One major drug manufacturer submitted to the demands of a watchdog group in hopes to deter them from a lawsuit claiming the drugmaker was falsely advertising their products can help prevent breast and colon cancer.
According to ABC news, Pfizer has agreed to remove the “breast health” and “colon health” claims from the labels of its widely used Centrum multivitamin supplements, even though they disagree with the complaints lodged by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
The center sent a lengthy letter to Pfizer Chief Executive Ian Read in April alleging that separate Centrum products carried deceptive claims on their labels – that they support “energy and immunity,” “heart health“, “eye health,” “breast health, “bone health” and “colon health.”
The group threatened to sue Pfizer, insisting “those claims of breast and colon health implied that the supplements would prevent breast and colon cancer — disease prevention claims that supplement manufacturers can’t legally make,” CSPI said in a press release, unless the claims were stripped from labels of the products.
Pfizer has agreed to remove the claims related to breast health and colon health from some Centrum product labels over the next six months and to withdraw them from websites and advertising within 30 days, and to modify language relating to heart health and energy.
“The company disagrees with CSPI’s concerns, but has agreed to make these changes in order to fully resolve the issues raised by the organization,” Pfizer said in a statement.
A company spokesperson declined to elaborate when asked about the scientific basis for the various health claims.
Labels for Centrum Ultra Women’s and Centrum Silver Women’s multivitamin supplements stated that those products supported “breast health.” Likewise, labels for Centrum Ultra Men’s and Centrum Silver Ultra Men’s supplements claimed to support “colon health.”
The group said Pfizer partly based the breast and colon claims on the presence of vitamin D in the products, despite inconsistent or inconclusive evidence of vitamin D’s protective role against breast and colon cancer.
Various other Centrum products will continue to claim they foster bone health and eye health, despite CSPI’s earlier objections to the claims.
“A settlement is, by its nature, something where neither side gets all it wants,” said Stephen Gardner, director of litigation for the center. “Once Pfizer agreed to drop the breast and colon cancer claims, we felt that that was too important to let things fall apart over eye and bone health.”
Gardner said the vitamin claims might be interpreted as helping the structure of bone and eyes, a stronger argument than preventing complications.
For Centrum products claiming “heart health,” labels and advertising will now note they are “not a replacement for cholesterol-lowering drugs.” For products promoting “energy,” language will be added to show they do not directly provide an energy boost, but instead support metabolic function, the consumer group said.
Many other companies continue to make unsubstantiated health claims for supplements, Gardner said.
“It’s a tremendous problem. The supplement companies want consumers to buy their supplements instead of FDA-approved actual drugs. So they make claims of disease prevention.”
“For many consumers, a daily multivitamin is an expensive insurance policy to make sure that one’s getting the recommended daily amounts of important vitamins and minerals,” said Gardner.
“But supplement manufacturers must not mislead consumers into thinking that these pills will help ward off cancer.”