ValueVision International, Inc., the third largest television "home shopping" network retailer in the United States, has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it aired advertisements for a variety of weight loss, cellulite treatment, and anti-hair loss products with claims it could not substantiate. ValueVision has agreed not to make health-related claims about any food, drug, dietary supplement, cellulite-treatment product or weight-loss program, unless it can back those claims with competent and reliable scientific evidence. ValueVision also has agreed to offer refunds to dissatisfied consumers who bought the products at issue from ValueVision.
ValueVision, based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, operates a cable television shopping service and markets a variety of consumer products principally through live, 24-hour per day television home shopping programming. ValueVision complements its television home shopping business by selling products through its Internet website (vvtv.com). Through its affiliation with the National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC), ValueVision is now known as ShopNBC, and its website address has changed to ShopNBC.com.
"Consumers use advertising to help them make purchasing decisions, and they expect accuracy and truthfulness in product claims," said Howard Beales, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Whether marketing online, in brick and mortar stores, or on television, retailers are responsible for being able to back up the claims they make for their products."
The FTC complaint alleges that ValueVision made health-related claims about the following five products without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support those claims:
WeightPerfect Fat Loss Accelerators: The WeightPerfect Fat Loss Accelerators, manufactured by WeightPerfect Products, Inc. of Dallas, Texas, are a two-part weight-loss product consisting of a capsule, containing bitter orange extract, guarana, pyruvate, and white willow bark, and a liquid formula, containing melatonin and amino acids. According to the FTC, ValueVision claimed (with little or no mention of diet and exercise) that the Accelerators decrease the appetite and cause fat loss while sleeping, and that people can lose 50 pounds or more in twelve weeks.
Fight the Fat: Another purported weight-loss product, Fight the Fat - distributed by Television Marketing Group of Newport Beach, California - is a liquid form of chitosan, a substance derived from shellfish. According to the FTC, with little or no mention of the need for diet and exercise, ValueVision claimed that Fight the Fat "will quite literally melt the pounds off you," and that by ingesting a few drops of chitosan, consumers could eat high fat foods, such as chocolate, butter, pizza, hamburgers, and fried chicken, without worrying about putting on weight. ValueVision claimed that the product worked by absorbing the fat in food consumed and "escorting" it out of the body through waste.
NutriFirm Perfect Body Solution: Perfect Body Solution is an anti-cellulite lotion manufactured by Isomers Laboratories of Toronto, Canada. According to the FTC, ValueVision claimed that the lotion eliminates or reduces cellulite by liquefying the underlying body fat that purportedly causes cellulite.
NutriFirm Internal Cleanser: The Internal Cleanser, also manufactured by Isomers, consists of two products, a fiber-based "Detox," and "Restore," which contain a variety of flora and acidophilus. According to the FTC, ValueVision claimed that the Internal Cleanser aids those who suffer from colds, flu, allergies, backaches, muscle aches, headaches, and impaired memory.
NutriFirm Vitamin H Serum: Vitamin H is a topical anti-hair loss solution that contains biotin. It, too, is manufactured by Isomers. According to the FTC, ValueVision claimed that Vitamin H prevents or reduces hair loss and slows down the rate at which hair falls out, emphasizing its ability to work for women who recently have given birth.
Under the terms of the proposed consent agreement, announced today for public comment, ValueVision would be barred from engaging in similar acts or practices in the future. ValueVision could not make any unsubstantiated claim (a claim lacking competent and reliable scientific evidence) that the WeightPerfect Fat Loss Accelerators, Fight the Fat, NutriFirm Perfect Body Solution, or any other food, drug, dietary supplement, or cosmetic: causes substantial weight loss or fat loss; causes substantial loss in body weight or body fat without exercise or restrictions on caloric intake; prevents weight gain, regardless of exercise or caloric intake; increases metabolic rate or burns calories; reduces or eliminates cellulite; suppresses the appetite; causes substantial loss in body weight or body fat while sleeping; prevents the human body from absorbing fat; or enables consumers to lose weight even if consumers eat foods that are high in fat, including steaks, pizza, hamburgers, butter, fried chicken, or chocolate.
The proposed order also would bar ValueVision from making unsubstantiated claims that NutriFirm Internal Cleanser, or any other food, drug, dietary supplement or cosmetic, alleviates backaches, muscle aches or headaches; alleviates colds, influenza or allergies; or improves impaired memory. In addition, the order would prohibit unsubstantiated claims that NutriFirm Vitamin H Serum, or any other food, drug, dietary supplement or cosmetic, prevents or slows the rate of hair-loss, including hair-loss in women after pregnancy.
The proposed order also would require ValueVision to have competent and reliable scientific evidence for any claims that any food, drug, dietary supplement, cellulite-treatment product or weight-loss program can or will cure, treat, or prevent disease, or will have any effect on the structure or function of the human body. The proposed settlement would allow ValueVision to make certain claims for drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration or food or dietary supplement claims that are permitted by statute.
Finally, the proposed order would require ValueVision to send a letter to all purchasers who bought any of the five products through ValueVision since February 1, 2000. The letter would offer a complete refund for up to three bottles of the product, including shipping and handling charges, to those consumers who were dissatisfied.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement and place it on the public record was 5-0. A summary of the proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, until August 13, 2001, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does 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.
Copies of the complaint, the consent agreement and an analysis to aid public comment 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 https://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. 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.
(FTC File No. 002 3308)