Airborne Settles Lawsuit With State Attorneys General

December 19, 2008 01:02 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Airborne, a popular multivitamin that was once advertised to cure and prevent colds, has agreed to pay $7 million to 32 state attorneys general for deceptive marketing.

Airborne Agrees to $7 Million Settlement

Airborne Health, producer of the Airborne dietary supplements that were once marketed as a cold medication, settled a lawsuit Tuesday with 32 state attorneys general for $7 million. It has agreed to no longer make claims about the “health benefit, performance, efficacy or safety” of its product in treating colds, according to the Associated Press.

In a press release, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, “We're putting the dietary supplement industry on notice—snake oil sales pitches will no longer be given free reign. Our strong coalition of states will continue to investigate and pursue companies that make false claims about dietary supplements and other products.”

Airborne has settled two similar lawsuits this year. In March, it settled a class-action lawsuit for $23.3 million, and in August it settled a $6.5 million lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission.

According to AP, Airborne founder Victoria Knight-McDowell said the latest lawsuit will have no effect on Airborne’s marketing “because it deals with language that had already been dropped from our advertising and labeling.” Airborne currently advertises that the product will “support your immune system through its blend of vitamins and minerals.”

Background: Airborne's claims debunked

Airborne was created in the mid-1990s by schoolteacher Victoria Knight-McDowell. It was marketed as a dietary supplement and not a drug, thereby allowing it to be sold without evaluation by the Food and Drug Administration. Scientific American’s Michael Shermer wrote in 2006 that Airborne used the “clever marketing technique of suggesting that Airborne prevents or cures colds without actually saying so.”

“‘Take at the FIRST sign of a cold symptom or before entering crowded environments,’ the instructions say. Then ‘repeat every three hours as necessary.’ In the (really) fine print, however, is this: ‘These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease,’” wrote Shermer.

ABC News also raised questions about the product’s claims in 2006, when it found that the research that the company cited to back its claims came from a two-man operation set up solely to do the Airborne study.

“I would never sit here and tell you that it's a cure for the common cold,” Airborne CEO Elise Donahue told ABC News. “We don't know if Airborne is a … cure for the common cold. What Airborne does is it helps your body build a healthy immune system. When you have a healthy immune system, then it allows your body, on its own, to fight off germs.”

The questions over Airborne’s effectiveness in treating colds led to a class action lawsuit that ended in a $23.3 million settlement in March 2008. “There's no credible evidence that what's in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment,” said David Schardt, senior nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Airborne is basically on overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that's been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed.”

Reference: Dietary supplements


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