Thousands of consumers who bought Airborne Health's popular Airborne Effervescent Health Formula, an effervescent tablet marketed as a cold prevention and treatment remedy, have refunds coming.
The Federal Trade Commission says the company of has agreed to pay up to $30 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it did not have adequate evidence to support its advertising claims.
"There is no credible evidence that Airborne products, taken as directed, will reduce the severity or duration of colds, or provide any tangible benefit for people who are exposed to germs in crowded places," said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
In addition to the company,the FTC's lawsuit also names Victoria Knight-McDowell, the former schoolteacher who invented Airborne, and her husband Thomas John McDowell. If the settlement is approved by the court, it will prohibit the defendants from making false and unsubstantiated cold prevention, germ-fighting, and efficacy claims.
The monetary judgment will be satisfied by the defendants' adding $6.5 million to the funds they have already agreed to pay to settle a related private class-action lawsuit, bringing the total settlement fund to $30 million.
The FTC complaint and agreed-upon final order follow settlement last November of a class-action lawsuit, Wilson v. Airborne, Inc. et al., which is pending in federal court in the Central District of California. In that case, the defendants have agreed to pay up to $23.51 million, which will be used for consumer refunds and attorneys' fees. If the class action suit funds are exhausted, up to $6.5 million in additional funds for consumer redress will become available as a result of the FTC order. One redress administrator will manage both pools of funds and consumers will receive a single refund check.
The Wilson class action settlement provides refunds for purchases of Airborne-branded products made between May 1, 2001 and November 29, 2007. More information on the Wilson settlement, eligibility requirements, and procedures for filing a claim online or by mail can be found at www.airbornehealthsettlement.com. Consumers have until September 15, 2008 to apply for a refund for up to six product purchases.
The defendants have marketed Airborne Original Effervescent Formula as a dietary supplement containing 17 ingredients, including vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and selenium. Airborne products have been advertised nationally in print media and on radio and television. They have been sold by grocery stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers.
According to the FTC's complaint, there is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims made by the defendants that Airborne tablets can prevent or reduce the risk of colds, sickness, or infection; protect against or help fight germs; reduce the severity or duration of a cold; and protect against colds, sickness, or infection in crowded places such as airplanes, offices, or schools. The FTC complaint also states that Victoria Knight-McDowell and Thomas John McDowell made false claims that Airborne products are clinically proven to treat colds.
If consumer refund claims are not paid on time in the Wilson lawsuit, or if the defendants have not paid at least $23.5 million to settle any other similar class-action lawsuit by December 31, 2009, the defendants must pay the entire $30 million to the FTC, which will administer its own consumer redress program.
In addition to prohibiting the defendants from making claims that are false, misleading, or unsubstantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence, and providing additional funds for consumer redress, the order authorizes the Commission to monitor the defendants' compliance with the order.