Majoras said the FTC is cracking down on weight loss pill marketing
This USA Today column reports that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has officially issued hefty fines to four different weight loss pill companies for making misleading statements to the public about the health claims of their products with blatantly false advertising.
FTC Commissioner Deborah Platt Majoras said the FTC zeroed in specifically on the following products in their investigation which led to these large monetary penalties:
Fined $8 million and possibly as much as $12.8 million
One A Day Weight Smart
Settled with a $3.2 million civil penalty
Assessed with a $12 million fine
Ordered to pay $1.5 million
This isn't the first time the FTC has come down hard on the marketers of weight loss pills. In November 2005, Cortislim, Relacore, and 25 other weight loss products were sued by the FTC for "deceptive" advertising.
Because the FTC does not have the authority to have products removed from store shelves, the only power they do have is to levy fines and insist on the manufacturers of these product cease their current unscrupulous marketing tactics.
Majoras said this is about the promotion, not the actual products themselves.
"What we challenge is the marketing of the claims," she said. "The marketers are required to back up the claims with the science and if they can't do that they can't make the claim. But we don't ban the products from the shelves."
Hmm, a product that needs to "back up the claims with the science," eh? I'm sure all of us could come up with a long laundry list of product claims being made about foods and products that lower cholesterol, promote weight loss, and make you heart healthy that are suspect at best and probably not supported by science. The dirty secret about all of these products is that you have to eat a low-calorie diet along with a regular exercise in order for them to work. Suckers! But this move by the FTC is a positive step to get these companies to wake up!
I think it is especially significant and symbolic that the FTC chose to announce this in the first week of the new year when millions of Americans are attempting weight loss programs. In other words, they have a captive audience tuning in for advice about losing weight and getting healthy. Advertisers of weight management products have now been put on notice to be forthright about the products they sell lest they be the next target of the FTC.
So, what's gonna happen to all those millions of dollars the FTC collects from these companies? Majoras says a portion of the money will be refunded to customers who purchased these products and felt like they were scammed by the marketing.
"We always try to get money back when consumers have been deceived," she said. "In this instance I'm pleased to say that I believe we're going to get millions back from some of these products to be able to return it to consumers."
How exactly are they gonna do this? How do they know if I purchased these products? Are they going to require proof of purchase like a receipt? Who keeps stuff like this anyway? While it's nice to say the money will be returned to the people who bought them, the reality is that many will be left with only the lesson learned that you can't circumvent weight loss with some gimmicky products like these. But, in my not-so-humble opinion, that's a lesson worth MUCH more than the few dollars you may get back from this.
If I were an FTC Commissioner (don't I wish for just a day!), then what I would do is use that money to pay for public service announcements to air nationwide in every major media market throughout the month of January on radio, television, and print publications that would state the following:
"If you are one of the two out of three Americans who are overweight or obese today and want to lose weight, the Federal Trade Commission would like to offer this simple, yet effective advice to you. Decide today that you really want to lose weight, find an effective and proven weight loss plan that fits your lifestyle, implement that plan exactly as it is written until you reach your goal weight, and then keep doing that plan for the rest of your life. If you do that, then you will never succumb to the temptation to try any of the plethora of weight loss pills and gimmicks that are available to you. We wish you well in your weight loss efforts in 2007 and urge you to find the support you need to help you succeed. Best wishes, FTC"
Now wouldn't THAT be an awesome message that would get the point across that you don't need all these crappy weight loss fad diet pills and other garbage products to lose weight anyway? I sure think so!
Interestingly, Majoras appeared on NBC's Today show this morning and revealed the most agregious violation was by the people behind Xenadrine EFX who presented a study showing their product produced weight loss better than the placebo.
"They not only didn't have studies to support the claim, they actually had a study that went the other way," she told Today.
Anna Nicole Smith pushes her weight loss story with Trimspa
Majoras added that Americans should avoid the hype of celebrities like Anna Nicole Smith promoting Trimspa and these slick infomercials because they are "not a substitute for science."
"That's what Americans need to understand. You're not going to find weight loss in a bottle of pills that claims it has the latest scientific breakthrough or miracle ingredient. Paying for fad science is a good way to lose cash, not pounds," she concluded.
That is certainly true, but we also need the media and pharmaceutical companies to stop getting all giddy and overhyping every new diet pill that comes out promising "weight loss in a bottle" too, Ms. Majoras. Drugs like Xenical and the so-called obesity vaccine just get people all worked up over nothing and it simply delays the inevitable steps they need to take to attain permanent weight loss, namely lifestyle changes and incorporating science-based dietary measures. That's why I chose livin' la vida low-carb and now I'm nearly 200 pounds lighter because of it. I'm living proof that you don't need any diet pills to lose weight!
THANK YOU FTC for standing up against these unscrupulous marketing tactics. I sincerely hope the fines will continue to be assessed with increasing regularity until the message gets through the thick skulls of these marketers that they can't prey on these innocent people looking for weight loss hope any longer. Now, if we can just get the FDA and USDA to stop monopolizing nutritional information in the United States, then MAYBE we can move forward in the obesity debate. Fat chance!