Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lawsuit Takes More Than a "Lite Bite" Out of QVC

Remember those tasty little weight loss snacks, Lite Bites? There was even an entire book written about this particular QVC product, Uphill All the Way by Marvin Segel, the spokesperson for the product who claimed to lose 80 pounds using Lite Bites. (And, in case you didn’t know, QVC was founded by Marvin’s father, Joel Segel.)

In addition to the Lite Bites, QVC was also making false claims about For Women Only weight loss products, Bee-Alive royal jelly supplement, and Lipofactor Cellulite Target Lotion.

Here’s what the FTC said about the lawsuit back when it was filed in 2004:

“QVC’s claims for these products are not only unsubstantiated, but for some, scientifically impossible,” said Howard Beales, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “No pill or drink can cause anyone to lose 125 pounds. QVC didn’t keep its promise to use sound science and solid evidence to back up the claims it makes for the health products it sells.”

In 2000, QVC settled FTC allegations that the company made unsubstantiated claims that Cold-Eeze zinc lozenges prevented colds and alleviated allergy symptoms. The resulting FTC consent order requires QVC to have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” substantiating any claim that a dietary supplement “can or will cure, treat, or prevent any disease, or have any effect on the structure or function of the human body.”

So now the Q has to pay a civil monetary penalty of $1.5 million and a consumer redress of $6 million (does that mean they have to pay back customers who bought the product???)

Here’s the exact language for all you lawyerly types:

Last week, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania entered a Consent Decree against giant home shopping retailer QVC, Inc. The Consent Decree stems from a June 14, 2000 Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) decision and order in which the Commission ordered QVC to cease representing certain products in violation of the FTC Act. This led to a March 2004 court complaint filed by the Department of Justice against QVC alleging that the company violated the June 2000 order by making false or unsubstantiated claims for several weight-loss products. The 2009 Consent Decree slaps QVC with a civil monetary penalty of $1.5 million and consumer redress of $6.0 million. In addition, the Consent Decree modifies the June 2000 order to add additional weight loss products. Additional information on the FTC’s QVC docket is available here.

Constantly hearing the hosts say that they can’t make any medical claims … blah, blah, blah … is so tiresome, but I understand why they have to do it. On the other hand, this leads to all sorts of semantics game playing. Prime example: "the appearance of," as in, "this may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles."

Andrew Lessman really wasn’t kidding when he said that there are strict laws about making unfounded claims when you are trying to sell a weight loss product. Perhaps he is correct in his stand against Sensa (you can catch up on the drama here). And it's looking like Andrew might be winning the battle. There's not a trace of Sensa on the HSN website any more (here's the odd array of products that pop up when you do a search for Sensa).


  1. Very interesting stuff, QB....I really don't know what is more amazing; that these snake oil people are still in business, or that some people are so gullible or so desperate that they believe this stuff....or that "the suits" who control these electronic retailers even allow this stuff to go on the air.

    Come to think of it....I saw the "BeeAlive Lady" on TV recently in an infomercial. She was on with a tele-evangelist and his wife (feel free to insert your own wisecrack).

    This is an interesting and important consumer story...and it does transcend the genre of home shopping. So I'm linking it to my current events (etc) blog.

    Nice work! Thanks for presenting this.

  2. Good article. I remember that on the QVC tour they used to hand out samples of Lite Bites bars. They were one of the worst things I've ever tasted in my life. Blech! If that was the only choice to lose weight I would choose starvation.

  3. Lawyers do run the world, at least the United States anyway. I was wondering about the Royal Bee jelly lady the other day as I hadn't seen her anywhere in a while. The fact is that probably all these products help some people to varying degrees but not everyone & not enough that claims can be made like they were. People have to try things for themselves & use what works & have an eyebrow raised when they hear blanket statements. Consumer beware!

  4. Queen Bea,
    I work for a company (a USA manufacturer) that has a line of skin care products and we have to be very careful with the claims we make. It is annoying at best, but at least I take pride in knowing that I am responsible for our products being correct in their safety labeling and not letting the marketing idiots run rampant with their bs.

    I remember lite bites--they sucked.

  5. OF COURSE Andrew Lessman was right regarding his stance against Sensa and HSN's decision to sell it. I applauded him when I initially heard about this, and I continue to applaud his ethical integrity and professionalism.

  6. I don't know if Andrew Lessman is still peddling the pills that will remove spider veins, but after using them, we had to send them back. They don't work. I saw absolutely no change. So, I suggest he concentrate on his on junk. Those pills were one big con job. I wouldn't exactly call it "ethical integrity" but he is a "professional con".

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