The settlements require the marketers of Xenadrine EFX, One A Day Weight Smart, Cortaslim and TrimSpa change their ad claims and cough up the fines for both civil penalties and consumer redress.
The action signals to supplement marketers making false claims that, in the long run, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not stand for such practices.
"It's a message to legitimate companies that like to push the limits," FTC chair Deborah Platt Majoras said at a press conference today.
The marketers advertised using claims of substantial and rapid weight loss based on ingredients including green tea extract (EGCG), caffeine, bitter orange (citrus aurantium) and hoodia gordonii.
It is important to note that the FTC's jurisdiction relates only to advertising and marketing claims; it does not make a judgement call on products per se. The weight management category, including products that may contain the same ingredients but do not make unsubstantiated claims, should not be tarred with a brush of disrepute.
Pharmaceutical giant Bayer was in trouble with FTC over its supplement in the past and therefore now has to pay a $3.2mn penalty, which will go to the federal treasury and not for consumer redress like the majority of the $25m."We're pretty confident that they've gotten the message for the future," Platt Majoras said of Bayer.
The marketers of Xenadrine EFX will be required to pay between $8mn and $12.8mn while respective figures cited for One A Day Weight Smart, Cortaslim and TrimSpa are: $3.2mn, $8.4m and $1.5m.
The fines represent tiny portions of the "millions and hundreds of millions" in profits made by the infringing companies.
"But it's about more than out of pocket expenses," said Platt Majoras. "These ads are causing consumers to postpone making the tougher choices and discourages people from taking effective steps to losing weight."
The settlements also send a new year's message to the estimated 70 million overweight Americans who may want to trim down to avoid the temptation of weight loss pills with unrealistic promises.
"You won't find weight loss in a bottle of pills that claims it has the latest scientific breakthrough or miracle ingredient," said Platt Majoras. "Paying for fad science is a good way to lose cash, not pounds."
The marketing for these products relies heavily on testimonials and not science according to FTC.
"Testimonials from individuals are not a substitute for science," said Majoras. "And that's what Americans need to understand."