As It Happens

Doctor warns of coronavirus 'hucksters' after televangelist Jim Bakker pitches fake cure

Hucksters and snake oil salesmen "always show up like clockwork" when there's a public health scare, says Dr. Peter Lurie.

N.Y. Attorney General issues cease-and-desist after Baker promotes 'Silver Solution' for viruses

U.S. televangelist and convicted fraudster Jim Bakker is pictured here with his wife Lori Bakker. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)
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Hucksters and snake oil salesmen "always show up like clockwork" when there's a public health scare, says Dr. Peter Lurie.

The public health expert is calling for stronger enforcement of health scams after televangelist Jim Bakker was caught promoting his "Silver Solution" as a coronavirus cure. 

Bakker is best known for hosting the Evangelical Christian program The PTL Club from 1974 to 1989 with his then-wife Tammy Bakker. He spent four years in federal prison on fraud charges in the 1990s, and then rebuilt his career with The Jim Bakker Show. 

A recent clip from the program shows him asking naturopath Sherrill Sellman if the product can cure coronavirus.

"It hasn't been tested on this strain of the coronavirus, but it's been tested on other strains of the coronavirus, and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours. Totally eliminates it, kills it, deactivates it, and then it boosts your immune system," she replies.

The New York Attorney General issued an immediate cease-and-desist order to The Jim Bakker Show on Tuesday, saying the clip violates the state's consumer protection laws. 

Bakker's staff insisted to the Washington Post that the product is effective against myriad health issues, but provided no evidence. 

That's because none exists, says Lurie, the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the Silver Solution. Here is part of their conversation. 

What do you think when you hear Jim Bakker making those claims?

It's just absolutely infuriating to hear this. I mean, the level of scientific ignorance ... is just monumental.

There's just no scientific evidence that this product does anything that's clinically useful for any disease whatsoever.

So to see a group of individuals peddling a product with no effectiveness at up to $300 for 12 bottles, you know, bilking consumers of hard-earned cash for something that promises nothing is just, it's a health fraud. And I'd like to see people take strong action against it.

What is this Silver Solution. Do you know what it is or what it does?

It's hard to know what they have in it without actually testing it. Certainly, colloidal silver, which means very small particle silver, has been ... around ... for many years. 

And in those years, it's often been peddled for a number of different purported indications without evidence. So it's one of the, you know, old standbys of dietary supplement manufacturers, of hucksters, and we're seeing it once again over here.

The New York state Office of the Attorney General, what statement have they put out to Jim Bakker for ... trying to sell this Silver Solution on the show?

The New York Attorney General has asked them to stop promoting the product in this way. And moreover, they've asked him to add a disclaimer to the product that makes it clear that these claims are not approved by any regulatory authority in the United States.

That seems like a good idea. ... We'd also like to see Jim Bakker be disgorged of whatever profits he might have made from selling this ineffective material.

The late Tammy Faye Bakker and her then-husband Jim Bakker pictured in Aug. 20, 1986. (Lou Krasky/The Associated Press)

OK, but as far as this colloidal silver, this is stuff that you can buy online, right? I mean, you can get Amazon Prime to deliver it to your door tomorrow. So why so heavy handed with Jim Bakker when this is widely sold by those who make claims that this is an immune system boost?

The issue, from a drug regulatory point of view, is whether or not you make a claim. I mean, if you sell colloidal silver without claiming that it does anything, that may not be a great thing, but it's at least not inherently illegal.

But at the moment that you start saying that it can either prevent, treat or diagnose a disease, which is what we believe they're claiming here, then you're, in effect, selling a drug. And if you're selling a drug in the United States and in Canada, you have to go through the drug regulatory authority before you do so, and they haven't done that.

So they're marketing an unapproved drug, making health claims, potentially diverting people from at least symptomatic treatment that might help them. It's unconscionable.

Jim Bakker ... spent more than five years in federal prison for mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. And he is selling this Silver Solution on his new program. But he has other products that he sells. Why is he in the business of selling these treatments, or so-called treatments?

I can't get inside his head. But, you know, suffice it to say, the dietary supplement industry is a very large one in the United States. It's well in excess of $40 billion a year now and growing. And sad to say it's so poorly regulated that, you know, it's a virtual invitation to hucksters to come along with ill-proven claims, you know, to treat the latest health scare.

At the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are you seeing other efforts to sell treatments or cures or preventions for the coronavirus since it flared up?

We have found some others. We haven't worked them up quite as much as Jim Bakker. We turned them over to the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration].

These folks always show up like clockwork whenever there's a health scare.

The Jim Bakker Show sells Silver Solution on its website. Public health experts say it is not clinically proven to have any health benefits, and in some cases, can have adverse effects. (JimBakkerShow.com)

We've been covering this story of the public health response to the coronavirus in the U.S. and all the problems people have with accessing care or accessing tests, their insurance perhaps not covering the costs of it. Is it possible that people are more vulnerable to look for these kind of snake oil solutions when they don't have as much support as they might have from their own public health system?

In the context of an epidemic, people are vulnerable, people are desperate, people are fearful. And it's that very set of emotions upon which people like Jim Bakker apparently are willing to prey.

Is it true that the Silver Solution actually has some adverse health effects?

I point to three potential adverse effects.

One is, you know, if the product is poorly made, you can have a contaminant of some kind. ... I'm not alleging this specifically here, but we've certainly seen that with a number of other dietary supplements.

Another is that it's, you know, squandering money. So it's taking money out of people's pockets.

And the third is that for silver specifically, there is a rare ... but well-recognized condition called argyriawhich can turn to the skin — believe it or not — blue. And can do so on a permanent basis.

So this is not a product that's completely benign, but it will certainly be successful in taking more money out of your pocket. 


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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