In a testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, FTC described its recent enforcement efforts to address deceptive marketing.
“Developments in science and technology, as well as in marketing strategies, have led to a proliferation of products and services and a parallel burgeoning of advertising claims about how these products will make us thinner, better looking, and healthier; improve the quality of our lives; make us richer; and even improve our environment,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Health and safety claims is an area of “particular importance” to the commission’s current enforcement agenda, said Vladeck.
“Marketers of dietary supplements and other products have become very bold in the medical benefit claims they are making to sell their goods. Many are going far beyond the basic structure/function claims that are permitted under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act,” he said.
Over the last year, FTC launched what it called a “major law enforcement initiative targeting bogus cancer cures”.
Through an internet surf it conducted together with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Competition Bureau Canada, FTC introduced 11 actions against companies making false or unsubstantiated claims that their products could treat of cure cancer. In some cases, the products claimed they were backed by clinical or scientific proof that they worked.
Some of the products in question included including laetrile, black salve, essiac tea and other herbal mixtures, coral calcium, and shark cartilage.
FTC said most of these cases have been resolved through settlements that bar future false claims. Four settlements also involved fines, while two cases still remain in litigation.
As part of its enforcement initiative against bogus cancer cures, FTC set up a consumer education campaign – entitled Cure-ious? Ask – together with the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Cleveland Clinic, and the National Association of Free Clinics.
Vladeck said “false or grossly exaggerated weight loss claims” is another area where FTC has invested substantial resources. “The commission considers its work in the dietary supplement and weight-loss area to be a high priority.”
Over the past ten years, the commission has brought 77 cases dealing with weight-loss claims alleged to be untrue and/or not substantiated.
“The heavily promoted weight-loss ingredient du jour changes with regularity. Each time the Commission brings a series of cases targeting claims for one kind of purported remedy, a new one emerges,” said Vladeck.
Some of the cases brought by the agency have resulted in hefty fines. Earlier this year, the sellers of three supplements were served with a permanent injunction and ordered to pay $15.8m. Their medical expert was ordered to pay $15,454 for deceptive endorsement.
The home shopping channel QVC was also ordered to pay a total of $7.5m for making false claims in its programs about weight –loss pills, food bars and shakes.
Other areas of focus
Other enforcement priorities highlighted by Vladeck included cold prevention, improved concentration, and diabetes cures.
To read the NutraIngredients-USA.com article on FTC’s enforcement of the use of endorsements and testimonials, click here.