ACCC takes court action against Sensaslim for alleged misleading claims

© ACCC July 21st, 2011:

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted proceedings against Sensaslim Australia Pty Ltd (Administrator Appointed) (Sensaslim), Mr Peter Clarence Foster, Mr Peter Leslie O’Brien, Mr Adam Troy Adams and Mr Michael Anthony Boyle.

The ACCC alleges that Sensaslim and several of its officers engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false representations in relation to the identity of Sensaslim officers, the Sensaslim Spray and the business opportunities offered by Sensaslim.  The alleged conduct includes:

  • Failing to disclose the involvement of Peter Foster in the business of Sensaslim;
  • Falsely representing that the Sensaslim Spray was the subject of a large worldwide clinical trial when in fact no such trial was conducted;
  • Falsely representing that Dr Capehorn, an obesity specialist, gave unqualified support to the effectiveness of the Sensaslim Spray and the purported clinical trials;
  • Falsely representing that Michael Boyle was managing the business of Sensaslim;
  • Failing to disclose that Michael Boyle was intending to resign as Director immediately following the launch of Sensaslim;
  • Falsely representing that Sensaslim franchisees were already participating in, and profiting from, the Sensaslim franchise, that a Sensaslim franchise had a certain earning potential and that there was a “money back buy back guarantee”.

The ACCC is seeking court orders including declarations, injunctions, penalties, compensation orders, orders that Sensaslim officers be disqualified from managing corporations in the future and costs.  In the Federal Court NSW on 20 July 2011, Justice Yates made orders by consent granting leave for the ACCC to proceed against Sensaslim Australia Pty Ltd (Administrator Appointed) up to 27 July 2011.

Orders are extended to 27 July 2011 that Foster, O’Brien and Adams be restrained from taking further steps to make representations regarding the efficacy of the Sensaslim Spray where the basis for the representation is a clinical trial or scientific report, unless the clinical trial was conducted and is the subject of a scientific report which has been published in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

The matter has been adjourned for further hearing to 27 July 2011.

SensaSlim: “The cavalry is on the way”

We last left SensaSlim on July 6th, after a look at some nasty tactics and the use of Rogers Digital marketing Australian news site, to publish “news” stories about their miraculous product.

Next up came the June 21st SensaSlim newsletter, scribed by the elusive Peter O’Brien. It opened with:

Hello Everyone,

The  cavalry is on the way.

I have just been informed that SensaSlim International have arranged for two of the coordinators of the clinical trials that were conduct by the Institut De Recherche Intercontinental to travel to Australia to assist us in defending the integrity of the worldwide trials.

The Institute are treating criticism of their trails very seriously. Dr Strebel who is currently in Moscow on a project and has made contact with SensaSlim lawyers to ensure they are given every assistance through the preparation of affidavits that can be presented to the Supreme Court of New South Wales with regard to the defamation proceedings brought against Dr Ken Harvey.

They are also going to assist us with the preparation of any material that needs to be submitted to the ACCC to dispose of the allegations that the trials are not conclusive. We will also be proposing to have the trials coordinators speak with Today Tonight whilst they are in Australia and other health writers to combat this attack against us.

I have now seen affidavits that have been filed in the courts in England by SensaSlim International against Dr Matthew Capehorn. There can be no doubt in anybody’s mind upon reading the material that Dr Capehorn was given the data he required to prepare the white paper and that he was prepared to continue to stand by the white paper conditional upon being paid additional money. As I have always said the dispute with Dr Capehorn has nothing to do with the evidence of the efficacy of SensaSlim but it is all about money.

Area Managers have asked me to confirm that SensaSlim was approved to be sold as a dietary aid by the Therapeutic Good Administration based upon the ingredients and not the clinical trials. The clinical trial data was of no interest to the TGA and nor did they ask for it. All they wanted to be satisfied with was the ingredients in the product and the formulation and if based upon the science the product would be able to achieve weight loss.

