Pfizer Agrees to Drop Certain Health Claims from Centrum Products

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Pfizer Inc. has agreed to remove some of the health claims the company prints on its Centrum brand of multivitamins. Reuters reported on Thursday that nonprofit group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) had threatened to sue Pfizer for false advertising if it did not remove claims that different formulations of Centrum multivitamins promoted "eye health,""breast health," or "colon health," among other benefits.

What is Pfizer's stance on the issue?

In a statement posted on CSPI's website, the company said that it "disagrees with CSPI's concerns," but that it would comply with some of the group's requests. Two varieties of Centrum multivitamins targeted towards women will remove the claim that the products promote "breast health" from the label. Likewise, two varieties of the brand that are targeted towards men will have the claim that the products promote "colon health" removed from their labels.

Pfizer has declined to comply, however, with CSPI's request that the company remove claims that certain multivitamin combinations promote "bone health" and "eye health" from the labels of other Centrum products. The company did compromise on CSPI's request to remove claims that certain products promote "heart health," and while the label will stay, the company has agreed to place the warning phrase "not a replacement for cholesterol-lowering drugs" on the labels as well, as stated in its letter to CSPI.

Why did CSPI object to the multivitamins' claims?

CSPI sent a letter to Pfizer CEO Ian Read in April of last year objecting to the way that Centrum multivitamins were labeled. The group specifically took issue with what it labeled "deceptive practices in the marketing and sale" of the supplements, that it maintained implied that claims such as "heart health" that appeared on product labels had been scientifically verified, which they reportedly had not.

CSPI threatened to sue Pfizer if the company did not remove the claims, asserting that the labels, along with Pfizer's television ads, were leading people to believe that Centrum supplements could prevent disease. The group demanded that Pfizer, in lieu of scientific evidence to substantiate the claims, remove them from its product labels, or it would sue for violation of Federal Trade Commission standards regarding advertising and health claims.

Why did the FDA allow Pfizer to put those claims on the labels of its Centrum products?

The FDA does not currently have much authority to regulate vitamins and supplements. According to the guidelines posted on the agency's website, such products do not even require approval by the FDA before they can be marketed and sold. Companies that make and sell vitamins and supplements are responsible for making sure that the products provide whatever benefits that they lay claim to on their labels. Watchdog groups like CSPI, in the meantime, have made it their objective to root out false claims and potentially harmful products in order to protect consumers.

What was CSPI's response to Pfizer's agreement regarding the labels on Centrum products?

CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner said on Thursday that the group was letting go its objections to the "eye health" and "bone health" claims on the labels of Centrum products, because those claims were less likely to be misconstrued as an assertion that the products prevented disease, according to NPR. Gardner further stated that "a settlement is, by its nature, something where neither side gets all it wants."

Vanessa Evans is musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.

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