In its continuing drive to remove products making false claims from the market, the FTC has charged three dietary supplement companies located in Norcross, Georgia, with deceiving consumers through deceptive advertising for their weight-loss products.
The FTC last week filed charges against National Urological Group, the National Institute for Clinical Weight Loss and Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals. The commission's complaint alleges that the defendants made deceptive claims about the effectiveness and safety of "Thermalean" and "Lipodrene," purported weight-loss products that contain ephedra.
The FTC said that the defendants' direct mail and internet advertisements contained false and unsubstantiated efficacy and safety claims for the weight-loss products Thermalean and Lipodrene.
It added that the Thermalean advertising campaign suggsted the product was an effective treatment for obesity and that it combined the weight-loss benefits of three different prescription drugs.
Meanwhile, the defendants are said to have promoted Lipodrene as a dietary supplement that had undergone substantial clinical testing proving that it enabled consumers to lose large amounts of weight safely.
The active ingredient in both instances was ephedra.
The Food and Drink Administration had, in December 2003, informed manufacturers of dietary supplements containing ephedra that products would be considered "adulterated" under a forthcoming rule banning ephedra-containing dietary supplements. The ephedra ban was published in February and took effect in April of this year.
The FTC earlier this month launched "Operation Big fat Lie" in an effort to clamp down on false weight-loss advertising campaigns.
The campaign, among other things, is aimed at stopping bogus claims by dietary supplement manufacturers.
"Operation Big Fat Lie" consists of three programs, including enforcement, consumer education, and direct communication with newspapers and magazines to encourage their support in refusing bogus advertisements for weight loss products.
"False and misleading advertisements are about as credible as a note from the tooth fairy," said Deborah Platt Majoras, chairman of the FTC. "By working with media outlets to reject false ads and educating consumers to make informed choices, the FTC hopes to keep this national obesity epidemic from getting worse."
In order to attract consumer attention to the campaign, the FTC has set up a web site that appears to advertise a new pill promising to help consumers "Lose up to 10 pounds per week - with no sweat, no starvation!". In fact, the site is a link to a FTC warning about bogus products.
Last week the FDA initiated action against VITERA-XT, a dietary supplement containing ephedra that is marketed by Houston-based Asia MedLabs, claiming it was: "an adulterated food as well as an unapproved and misbranded drug, which present an unreasonable risk of illness or injury".
"We've issued a rule banning ephedra-containing products and we're sparing no effort to stop their manufacture and distribution. If any of these dietary supplements are still on the store shelves, I urge the retailers to stop selling them immediately," said Dr. Lester Crawford, acting commissioner of the FDA.
The FDA said it had warned consumers against the use of dietary supplements containing ephedra since June 1997 and banned these products after research confirmed that ephedrine alkaloids raise blood pressure and otherwise stress the circulatory system.
Several supplement companies have suffered since the ban on ephedra, not least San Diego-based supplement maker Metabolife whose reputation as one of the largest retailers of dietary supplements in the US, until the interdiction of ephedra, was based largely on sales of its ephedra-based product Metabolife 356.
In June, for example, a Crosby woman who suffered brain damage in a stroke after taking ephedra received a $7.4 million jury award. A Southeast Texas jury awarded Rhea McAllister $2.4 million for damage caused by Metabolife's supplement and $5 million in punitive damages.
The FDA noted that two firms have destroyed more than a quarter of a million dollars worth of ephedra-containing dietary supplements and several others have removed ephedra products from the market.