Those keeping up with the saga will recognise the arrogance in the wording of this newsletter on several points. Today Tonight have started to distance themselves from SensaSlim. It was beyond ambitious to suggest research authors from the Institut De Recherche Intercontinental (IRI) would – just like the cavalry – come a-recscuin’ by submitting materials, “to the ACCC to dispose of the allegations that the trials are not conclusive.” At much the same time the ACCC had discovered the IRI was a bogus entity and that photos depicting executives – or the cavalry, if you will – were also bogus, being photos of lung specialists from St Paul Lung Clinic in Minnesota, USA. SensaSlim legal eagle Terry Harrison said at the time, the Australian arm had cobbled the deal with Dennis Thornton of Lloyds Business Brokers, on behalf of SensaSlim Suisse Ltd. According to the director of Lloyds Business, Thornton was found dead last year. Australian Skeptics have an article here, reviewing the ACCC and Ken Harvey’s position.

The ACCC had won a federal court order to freeze SensaSlim’s Australian assets, most likely on the basis of fabricated trial evidence presented on Australian TV. Certainly for engaging in ‘‘misleading and deceptive conduct’’ under the Trade Practices Act 1971. The assets are frozen until a hearing on August 31st. This is the basis of Dr. Ken Harvey’s complaint against the company. A report, not written by Harvey, about this complaint was published on auspharmacist.net.au provoking SensaSlim to sue for defamation. Making the caper even more overtly scam-worthy was the fact the same pictures of the USA doctors were published on the site of the Mountebank Clinic. The “clinic” address is an industrial estate in Bargo, NSW.

“Mountebank” means:

“a person who sells quack medicines, as from a platform in public places attracting and influencing an audience by tricks, storytelling, sleight of hand, etc… a person who deceives others especially in order to trick them out of their money… any charlatan or quack”

Charming. The clinics’ director was passed off as an “Dr. Joseph Balsamo”, with an image of singer Alberto Balsamo and the qualifications of Flindsers University academic, Adjunct Associate Professor Mary Harris. The Mountebank gig is apparently part of Reef Health who open their website blurb with the strange line, “Reef Health Pty Limited is a 100% Australian company dedicated to natural products which are not only good for you, but actually help.” Reef Health is owned by Andrew Tarter/Tatar and his girlfriend Roxanne Naylor.

That doesn’t stop Roxanne auctioning herself off for a date on this crass dating site – What’s Your Price? She’s getting good mileage from that profile picture. Tatar – or Tarter – is a struck off Sydney solicitor arrested in Vanuatu in 2007 under suspicion of helping smuggle a convicted conman from Fiji. That conman was none other than Peter Foster. Naylor and Tatar are respectively CEO and General Manager of Kava Kwik – Vanuatu Instant Kava.

There’s a wonderful little exchange about sunny Vanuatu here on the Scam.com forum from October/November 2008. A Peter Foster claims to have been conned by a Sam Grant who pushes cancer cures and sells worthless “distributorships”. Grant sells, ahem, “neutraceuticals“. A Brian Smith also suggests Grant is a conman. Grant refutes Fosters account, denying he sells distributorships and pointing out Foster is in jail. Then an “ausman123” rips into “real scammers” Andrew Tarter/Tatar and Roxanne Naylor for scamming Sam Grant:

They own reefhealth.com which WAS reselling a product of sam grants (sic) in Australia. He did this in good faith and shipped all stock without payment.Andrew & Roxanne did not pay for ANY stock even though Sam shipped the orders. When Sam asked for his money Roxanne and Andrew went and registered domain names in Australia and the UK which are the brand name of Sam Grants product and redirected them to Reefhealth.com and posted a FALSE claim about the product.

Roxanne then sent an email to Sam saying that she would be interested in selling the domain back to him. Extortion?
So lets look at the facts:
1. Roxanne and Andrew have history of scams and running scams.
2. Roxanne and Andrew did not pay for stock and pocketed the money rather than paying the bill.
3. Roxanne and Andrew then bought brand domains names and redirected them to their website which they changed and put a FALSE statment about the product to trick customers.
4. Roxanne and Andrew then began posting FALSE information on Sam Grant calling him a scammer.
5. Peter Foster is an international SCAMMER who is associated with Roxanne and Andrew. Interestingly enough he is in Jail at the moment so for him to post on an internet forum while is jail is truly amazing.

