Centrum Avoids Lawsuit by Agreeing to Back Off Health Claims

Advocates say consumers interpret them as disease-preventing

Pfizer Consumer Healthcare agreed to modify some of the health claims it makes about its Centrum brand multivitamin supplements in order to fend off a potential lawsuit from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The healthcare giant will discontinue making the claim that certain Centrum products support "breast health" and "colon health" and qualify the claim for "heart health" on its websites and product advertising within 30 days. By Jan. 5, 2013, Pfizer will also remove the claims from product labels and packaging.

Pfizer agreed to the terms following a looming legal threat by CSPI, a health advocacy group that sued Bayer in 2009 for its claims that selenium in One a Day men's multivitamins reduces the risk of prostate cancer.

As a result of Pfizer's cooperation, CSPI said Thursday it would withdraw its April 7, 2011 notice of intent to sue.

CSPI argued the claims were misleading and deceptive because consumers interpreted Pfizer's language to mean the vitamins would prevent breast and colon cancer.

"Companies are increasingly using code speak for not making a disease-prevention claim that consumers read as disease preventing," said Steve Gardner, CSPI's litigation director, who has been in talks with Pfizer for more than a year.

"I'm real happy with this agreement. This is a much better result than suing them," he added.

Pfizer disagreed with CSPI's concerns but agreed to make the changes "in order to fully resolve the issues raised by the organization," the company said in a statement. In its letter to CSPI, Patton Boggs attorney Stuart Pape also underscored that the agreement with CSPI does not "constitute an admission."

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