Fake cancer cures and snake venom extractor top list of TGA complaints
Advertisements for fake cancer cures, a snake venom extractor pump and devices for cosmetic procedures were among the most serious concerns raised with Australia’s drugs regulator in the past year.
Ads deemed the most dangerous by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in 2018/19 include the use of Gumby Gumby capsules to treat “all kinds of cancer” and health conditions including arthritis, emphysema, depression and autoimmune diseases.
Gumby Gumby, also known as pittosporum angustifolium, is shrub or small tree native to Australia that has been traditionally used for therapeutic purposes by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
There is no credible scientific evidence that the plant, which was being spruiked as powdered dried leaves capsules, can cure cancer.
“The TGA was particularly concerned that the advertising would entice consumers to delay conventional cancer treatments, posing real risks to their health and lives,” the TGA said in its inaugural advertising compliance report released on Friday.
The product came to the attention of the TGA last August after complaints were made about it being advertised as a cancer cure on Facebook and YouTube by Queensland-based Ken Murray. Following an investigation, Mr Murray was banned from advertising the product.
Black salve, touted as a natural skin cancer treatment that has special powers to target and kill tumours, has built a strong underground following in Australia, despite its links to preventable deaths and skin deformities.
In May, the TGA received a complaint about black salve being advertised online as an “inexpensive, safe answer to cancer” by natural remedies company Plant Essentials.
The advertisement included instructions on how to make black salve, with Plant Essentials selling the required ingredients.
“As it is corrosive, people using black salve may be left with significant damage to their skin and tissue,” the TGA said, adding that Plant Essentials had been prohibited from advertising the product.
The Sawyer Extractor Bite and Sting Kit was also banned from sale in Australia following a complaint about the product, which was touted as the “most powerful suction available” for the safe extraction of venom and poisons including from snake bites and bee and wasp stings.
A complaint against Australian-based companies Backpacking Light, Survival Australia and Outdoor You, was made in July last year. The TGA banned sale of the product last August, finding the advertisers’ claims were “highly misleading and conflicted with contemporary first aid procedures”.
“The likelihood of harm, or even death, if these claims were believed by a consumer was high.”
In 2018-19, the TGA received 1468 complaints about non-compliant advertising. Of these, more than 300 related to advertising for cosmetic procedures, including wrinkle reduction, botox and fillers.
Public health advocate and Monash University Associate Professor Ken Harvey, however, raised concerns the TGA only deemed a small portion of complaints as “high or critical priority” and classified more than 90 per cent of grievances as “medium to low” priority.
“A lot these complaints are yet to be fully dealt with which means consumers are still at risk,” Associate Professor Harvey said.
“They have been able to get things like the snake kit off the market and that’s good. But they are incredibly slow and there has been no real punishment for the people caught doing the wrong thing.”
The year’s biggest penalty was a $10 million fine ordered by the Federal Court for Peptide Clinics Pty Ltd, an online supplier of peptides and other restricted bodybuilding drugs accused of causing “serious harm” to consumers.
The TGA said in its report it had prioritised critical cases and this had caused delays in starting investigations and taking action against a large number of medium cases.