Health experts in California are concerned about advertisements that promote untested herbal supplements to members of immigrant communities, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Rigo Reyes -- chief investigator at the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs -- said that herbal supplements are popular in immigrant communities that have long histories of treating illnesses with herbs and other natural treatments.
FDA does not apply the same testing and regulatory scrutiny toward herbal supplements that it applies to regular drugs.
Although unregulated supplements must include disclaimers on their labels indicating that they are not intended to treat, cure or prevent diseases, the warnings are only required to appear in English, regardless of the language used for the rest of the label.
Concerns With Herbal Supplement Ads
Bichlien Nguyen, an oncologist in Fountain Valley, said that ads promoting herbal supplements could be dangerous because their claims of treating certain illnesses are unproven.
Nguyen said that if immigrants hear that a product can treat or cure cancer with no side effects, they might choose it in favor of medically proven regimens like chemotherapy.
Becky Nguyen, director of the Vietnamese American Cancer Foundation, said that patients might seek out tested medical treatments if the supplements do not work, but the illness might be at an advanced stage by that point.
Strategies for Curbing Misleading Ads
Laura Koss, a Federal Trade Commission lawyer, said that FTC tries to encourage medical outlets to voluntarily stop false ads from airing.
However, Tom Syta -- assistant director for FTC's western region, based in Los Angeles -- said FTC and county Consumer Affairs investigators cannot find every misleading ad. Syta said that FTC officials rely heavily on consumers to report false ads.
However, Reyes said that it can be difficult to persuade members of immigrant and minority communities to report misleading ads because many do not want to engage the legal system or do not know they can file anonymously.
Effect of Reform Law
Reyes said that health care fraud issues probably will increase as states implement the federal health reform law. He said that already there has been an increase in false ads targeting individuals who now have health insurance for the first time under reform law provisions.
He said, "Any time there's a change in any law, the scammers take advantage of confusion and uncertainty to peddle their services" (Loury, Los Angeles Times, 8/20).