"Campaña Alerta," an innovative and unprecedented effort to prevent fraudulent advertisements directed at Spanish-speaking consumers, was announced today by officials from the Mexican government, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and seven state Attorneys General. The joint law enforcement and public education campaign targets Spanish-language ads that fraudulently market health care products and treatments, and informs consumers about how best to protect themselves against health fraud. At a press conference in Dallas, Texas, federal and state officials joined with their Mexican counterparts to unveil the campaign, which includes public service announcements (PSAs), consumer brochures, and many law enforcement actions and investigations.
"Campaña Alerta" is a result of increased international cooperation brought about by a three-country health fraud task force consisting of representatives of agencies in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Two participating agencies, the FTC and Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor de Mexico (PROFECO), the agency charged with protecting consumers in Mexico, have joined together in a consumer education effort to ensure that Spanish-speaking consumers in both countries receive valuable information on how to spot false and unsubstantiated health claims. An initial effort by the two agencies consists of four jointly-produced Spanish-language PSAs to be aired on radio stations in both countries.
"These PSAs by the FTC and PROFECO mark the beginning of a significant consumer education effort between our two agencies," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "By working together we can better serve Spanish-speaking consumers in both of our countries."
The PSAs warn that consumers spend millions of dollars annually on unproven, fraudulently marketed, and sometimes useless health care products, exercise equipment, and weight loss plans. Health care fraud schemes often prey on people who are victims of diseases by offering "miracle cures," one PSA states. The campaign advises consumers to shop around, check with their doctor and purchase only those products that have been proven to work.
Bernstein was joined at the press conference by Mexican government officials Martha Susana Ruiz, Coordinadora General de la Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor (General Coordinator for the Federal Bureau of Consumer Affairs), and Arturo Jacques, Director de Control Sanitario de la Publicidad de la Secretaria de Salud (Health Control Director for Advertisement of the Ministry of Health). The Secretaria de Salud, the agency charged with protecting the health of Mexican citizens, assisted several U.S. agencies in their investigation of a Mexico-based company whose products are sold in the United States. Also participating in the press conference were Robert Reyna, Assistant Attorney General of Texas, and Edward Esparza, Regional Food and Drug Director for the Food and Drug Administration’s Southwest Region. The Texas Attorney General’s Office played a pivotal role in numerous multistate investigations in the campaign. FDA also provided invaluable assistance during the FTC’s investigation of the deceptive practices alleged in the cases announced today and has issued a number of warning letters as part of this coordinated effort.
"Advertisers recognize the incredible purchasing power of Spanish-speaking consumers," said the FTC’s Bernstein. "Total Spanish-language advertising expenditures hit an estimated $1.2 billion for 1996, a 13 percent increase over the previous year. The message we send today is that there will be no ?free zone’ for deceptive advertising in Spanish or any other language."
The FTC also has expanded its education efforts for Spanish-speaking consumers. In addition to the PSAs on health claims, the agency now has a number of brochures in Spanish covering such important consumer issues as prepaid phone cards, mail or telephone order shopping, "900" numbers, and cosigning loans. (A complete list of current Spanish-language brochures is attached.) In order for consumers to gain greater access to this information, these brochures now will be available on the FTC’s home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.ftc.gov (no period).
The federal and state law enforcement actions and investigations target ads for products which claim to cure a variety of diseases and health conditions, including arthritis, cancer, and
asthma. Other advertisements involved in this effort promote products such as dietary supplements, hair loss treatments, and cosmetic and weight loss products.
As part of "Campaña Alerta," the FTC today announced that it has executed settlements with four companies.
This New York City-based company and its principal, according to the FTC’s complaint detailing the charges, made widespread claims on television, radio and in print advertisements that its product "una de gato" (cat’s claw), sold under the brand name "Manaxx," was a treatment for the prevention of, or cure for, a variety of diseases and conditions. Claims such as "una de gato has relieved many illnesses in the past and continues to do so for new ones as well," and that una de gato is "a weapon against immunological problems regardless of their cause," are unsubstantiated, the complaint alleges. Further, testimonials from consumers appearing in the advertisements do not reflect the typical or ordinary experience of consumers who used the product, the complaint charges. Finally, the complaint alleges as unsubstantiated representations that clinical and laboratory research demonstrates that una de gato strengthens or reinforces the immune system, effectively treats inflammation, reduces the abnormal irritation of body tissue, cures acne, and is void of any toxic effects.
The proposed settlement of these charges would prohibit the defendants from making claims about the effects of una de gato on any disease or condition unless they possess competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate them. Further, the proposed settlement would prohibit any unsubstantiated claims regarding the health benefits, performance or ability of any food, drug or dietary supplement to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. In addition, the proposed settlement would prohibit the use of testimonials unless they reflect the typical or ordinary results that could be expected from use of the product, and would prohibit misrepresentations about the existence, validity, results, or conclusions of any test or research concerning any product. (The FTC filed this complaint and proposed settlement in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles. The settlement is subject to court approval.)
