The FTC has been doing a crackdown on fake cold remedies such as the infamous "Airborne". Here are some of their releases concerning these dubious products.
Can herbal or natural remedies prevent or cure the common cold? Some tablets, pills, and powders, sold in neighborhood stores and by national retailers, have been touted as products that can prevent or cure colds and fight germs in ads on radio and television, in national publications and in-flight magazines, and by celebrities.
Attorneys for the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, say that these products simply don’t live up to their hype. The marketers of these products lack the reliable scientific evidence required by law to back up the claims they make.
Medical experts agree that there is no cure for the common cold. Indeed, the FTC is investigating – and has already sued – several marketers of products that claimed to prevent colds, fight germs, reduce the severity or duration of a cold, or protect against sickness in crowded places.
The best defense against a cold is prevention through good hygiene like frequent hand washing and healthy habits like eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising. Should you have a cold, relief comes from drinking fluids, resting, and taking over-the-counter cold medicines that treat specific symptoms.
To learn more about preventing and treating colds and flu, visit the Food and Drug Administration at www.fda.gov and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at www.niaid.nih.gov. For more information about the kinds of advertising claims that can be made for dietary supplements, see the FTC’s “Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry;” for labeling claims, see the FDA’s “Claims That Can Be Made for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements.”
FTC Distributes Refunds to Consumers Who Bought Unproven Cold and Flu Remedies from Rite Aid Corporation
The Federal Trade Commission distributed more than 2,335 refund checks today to consumers who purchased “Rite Aid Germ Defense” tablets and lozenges believing that they would prevent and treat colds and the flu or reduce the severity and duration of these illnesses. The FTC charged Rite Aid and its supplier with false and deceptive advertising as part of its crackdown on companies making unproven claims about cold and flu remedies.
The refund checks were mailed on June 7, 2010. Under the settlement with Rite Aid, consumers could submit refund requests for up to six packages of Germ Defense, either electronically or by mail, by January 30, 2010. All claims submitted by the deadline are being paid, with the average check totaling about $20.44. This was the first FTC case in which consumers had the option of submitting electronic claims. These are legitimate checks, and the FTC urges consumers to cash them.
The refunds stem from a July 2009 FTC complaint against Rite Aid. According to the complaint, Rite Aid marketed several flavors of Germ Defense lozenges and tablets and claimed they could: reduce the risk of, or prevent, colds and flu; protect against or fight germs; reduce the severity or duration of a cold; protect against colds and flu in crowded places; and boost the immune system. The FTC charged that there was inadequate evidence to support these claims.
The Rite Aid refund checks are valid for 60 days from the date they are issued. A special phone line has been set up to handle questions about the refunds. Consumers should call 1-877-341-4602 for further information.
For more information about the case, see the court documents and news release regarding the settlement at: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/07/riteaide.shtm.
Walgreens Will Pay Nearly $6 Million to Settle FTC Deceptive Advertising Charges
Suppliers of Airborne-like Cold-and-Flu Supplements Reach Separate $565,000 Settlement
In a continuing crackdown on companies making unproven claims about cold and flu remedies, the Federal Trade Commission has announced two more cases.
National pharmacy chain Walgreens has agreed to pay nearly $6 million to settle FTC charges that the company deceptively advertised “Wal-Born” – a line of dietary supplements similar to the Airborne cold-and-flu treatment – using the same kind of baseless claims that the supplements could prevent colds, fight germs, and boost the immune system.
In addition to the proposed Walgreens agreement, a federal court has approved a settlement in a separate case that will require a $565,000 payment by the two principal officers of Improvita Health Products Inc., the manufacturer of Walgreens’ “Wal-Born” and other supplements. The FTC suit against the corporate defendant, Improvita Health Products, Inc., remains in litigation.
Walgreens sold the supplements under its store name, and touted their similarity to supplements sold by Airborne Health, Inc., which settled FTC deceptive advertising charges in 2008. According to the FTC’s complaints, Walgreens advertised its Wal-Born supplements online, in newspaper circulars nationwide, and on packaging. Improvita manufactured store-brand versions of Airborne for various retailers, including Walgreens and Rite Aid, and it marketed its own brand of lozenges and tablets under the name Germ Defense.
The FTC’s agreements with Walgreens and the Improvita officers come after the agency settled similar cases last year alleging that two other pharmacy chains, CVS and Rite Aid, deceptively advertised the same kinds of supplements sold in their stores.
Under the proposed settlement with Walgreens and the approved settlement with the Improvita officers, all the defendants are or would be barred from claiming that their products prevent or treat cold or flu symptoms, or protect against cold and flu viruses by boosting the immune system, unless there is scientific evidence to back up these claims. The $5.97 million settlement with Walgreens includes $1.2 million that was used to pay consumers as the result of a separate class action suit.
As part of their settlement with the FTC, Improvita principal officers Thomas B. Klamet and Daniel P. Kohler will pay $325,000 and $240,000, respectively. Klamet and Kohler also must take steps to ensure that their employees comply with the settlement, and they must comply with standard FTC record-keeping and reporting requirements.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to approve the settlement agreement with Klamet and Kohler was 4-0. The settlement agreement was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on November 18, 2009, and approved by the court on January 8, 2010.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to approve the settlement agreement with Walgreen Co. was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on March 23, 2010. The settlement agreement will be submitted to the court for approval.
CVS to Pay Nearly $2.8 Million in Consumer Refunds to Settle FTC Charges of Unsubstantiated Advertising of AirShield 'Immune Boosting' Supplement
Just in time for back-to-school and cold season, national retailer CVS Pharmacy, Inc. will stop making misleading claims that its “AirShield” dietary supplements can prevent colds, fight germs, and boost immune systems. CVS also will pay nearly $2.8 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges. This case is similar to cases that the FTC has announced in the last year – against Airborne Health, Inc., Improvita Health Products, Inc., and Rite Aid Corporation – which involved dietary supplements that purportedly treat colds and the flu.
