David Frum recently laid into the nutritional supplement industry with a guest commentary on CNN.com. The resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and one-time special assistant to President George W. Bush lashed out with the classic invectives against supplement makers and marketers. He wrote that any “snake oil flim-flam can be huckstered in the most truth-defying way” using that most evil of laws, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.
Frum could have lowered his rhetorical blood pressure, without the help of a supplement, by reading the FTC regulations that go into effect on Tuesday. His column then would have begun: The party is over Dec. 1.
And the party — or at least marketing as it has been done for many years — does come to an end. Frum’s arguments against vague product claims no longer hold when the FTC — not the FDA — is watching what is said. The effects of the new rules are worth noting again: no more CYA disclaimers such as “results not typical” language; closer scrutiny of expert and celebrity endorsements; and careful review of consumer testimonials.
All the people who try a supplement and blog about it or are paid to write online reviews also have to disclose their relationships with those who supply them with products.
Frum can argue for repeal of the DHSEA, but he would be better off passing along tips of deceptive advertising to contacts he has at the FTC. That would produce more effective results than spouting off about his distaste for the supplement industry and its marketing practices.