Rogerio Monteiro and Eliana Crema, doing business as Leeka Products, of Glendale California, sell a number of Leeka health and cosmetic products through mail and phone orders generated from Spanish-language advertisements in magazines. Advertisements for Super Formula Reductora, a weight-loss nutritional supplement containing chromium picolinate, allegedly claimed that the product will control and regulate metabolism, reduce appetite, burn or dissolve fat, and cause weight loss. Ads for Crema Sudadora Perfect Shape allegedly represented that the product improves the results of exercise, boosts the number of calories burned during exercise, and causes the user to get lean faster. And advertisements for Tratamiento para Combatir la Caida del Cabello, which means "Treatment to Fight Hair Loss," claim that the product will prevent or retard hair loss, the FTC charged. The FTC’s complaint charges that these claims are unsubstantiated. The FTC also alleged as false Leeka’s claims that scientific studies of chromium picolinate demonstrate that Super Formula Reductora will cause weight loss. The proposed settlement with Monteiro and Crema would prohibit them from making similar claims, as well as claims about the benefits, efficacy, or performance of any food, drug, cosmetic or dietary supplement unless they have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the claims. In addition, the respondents would be prohibited from using the name Tratamiento para Combatir la Caida del Cabello -- "Treatment to Fight Hair Loss" -- or other names which represent that the product prevents or retards hair loss unless they can substantiate that it does. Finally, the proposed settlement would prohibit Monteiro and Crema from misrepresenting the existence or conclusions of any test, study, or research.
Kave Elahie, doing business as M.E.K. International
Kave Elahie, doing business as M.E.K. International, located in Simi Valley, California, advertised NutraTrim Bio-Active Cellulite Control Cream and NutraTrim Weight Loss Tablets in Spanish-language magazines. According to the FTC’s complaint, the advertisements for the cellulite cream claim that the aminophylline-based product will reduce and/or eliminate cellulite and fat. Advertisements for M.E.K.’s weight loss tablets, which contain chromium picolinate, claim that the product will cause weight loss, cholesterol reduction, loss of body fat and cellulite, reduction of appetite and an increase in metabolism. The FTC alleged that these claims are unsubstantiated. The FTC also alleged that the consumer testimonial in M.E.K.’s advertisement implied, without substantiation, that it represented the typical or ordinary experience of those who have used these products. The proposed settlement would prohibit M.E.K. from making similar unsubstantiated claims. Further, M.E.K. would be prohibited from making any representation regarding the benefits, performance, safety or efficacy of any food, drug, cosmetic or dietary supplement without competent and reliable scientific substantiation. In addition, M.E.K. would be prohibited from using testimonials to represent the typical or ordinary experience of its customers unless it can substantiate that the experience is in fact true.
Efficient Labs, Inc., of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and company officer Blas Reyes-Reyes have advertised Venoflash principally through television commercials that aired on Spanish- language broadcast and cable networks in New York, Miami and Puerto Rico. According to the FTC’s complaint, the ads for Venoflash -- a dietary supplement composed of vitamins and plant derivatives -- represent that the product will remove dangerous clogs in the circulatory system and treat the symptoms of varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
The FTC alleged that the company did not have a reasonable basis for these claims. The proposed agreement to settle these charges would prohibit the respondents from making any representations regarding the health benefits, performance, safety or efficacy of any food, drug, cosmetic or dietary supplement product promoted or used to treat conditions or illnesses related to the circulatory system without scientific substantiation.
A summary of the proposed consent agreements in the Leeka, M.E.K., and Efficient Labs cases will be published in the Federal Register shortly. The agreements will be subject to a 60- day public comment period before the FTC determines whether to make them final and binding. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
In addition to the FTC’s cases, which were handled by the Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York Regional Offices, the campaign involved the cooperation, assistance, and participation of the Attorneys General of the states of Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York, Arizona, Connecticut and California; the Food and Drug Administration; the Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor of Mexico; the Secretaria de Salud of Mexico; and the Texas and California Departments of Health.
The Commission votes in these cases were 5-0.
NOTE: Consent agreements are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000. Court-filed settlements also are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission of a law violation.
Copies of the three consent agreements and an analysis of each agreement to assist the public in commenting are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov or by calling 202-326-3627. Copies of the complaint and proposed settlement with Mountain Springs and other FTC documents are also available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC’s NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
Michael J. Bloom,
Donald G. D’Amato or Denise Tighe
New York Regional Office
150 William Street, Suite 1300
New York, New York 10038
San Francisco Regional Office
901 Market Street, Suite 570
San Francisco, California 94103
Ann I. Jones or Gregory W. Staples
Los Angeles Regional Office
11000 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 13209
Los Angeles, California 90024
(Mountain Springs, L.L.C)
(FTC File Nos: Leeka--962 3194; Efficient Labs--9723032; M.E.K.--962 3024; Mountain Springs--952 3386)