Scammers scamming scammers? Or is it just a scam? Either way after this cosy chat and the information pulled together by The Age – and also independently by a member of Support Dr. Ken Harvey – it’s entirely possible Naylor and Tatar/Tarter were “fronting” for Foster. Reef Health accused The Age of “hacking” their Mountebank Clinic website and it disappeared on the same day. The Age has admitted using an incredibly complex and particularly darstardly piece of software known in hacking circles only as… “Google”.

The next day, June 23rd saw reports of a $4.2 million class action by over 70 franchisees conned into paying up to $60,000 to buy SensaSlim stock. They also fell for the line of supposed clinical trials and substantial evidence. Slater & Gordon are working with the ACCC in a bid for compensation, which may indeed prove difficult given SensaSlim’s Australian accounts hold approximately $230,000.

With regard to Dr. Ken Harvey’s defamation case, I mentioned last time that Justice Lucy McCallum had issued consent orders on June 14th. One of which was that, “The plaintiff file an amended statement of claim on or before 1st July 2011”. Sadly for SensaSlim this did not come to pass. Following the ACCC action their lawyers, Kennedy’s Australia withdrew from the case. By June 30th John Kukulovski of Jirsch Sutherland was appointed administrator and by July 5th it was reported he was recommending liquidation. Dr. Harvey has been awarded costs although until happily reimbursed cause for celebration must wait. His lawyers will apply to have the defamation case struck off on July 11th.

The paragraph above in which Peter O’Brien notes the TGA were not interested in product efficacy is accurate and gives insight into the problems with Australia’s regulatory system. Here’s the TGA’s public summary of SensaSlim. In effect the paper tiger position of the TGA is the genesis of this entire sorry saga – and an avalanche of other scams, shams and inefficacious “remedies”. The TGA claimed in June that it cancelled SensaSlim’s advertising approvals and welcomed the ACCC investigation. Pharmainfocus.com.au reported;

“TGA has already taken regulatory action through cancelling SensaSlim’s advertising approvals. We have tested their product and although we have found it does not contain any unsafe ingredients, TGA is continuing to assess other aspects of the product,” a spokesperson said.

Which is as usual, utterly useless. The TGA should invoke Section 30 of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Act, 1989 and deregister SensaSlim from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods – certificate here. Presently the anorexic slogan Nothing tastes as good as slim feels still heads up SensaSlim’s shiny new sales and advertising website, including the absurd “lose weight while you sleep” argument. As reported in today’s Weekend Health in The Australian;

But on a newly established website the company confirms it’s proceeding against Harvey. Although the TGA assured Weekend Health in June that it had cancelled SensaSlim’s advertising approvals, the firm continues to promote its product on the new site, claiming the spray is approved by the TGA and the Health Department.

[…..]

A TGA spokesperson wasn’t able to clarify the situation as Weekend Health went to press. Harvey suggests the case highlights “fundamental flaws” in Australia’s system of regulation and promotion of complementary products. Specifically, the TGA’s lack of teeth and a distinction between “listed” and “registered” products that is unclear to the public.

Listed products are assessed by the TGA only for safety and quality, while registered products are also tested for effectiveness.

Being snobbed off is nothing new for the TGA. The article also mentions some nasty tactics recently used to bully co-complainant Dr. Lesley Campbell over her position in Harvey’s defamation case. Another problem of course is the role of pharmacists in selling the product – just one of many unproven remedies they stock. SensaSlim are also hyping up The Australian spray weightloss challenge, and use the site to boast the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods certificate.

The final balderdash to note is the “settlement” of the stunt case in which SensaSlim claimed the jockey of Black Caviar had lost too much weight. On examination it’s absurd. I opined to other’s on June 26th, when Yahoo 7 published the story that jockey’s are weighed pre and post race. Underweight jockey’s carry weights in their saddles. So Wanderson D’Avila was the correct weight and apparently magically lost 0.8kg within about 30-40 minutes before the next weigh in. Even The Age picked up this AAP story, in which D’Avila was apparently paid $12,500.

