Fraudulent and Deceptive Ads for Dietary Supplements Giving the Entire Industry a Black Eye Media Also Has a Role In Policing Deceptive Ads, She Says
Federal Trade Commissioner Sheila F. Anthony today called on the dietary supplement industry to institute more and better self-regulation and called on the media to refuse to run supplement ads that contain claims that are obviously false. Speaking at the Food and Drug Law Institute's 45th Annual Educational Conference in Washington, D.C., Anthony said that since passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), a law that restricts FDA review of supplements, there has been a "dramatic increase in the marketing of supplements and, with that increase, we have seen more examples of questionable claims . . . Two factors have had a significant influence over this growth. The Internet has made it easier for snake oil salesmen to sell their products because it allows marketers, both large and small, to go global. In addition, many dietary supplement marketers believe that DSHEA provides a green light to make implied health and disease claims and avoid FDA review or approval. Consequently, the Commission has seen its workload expand in recent times in policing dietary supplement advertising. The Commission has brought over 60 law enforcement actions in the past five years challenging false or unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy and safety of a wide variety of dietary supplements, and we have many more in the pipeline," she said.
Pointing at supplement ads that make outlandish claims, Anthony said, ". . . We are also looking broadly at the question of who has liability for deceptive advertising claims." Guidelines published by the FTC in 1998 said, ". . . all parties who participate directly or indirectly in the marketing of dietary supplements have an obligation to make sure that claims are presented truthfully and to check the adequacy of the support behind these claims." Anthony said the FTC has taken law enforcement actions against supplement advertisers, their ad agencies, and expert or celebrity endorsers. "Many egregious claims - particularly for weight loss products - often appear in the mainstream media. Major national newspapers, magazines, television, cable, and radio stations seem ready to accept the substantial advertising dollars of this industry without question, often airing patently fraudulent ads with claims of extreme, instant and effortless weight loss. . . While many publications screen ads for taste and appropriateness, they appear reluctant to take a few extra steps to weed out obvious fraud," she said.
Anthony said that more needs to be done to protect the American public. ". . .The Commission uses a variety of means to combat deceptive claims for dietary supplements. But more needs to be done. I believe that there needs to be more and better self-regulation in the dietary supplement industry. The industry must step up to the plate and take a more active role in policing those in their industry who are engaged in fraud and deception, and are giving the entire industry a black eye."
"I also believe that the media has an exceptionally important role to play through media screening of problematic ads," Anthony said. "I hope that the media also steps up to the plate and chooses to forgo placing ads that result in a fraud on the public, who, after all, are their customers too," she said.
"The views I express are my own and do not reflect those of the Commission," Anthony said.
Copies of Commissioner Anthony's speech, "Combating Deception in Dietary Supplement Advertising" are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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Attorney Advisor to Commissioner Anthony