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FTC Charges Ab-Exercise Device Marketers

Three infomercial marketers of electronic belts touted to give consumers beefy abdominal muscles without a sweaty workout were charged with false advertising yesterday by the Federal Trade Commission.

Marketers of the three products — AbEnergizer, AbTronic and Fast Abs — falsely told consumers in 30-minute infomercials that they could attain “washboard” or “six-pack” abs by using the devices, the FTC said.

The devices appeared on 30-minute infomercials on national cable stations including USA, TNN, Lifetime, E!, FX and Comedy Central, according to the FTC. Each product's infomercial has aired more than 1,000 times and been among the 10 most-aired infomercials in weekly U.S. rankings.

The products sold for $40 to $120. The infomercials featured fitness professionals, testimonials, photos of models with muscular middles and claims such as, “Lose four inches in four days guaranteed!” and “10 minutes equals 600 sit-ups!”

“Would that they were true,” FTC chairman Timothy J. Muris said of the claims at a news conference yesterday. “But they're not.”

Claims of weight-loss and muscle-building benefits were unsubstantiated, Muris said.

In addition to the false-advertising charges, the FTC charged the device marketers with failing to warn consumers of potential safety risks associated with the electronic muscle stimulation, or EMS, belts. People with pacemakers, swollen areas, cancerous lesions or certain other medical conditions should avoid the devices, and their safety for use during pregnancy has not been proven, the FTC said.

The businesses charged were Electronic Products Distribution, San Diego, maker of the AbEnergizer; Hudson Berkley Corp., Las Vegas, maker of the AbTronic; and United Fitness of America, Ventura, CA, and their associated partners, officers and subsidiaries.

“This is the first request AbEnergizer has received from the FTC for substantiation,” Electronic Products Distribution said in a statement. “We look forward to presenting the merits of the AbEnergizer to the FTC and working with them to resolve their concerns.”

George Sylva, manager of United Fitness, said that his company was reviewing the FTC complaint and determining whether the matter could be resolved outside of court. The company stated that the Food and Drug Administration had recognized the usefulness of EMS belts in improving muscle tone, and that United Fitness had made no claim that its product could help consumers lose weight.

“United Fitness stands behind this quality product, but it's unfortunate that the FTC did not address it's concerns to us before filing suit since Fast Abs is no longer part of our product line,” Sylva said.

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