Fortunately Jonathan Holmes of ABC’s Media Watch gives this story – and much of the Sensaslim con it’s due, below. The final insult is that now – on their new website – SensaSlim is offered free to jockeys over the 2011 racing season. Again, they use the made up claims attributed to Dr. Capehorn. He denies ever making them and lists this, along with use of his endorsement and identity before he actually sighted evidence, as a key reason for quitting his role as Research Director. He is suing SensaSlim for breach of contract and they are suing him for breach of contract. Nonetheless the hilarity includes;

Dr Matthew Capehorn, SensaSlim Research Director and Clinical Director of the National Obesity Forum in the UK said, “The erratic dietary habits and pre-race preparations of many the nation’s jockeys is an ongoing tragedy waiting to happen.”

Dr Capehorn noted recent press reports in Australia that highlighted not only eating disorders in the sport but lethal lifestyle choices associated with the need to lose weight quickly. He said the same pattern could be seen in the racing industry around the world.

Jockeys are traumatised and tortured every day by food deprivation,” Dr Capehorn said. “The constant thoughts of food and being hungry have led to mental breakdowns, domestic violence and even suicide.

One can only anticipate the demise of this scam with something close to urgent glee. Nasty people, nasty tactics, nasty claims. Australia still lacks appropriate legislation to effectively and quickly deal with this type of nonsense. Though on the positive side, their assets are frozen, they went into liquidation on July 1st and Ken Harvey’s lawyers will apply to have the defamation case struck off on July 11th.

Sadly, I’m sure SensaSlim will go on to rort consumers in Europe for some time to come.

Dirty tactics when SensaSlim first copped a spray

June was a bad month for miracle diet spray SensaSlim. To date I’ve only published The Sensaslim Affair by Ken Harvey, SensaSlim Jockeying for credibility, Beware the lure of new treatments – a very pragmatic piece by Professor John Dixon and Louisa Hall’s piece – which I’ll get to.

We know that Dr. Ken Harvey is one of seven, perhaps nine, complainants and that Professor Lesley Campbell, from the St Vincent’s Hospital diabetes centre is another. As can be read in the above the complaint was simple in that SensaSlim was making ridiculous claims of efficacy. In the absence of any evidence – the much hyped “research” has still not been validated – the claims were most likely fabricated.

Almost certainly others are franchisees left out to dry with their investment. SensaSlim had promised marketing and advertising help which never eventuated. Dr. Harvey was being sued for $800,000. On June 14th the case came before Defamation List Judge, Justice Lucy McCallum, in the Supreme Court at Sydney. The following consent orders were made by Justice McCallum, and published on the Support Dr. Ken Harvey Facebook page in response to SensaSlim’s Australian manager Adam Adams’ rather biased, if not gloating account. The thread has since been deleted by Adams:

  • The plaintiff file an amended statement of claim on or before 1 July 2011;
  • The defendants file a defence on or before 15 July 2011;
  • The plaintiff file any reply on or before 29 July 2011;
  • The defendants’ notice of motion dated 24 May 2011 be dismissed;
  • The plaintiff pay the defendants’ costs thrown away by reason of the plaintiff’s amendment to its statement of claim;
  • The proceedings be stood over to the defamation list on 15 August 2011;
  • The parties have liberty to relist the proceedings in the defamation list on 11 July 2011.

Basically this meant Dr. Harvey had not had the charges thrown out. The plaintiff – SensaSlim – was to file an amended claim by July 1st. SensaSlim thus had to pay Dr. Harvey’s costs because of their amended statement of claim and there was another opportunity on July 11th for potentially seeing the case dismissed. On June 17th, Louisa Hall writing for Fairfax noted the appalling situation that had allowed this action to come about.

Primarily that if any court action is underway complaints lodged with Australia’s TGA against the plaintiff can not be pursued through the Complaints Resolution Panel – CRP. This allows ongoing selling of, and profitting from, the product through it’s “outlandish” claims. Libel cases may take over a year leading to significant income for what may turn out to be a scam. This is a major flaw in TGA legislation. They will only invoke Section 30 of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Act, 1989, which would make ongoing selling and advertising illegal, when the company itself is deemed to be acting fraudulently. This would also remove SensaSlim from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. But as noted here before, presently the TGA care not if a product works: only if it considered to be of acceptable risk.

In the article by Louisa Hall SensaSlim’s legal adviser, Terry Harrison denied the entire defamation suit aimed to gag Dr. Harvey. Interestingly almost two weeks before, SensaSlim Newsletter number 42 was falling into the odd lap. Written by Adam T. Adams – Australian Manager, it contained reference to the CRP in stark dissonance to Terry Harrison’s assurances.

