Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FTC Investigates False and Deceptive Health Claims


It’s like someone turned the lights on at the FTC and FDA, as these agencies have become quite active in their pursuit of false and deceptive advertising. A current complaint relates to the POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice claim that it treats or prevents diseases including prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. Is there research to back up these claims? The FTC says no. Government regulation seems to ebb and flow depending on which political party is in office. As a Democratic administration is presently in charge of the White House, we would expect government regulators to be quite active. What is disturbing to some is that in the pursuit of truth and justice, the government is spending the public’s money during a time of fiscal crisis. Consider the FDA’s investigation of Lance Armstrong, the American athlete and winner of the Tour de France. The FTC’s investigation of POM contends that their advertising is misleading, because there is no scientific evidence that the product prevents any disease. The FTC, if it proves POM’s claims to be false, can issue a cease and desist order, which would greatly inhibit the company’s ability to market its products, since the only reason to purchase POM at $3.99 a bottle is because you believe it will prevent or treat a particular disease. Perhaps because of the weak U.S. economy sales of POM, according to one newspaper article, are down 50 percent from a year ago, while advertising expenditures rose 26 percent. This, I would submit, is a good example of the old saw: economics trumps advertising every time. POM executives state on their website they plan to fight, claiming the FTC violated their first amendment rights. While there is no question that the government plays an important role in regulating the marketplace of ideas, it does seem a little odd that agencies lay dormant for so many years (e.g. during the Bush administration) and then become activist when the other political party is in charge, which raises the question: is this regulation or is this politics?

4 comments:

Michelle Koles said...

I personally don't really like the taste of POM, I have only had it a few times because it was supposed to "prevent cancer and keep me healthy." I am sure many other people feel the same way and only drink POM for the benefits rather than the taste. Because there is no factual evidence to prove that POM will prevent all of these diseases, people only drink it due to word of mouth or gossip. Therefore, by the FTC putting even the slightest bit of doubt in the validity of POM, it will drastically effect consumers decisions to purchase it. If POM does not come up with hard evidence that their product actually does the things they advertise, then their product will appear worthless.

Ana said...

I think that regulation has never been at the forefront of politicians' or the organizations now investigating the companies' minds. Ever since I knew what advertising was I thought every big claim-"Will get out any stain!", "Whiter teeth in 2 hours!"- was false. I grew up thinking that when they made these statements that it meant exactly the opposite because regulation has never been a huge priority. In my opinion a good product sells itself and the more advertising a company pays for shows that the product is not what they're claiming it is or cannot do what they say it can. For me, politics or none, regulation comes up when it comes up and false and deceptive claims have been a part of advertising from the beginning.

mmmyers2 said...

I thought this article was really interesting, because it brought up the idea that advertising companies lie in order to sell a product. They tell the consumers what they want to hear, whether or not it’s true. People believe these advertisements for rapid weight loss pills, a toned body in 5 days, or that POM pomegranate juice prevents cancer because they want to believe these ads are true. Advertisements are sneaky in this sense, because they prey on the things people want to hear. Society is weak, and is constantly trying to improve itself in superficial and material ways. Advertising companies understand this weakness, and target their products towards improving people’s appearances and making false claims. No matter how ridiculous the claim is (that pomegranate juice can prevent cancer) people will believe it.

I try to keep my common sense, and not fall victim to advertisers’ lies. I know that not all of the weight loss pills or programs are lies, but I do know enough not to simply rely on one pill to make me lose weight. It’s important to eat healthy and exercise properly along with the weight loss pill, but some people just rely on the pill. It’s the Placebo Effect. These people trust in the pill so much that they believe it works, even when it doesn’t. it’s all in their minds, and because of this blind trust, advertisements continue to make silly products with ridiculous, false, cancer-preventing claims.

eburnsss said...

In order to successfully do its job, the FTC needs to be more consistent in cracking down on false advertising. It shouldn't matter which political party is in office because despite which political side you are on, why would you want to be deceived into buying products that don't work?

Although the FTC is just a small blip in the grand scheme of our current political system, there should be legislation passed to define more specific rules and roles for the FTC. It is unfair for some companies to be heavily investigated (POM) whereas others are allowed to get away with false advertising claims. The government needs to decide either to investigate every claim made or to let anyone say anything about their products.