Quackwatch Home Page
Regulatory Actions against
Home Shopping Network
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Home Shopping Network (HSN), a retailer
that reaches more than 70 million households, has agreed to settle FTC charges
that it aired unsubstantiated advertisements for several skin care, weight-loss,
and PMS/menopause products in violation of a 1996 FTC order. Home Shopping
Network, Inc., and its subsidiary, Home Shopping Club, L.P., will pay a
$1.1 million civil penalty to settle the charges, and will be ordered not
to make ad claims it cannot substantiate [1,2]. Violators of FTC orders
can be penalized up to $11,000 per day per violation.
The 1995 Complaint
In March 1995, the Commission charged HSN, Lifeway Health Products, Inc.,
and Home Shopping Club, Inc., with disseminating unsubstantiated claims
for Life Way Vitamin C and Zinc Spray, Life Way Antioxidant Spray, Life
Way Vitamin B-12 Spray, and Smoke-Less Nutrient Spray. The objectionable
claims were broadcast in segments called "Spotlight on Ruta Lee,"
during which Ruta Lee promoted and sold the four products. In a separate
complaint against Lee and her company (Live-Lee), the FTC noted that Lee
had created the claims in the advertisements and received a royalty on the
sale of the products. The complaint charged that Lee and the company knew
or should have known that the following claims were unsubstantiated:
- The vitamin sprays:
- were more fully absorbed by the body than vitamins in pill form
- would heal mouth lesions, cold sores and cracking of lip corners
- would prevent colds, treat hangovers and increase energy
- would ensure proper immune system function, reduce risk of contracting
infectious diseases and prevent facial lines.
- The smoking-cessation spray:
- would enable users to stop smoking easily, regardless of how long or
how much they had smoked
- satisfied the physiological urge to smoke and eliminated withdrawal
- eliminated the anxiety and weight gain that go along with quitting
Both cases -- Lee
in 1995  and HSN
in 1996 -- were settled with consent agreements prohibiting the challenged
claims or any other unsubstantiated claim that any product could cure, treat,
or prevent any disease, or have any effect on the structure or function
of the human body.
The Current Case
The current FTC complaint states that HSN violated the previous FTC order
by broadcasting unsubstantiated claims for skin care, weight-loss, and PMS/menopause
products from 1996 through 1998. The products included:
- Serious Skin Care Clearz-it, a topical acne product containing 5% benzoyl
- The Serious Skin Care Acne Line, a topical skin-care products that
include Glycolic Cleanser (with glycolic acid and other ingredients), Clarifying
Treatment (with 2% Salicylic Acid), Glycolic Renewal Gel (with glycolic
acid and other ingredients) and Super Hydrate (a moisturizer).
- Serious Skin Care Fading Fluid, a topical skin bleaching product containing
2% hydroquinone and azelaic acid;
- Target Fat Weight Loss System (For Women Only), which includes Appetite
Satisfying Wafers (with chromium picolinate, Citrimax and other ingredients),
Herbal Balance caplets (with herbs and other ingredients), AM Activator
(with vitamins, minerals and herbs), and PM Formula (with chromium picolinate,
amino acids and other ingredients).
- Life Way Changes, a dietary supplement that includes Changes I Nutritional
Support Formula (with calcium, magnesium, soy concentrate, vitamins and
other ingredients) and Changes II Herbal Support Formula (with a blend
of herbs and lactobacillus sporogenes).
- La Costa Spa products, alleged weight-loss products that include Snack
Lights (with garcinia cambogia, chromium picolinate and other ingredients),
Natural Cellutherm (with vitamins, chromium picolinate and other ingredients),
and Natural Diet Control (with garcinia cambogia and other ingredients).
Some of the products were promoted with before-and-after photographs,
testimonial letters, and testimonial phone calls that the FTC believed did
not reflect the typical or ordinary experience of product users. The claims
challenged by the FTC included:
- Serious Skin Care Clearz-It:
- clears most pimples in 12 to 24 hours
- clears razor bumps on men's skin
- Serious Skin Care Clearz-It, when used with Serious Skin Care Acne
- clears cystic acne, clears very severe or aggressive acne
- clears anyone's acne within several months
- treats acne more effectively than other acne treatments
- including over-the-counter acne treatment products, oral antibiotics
- Serious Skin Care Fading Fluid:
- eliminates any kind of hyperpigmentation;
- eliminates any kind of hyperpigmentation in a very short time;
- evens out skin tone perfectly, including dark patches on the skin and
uneven skin tone on persons with a dark complexion.
- Target Fat Loss System (For Women Only) enables consumers to:
- lose about 30 to 60 pounds or more
- maintain their weight loss for long periods of time.
- Life Way Changes:
- relieves symptoms, whether mild or severe, of premenstrual syndrome
("PMS") and menopause, including breast tenderness, bloating,
water retention, nervousness, irritability, and hot flashes
- helps restore normal hormonal balance in users experiencing PMS or
- provides all of the benefits of prescription estrogen replacement drugs
for users experiencing menopause
- safely treats the symptoms of PMS or menopause without side effects
- has been proven by scientific testing.
- La Costa Spa weight loss products enable consumers to maintain their
weight loss for substantial periods of time.
The FTC complaint also included excerpts of broadcasts in which Shari
Lieberman, Ph.D., an HSN spokesperson, had interacted with testimonial-givers.
In one such segment, Lieberman stated that the Target Fat Loss System "really
puts an end to the yo-yo syndrome." In another segment, Lieberman plugged
Life Way Changes for women who have read about the "negatives"
and the side effects of hormone-replacement therapy and want "a safe,
natural alternative." In a 1998 biographical
sketch, Lieberman states that she generated more than $30 million in
annual sales for Home Shopping Network's Lifeway brand and infomercial products
A few years ago, I obtained a box of Life Way's For Women Only Weight
Loss System 5-Day Program, which, according to its label, had been created
by Lieberman. The components were Appetite Satisfying Wafers, Herbal Balance
caplets, AM Activator, PM Formula, and a 32-page instructional booklet in
which Lieberman stated: "One of the most rewarding part of being the
designer of the FOR WOMEN ONLY 5 DAY PROGRAM is to
have the opportunity to hear your testimonials when I'm live on air. . .
. It would mean so much to me if you would write me about your success stories."
 No mention was made of wanting to hear from people who were not successful.
- 1. Home Shopping Network to pay $1.1 million
civil penalty; agreement settles charges HSN violated FTC order to substantiate
ad claims. FTC news release, April 15, 1999.
- 2. Consent
decree. United States of America v Home Shopping Network, Inc., and
Home Shopping Club, L.P., Civil Action No. 99-897-Civ-T-25c, United States
District Court Middle District of Florida
- 3. Ruta Lee
settles FTC charges: Vitamin and stop-smoking spray ads were deceptive.
FTC news release (corrected), June 15, 1995.
- 4 Decision
and order. United States of America before Federal Trade Commission.
In the matter of: Home Shopping Network, Inc., Home Shopping Club, Inc.,
and HSN Lifeway Health Products, Inc. Docket No. 9272, Sept 26, 1996.
- 5. Dr. Shari
Lieberman: Nutrition scientist, exercise physiologist. Yearbooknews.com,
- 6. Lieberman S. 5 Day Program Instruction Guide. Undated booklet. Clearwater,
Florida: Life Way Health Products, circa 1994.
Quackwatch Home Page