TGA, Dr Ken Harvey and SensaSlim News

by Mal Vickers

 OK I admit I’ve been somewhat critical of the TGA in the past. However, in the spirit of fairness, when they do something right, I think I should say – hurrah!

As of the 29th of February, the TGA website announced:

The TGA will be making a final decision on the weight loss product, the SUPPREXXA Hunger Buster kit, after consideration of material provided by the sponsor, Chika Health Pty Ltd, in support of the claims made about the kit.

(Insert sound of clapping)

The promoter’s claims under scrutiny are that the product will:

Assist Weight Loss, Decrease Hunger, Fight Fatigue, Stimulate Fat Burn and Improve Energy

The promoters also say it should be used:

…in conjunction with a healthy, energy controlled diet and exercise program.

To me, this looks like bait and switch advertising. Potential customers are seduced by the weight loss message, however, it may be that the only way weight is lost is by putting in the hard work with the diet and exercise program. Could potential customers simply not buy the kit (thereby saving $50) and still lose the weight?

There are many other products like Hunger Buster on the shelves of pharmacies. We’ll wait and see if the promoters of the product can produce the evidence for its effectiveness.

Update: 29th of March 2012. The TGA have announced that the promoters of Hunger Buster have voluntarily withdrawn the product from sale.

The move by the TGA on Hunger Buster comes after a complaint was lodged by public health campaigner, Dr Ken Harvey.

Dr Ken Harvey at Vic Skeptics

Speaking of Dr Ken Harvey, (yes, this is a segue), he spoke to the Victorian Skeptics at Skeptics Café on the 20th of February. Dr Harvey took us on a journey through the bizarre world of drug companies behaving badly, alternative medicine, cheats, scams and how everyone pays for it all.

For those that would like to relive the evening, here are Ken’s presentation slides.

SensaSlim Defamation Cases

In more news related to Dr Ken Harvey, we can report that the second defamation case is over. This action was brought on by Peter O’Brien, a SensaSlim director. The case was struck out on the 10th of February 2012.  The company SensaSlim is presently in about as much trouble as a company can get. The bank accounts of SensaSlim in Australia remain frozen, the international arm of SensaSlim has closed down, the product can no longer be sold in pharmacies in Australia and there is still an on-going case with the ACCC.

I’d like to take a slightly different look at the SensaSlim incident – if “incident” is the right name for it. Whilst many people are unhappy with SensaSlim the product and with the company, including the involvement of Peter Foster, I wonder about the Australian laws and regulations that allowed events to take place as they did? The reality is that SensaSlim could and did exercise its legal rights under Australian law to file a defamation case and as such, halt investigation into the product.

I’ve followed with interest developments in the UK following the Simon Singh vs the British Chiropractic Association libel case. That country is currently on the verge of changing its libel law. Worryingly I don’t see any push to change TGA regulations or defamation laws in Australia after the SensaSlim vs. Dr Ken Harvey cases.

In hindsight, Dr Harvey made a complaint to the appropriate government body (the TGA), about a therapeutic product. He suggested the evidence in support of the claims for the product didn’t stack up. Indeed, the product was eventually removed from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. “Aust – L” listed products are not checked for efficacy before they go onto the ARTG. The ONLY way to have a particular product’s efficacy examined by the TGA is for some third party to begin the process by making a complaint to their complaints panel.

One has to ask; why should the only mechanism for getting dodgy health related products off the market, impose such a high financial and legal risk to people like Dr Harvey? All he is trying to do is use his expertise in helping protect Australian consumers.

It’s estimated that the first defamation case against Dr Harvey cost in the vicinity of $40,000. Much of the money raised to help him fight the case came from supporters within the Australian Skeptics. Had that not occurred, Dr Harvey would have been effectively silenced. As for the second case, the law firm Maurice Blackburn defended Dr Harvey pro bono – a big three cheers to them and many thanks.

Medicines Australia Codes of Conduct

In further medicine related news, there is an upcoming Medicines Australia’s public consultation about its Codes of Conduct.

By way of explanation, Medicines Australia is an industry body that represents the pharmaceutical industry in Australia. Previous Federal Governments have been keen on the idea of self-regulation. As such, Medicines Australia is tasked with developing codes of conduct that the pharmaceutical industry should follow.

As you might imagine, these codes of conduct for the pharmaceutical industry cover topics of interest to skeptics;  product claims, sponsorship deals, product monitoring, research and many more.

If you’re particularly interested in seeing these codes of conduct improve, you are invited to attend the public consultation meeting.

The Victorian Skeptics can arrange to send you a registration form.  The public consultation meeting takes place in Melbourne on the 28th of March, 10am to 3:30pm. Please contact us if you want to attend and to have your say in relation to improving the codes of conduct.

Worthy of a read

Lastly, changing the subject to complementary medicine, I’d like to highlight this excellent post at the Science Based Medicine blog (US). In addition to Oprah Winfrey, daytime television in Australia occasionally includes the Dr Oz show, the host of which is the subject of the Science Based Medicine post. The post has some excellent quotes sprinkled through it. I particularly like this one:

If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse.-Mark Crislip

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