Fellow Victorian skeptic Chris Higgins recently wrote to Chemist Warehouse asking them why they knowingly and wilfully sell useless products, for which there is no supporting evidence, to their unsuspecting clientele. Chris quite rightly questioned their ethics, given the trust most Australians place in their industry, which is seen as well educated and highly moral, acting in our best interests in dispensing medical advice.
Why is a leading pharmacy, an organisation who the general public rely on for medical advice, selling useless “power” bracelets? Ear candles? Homeopathy? There is no evidence for the efficacy of any of these products. Furthermore, legitimate scientific studies have shown time and time again that they do not work at all! Still, Chemist Warehouse continues to line their shelves with these products, which can only be described as snake oil and magic water.
Chris Higgins, A Letter to Chemist Warehouse
Whilst I take no issue with a retail business’ decision to sell legal products for which there is a market, Chemist Warehouse, and indeed any pharmacy which sells prescription science-based medicine, has an ethical responsibility to fully disclose all pertinent information about any health products it sells, including any side-effects, or indeed the complete lack of evidence for the product’s efficacy.
Chris goes on to say;
The Australian general public relies on stores such as Chemist Warehouse to provide them with honest and reliable information regarding their families health and well being. Your decision to stock these products legitimises them in the eyes of your customers, when they should be being offered real medicine. I strongly urge you to reconsider selling such rubbish, and to return to only stocking legitimate, scientifically proven products.
As Chris points out, beyond the issue of efficacy and full disclosure, the greater issue here is that customers with real health problems may be steered towards non-efficacious products in lieu of real, evidence-based treatments or medicines to the detriment of their health. In the eyes of many, a product sharing shelf-space with known and trusted medicines gains legitimacy to which it may not be entitled, and advice from untrained yet well-meaning sales staff magnifies this further.
After a follow-up letter, Chemist Warehouse responded to Chris with the following:
Whilst we appreciate your point of view regarding holistic/homeopathic products in dismissing them as placebos, the Australia public has a wide and varied belief in all things such as religion and medicine. We believe that if even one person can be alleviated of their pain or symptoms from the use of any of these alternative products, albeit as a placebo effect, then we are doing a community service.
Chemist Warehouse, in response to Chris Higgins’ A Letter to Chemist Warehouse
So just to be clear – Chemist Warehouse, who by their very name trade upon the trust placed in the Pharmaceutical industry and Chemists in particular, make merchandising decisions based at least partly upon the belief systems of their customers. Furthermore they are satisfied to take your money and tell you a useless piece of silicone plastic fashioned into a bracelet with a hologram on it, or a sugar pill with a fancy label on its bottle has a real effect, when in reality at most it may be of some benefit to someone somewhere through the placebo effect.
Partly inspired by Chris’ letter, Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics has now challenged Chemist Warehouse to justify their decision to sell the ‘HOTBAND®’ product, which is of particular interest to Richard in his long-term war on similar useless trinkets which all seem to share a rather hefty price-tag. These wrist-bands are marketed as legal and completely side-effect free performance-enhancers, apparently empowering the wearer with improved balance through some mystical interaction with the body’s natural frequencies, whatever that means. In reality these are another expensive placebo, sold by Chemist Warehouse under their ‘we hope it helps someone somewhere’ merchandising policy.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in purchasing one of these body-frequency type bands, save some coin and buy a ‘Placebo Band‘ from SkepticBros instead – they are just as effective as the leading brands (i.e. they are completely ineffective), but at only A$2, they’re a bargain.
I think the lesson here is clear – retailers such as Chemist Warehouse are not dispensers of medical advice, and should be regarded with the same level of trust as any other merchant – they exist only to separate you from your money. If you want medical advise, you really need to see a doctor.
- A bitter pill to swallow (newstatesman.com)
- Placebo Bands – Available Now at SkepticBros (gullibilitykills.wordpress.com)
- NHS funding for homeopathy risks misleading patients, says chief scientist (guardian.co.uk)
- More on the Q-Link Saga (mycolleaguesareidiots.com)
- What’s in a placebo? Mike Adams certainly doesn’t know. (scienceblogs.com)