Saturday 28 April 2007

How to turn blue

As I promised before it is again time for me to burden you with more information on your rights under the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001. This utterly excellent piece of work provides us consumers with a wide range of protections and empowers the Consumer Protection Unit to do all sorts of great things to make sure that suppliers treat us properly and cannot escape the penalties for abusing us.

As a professional sceptic and someone who did have some scientific training you can probably imagine how delighted I was when I came across this part of the regulations:

“15 (1) A supplier of a commodity or of a service shall fail to meet minimum standards of performance if –

(b) the supplier quotes scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated;

(c) the supplier promises outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis;”

Frankly I could not ask for better than that. If someone sells you something that promises some sort of outcome that has no scientific basis or they quote nonsensical pseudo-scientific backup for their ludicrous claims then they have been bad boys and girls and will get a well deserved firm smack on the rear from the Consumer Protection Unit.

There are all sorts of products that offer a variety of benefits that you advertisers hint have some scientific basis. There are fuel additives that claim to reduce petrol consumption, extend the lifespan of your engine and make you car go faster. There seems to be an endless sequence of weight-loss techniques and substances that mean you can lose weight without having to modify your diet and take some exercise. There are so-called churches (you know who I mean) who promise an end to mental illness, drug addiction and education problems. The trouble is that none of this actually works. None of it has any scientific backup.

So what should we make of the advertisement in last week’s Advertiser for “Electro-Colloidal Silver”? According to the advertisement this “great and natural immune booster” can help:

“Athritis, Burns, Colds/Flue, Diarrhoea, Cuts, Gout, Shingles, Throat infections, Ulcers, Cancer, AIDS to mention but a few”. (I have deliberately left in their spelling mistakes.

What is this stuff anyway?

“Colloidal silver” just means water with microscopic particles of silver suspended in it. Nothing more than that.

So can it really help people with AIDS? Can it really help people with cancer? Cuts? Well, actually the people advertising confess in the advertisement itself that it offers nothing at all. They say that they “cannot claim ability to cure” but they DO say that it can “help”.

What they strangely neglect to mention is that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that colloidal silver has any health benefit at all. None whatsoever. In fact the US Food and Drug Administration and more recently the Australian government have declared it illegal to sell the stuff claiming it provides any health benefit. Because it doesn’t.

They also neglect to mention that one thing colloidal silver CAN do, if taken in large doses, is cause a condition called argyria. Agryria isn’t actually that bad, if you can cope with your skin turning blue. Yes, you turn blue. While that might be an interesting fashion and style experiment you should be aware that it’s permanent so it might not be the best thing to risk.

So back to the Consumer Protection Regulations. Do you not think that the advertisement for this product that even it’s advertisers concede is useless contravenes Section 15 (1) (c) of the Regulations above? I think it does and we’ll be writing to the Consumer Protection Unit to ask them to take a look.

Also in the Advertiser I saw a much more modest little advert for “Turkish Herbal Syrup) which apparently is the answer for “1) Hip Boost, 2) Loose weight, 3) High Blood Pressure, 4) Asthma” (Again I haven’t corrected the spellings. Why can’t any of these charlatans spell correctly?).

The chances are that anyone buying a syrup that claims to reduce “hip boost” is unlikely to suffer anything other than disappointment as a result, but what about someone who takes it rather than their real medication for high blood pressure or asthma? Sooner or later someone naïve is going to die.

The day before I wrote this I was talking to a very good friend who told me about someone she knows who is currently engaged in a life or death battle with breast cancer. Unfortunately the poor woman was seduced by a so-called alternative approach offered from a well-known source of nonsense who had journeyed up from South Africa. Instead of going through the admittedly horrible side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and a possible mastectomy she has instead been focussing exclusively on thinking positively, meditating and just, well, hoping it will go away. It has not. She is dangerously ill. The trouble with wishful thinking is that it is no more than thinking. It is not action. It is no more than doing nothing.

So anyway, by all means go out and buy yourself some colloidal silver. Your cancer will continue to spread, your cuts won’t heal any faster than before and your gout is still going to be excruciating but you will match your sofa very nicely so that must be some consolation

This week’s stars!

  • Warona at the Air Botswana check-in desk at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport for making check-in a fun and effective experience.

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