It gives alarming insight into the arrogant stand-over talk directed at Area Managers, who no doubt smelled a rat months before. They had threatened legal action in lieu of repayment of their investment. Adams names them all [I won’t] and claims his legal advice is that this action is fatally flawed. These poor investors were left with the sole option of trying to sell their entire Areas and then… go away. What’s interesting is that the legal team acting for the disgruntled Area Mangers had included a CRP determination from March 30th, 2011. “CHC” is the Complimentary Healthcare Council. [Bold Mine except in red]. Adams wrote in part;

But that’s not the issue I want to make. The issue I want to make is in the letter [the law firm] said has (sic) follows. One of the reasons they [Area managers] wanted “out” was:

“… determination published by the Therapeutic Goods Advertising code complaints resolution panel on the 30th March 2011, clearly found examples of inconsistencies of many representations, (our client are certain that the fact that this panel will now review SensaSlim’s responses to the complaint, which were only received by the panel on the 30th March 2011 and issue a new determination, which our clients are confident will not materially change nor effect the existing determination)”.

You will be aware that I told you that Peter O’Brien was able to have the Complaints Resolution Panel withdraw their published determination. This was mentioned in Newsletter 38, where I advised:

“On Wednesday we received a phone call from a Area Manager, “DP”, saying that the Complaints Resolution Panel had brought down a decision and published it on their website in regard to a complaint about the SensaSlim website. We mentioned this to you previously that our competitors were filing complaints with a view to hindering our progress.

David directed us to the CHC website and a report had been published. Except the report stated that the CHC had found against the company because we haven’t filed a defence. Except we did file a defence on the 25 of January and again when confronted with this crises Peter O’ Brien swung into action with his legal teams and within one hour the CHC had taken the report off their website and agreed that the report is now redundant and that they would withdraw any ruling against SensaSlim”. But back to this week…

So the lawyers for the above Area Managers said that they were ‘confident’ that a review by the Complaints Resolution Panel will not change anything. They, [names deleted]  were ‘confident’ that the company would still be found to be at fault by the Complaints Resolution Panel. Is that ‘confidence’ built on anything except negativity or pessimism? I don’t think it is.

But they were SO WRONG.  So very very WRONG.

So here’s the good news. Last week Peter O’Brien was at his desk until 11pm the night before the CRP were to reconsider the matter, and back at 5 a.m., drafting, redrafting and writing a 9 page submission. With the assistance of his legal team and SensaSlim in London’s lawyers a very comprehensive submission was written stating that the CRP had absolutely no justification at law in adjudicating on the matter since the company had filed an $800,000.00 defamation lawsuit against Dr. Ken Harvey.

You see, it is written in Law that if the subject matter of the complaint is currently the subject of court proceedings, then the CRP are unable to adjudicate. I have attached a copy of the submission just so you get some understanding of the work, the very hard word that is happening behind the scenes that you never see, to uphold the good name of SensaSlim.

So when I read that Area Managers think that the management of this company would be best served if we were replaced by them, and there were others at the helm I think it is absolutely laughable. Too silly for words, really! “TB” who suggests such an action and thinks he could run the company better, is the one who said that they were confident, the CRP would find against us.

Peter O’Brien didn’t accept such a fate but together with his lawyers (by the way Robbinson Legal are the lawyers who acted for Paul Hogan in his case against the ATO, so they’re not frightened of a stoush either) found a way to defend the company. This defamation action, which could be in the courts for a year or two or even longer, basically gives an iron clad protection that nobody can raise a complaint against SensaSlim to the CRP and hurt us.

There are nine complaints that were received in a three day period two weeks ago. These were not complaints by members of the public, but clever legal crafted arguments by people acting on behalf of our competitors and big pharmaceutical companies. These are the same people who have written to the CHC to delay and hinder our progress and having our advertisements approved..and they also wrote to the TGA.

But let me say this. We will not allow their dirty tactics defeat us. We had a very big win this week with the determination by the CRP that they cannot adjudicate on any matters pertaining to SensaSlim.

