FTC Cracks Down on Online Vitamin, Supplement Marketers
While the Internet has facilitated the marketing of "questionable" dietary supplements and vitamins, the FTC has stepped up efforts to track down the companies that market and sell such products, the New York Times reports. An increasing number of companies are turning to the Internet to market vitamins and supplements that are "purported to help treat a variety of ailments," but not all of these products are legitimate, the Times reports. The FTC has accused numerous companies of making "fraudulent" claims about their products, but the proliferation of these products on the Web has made this task "difficult." In 1999, the FTC launched Operation Cure.All, an enforcement and consumer-education campaign aimed at eradicating "false and unsubstantiated health claims on the Internet, particularly those about serious diseases." The campaign resulted from an online search by the agaency that revealed more than 400 "questionable" Web sites. Michelle Rusk, an FTC lawyer, said that 28% of those sites have since shut down or revised their claims concerning their products.
However, certain laws have complicated federal efforts to regulate the online supplement and vitamin industry. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 restricted the FDA's ability to regulate "drug-like" claims made by some vitamin and supplement marketers. In addition, proving a company's claim to be false has been made more difficult by a 1999 federal appeals court ruling stating that the FDA "should consider allowing health claims not widely recognized as valid by scientists if the evidence supporting a claim outweighed the evidence against it and if it could be qualified by an accompanying disclaimer" (Siwolop, New York Times, 1/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.