As a former FTC staffer, I am asked about what’s the worst that can happen if a company doesn’t have substantiation for its weight loss or other health-related claims. Well, that depends. Taken to its extreme, there can be serious consequences.
It’s been reported that late night TV infomercial pitchman, Kevin Trudeau, was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison for criminal contempt of a federal court order. Trudeau’s latest problems can be traced back to a 2004 FTC Stipulated Final Order barring him from misrepresenting the contents of his books in advertising. As you may recall, Trudeau had also agreed to be banned from advertising products in infomercials.
In 2010, Trudeau was ordered to pay consumers nearly $38 million based on the books that he sold. His books focused on all-natural cures for serious illnesses, such as cancer, arthritis, etc. that he felt were being suppressed by the FDA, FTC and pharmaceutical industry. Trudeau tried to escape paying the nearly $38 million, but was found guilty of contempt last year. Trudeau was finally sentenced and received 10 years for his acts.
So, what’s the worst that can happen? Taken to the extreme, you may go to jail. One thing is for certain. If you make unsupported claims about curing serious illnesses- claims that discourage consumers from following traditional medical treatments for such ailments- you are sure to go to the top of the federal government’s list in terms of its enforcement efforts as public health remains a top priority.