Monday, October 18, 2010

Pom Not So Wonderful?

It's an ironic twist that Pom Wonderful, which once sued a competitor for misrepresenting its product, is now the target of an FTC administrative complaint for...you guessed it -- making false claims about its products. Sad, but true.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued an administrative complaint charging the makers of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their products will prevent or treat heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.

The FTC complaint charges that POM Wonderful LLC and its affiliates violated federal law by making deceptive disease prevention and treatment claims. The company has never been shy about promoting its product: the ads have appeared in national publications such as Parade, Fitness, The New York Times, and Prevention magazines; on Internet sites such as pomtruth.com, pomwonderful.com, and pompills.com; on bus stops and billboards; in newsletters to customers; and on tags attached to the product.

The problem, as it typically is with these kinds of claims, is that consumers read these advertisements and believe that the product can cure or treat some very serious diseases, when in fact, according to the FTC, there is little evidence to support those claims.

Here's what the ads for POM Juice and POMx supplements claimed:

* “SUPER HEALTH POWERS! … 100% PURE POMEGRANATE JUICE. … Backed by $25 million in medical research. Proven to fight for cardiovascular, prostate and erectile health.”
* “NEW RESEARCH OFFERS FURTHER PROOF OF THE HEART-HEALTHY BENEFITS OF POM WONDERFUL JUICE. 30% DECREASE IN ARTERIAL PLAQUE … 17% IMPROVED BLOOD FLOW … PROMOTES HEALTHY BLOOD VESSELS … ”
* “Prostate health. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men in the United States and the second-leading cause of cancer death in men after lung cancer.
Time pill. Stable levels of prostate-specific antigens (or PSA levels) are critical for men with prostate cancer. Patients with quick PSA doubling times are more likely to die from their cancer. According to a UCLA study of 46 men age 65 to 70 with advanced prostate cancer, drinking an 8 oz glass of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice every day slowed their PSA doubling time by nearly 350%. … 83% of those who participated in the study showed a significant decrease in their cancer regrowth rate.”
* “You have to be on pomegranate juice. You have a 50 percent chance of getting [prostate cancer]. Listen to me. It is the one thing that will keep your PSA normal. You have to drink pomegranate juice. There is nothing else we know of that will keep your PSA in check. … It’s also 40 percent as effective as Viagra.”
* Clinical studies prove that POM Juice and POMx prevent, reduce the risk of, and treat heart disease, including by decreasing arterial plaque, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood flow to the heart;
* Clinical studies prove that POM Juice and POMx prevent, reduce the risk of, and treat prostate cancer, including by prolonging prostate-specific antigen doubling time;
* Clinical studies prove that POM Juice prevents, reduces the risk of, and treats, erectile dysfunction.

The FTC’s administrative complaint against POM Wonderful alleges that all of these claims are false and unsubstantiated.

In a related case, Mark Dreher, POM Wonderful’s former head of scientific and regulatory affairs and expert endorser, has agreed to a settlement that bars him from making any disease treatment or prevention claims in advertising for a POM Wonderful product unless the claim is not misleading and comports with FDA requirements for the claim, and requires his cooperation in the ongoing investigation.

So far, Pom seems to be defending itself aggressively, denying any misrepresentations. That fits with the company's history of vigorous advocacy. We will see how well that strategy works with the FTC.

If you or someone you know has purchased products from Pom Wonderful or one of its affiliates based on any of these challenged health claims, contact my office. I am monitoring this investigation and may be taking legal action on behalf of consumers in the near future.

-B

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