Proponents of fake treatments have in many ways been allowed to push their quackery and nonsense without that much government regulation. This has made them bold and encouraged them to more and more batshit pseudoscientific claims about the alleged health benefits of their treatments. However, because the consumer protection is so weak, the justice system has had to find other ways to tackle the problem. Thus, prosecuting quacks has typically involved cases where there have been fatalities or illegal transportation, tax violations or false and misleading advertisement. However, this is rare. Most of the time, snake oil salespeople have been allowed to roam free.
However, this might be changing in some parts of the world. Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency has started to crack down on alternative medicine practitioners who create enormously misleading advertisements for their services. Recently, a chiropractor was charged with multiple counts of false or misleading advertisements and also for using testimonials in health advertisement. He was convicted and must now pay a hefty fine of around 23 000 USD. Although this is just a single case, it is a stunning victory for scientific skepticism and consumer protection efforts. There will hopefully be more such cases. Who knows, maybe other countries will learn from the Australian experience?
Who is this chiropractor?
Hance Limboro is a chiropractor who operates in Sidney.
On his website, he claims to be a “non surgical spinal correction specialist” and a “wellness chiropractic expert” and has allegedly been doing this for 15 years. He states that he supposedly has a Bachelor’s degree in science and a Master’s degree in chiropractic. The website also states that Limboro is proficient in a wide range of chiropractic methods, such as “chiropractic bio physics”, “advance bio-structural correction” and “Koren specific technique”.
It is unclear if these represents any actual methods or just sound bites that sound scientific. Apparently, he has previously volunteered his chiropractic methods “to spread chiropractic to the less financially capable people” and “spread chiropractic to elite athletes”.
Curiously enough, his personal website only has a contact form and no information about his chiropractic office or costs. Instead, his “clinic” (Action Health Centre) has a separate website. There, you can find standard chiropractic misinformation about health and disease, such as “Chiropractic is a natural form of health care that uses spinal adjustments to correct these misalignments and restore proper function to the nervous system, helping your body to heal naturally” and “a chiropractic spinal adjustment-the application of a precise force to a specific part of the spinal segment-corrects the misalignment, permitting normal nerve transmission and assisting your body to recuperate on it”.
Interestingly, this chiropractor even believes in the myth of “innate intelligence” because the website states that “innate intelligence strives to maintain a state of health through adaptation mechanisms.” This is all nonsense of course because these alleged subluxations cannot be seen on an x-ray and diseases are not caused by blockages in “innate intelligence”, which does not exist in reality anyway. More alarmingly, he likely give chiropractic manipulations to children because his website specifically cater to “Children and Family Care”.
What did he do and what was his punishment?
Limboro had made misleading ads about the alleged health benefits of chiropractic that he put on a website called “Cancer Cure Sydney”. These ads claim that chiropractic could cure cancer since bad posture causes all disease, that chiropractic is worth to try out if you have brain tumors, encouraged people to opt out of radiation for cancer and go for chiropractic manipulations instead and so on. The standard nonsense you often heard promoted by chiropractors and alternative medicine proponents. Newspapers also uncovered other advertisements claiming that babies can be successfully treated by chiropractic and that vaccines somehow can give you cancer (Davey, 2017). Note that these claims are much more batshit than the claims that appear on his somewhat vaguer website.
How did he try to defend himself? By claiming that he had hired an SEO company to drive traffic to his website and that he had no idea what the ads contained. This defense fell flat when the court pointed out that the Cancer Cure Sydney domain registration was done by his wife.
Limboro was the first in the country to be charged for false or misleading advertisement and use of testimonials by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. He pleaded guilty to all 13 counts and was slapped with 27 500 AUD (~21 112 USD) fine for the false or misleading advertisement and additional 2000 AUD (~1 535 USD) for using testimonials in health advertisement (Gardiner, 2017). In total, he has to pay 29 500 AUD (~22 647 USD) for his violations.
What does this mean for the fight against quackery?
This is also the first time a chiropractor has been charged and convicted of false or misleading advertisement in Australia by this regulatory agency. Hopefully, this will be the first of many cases where health regulators crack down on those selling fake treatments for serious conditions and other quacks is long overdue. Large fines are probably especially productive since chiropractors rely on income from their customers. Although this will not solve all problems, it will hopefully make quacks who have gotten convicted and quacks generally a second thought when they design advertisement for their services.
This regulatory system appears to be both productive and fact-based because they have also banned testimonials in health advertisement. This shows that they understand the power of success stories for convincing very sick and vulnerable people to use fake treatments. If this system turns out to work, it may be something that other countries also implement. It is perhaps too early to know if this will turn the tides, but at this point, we should celebrate all victories against quackery.
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References and further reading:
Davey, M. (2017). Chiropractor who claimed he could cure cancer convicted of false advertising (cache | cache). The Guardian. Accessed: 2017-02-15.
Gardiner, S. (2017). Sydney chiropractor Hance Limboro fined $27,500 for cancer cure advertisements (cache | cache). The Sidney Morning Herald. Accessed: 2017-02-15.