A cactus juice marketer will pay $3.5 million to settle an FTC complaint over deceptive claims in infomercials and ads and cannot make health claims about the product in the future unless they are supported by "randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical tests conducted by qualified researchers."
Dietary supplement company TriVita agreed to refund the $3.5 million to consumers related to its sale and marketing of a "prickly pear" cactus drink, Nopalea, for which it charged up to $39.99 for a 32 oz. container and claimed it would treat various health problems.
The company claimed it had anti-inflammatory properties, promoted by celebrity endorser Cheryl Tiegs, which were said to relieve joint and muscle swelling, help breathing and relieve skin conditions.
Other claims by former chief science officer Brazos Minshew linked inflammation to heart disease, Alzheimer's and diabetes.
The infomercials also featured testimonials by consumers who turned out to be paid employees, according to the FTC complaint. Also named in the complaint are Ellison Media Company and Michael R. and Susan R. Ellison, who control both companies, according to the FTC.
The FTC fairly bristled at the prickly pear pitches. “These kinds of unfounded claims are unacceptable, particularly when they impact consumers’ health,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “Advertisers who cannot back up their claims with competent and reliable scientific evidence are violating the law.”
According to the terms of the settlement, the company is barred from "making the health claims alleged in the complaint when marketing Nopalea or any food, drug, or dietary supplement without randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical tests conducted by qualified researchers; making any health claims without competent and reliable scientific evidence; misrepresenting that health benefits are clinically proven when they are not; and failing to disclose any material connection between endorsers of their products and themselves."