Supplement firm pays price for deceptive marketing

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Vitamin, Common cold

Airborne Health will fork out $23m in a settlement agreement, after
the firm was accused of making false immunity claims about its
popular multivitamin and herbal supplement.

The product, named Airborne, claimed it could "boost your immune system to help your body combat germs"​ and consumers were instructed to "take it at the first sign of a cold symptom or before entering crowded, potentially germ-infested environments." ​However, an investigation into the supplement found that it was deceptively marketed, and the company was slapped with a class action suit. The $23.3m settlement agreement includes money to be refunded to consumers who bought the product. The company is also expected to pay for ads in magazines and newspapers instructing consumers how to get refunds, including Better Homes & Gardens, Parade, People,​ and Newsweek. Airborne launched ​ Airborne, which had received a marketing boost from the fact that it was developed by a school teacher, Vitoria Knight McDowell, was said to have become an overnight success after McDowell appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The efficacy of the product, which contains vitamins A, C and E, was supported by a clinical trial, according to Airborne Health. However, in February 2006, ABC News revealed on Good Morning America​ that the clinical trial was conducted without any doctors or scientists, just a "two-man operation started up just to do the Airborne study." Secret formula? ​ As well as vitamins A, C, and E, Airborne contains nutrients, the amino acids glutamine and lysine, and a "herbal extract proprietary blend." ​But according to the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which reviewed Airborne's claims, the product may actually provide too much vitamin A, with just two pills providing 10,000 IU - the maximum safe level for a day - with consumers advised to take three per day. CSPI joined as co-counsel in the suit, which was presented by California law firms. US District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips of the Central District of California gave preliminary approval to the settlement on November 29. Deception​ According to CSPI senior nutritionist David Schardt, who reviewed Airborne's claims, "there's no credible evidence that what's in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment. Airborne is basically an overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that's been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed."​ According to CSPI, soon after the plaintiff notified Airborne of his intent to file suit in March 2006, the company stopped mentioning the questionable study and began toning down the overt cold-curing claims in favor of vague 'immunity boosting' language. In 2007, the Federal Trade Commission and a group of state attorneys general began investigating the various 'cold busting' claims that Airborne has made since its launch in 1999, said CSPI. "Those investigations are continuing, since the packages' cartoony germs and suggestion for use in 'school, playgrounds, airplanes' and other crowded spots still imply that Airborne is aimed at the common cold,"​ it said. To view the complaint, click here​. To view the settlement agreement, click here​.

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