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Diet Pills and Consumer Fraud
Diet pills have met with many different fates, and come with many different promises. But at what point does the line between misleading advertising and outright fraud cross? And how long will health products be allowed to cross this line? Some diet pills have proven very effective, but were then found to have serious health side effects. Other diet pills have had short, explosive life spans. And some diet pills just plug right along. But one hallmark that remains true about the diet pill industry is that there's always some new "breakthrough" with a new set of promises that aren't easily verified.
Cortislim is one of newer generations of diet pills. Cortislim promised to reduce fat around the abdomen by reducing levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol. In October of 2004, the FTC charged the makers of Cortislim of claiming falsely and without substantiation, that their products can cause weight loss and reduce the risk of, or prevent, serious health conditions.
According to the FTC, the defendants began marketing CortiSlim in August 2003, through nationally disseminated infomercials featuring Cynaumon and Talbott that aired on a number of television channels, including Access Television, Travel Channel, and Discovery Channel. The FTC alleges that the defendants promoted cortisol control as "the answer" foranyone who wants to lose weight, especially abdominal weight. According to the FTC's complaint, the defendants' broadcast ads, print ads, and Web sites claimed that persistently elevated levels of cortisol, the "stress hormone," are the underlying cause of weight gain and weight retention and also claimed that CortiSlim effectively reduces and controls cortisol levels and thereby causes substantial weight loss. The FTC alleges that the defendants claimed that CortiSlim: (1) causes weight loss of 10 to 50 pounds for virtually all users; (2) causes users to lose as much as 4 to 10 pounds per week over multiple weeks; (3) causes users to lose weight specifically from the abdomen, stomach, and thighs; (4) causes rapid and substantial weight loss; (5) causes long-term or permanent weight loss; and (6) causes weight loss. The FTC also alleges that the defendants claimed that the effectiveness of CortiSlim and its ingredients is demonstrated by over 15 years of scientific research. According to the FTC's complaint, these claims are false or unsubstantiated.
Cortislim eventually withdrew their initial advertising, and adopted a tamer approach, but not before lawyers started collecting signatures for a class action suit alleging fraud.Which raises the fundamental question - how long will diet pills and other similar products be allowed to engage in questionable advertising?
Prescription drugs are required to pass many tests to prove their usefulness and safety. But with over the counter and herbal remedies, manufacturers can essentially claim whatever they want of their products without publishing any study results. This creates a scenario where companies nearly have a green light to make outrageous claims about diet products. The makers of Cortislim are said to have made $50 million.
But when the government puts a company in the crosshairs, other lawsuits are nearly always soon to follow. Within a few days of the Vioxx withdrawal, a class action suit was filed. These trends will continue, and if the FTC stays aggressive in pursuing false advertising, the incentives for bad marketing practices on unproven diet pills will decrease.
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