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FTC Attacks "Stabilized Oxygen" Claims

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Various products referred to as "stabilized" or "aerobic" oxygen," are being marketed with claims that they can cure disease by increasing oxygen delivery to the cells. Some claim that "oxygen deficiency" or "oxygen starvation" is an underlying cause of disease and has been increasing because the oxygen content of the earth's atmosphere has been decreasing and junk food does not contain enough oxygen [A, B, C, D]. These claims are absurd -- for several reasons.

Two-ounce bottles of "3%"or "5%" solutions cost about $20 per bottle. Earth Portals also markets a higher-priced "super-oxygenated solution at 25% . . . for serious competitive athletes and individuals looking to get the maximum oxygen into the blood stream." At least a dozen companies have marketed such products.

The FTC Reacts

On March 11, 1999, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit charging Rose Creek Health Products, Inc., of Kettle Falls, Washington, its sister corporation (Staff of Life, doing business as R-Garden Internationale), and president Donald L. Smyth with making blatantly false and unsubstantiated health claims for "Vitamin O." [1] The defendants' ads -- which have appeared in USA Today, in other newspapers, and on the Internet -- have claimed that "Vitamin O" can cure or prevent serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. An National Public Radio report quoted Smyth as saying that his company was selling 50,000 bottles per month [2]. The FTC says that the product appears to be nothing more than salt water.

The defendants had claimed that "Vitamin O," when taken orally, enriches the bloodstream with supplemental oxygen. The ads state that Vitamin O consists of "intact oxygen molecules in a liquid solution of distilled water, sodium chloride and trace materials."

The complaint also states that the defendants, through statements and testimonials contained in their ads, falsely represented that "Vitamin O":

On May 3, 1999, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring Rose Creek and Staff of Life to stop making unsubstantiated claims that ingesting "Vitamin O" or spraying it on the skin can cure or prevent ailments. In addition, personal testimonials must include disclaimers.

Depite the injunction, R-Garden continued to use testimonials to promote "Vitamin O." A new booklet, accompanied by an order blank dated 7/7/99, contained more than 150 testimonials claiming benefit for asthma, canker sores, chronic bronchitis, cough, diabetic ulcers, ear infections, fatigue, glaucoma, hemorrhoids, arm and shoulder pain, immune weakness, lung emobolism, memory loss, obesity, prostate problems, shingles, and many other problems. One write-up even claimed that the user was able to stop using a breathing machine [3]. The booklet stated that, "as the research continues, and more people use the product, the results will be even more rewarding." Thirty-five of the write-ups are accompanied by a photograph. Each of the 30 pages containing testimonials included the following message in small print:

DISCLAIMER: These testimonials do not imply results will happen with your use of one of our products. We have no competent or reliable scientific evidence to suggest that the testimonial experience is due to the use of our products. These testimonials are not intended to recommend any supplement as a drug, as a diagnosis for specific illnesses or conditions, nor as a product to eliminate diseases or other medical conditions or complications. We make no medical claims as to the benefits of any of our products to improve medical conditions.

The FTC's guide to dietary supplement advertising states that advertisements must be truthful, not misleading, and presented so that they are actually understood by consumers [4]. A fine-print disclosure at the bottom of a print ad, for example, is unlikely to be an adequate disclaimer. I believe that R-Garden's booklet was still misleading.

Settlement Includes $375,000 Penalty

On May 1, 2000, the FTC announced that Smyth and his companies had signed a consent agreement under which they are prohibited from:

The defendants are required to notify each of their current and future distributors about the proposed order and to pay $375,000 for consumer redress [5]..

The FTC has indicated that it is looking at similar claims by other companies.

Reference

  1. FTC charges marketer of "Vitamin O" with making false health claims. FTC News Release, March 15, 1999.
  2. Perl R. Extra oxygen anyone? NPR Radio, Jan 26, 1999.
  3. What People Are Saying About "Vitamin O." Kettle Falls, WA: R-Garden Internationale, 1999.
  4. Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry. Washington, DC: Federal Trade Commission, 1998.
  5. Marketers of "Vitamin O" settles FTC charges of making false health claims; will pay $375,000 for consumer redress. FTC news release, May 1, 2000.


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This article was revised on May 1 2000.