It was known widely that the CRP decision was published, and then apparently removed within an hour or so. The reason given by the CRP was that SensaSlim claimed to have not been notified. That they never received email notification of the decision and thus did not file a defence. Yet above Adams is telling his own investors they did file a defence, the CHC got it wrong and Peter O’Brien “swung into action”. Confusing. We’ve also got a Big Pharma conspiracy and the lie that “competitors” are behind the “clever legal action”. Finally, there’s no ambiguity about legal action stifling complaints.

But there was more fun to be had. Over much of the first three weeks of June I was corresponding with an editor from Australia.to, a sub domain of World News site http://www.international.to/, a service of RogersDIGITAL.com, which had been “reporting” frequently and favourably about SensaSlim. Rogers Digital specialise in providing advertising techniques including brand direct response and behavioural targetting. They “deliver a diverse audience for advertisers including… women and men of all ages, shoppers, travellers and business and IT professionals”. Their advertising opportunities aim to meet “all the needs of marketers”, via websites “which reach ‘buy-ready’ customers”.

The reason for the correspondence was in response to my concern over a “news” article by a Peter O’Brien about the Jockey weight loss affair. Including;

The jockey of super horse Black Caviar has admitted using the controversial slimming spray as his secret weapon allowing him to calm his nerves, forget about food cravings and focus on Black Caviar, but critics warn that this could lead to unexpected excess weight loss and potential disqualification.

“I am aware of the law suit, but the benefits outweigh the risks,” Nolen said. “This has been a lifeline to many jockeys.”

The Thank you for suing us ad was also published. Both articles were under the sites “your say” URL’s. The advertisement, first published June 5th in The Sunday Mail, lacked a Complimentary Healthcare Council number, suggesting SensaSlim wasn’t accredited. Both the CHC and ACCC say this accreditation aims to provide;

“…. reliable and quality advice and information to our members, government, key stakeholders, the media and consumers.”

Correspondence dried up about the same time I spelled out the problems with SensaSlim’s “white paper”, and the fact Dr. Capehorn who was being used to endorse the product refuted that he made any comment supporting the jockey weight loss stunt. I also spelled out that Capehorn had quit his role with SensaSlim and issued statements through his lawyers. More so there were problems with Australia.to publishing even more articles claiming SensaSlim was represented at the 18th European Congress on Obesity in Turkey. I’ll get to that directly.

Interestingly the Thank you for suing us ad piece and the Black Caviar jockey piece by Peter O’Brien have disappeared. Follow those links and you get a 404. The following day I raised concerns with the editor about an article headed, “Obesity scientists told of SensaSlim slimming spray that has the effect of ‘Fooling the Brain’ into Thinking You’re Not Hungry” and another headed “Four Twins, a Jockey and a sensational slimming spray talk Turkey”. I received no reply. Ironically, both these articles now deliver a 404 message also.

I also asked Adam Adams to explain this claim of SensaSlim representatives attending the conference on the Support Dr. Ken Harvey Facebook Page on June 17th. By this stage most knew there was almost certainly no “evidence”, and it had become clear SensaSlim were not even at the Obesity conference. One complainant had attended the conference. Asked about the SensaSlim claims this person replied that none of the “so-called staffs said to have presented the work” could be found in the Congress abstracts. Secondly, no SensaSlim scientific presentation was witnessed. Thirdly, whilst there were outside booths at the conference at which weight loss products and devices may be advertised without any evidence, SensaSlim had manned none of them.

What happens next – June 22nd onwards – is well known, but also very funny in respect of SensaSlim’s June 21st newsletter written by none other than the elusive Peter O’Brien himself. Given time differences it would seem that the ACCC were moving to freeze SensaSlim Australian accounts at much the same time O’Brien opened his newsletter with “Hello Everyone, The  cavalry is on the way.” I’ll cover these events next with a look at the ridiculous “settlement” for the Black Caviar jockey stunt. For now a review of the ACA programme that pulls together the vital flaws in this blatant scam.

