The makers of Airborne, an herbal and vitamin supplement, have agreed to refund consumers some of their money as part of a $23.3 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought against the company for false advertising. Airborne advertised their product as a “miracle cold buster,” without credible clinical evidence to back up their claims.
The settlement/lawsuit points out the need for more protection for consumers from false advertising and misleading claims. Price gouging by pharmaceutical/supplement companies also needs regulation. Just who does look after the interests of the consumer? It took a consumer advocacy group in the Airborne case. But shouldn’t protecting the consumer be part of the job of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?
Consumer confidence in the pharmaceutical industry and their prescription drugs appears to be at an all-time low. Forty-four percent of American adults have an unfavorable view of pharmaceutical companies, frequently citing high prices, large profits or company greed as the reason.
These findings were reported in a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health. Eighteen percent of those surveyed said they thought their medicines provided little benefit, and 38 percent indicated they had no faith or confidence in prescription medicines. Nearly 80 percent said the price of drugs is unreasonable.
The amount of drug advertising on television is another issue that has consumers irked, according to the survey. Two-thirds said they think there are too many drug ads on TV, and 27 percent said they were bothered a lot by ads. Many cited the relationship between the money spent on ads and the rising cost of drugs.
Pharmaceutical companies spent $4.8 million on ads in 2006, up from $2.6 billion in 2002. They have to pass that cost on to someone, and in fact, overall drug prices grew 3.5 percent in 2006. The U.S. and New Zealand are the only two nations in the world that allow drug advertising on television.
But where is the FDA in addressing any of these concerns? Let the buyer beware appears to be the predominant philosophy when it comes to medicines and supplements. Consumers who are sick are often pawns for misleading claims as may have been the case with Airborne. After all, nearly 50 percent of people taking medications initially get better because of the placebo effect.
Cases such as the Airborne settlement illustrate that consumers and consumer advocacy groups can have an effect. If you would like to submit a claim for a refund, go to AirborneHealthSettlement.com. But wasn’t protecting the consumer really the job of the FDA? Write your congressman and express your opinion.
You also can make your voice heard by signing a petition, sponsored by the Consumers Union, to require drug ads to contain a toll-free phone number and web address for reporting side effects and potential problems. The Consumers Union is hoping to send the FDA a petition with 50,000 signatures. Help them reach their goal by logging on to https://secure.consumersunion.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=Rx_Drug_Ads_Petition&JServSessionIdr005=onunjbzk22.app44a.