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?