Online Exclusive: From Washington

FTC WARNS PUBLISHERS ABOUT PHONY DIET ADS

Also Launches Own Bogus Diet-Claim Site

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Federal Trade Commission has sent letters to at least nine print publications it says ran ads containing weight-loss claims previously identified by the FTC as bogus.
The FTC has launched its own bogus diet claim site for Fat Foe Eggplant Extract.

No enforcement
But the FTC does not intend to take any enforcement action against the titles, according to the FTC chairman, Deborah Majoras. She said that instead of enforcement, she prefers to work cooperatively with the magazines to improve ad screening.

A spokesman for the Magazine Publishers of America said the MPA commended the FTC for targeting companies that engage in fraudulent practices. "We continue to believe that the way [to end the schemes] is by taking vigorous enfrocement action against unscrupulous advertising practices and not by making publishers responsible," he said.

At the same time, the FTC announced it has launched its own bogus Web site whose home page makes phony diet claims in order to educate consumers about the problem. The unusual new FTC site is at "Fat Foe Eggplant Extract."

On the bogus site, users who click on fraudulent weight-loss product claims are served up a warning that such claims can't be real. It is the FTC's first such "decoy" Web site.

List of publishers
Ms. Majoras' office didn't provide a full list of the magazines that received letters but said it included Cosmopolitan, Woman's Own, Complete Woman, USA Weekend, Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Albuquerque Journal and TeleRevista magazine.

Last year the FTC issued a list of inaccurate claims being used in ads by a variety of diet-related products companies. The move came after media companies complained that they couldn't screen ads for accuracy without additional guidance from the FTC.

Ms. Majoras today said the guidelines seem to be working. The FTC has seen half as many bogus diet drug ads since putting out the guidelines, but she also said there is more that needs to be done.

Marketers named
The product ads at issue involve pills, powders, green tea, tropical gels and diet patches that claim to cause weight loss without other activity. In each of the cases, the FTC alleged the marketers made false claims that they could not substantiate. Among the companies named were Selfworx.com, Femina Inc., CHK Trading Co., Natural Products; New England Diet Center and AVS Marketing.

"Consumers want to lose weight. They are desperate," said Ms. Majoras. She said consumers are hurt twice by the ads, first by spending money for something that doesn't work, then by putting off the real lifestyle steps needed to help them lose weight.

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