Manufacturers, marketers, advertisers, ad agencies, expert or celebrity endorsers and retailers were among those told recently by the Federal Trade Commission that they could face financial penalties for marketing dietary supplements that make unsubstantiated or misleading claims. The strongest warning, however, was leveled at media outlets that are "too ready to accept advertising dollars" while disregarding FTC requirements.
"Our orders require substantiation for all claims made, but require 'competent and reliable scientific evidence' for claims involving health, safety or efficacy," said FTC Commissioner Sheila F. Anthony at the Food and Drug Law Institute's Educational Conference April 16 in Washington, D.C. "No marketer should assume that it can simply rely on the safety or efficacy claims of the manufacturer, no matter how implausible, and pass them on to the public without liability."
She advised advertisers to use a guide published by the FTC, Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide For Industry, to determine if their ads meet FTC requirements. Some of the most egregious claims are made about weight loss products, promising extreme, instant and effortless weight loss.
"Newspapers, magazines, radio and cable TV should follow the lead of the major networks and responsible print media and refuse to run or promote those ads that, on their face, promise incredible results," Anthony said. "Our recent law enforcement experience suggests that some media members are not paying close enough attention to the ads that are being run."
Potential penalties include monetary relief in the form of consumer redress or disgorgement of profits.
Anthony called for better self-regulation in the dietary supplements industry. "The industry must step up to the plate and take a more active role in policing those in the industry that are engaged in fraud and deception," she said, "and are giving the entire industry a black eye."
Editor's note: New Hope Natural Media developed a Standards Program in 1994 in response to DSHEA's passage. The intent of these standards is to support industry self-regulation, ensure the quality and integrity of products exhibited at NHNM trade shows and advertised in each of its publications and Internet sites.
These standards require that exhibit and advertising materials be reviewed and evaluated by a standards representative to determine if an exhibitor or advertiser should change its material or provide documentation to support product claims.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 6/p. 12