An Illinois company and its owner will stop making allegedly deceptive claims that their dietary supplements are proven effective at treating childhood speech disorders, including those associated with autism, in order to settle Federal Trade Commission charges. Under the FTC settlement, the defendants also will pay $200,000 and are required to disclose any material connections with their endorsers.
“Parents of children with speech disorders need accurate information about products that may be able to help,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This company took advantage of parents’ trust.”
Since at least 2008, NourishLife, LLC and its owner, Mark Nottoli, have sold Speak softgels and capsules and Speak Smooth liquid children’s supplements online and through a network of distributors for more than $70 per bottle. The supplements — which contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and Vitamins E and K — were advertised via the Internet, including search engine ads such as Google sponsored links and on websites, and at conferences on autism spectrum disorders.
For example, a Google sponsored link for Speak products, which could display if consumers searched on the term “toddler speech problems,” contained the statement, “Healthy Speech for Child – SpeechNutrients speak Supplement” and linked to a web page claiming the supplements were developed by a pediatrician to support “normal and healthy speech development and maintenance.” That web page also included a statement from a parent endorsing the product, who said “[my daughter] is speaking in more complex sentences and she is less gittery [sic], more focused.” Other statements from parent endorsers appeared in product brochures and on speechnutrients.com, such as:
“Speak vitamins have made my little boy talk. He is five years old and has not spoken until I began giving him the vitamins.”
“We were really amazed when Ben started singing along with a song on the radio . . . . and he was singing 3+ word phrases, not just one word here & there.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, between 2008 and late 2013, ads for Speak products made unsupported claims that the supplements develop and maintain normal, healthy speech and language capabilities in children, including those with verbal apraxia — a motor speech disorder affecting the ability to utter sounds, syllables, and words.
These ads, the complaint asserts, also falsely claimed that Speak products are scientifically proven to improve children’s speech. In addition, the complaint charges that ads for Speak products deceptively claimed that the supplements are effective in treating or mitigating verbal apraxia and communication and behavioral difficulties in children with an autism spectrum disorder.
The FTC’s complaint also charges that the defendants provided promotional materials making these false and deceptive claims for Speak products to third-party distributors that sold the supplements.
In addition, the FTC’s complaint charges that the defendants misrepresented a website called apraxiaresearch.com, which they owned and operated, to be an independent resource for research and other information relating to the treatment of apraxia. In fact, according to the FTC’s complaint, that website advertised the health benefits of defendants’ Speak products. The complaint also asserts that the defendants failed to disclose their affiliation with the Apraxia Research website and with parent endorsers of Speak products who received free supplements.
The proposed order settling the FTC’s charges would prohibit NourishLife and Nottoli from making false or unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of any dietary supplement, food, or drug, including but not limited to their Speak products. The proposed order also would bar the defendants from providing third-party distributors with deceptive marketing materials or otherwise providing others with the means to make these prohibited claims.
In addition, it would prohibit the defendants from misrepresenting the independence of any website or other publication that advertises their products, and would require them to clearly and prominently disclose any material connections to any such website or publication, or to any person endorsing their products.
The proposed order imposes a judgment of $3.68 million, which will be partially suspended – based on the defendants’ inability to pay — after they pay $200,000.
The Commission vote approving the complaint and proposed final order was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, on January 7, 2015. A motion for the court to enter the proposed final order was filed on January 9, 2015. The case is part of the FTC’s work to challenge false and deceptive claims about cognitive products for adults and children.
Information for Consumers
When it comes to treatments for health and fitness, it can be tough to tell useful products and services from those that don’t work or aren’t safe. For more information, see the FTC’s guidance on Treatments & Cures.
The FTC is a member of the National Prevention Council, which provides coordination and leadership at the federal level regarding prevention, wellness, and health promotion practices. This case advances the National Prevention Strategy’s goal of increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
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