“Airborne” cold remedy settles yet another lawsuit.

Back in March I wrote about the makers of Airborne settling a class action lawsuit to the tune of $23 million for misleading claims that their product diminishes or prevents the common cold. Now the company has reach a second settlement this time filed by 32 Attorney Generals against the company for making misleading claims. The award is a paltry $7 million dollars and a promise to stop making health claims:

As a part of its multistate settlement, Airborne Health Inc. agreed to discontinue claims about the “health benefit, performance, efficacy or safety” of its products in preventing and treating ailments, Legal Newsline reported Tuesday.

“Consumers who purchased Airborne to treat their colds were not getting their money’s worth as there is no proof that Airborne can lessen your cold symptoms,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

[…] The attorneys general lawsuit, filed by Bob Cooper of Tennessee, claimed Airborne’s marketing materials implied that its products had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Airborne dramatically misrepresented its products as cold remedies without any scientific evidence to back up its claims,” California Attorney General Brown said. “Under this agreement, the company will stop advertisements that suggest that its products are a cure for the common cold.”

Of course as part of the terms of the settlement the company doesn’t have to admit to any wrongdoing. So now you can expect to see new commercials for Airborne that are similar to the ones for “Head On”—another herbal supplement that got in trouble for claiming it cured headaches—wherein no specific claims are made about what the product does, but they encourage you to buy it anyway. Not that this will hurt the company in real way. Their estimated profits for the year 2006 alone is around $150 million so $7 million here and the $23 million back in March are but the cost of doing business with the overly credulous.

This is a shame as the product is potentially dangerous:

Airborne contains too much vitamin A. Two pills contains 10,000 IU, which is the maximum safe limit, but the instructions say to take three pills per day. So taken as directed Airborne contains more than the safe limit of vitamin A. This would also have to be added to vitamin A consumed in food, and of course many consumers may also be taking a multivitamin without realizing that Airborne is essentially just another vitamin pill itself.

Most folks won’t hear about this second settlement and for the True Believers it won’t matter if they do. Airborne will ride this out without much concern until someone is hurt and/or killed by the product.  Who knows? Even that might not be enough to get it pulled from the market.

Makers of “Airborne” opt to settle in class action suit.

If you’ve caught a cold in the last ten years then you’ve probably had at least one person try to convince you to use a product called Airborne, a purported cure for the common cold which proudly proclaims it was invented by a school teacher. Because the first person you look for when you’re sick is a school teacher as opposed to, say, an actual doctor.

For me that person is my mother-in-law who is absolutely sold on the product. Every time I catch a cold, usually because someone else in the house has one, she gently reminds me that she has plenty of Airborne around for me to use. And, every time, I read the back of the box to her that says “THIS PRODUCT IS NOT INTENDED TO TREAT, CURE, OR DIAGNOSE ANY DISEASE.” And, every time, she says, “I know, but I take it and my cold isn’t as bad as everyone else’s.” The old anecdotal evidence thing. Sometimes she does seem to fare better, but most of the time she’s as miserable or more so than anyone else in the house who has a cold. This time when we both had colds mine was shorter in duration and less severe than hers was and I didn’t take anything other than plenty of fluids and rest. I love my mother-in-law dearly, but the product is an expensive placebo pill and has about the same success rate.

Well as it turns out there are other folks who were just as skeptical and they ended up filing a class action lawsuit against the company for making false advertising claims:

Makers of the herbal supplement Airborne have agreed to pay $23.3 million in a class-action lawsuit over false advertising. David Schardt, a senior nutritionist with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says it’s just one battle in his efforts to prevent companies from making misleading claims.

The spread of Airborne has been something of a national phenomenon, with hopeful consumers reaching for the product that said, “It’s the one designed by a school teacher.”

But it’s also the one, Schardt says, that’s been misleading consumers for 10 years. First, he says, Airbone entered the market claiming that its formula — a result of research by second-grade teacher Victoria Knight-McDowell — could ward off colds. Airborne later backed off, reworking its campaign to say the supplement “boosts your immune system.”

You can’t get much more vague than it “boosts your immune system.” Really? In what way and to what effect? They won’t say, but the implication is clear. They don’t have any evidence that it does anything at all and the folks who filed the lawsuit even looked for any research that might have been done:

Consumers are still likely to be misled by the product, Schardt says. He and his teams searched for anyone who had studied Airborne’s combination of herbs and vitamins. The company had pointed to one research effort, but that was later revealed to be a two-person project paid for by Airborne. “It was so bad,” Schardt says. “The company wouldn’t let anyone see it.”

Unlike the lawsuit against the makers of Enzyte I wrote about awhile back, this one is a pretty minor victory. The terms of the settlement state that the company denies any wrongdoing or illegal activity, but you can get your money back if you have any old receipts for Airborne laying around. Back when the company was claiming their product would prevent or diminish colds they were clearly breaking the law, but now that they’ve switching to the vague “boosts your immune system” claim they’re in a grey enough area that they’ll likely avoid the FDA’s wrath anytime soon. At least until someone suffers harm from the product as it’s essentially a bunch of random herbs and mega-doses of vitamins such as vitamin C.

At $6 to $8 for a tube of 10 tablets, which you are supposed to take every three to four hours, Airborne is an expensive non-remedy that will continue to rake in the bucks because herbal and dietary supplements are almost completely unregulated so long as they keep their claims vague enough. The news of the settlement didn’t shake my mother-in-law’s faith in the product and she’s probably not alone in that regard as the fan base for Airborne is pretty big. It’s just another example of how having a lack of ethics is the path to riches in this country.