“Diet-aid firm’s law suit halts review of it’s ‘outlandish’ ads”

© Louise Hall at Fairfax writes:

An academic who complained to health authorities about a company that marketed a herbal spray as ”the most effective slimming solution available in the world today” has failed to have an $800,000 defamation case thrown out.
Ken Harvey, an adjunct senior lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne and a regular campaigner against non-scientific products and services, has accused SensaSlim of stymying an investigation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration into its weight-loss product by launching legal action in the NSW Supreme Court.
The TGA’s complaints resolution panel had received a number of complaints about the product, including those from Dr Harvey and Professor Lesley Campbell, from the St Vincent’s Hospital diabetes centre, alleging that SensaSlim has made outlandish claims without scientifically acceptable evidence.
However, the panel is restrained from investigating the product while legal proceedings are under way.
”By having a legal case, they have totally stopped the complaint panel for at least a year but they can continue promoting and selling it and they are laughing all the way to the bank,” Dr Harvey said.
Terry Harrison, SensaSlim’s legal adviser, denied it was designed to ”gag” Dr Harvey, and said it was a response to his complaint on http://www.auspharmacist .net.au. ”He’s trying to suggest this is some sort of gag order. Nothing can be further from the truth,” Mr Harrison said.
But in a newsletter to SensaSlim franchisees obtained by the Herald, a company spokesman, Adam Adams, said its lawyers had ”found a way to defend the company”.
”This defamation action, which could be in the courts for a year or two or even longer, basically gives an iron-clad protection that nobody can raise a complaint against SensaSlim to the [complaints resolution panel] and hurt us,” Mr Adams said.

Read more of this post

Beware The Lure Of New Treatments

Originally published, June 14th © MJA Insight by John Dixon.

Associate Professor John Dixon is an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow in obesity research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, and head of the obesity research unit, Department of General Practice, Monash University, Melbourne.

The excitement of being able to participate or even lead in the development of new treatments in difficult areas such as obesity, cancer prevention and treatment, arthritis and back pain is enticing.
Unfortunately for medical practitioners, there are business entrepreneurs ready to trade on their genuine enthusiasm and – dare I say – naivety. A recent example involves weight loss. It’s not easy to lose weight and even harder to keep it off. Motivation, willpower, energy in and energy out – it sounds so simple but it isn’t.
We now know weight and fat stores are carefully regulated by powerful physiological mechanisms that actually defend against permanent weight loss – all understandable when we consider that our body computes weight loss as a signal of starvation, famine and death.
With the failure of the pharmaceutical companies to develop acceptably safe medications in this difficult area, we are left with an enormous vacuum and a huge untapped market of people who want to lose weight. The field is fertile for the “scam” professionals and complementary medicines are an easy target.
As medical practitioners we can become unwittingly entrapped in these scams. We too want to believe someone has finally developed an effective remedy.
A recent example involved a mouth spray, launched onto the Australian market with great fanfare. There were statements of massive randomised controlled trials (RCTs) with exceptional results – results that those of us in the know would think were “too good to be true”.
How could this large, multicentre RCT involving thousands of people globally have not come to our attention? A prominent European weight loss physician was engaged as a consultant by the manufacturers/promoters with the promise of the trial data being supplied.
In the meantime, this physician’s name was widely used to support the claims, giving the appearance of expert validation, which aided promotion. However, the data to support the claims was never supplied, leaving the physician high and dry with his reputation damaged.
By the time the penny finally dropped he was in an uncomfortable position as the promoters had changed from being soft and appreciative to being aggressive, confrontational and threatening. This particular matter is heading for a legal resolution.
An Australian medical practitioner, concerned about the extraordinary claims being made about this product, openly questioned the results and advised the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration of his concerns. He was also met with aggressive, confrontational behaviour and legal action by the same promoters.
This intimidatory modus operandi is often used by the unscrupulous to suppress the squeaky wheel and delay the appropriate assessment by regulators. Meanwhile, the income rolls in and by the time the dust settles the original product has had its day and the next scam is already up and running.
This practice is not restricted to weight loss. Wherever there are regulatory grey zones, for example complementary and traditional medicines, and cosmetics, unwary consumers and medical practitioners are at risk of being exposed to unscrupulous operators.
Beware the company that delays provision of quality data, or becomes defensive or aggressive, or attempts to turn the table of blame back on practitioners who push for answers and evidence.
It takes a very strong practitioner to weather this storm but protecting the wellbeing of Australian health consumers from expensive and potentially dangerous scams makes it worthwhile.