FTC Urges Media Help in Fighting Deceptive Weight-Loss Ads

Federal Trade Commission chairman Timothy Muris issued another plea to media outlets yesterday for help in combating advertisements for weight-loss products that make obviously deceptive claims.

Speaking before the Cable Television Advertising Bureau trade association in New York, Muris said that though the FTC does not expect media outlets to scientifically review all claims made in weight-loss product ads, it does expect them to take basic precautions.

The FTC is preparing a list of common deceptive claims against which media can compare claims made by weight-loss advertisers, he said. The agency asks only for a review of weight-loss products, such as diet pills, and not diet or exercise plans.

The First Amendment does not protect deceptive commercial speech, nor does it absolve media outlets from taking steps to prevent fraud, Muris said. He noted media outlets already take pains to avoid defamation.

In the past, Muris has said that media could be held liable for deceptive claims made in ads they publish. However, Muris has said the FTC has no plans to take legal action against the media.

In September, the FTC issued a study finding that 40 percent of all weight-loss product ads in 2001 made a claim that was obviously false. Also, the number of weight-loss ads has doubled between 1992 and 2001, the FTC found.

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