Misleading Advertising Targeted The Chronic Pain Sufferers And The Disabled
Attorney General Hardy Myers today filed an agreement with Soloflex, Inc. that should end its use of misleading and deceptive advertising in a campaign to sell the Soloflex whole body vibration platform (vibration platform) to the frail elderly, sufferers of chronic pain and the neuro-muscularly disabled. The company and its president Jerry Wilson of Hillsboro were named in an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) filed in Marion County Circuit Court. The AVC admits no violation of law.
"The Soloflex advertising campaign made product claims that couldn't be substantiated, misrepresented what the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Academy of Rheumatology said about the product, and touted the findings of a small study that wasn't applicable to the product" Myers said.
In monitoring the marketplace for deceptive advertising, Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) consumer protection staff, in July 2006, discovered a series of misleading Soloflex newspaper advertisements used throughout Oregon, in various national publications such as The New York Times and USA Today, and on the Internet. "Depicting an elderly woman holding her walker up in the air while standing on a narrow vibrating platform, the ads seemed incredible at first glance," Myers explained.
In reviewing the Soloflex advertisements, staff found that claims about a report of an American College of Rheumatology (ACR) clinical study were deceptive, including the assertion that a report was made in the first place. The ads went on to deceptively claim that the 'report' showed certain percentages of improvement in physical function, pain management, vitality, general health, balance and walking ability by users of the vibration platform. A DOJ attorney contacted the authors of the ACR study and confirmed that Soloflex's promotional claims based on the study were deceptive.
While investigating the company, the DOJ found that in an April 2006 'cease and desist' letter to Soloflex, ACR lawyers warned company president Jerry Wilson that he was violating federal law by falsely suggesting sponsorship or approval of its product by ACR. The lawyers also wrote that the company was claiming certain benefits to product users without a medical basis for making the claims.
DOJ investigators also found that Wilson ignored the warning and continued using the advertisements in Oregon until DOJ, while monitoring advertising in The Oregonian, became aware of the ad campaign. DOJ issued a Civil Investigative Demand and notified Soloflex that it would file a lawsuit if the company did not stop the ads and sign a settlement agreement. At first, the company stopped the advertisement that created the concerns but then resumed the ads and initiated a new ad campaign in September 2006 targeting the disabled.
In another set of deceptive advertisements, DOJ found that Soloflex made it appear that the vibration platforms were endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General for the frail elderly and neuro-muscularly disabled when, in fact, the Surgeon General cautions that whole body vibration therapy should not be substituted for traditional rehabilitation programs.
In looking at the company's business practices, DOJ found that Soloflex offered health care professionals a 25 percent discount on the vibration platforms but then encouraged the professionals not to pass the savings onto their patients but to pocket the difference as an incentive for prescribing the device.
Under the agreement, Soloflex will pay DOJ $100,000 for its Consumer Protection and Education Fund, $25,000 of which will be suspended so long as the company fully complies with the agreement. The company, under the agreement, must have competent and reliable evidence to support all of its promotional claims; for health-related claims, 'competent and reliable evidence' must consist of at least two well-designed, well-controlled clinical trials.
Soloflex also agreed to hire Compliance Counsel to monitor its compliance with the court-filed settlement and all federal and state law, and to ensure the company substantiates all promotional claims with competent and reliable evidence. Finally, the company agreed to include an invoice with all devices sold to consumers under a prescription by health professionals, indicating that the professional is profiting from the sale of the device.
Consumers wanting more information on this case and other consumer protection issues may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. Justice is online at www.doj.state.or.us.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) firstname.lastname@example.org