PHOTO BY Dennis Myers

“Tor Akman”: You know, I am not a businessman. I’m a holistic healer. It’s a calling. It’s a gift. You see, it’s in the best interest of the medical profession that you remain sick. (“The Heart Attack” episode, Seinfeld)

Clark County Sen. Michael Schneider’s bill to replace the Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners with a Board of Complementary Integrative Medicine became one of those wonderful experiences that politics so often generates in the 21st century. It roused alternative health activists on the internet across the nation.

The bill, Senate Bill 412, which passed the Senate only to die when legislators failed to make a deadline in the Assembly, would have brought other fringe or dubious healthcare practices under the same kind of regulation as homeopathy. Homeopathy, a practice popular in the 1800s that began a revival in the U.S. during the 1970s, has little scientific support and is considered a threat to health by most health care practitioners.

Among the practices that would have been brought under the Board’s authority were applied kinesiology (Rationalwiki.org lists the names of two people it says were killed by this practice), aquastretch, aromatherapy, bio-oxidative therapy, biofermentics, cell therapy, colon therapy (four names), cranio-sacral therapy (two names), dietary supplement practices, electrodiagnosis, environmental therapy, healing art, healing touch, herbal therapy (nine names), holistic therapy, magnetic and electromagnetic therapy, naturopathic therapy (14 names), neural therapy, neuromuscular, integration, noble metal therapy, nutrition therapy, orthomolecular therapy, peptide therapy, pharmaceuticals, reiki, therapeutic touch, thought field therapy, wellness programs, and xenobiotics.

Schneider was targeted less by these groups than by the diet supplement industry that sells vitamins, herbal remedies and other products, all of which are shielded under the law from food safety regulation. The industry is known for National Rifle Association-style tactics. Its hand is rarely seen. Rather, it stirs up diet supplement users with automated phone calls who then call their legislators.

“They’re just out of control,” Schneider said. “My cell phone has been ringing. They’re doing robocalls to legislators and into my district. They have all sorts of misinformation. People started calling our office with misinformation.”

The language used helps fuel these campaigns. There were two online essays against the Nevada bill, and they were both duplicated many times on numerous websites. One was headlined “Nevada SB 412 to make felons out of natural health practitioners.” It was posted on more than 41,000 websites. It read in part, “In virtually every state simultaneously, are bills criminalizing anything but state sanctioned and approved healthcare choices, brought to you by the Republican party with a few stray Democrats thrown in. (Have to make it appear ‘bi-partisan,’ you know) … The bill does one other very important thing; it controls who can access the healthcare market, very successfully ending competition for anyone other than big medical campaign donors … like the AMA and local doctors who resent the competition. This bill is an overt assault on your rights.”

Schneider is a Democrat, and every Republican but one in the Senate voted against his bill, an indication of the lack of knowledge of the Nevada situation by distant critics.

The other opposition piece, which appeared on more than 5,000 websites, read “Nevada Senate Bill 412 to establish medical monopoly, squelch natural and alternative medicine.” A sample of its prose: “Just imagine when, as with other such medical boards, the power seekers and control freaks who naturally gravitate to positions of power in government come to have the say over what type of natural medicine may be practiced and what type may not. Will your favorite form of natural medicine survive? Or will it be branded a heresy and persecuted? … This is the Medical Monopoly at its finest, acting to stifle their competition and those they disagree with, the natural-health practitioners, all in the interest of course of ‘protecting’ the public.”

This piece appears to have originated with the National Health Federation of Monrovia, Calif., an organization that promotes alternative medicine.

“They get mad and yell and scream,” Schnedier said. “They don’t listen and try to understand. They need all the facts. Instead they say this horrible thing is going to happen, and by God they got it off the internet, and so it’s true. … They have zero education in the legislative process, and they get themselves all worked up and get out of control.”

Supplements are often marketed as medicine, but supplement manufacturers oppose letting the Food and Drug Administration or other agencies investigate whether their products do what is claimed and whether they are safe or harmful. So far, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch—whose home state of Utah contains many supplement manufacturers—has been able to limit the FDA’s authority in the field. Some death-dealing food supplements remain on the market because Hatch’s 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) allows dietary supplements to be sold without prior testing for safety or effectiveness and hampers the FDA in getting risky products off the market.

What happened to Schneider is also experienced by other legislators over other issues and legislation. Indeed, Schneider himself was attacked on two different bills whose content overlapped. While shepherding an Assembly bill dealing with dieticians through the Senate, he said that measure, too, generated furious opposition.

“It has been unbelievable how this robocall has been going around,” he told the Senate about the dietician bill. “There have been calls to our offices from the robocalls. They are lighting up the public by having them think that we are going to make people who sell vitamins be licensed. That is anything but the truth. I am upset about this and the actions of the people out there. They have accused members of my committee and other members of the Legislature of doing something that is not in the law. I encourage everyone to vote this and to send a real message to these yahoos who are out of control in this state right now.”

Another legislator identified with a different issue said she had been similarly targeted.

“And the thing is, the attacks are all based on stuff that isn’t in the bill,” she said. “These industries get people stirred up with selective quotes from the bill.”

Political scientist Fred Lokken said these kinds of tactics drive good people out of politics and are part of the reason that legislative bodies are becoming more and more filled with zealots.

“It’s why we don’t get things done because the fear factor comes into it. It’s kind of a modern day version of bullying. … You know, they know that they can intimidate a process, in this case by sheer numbers. When maybe a hammer would do, they use a sledgehammer. They just go to an overkill stage. The issues become completely clouded. … And in [Schneider’s] case, you see something that’s direct and personal that can clearly have ramifications if he wants to serve in office.

“He’s well intended. It’s an area that probably begs for regulation, and it reminds us that no good deed goes unpunished, that there are those out there who are always trying to stop commonsensical activities. And some of them … have become extremely well organized. They have studied and learned, quite effectively, intimidating tactics. For anyone watching the process, it’s a lesson that says, ‘Why do I want to put myself through all of that?’ ”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...