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A Florida supplement seller had been making unsubstantiated claims to help consumers quit cigarettes, the FTC charged.
August 1, 2023
A Florida supplement marketer who claimed to help consumers quit smoking has been ordered to pay $7.6 million to settle a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission.
The final judgement was confirmed yesterday in the U.S. District Court in Florida’s Middle District. The defendant, Michael J. Connors, marketed products under several company names, including Smart Day Supplements, Woodford Hills LLC, Oakhill Research LLC, Evergreen Marketing LLC, Sterling Health LLC and Clara Vista Media LLC.
Connors was selling a line of products called Smoke Away, available as tablets, pellets and homeopathic sprays, via various distribution channels, including retail websites like Amazon, eBay and Walmart.
One of the products called “Smoke Away Formula 1 tablets” contained Vitamin C, iron, iodine, sodium, and a combination of botanicals that included alfalfa root and licorice root, according to the complaint.
According to an FTC statement, Connors was claiming to “eliminate nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms and enable consumers to quit smoking quickly, easily and permanently. The complaint alleged these advertising claims were misleading and unlawful because they were not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.”
Connors and his companies have agreed to pay a $500,000 fine as well as $7.15 million to compensate consumers who bought the products.
“The Justice Department will vigorously enforce laws intended to stop deceptive advertisers—and, in particular, recidivists—from preying on consumers battling addiction,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department's Civil Division. “The department is committed to taking action to ensure consumers have the information they need to make decisions about their health and wellness.”
Connors and his companies have been banned from offering any substance abuse services or products in the future. They are also required to comply with two decades of documenting their compliance to prevent future violations.
FTC charged Connors under the Opioid Addiction Recovery Fraud Prevention Act (OARFPA). The Commission said this is the first smoking cessation case brought under the statute that became law in 2018.
Connors had previously been targeted by FTC in 2005 for making smoking cessation claims for a product also branded as Smoke Away. The complaint alleged Connors nevertheless continued to violate the FTC Act with unsubstantiated health claims about Smoke Away products.
The product is no longer for sale online, so its contents can’t be determined.
However, while FTC won its case against Connors, numerous other companies are selling supplement and/or homeopathic products that claim to help smokers quit.
Among the claims being made for those products in online sales sites are:
This natural herbal formula will help you quit smoking. Scientifically blended to cause an aversion to tobacco, reduce cravings;
Helps to effectively suppress the urge to smoke;
Triggers an aversion to tobacco smoke;
Stops cravings by balancing your brain chemistry.
Those formulators have also thrown the figurative kitchen sink at the issue. Among the ingredients featured in products in this category are various extracts of oats or oat straw, lobelia, rosehips, milk thistle seed extract, passionflower, chromium, NAC and St. John’s Wort as well as combinations of vitamins and amino acids.
“OARFPA prohibits any unfair or deceptive practices with respect to substance use disorder treatment products or services, and our complaint makes clear that we are not looking only at baseless treatment claims but also at related practices that can exploit consumers’ health struggles,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a June 29 statement. “Here, for the first time, we’ve alleged that it was illegal under OARFPA to use paid actors to pose as Smoke Away users in marketing these products. Dialing up accountability for deceptive review practices has been a major priority for this Commission, and we will continue to use every tool we have—now including OARFPA—to challenge illegal practices.”
A request for comment from the defendants was not answered in time for publication of this article.
Senior Editor, Informa
His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.
The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.
Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.
In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.
When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.
Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.
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