose the corruption in both those organizations. Your personal attacks on me, and hundreds of other innocent people whose only objective is to help society, shows to the world just how corrupt you are and that you must be stopped. I vow to the world that I will personally help stop the needless suffering of millions of people that you are directly causing."
The book's flyleaf adds: "Kevin is actively pursuing lawsuits against the individuals, corporations and governmental agencies that take advantage of the average customer."
Like most of us I am a strong supporter of whistle-blowers who expose governmental or industrial misconduct, but Trudeau's attacks on the FTC and FDA deserve a closer look.
In 1990 he spent two years in prison for passing $80,000 in worthless checks and credit card fraud.
In 1998 he paid a $500,000 fine to the FTC for making false advertising claims in infomercials. Then in September 2004, for similar misconduct he was fined $2 million for false claims for his Coral Calcium Supreme and banned from making infomercials about such products. The settlement also covered his companies: Shop America (USA), LLC, Shop America Marketing Group, LLC, and Trustar Global Media, Limited.
In response, Trudeau sued the FTC, claiming that its news release about this latest settlement was misleading and had injured his business. His suit was summarily dismissed. So much for his fighting for that average customer.
Unfortunately the FTC ban did not relate to books. And it is that needle's eye through which Trudeau has crawled to bilk his unwary constituency.
I have no problem with his basic claim: "There are virtually no medical facts. There are only medical opinions. You need to choose the opinion that makes the most sense to you." But the choice should be easy. Trudeau has no medical training whatsoever; the physicians you and I go to have years of training and experience. Yes, doctors occasionally make mistakes and sometimes pharmaceuticals cause problems, but does that mean you should turn to a convicted felon for healthcare?
When he finally gets to them here are some of Trudeau's recommendations: stop taking prescription and non-prescription drugs, check your body pH, don't eat "brand name" products, don't eat anything microwaved, reduce or eliminate air conditioning, never use table salt, and -- my favorite -- wear white.
Here are just two of the messages posted by readers: "This book is not only a scam, it is very dangerous. I have bladder cancer and I followed all the stupid things this book tells you to do, and guess what? My tumor got larger. Luckily the 'oh so evil medical establishment' were very helpful and helped me get through this time." And: "The book has vague information urging the reader to join the Web site for a fee. However, when you join after your credit card info and your order is processed, then you get the disclaimer stating brand names cannot be mentioned, as promised."
Trudeau plays to reader paranoia: Cancer cures would be covered up because there would be no need for the American Cancer Society. The researchers who found it would be bought off or jailed, their offices raided and data confiscated. Do you believe that?
Do not buy this book and, if you have already bought a copy, return it.-- Gerry Rising