“Students returning to college campuses and parents sending their kids off to school want to take precautions to fight the germs that can cause coughs, colds, and the flu,” said David Vladeck, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission. “As the CDC has advised, there are good practices to follow. But consumers should not be misled by false claims about the germ-fighting properties of dietary supplements. With orders against Airborne, Rite Aid, and the one proposed against CVS, manufacturers and retailers are on notice that they have to tell the truth about what dietary supplements can and cannot do.”
CVS marketed AirShield products by touting their similarity to widely advertised “Airborne,” which last year settled FTC charges for making the same kind of misleading claims. Like Airborne Health, Inc., the FTC charges CVS with making false and deceptive advertising claims that using its product would reduce the risk of colds and protect against catching colds in crowded places, such as schools, airplanes, offices, health clubs, theaters, or restaurants. The FTC alleges that the company had no evidence that the products could boost the immune system or prevent colds. A settlement with Rite Aid Corporation regarding similar claims for its “Germ Defense” products was announced on July 13, 2009, and a Rite Aid consumer refund program will begin on October 1.
Under the terms of the CVS settlement, the company will provide $2.78 million for
refunds to consumers who purchased AirShield products. Purchasers will be identified through
the CVS ExtraCare card program and sales on cvs.com. The order also will bar CVS from making claims that any CVS-brand food, drug, or dietary supplement can reduce the risk of or prevent colds, protect against cold viruses in crowded places, fight germs, or boost the immune system unless the claims are true and backed by scientific evidence.
The FTC urged college students, concerned parents, and all Americans to consult the
Centers for Disease Control for information about seasonal flu (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/) and the “novel H1N1” flu, otherwise known as swine flu (http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/sick.htm).
The Commission vote to approve the complaint and proposed settlement against CVS was 4-0. These documents will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island on September 9, 2009. The order becomes effective when entered by the court.
Makers of Airborne Settle FTC Charges of Deceptive Advertising; Agreement Brings Total Settlement Funds to $30 Million
Consumers Have Until September 15 to Apply for Refunds
Airborne Health, Inc., the Bonita Springs, Florida maker of the popular Airborne Effervescent Health Formula, an effervescent tablet marketed as a cold prevention and treatment remedy, has agreed to pay up to $30 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it did not have adequate evidence to support its advertising claims. The FTC’s lawsuit also names Victoria Knight-McDowell, the former schoolteacher who invented Airborne, and her husband Thomas John McDowell. If the settlement is approved by the court, it will prohibit the defendants from making false and unsubstantiated cold prevention, germ-fighting, and efficacy claims. The monetary judgment will be satisfied by the defendants’ adding $6.5 million to the funds they have already agreed to pay to settle a related private class-action lawsuit, bringing the total settlement fund to $30 million.
“There is no credible evidence that Airborne products, taken as directed, will reduce the severity or duration of colds, or provide any tangible benefit for people who are exposed to germs in crowded places,” said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The FTC complaint and agreed-upon final order follow settlement last November of the class-action lawsuit, Wilson v. Airborne, Inc. et al., which is pending in federal court in the Central District of California. In that case, the defendants have agreed to pay up to $23.51 million, which will be used for consumer refunds and attorneys’ fees. If the class action suit funds are exhausted, up to $6.5 million in additional funds for consumer redress will become available as a result of the FTC order. One redress administrator will manage both pools of funds and consumers will receive a single refund check.
The Wilson class action settlement provides refunds for purchases of Airborne-branded products (including Airborne Effervescent Health Formula, Airborne On-the-Go, Airborne Power Pixies, Airborne Nighttime, Airborne Jr., Airborne Gummis, and Airborne Seasonal Relief) made between May 1, 2001 and November 29, 2007. More information on the Wilson settlement, eligibility requirements, and procedures for filing a claim online or by mail can be found at www.airbornehealthsettlement.com. Consumers have until September 15, 2008 to apply for a refund for up to six product purchases.
The defendants have marketed Airborne Original Effervescent Formula as a dietary supplement containing 17 ingredients, including vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and selenium. Airborne products have been advertised nationally in print media and on radio and television. They have been sold by grocery stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers.
According to the FTC’s complaint, there is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims made by the defendants that Airborne tablets can prevent or reduce the risk of colds, sickness, or infection; protect against or help fight germs; reduce the severity or duration of a cold; and protect against colds, sickness, or infection in crowded places such as airplanes, offices, or schools. The FTC complaint also states that the individual defendants in the case, company founders Victoria Knight-McDowell and Thomas John McDowell, made false claims that Airborne products are clinically proven to treat colds.
If consumer refund claims are not paid on time in the Wilson lawsuit, or if the defendants have not paid at least $23.5 million to settle any other similar class-action lawsuit by December 31, 2009, the defendants must pay the entire $30 million to the FTC, which will administer its own consumer redress program.
In addition to prohibiting the defendants from making claims that are false, misleading, or unsubstantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence, and providing additional funds for consumer redress, the order authorizes the Commission to monitor the defendants’ compliance with the order.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and agreed-upon final order was 3-1, with Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch dissenting. These documents were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on August 13, 2008. The complaint and agreed-upon final order name the following defendants: Airborne Health, Inc., also doing business as Airborne, Inc. and Knight-McDowell Labs; Airborne Holdings, Inc.; Victoria Knight-McDowell; and Thomas John McDowell, also known as Rider McDowell. The FTC’s complaint and agreed-upon final order can be found at: http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/0723183/080814airbornecomplaint.pdf.