July 13, 2012 — After a public watchdog group criticized Pfizer for claiming that its Centrum multivitamins could improve colon or breast health, the company agreed to remove “breast health” and “colon health” claims from the labels. The claims will be withdrawn from the Centrum website within 30 days, and removed from product labels over the next six months.
The complaint came from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which has recently begun pursuing bogus health claims made by dietary supplement manufacturers. Although it is technically illegal for a supplement manufacturer to claim their product can treat specific medical conditions, the practice is widespread and only sporadically enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to the CSPI, “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.”
In April 2012, the CSPI sent a letter to Ian Read, Pfizer chief executive. The letter accused Pfizer of making “deceptive claims” on the Centrum labels — claiming the vitamins could promote energy, immunity, and a healthy heart, eyes, bones, breast, and colon.
The CSPI also threatened to file a lawsuit against Pfizer if they stripped the health claims from the product label. Pfizer responded by agreeing to remove “breast health” and “colon health” from the label, but they say they will modify other health claims. They intend to keep claims about bone health and eye health.
Pfizer says they will change the “heart health” claims to say the multivitamins are “not a replacement for cholesterol-lowering drugs.” Pfizer also manufactures Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug. Lipitor is the best-selling drug of all time and was a primary source of Pfizer’s profits until the patent expired in 2012.
The company will also change the claims about promoting “energy” to say that the multivitamins support metabolic function.
Pfizer claims that the breast and colon health claims are justified because the multivitamin contains Vitamin D. However, research is inconclusive about the role of Vitamin D supplements regarding breast and colon cancer.
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