Attorney General: sellers’ ads greatly exaggerated herbal pill benefits
DES MOINES – The owner and the marketer of herbal pills touted in Iowa newspaper ads as “fixing” leaky bladders and making padded underwear “a thing of the past” will permanently stop targeting Iowans through an agreement with Attorney General Tom Miller, who alleged that the advertisements were grossly misleading.
Through an agreement called an assurance of voluntary compliance, Independent Nutraceuticals Inc., company owner Chuck Slotkin, and the Australian developer of the supposed bladder remedy, Tracey Seipel, will pay more than $20,000 for refunds to about 140 Iowa consumers, permanently cease marketing to Iowa residents, and pay an additional $10,000 to support future enforcement of Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act.
According to company records provided to the Consumer Protection Division, Iowans generally paid more than $100 per bottle of the dietary supplements. Refunds will average $148, and range from $10 to $675.
“These ads shamelessly exploited Iowans desperate for effective remedies for bladder control problems caused by age or infirmity,” Miller said. “The sellers aggressively boosted sales by advertising that their herbal pills would mean ‘adios to adult diapers,’ when in fact they could not begin to substantiate such dramatic results.”
Miller: Bladder Control Newspaper Ads are Deceptive
According to Miller, large ads for “bladder control” appeared in nine different Iowa newspapers 28 times between May of 2014 and November of 2015. One ad last November was formatted to appear as a news article on a supposed medical breakthrough, without an “advertisement” label alerting consumers that they were reading a sales pitch.
Miller alleges the ads that ran in Iowa newspapers were deceptive:
- One ad headline claimed this product “rehabilitates weak bladders” for 33 million suffering adults. In fact, that was the total estimate of people in the U.S. with bladder problems, not the number that this product actually helped.
- Similarly, ads claimed that 25,000 people had used the product “successfully.” But that counted every re-order as a “success,” even though many re-orders were just persistent attempts to get the advertised results despite continuing disappointment.
- One ad claimed that “insiders” in the adult diaper industry were closely watching this “breakthrough” herbal remedy, and were supposedly worried that adult diaper sales would drop. There was no basis for the claim.
- Seipel was variously referred to as a “doctor” and a “physician.” But she is a “naturopath,” not a medical doctor (M.D.). Naturopaths are not licensed in Iowa.
- Ads highlighted clinical studies without disclosing that they were conducted in whole or in part by Seipel herself, the product’s owner.
- A consumer who called the number in the ad to order the product was told that the product was “patented” and “FDA approved” – both claims are false.
- While ads emphasized an easy, “magic bullet” fix to bladder problems, buyers were later told they needed to make major lifestyle changes to see desired results.
- An ad described one study in which subjects reported an “88% improvement in their quality of life,” and another study in which “100%” of the subjects reported a marked improvement. There was no basis for either claim.
“Dietary supplements are too often promoted as health treatments akin to medicines, despite the fact that they can be marketed without any showing that they actually work and, further, work safely,” Miller said. “That’s cause enough for concern, but it multiplies when sellers claim miraculous benefits for their herbal concoctions, and show little regard for accuracy.”
The Consumer Protection Division has obtained the names and addresses of Iowans who bought this product, and refund checks will be sent out in the coming weeks.
Through the agreement, the company, its owner, and the supplement developer deny liability for the product and advertisements.
General Consumer Advice
Avoid risking your money – or even your health -- on so-called “remedies” that are unproven:
- Consumers should be wary of ads touting extraordinary health benefits for a product. Claims like “scientific breakthrough” and “miracle cure” are almost always more about marketing than responsible treatment.
- Be aware that dietary supplements can go on the shelves without proof that they are safe, or that they work, unlike prescription drugs that must be scientifically tested before going public.
- Get advice from trusted health professionals who know you and are well-situated to evaluate the best treatments for you. They are typically the most reliable source of help in dealing with health challenges.
- With health fraud as with other consumer frauds, if it sounds too good to be true, it is almost certainly not true.
For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov or email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. Consumers can also call the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926, or outside the Des Moines area, toll free, at 888-777-4590.