Monday, January 15, 2007

The Government Fines Bayer, TrimSpa, CortiSlim and Xenadrine for False Advertising

The FTC tells supplement hucksters that anecdotal evidence isn’t a substitute for science, and takes $25 mil from them.

Last week the Federal and Trade Commission announced that they were fining several diet supplement marketers and manufacturers -- including German drug titan Bayer -- a total of $25 million for making false and misleading claims in the advertising of their products. In a perfect world these products would be banned -- after all the government has banned trans fat -- so that people could be truly protected from predatory business practices of the unscrupulous.

The most important thing that consumers should learn from this case is that the FTC has ruled, “Testimonials from individuals are not a substitute for science.” Deborah Platt Majoras Chairman of the FTC has been clear on this point and went on to say that “the marketers are required to back up their claims with science, and if they can’t do that they can’t make the claim.”

I’ve been railing about this for years, so it’s good to see that the government is using their power in an appropriate manner.

What this means is that anecdotal evidence provided by consumers who have enjoyed positive results cannot be used in advertisements as the basis to make claims of a product’s efficacy. In other words, just because Jane Doe says she lost 30 pounds in 8 weeks doesn’t mean that a company can say that YOU will do the same, small print disclaimer or not.

There’s that little thing called science that companies will need to use in order to back up their claims.

The biggest offender -- at least judging by the size of the fines -- is RTC Research & Development, marketers of the ersatz weight loss product Xenadrine EFX. RTC will pay anywhere from $9 million and $12.8 million. The company that manufacturers Xenadrine, Nutriquest, is owned by Robert Chinery who also owns RTC.

Nutriquest used to be known as Cytodyne Technologies and has been in bankruptcy proceedings as a result of a massive suit filed by those who were damaged or killed by Xenadrine’s herbal, ephedra-based formula a few years ago. Baltimore Oriole pitcher Steve Bechler died in 2003 and Xenadrine was blamed as being partially responsible; his death served as the tipping point in the debate to ban ephedra and helped to launch this lawsuit.

Nutriquest was in bankruptcy from paying an $18 million judgment from this class-action suit, and the 140 plaintiffs will also split almost $35 million that comes from Nutriquest’s bankruptcy settlement.

Nutriquest wasn’t named in the FTC complaint, and Chinery and other parties involved in the sale of Xenadrine haven’t admitted to any wrongdoing in this case, but settled “to avoid the uncertainties and costs of litigation.”

However, it’s important to remember that this FTC complaint deals with the advertisements for the new Xenadrine formulation that is ephedra-free and not the old ephedra-laden Xenadrine. Would you buy any supplement made and marketed by this guy?

The bottom line with Xenadrine is to stay away from it.

The seven companies involved with the sale and marketing of CortiSlim and CortiStress will have to pony up at least $12 million in cash and assets for making ludicrous claims about their products. These people reached new lows with their marketing tactics for their products and not only made false weight-loss claims about CortiSlim but also claimed that CortiStress could reduce everything from the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s to preventing cancer.

Since CortiSlim was the best selling diet supplement on the market for years the CortiSlim creeps have been at this game for quite a long time and surely must be laughing their way to the bank, as $12 million spread out over seven companies is a drop in the bucket compared to how much money they have raked in during the past 5 years.

Goen Technologies, the company that makes TrimSpa, the weight-loss supplement made famous by Anna Nicole Smith, was fined $1.5 million for claims made in the advertisements in which she was featured.

Goen exhibited the type of humility that you would expect from a company that makes false and unsubstantiated claims, and blamed the media for their problems. According to Goen TrimSpa was “put under the microscope after Anna Nicole Smith’s 69-pound weight loss with TrimSpa X32 was widely reported in the media.”

Yea...apparently, according to Goen, all of this attention had nothing to do with TrimSpa’s media blitz advertising campaign and nothing to do with TrimSpa’s suspect ingredient list. Such chutzpah!

The way One-A-Day WeightSmart vitamins were marketed is what got Bayer in trouble to the tune of $3.2 million, although these big boys seems to be a bit miffed about being included in this rogue’s gallery of diet pill hucksters.

From up on their high horse Bayer dismissed this blow to their reputation in the way a supermodel might deal with an unsightly blemish. Bayer says that they “stand behind its One-A-Day WeightSmart multivitamin and fully believes that all claims made in the marketing of the product are well substantiated and supported,” and that “WeightSmart provides safe and effective nutritional support to those who are watching their weight.”

This is nonsense. If you look at the One-A-Day WeightSmart ingredient list you’ll be hard pressed to find anything that would make you think this supplement offers unique benefits to people who are trying to lose weight. And if Bayer’s advertisements had simply said their product provided “nutritional support” to people trying to lose weight they probably wouldn’t have gotten themselves into hot water.

The bottom line here is that when it comes to weight-loss supplements you just can’t trust anybody, whether it’s Bayer or one of the denizens of the underbelly of the supplement world. So keep your money in your pocket.