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DA’s Effort To Protect Public

Jed Logan

Mar 17, 2003

The San Benito County District Attorney’s Office is joining six other California counties and a city in suing the maker of a dietary supplement for false advertising.

In what local prosecutors call an effort to protect the public from deceptive advertising and unfair business practices, they have joined a civil lawsuit with district attorneys from San Francisco, Alameda, Kern, Marin, Monterey and Napa counties and the City of San Diego.

The lawsuit, filed in Napa County, accuses New Jersey-based Cytodyne Technologies, Inc., of making false and misleading claims about the ability of its product, Xenadrine, to safely and quickly cause weight loss.

“What makes the sale of this product so insidious is Cytodyne’s failure to adequately warn of known health risks,” said San Benito County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner.

The complaint alleges that Cytodyne failed to warn the public about Xenadrine’s potential health risks because the product contains ephedra, an herbal stimulant that has been associated with increased blood pressure and irritability of the heart, which can lead to heart conditions and possibly death.

The counties are seeking a court order forcing the company to stop making claims about Xenadrine that haven't been substantiated and to have the company include information about known health risks in its ads for Xenadrine. It also seeks restitution for state consumers as well as civil penalties.

Some of the alleged false advertising includes claims that Xenadrine can help people lose weight 17 times faster than diet and exercise alone.

“One of the niche markets for the sale of this product is weightlifters and athletes,” Wagner said. “Some of the testimonials are really over the top and truly test the imagination.”

The company defended its product and said prosecutors are trying to take advantage of recent negative publicity surrounding ephedra, which is being investigated as a contributing factor in the Feb.17 death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Belcher.

"Cytodyne Technologies confidently stands behind the efficacy of its products and the truthfulness of our advertising claims," Cytodyne president and chief executive Bob Chinery said in a written statement. "It's not a coincidence that at this time the prosecutors have decided to file these allegations, given the current sensationalized climate surrounding Ephedra.”

The lawsuit also asks a judge to impose civil penalties against Cytodyne of up to $5,000 for each deceptive advertisement.

This is the second such lawsuit that the local district attorney’s office has become involved in. In February, the DA’s office joined a lawsuit against Delaware-based Cambridge Research Laboratories and Sandco International Inc., in Atlanta for allegedly false and misleading advertisements for a product called HGH Gold.

The suit was filed to stop misleading advertising and allegedly unfair business practices involving sales of HGH Gold, a dietary supplement promoted in the companies' advertisements as a virtual cure-all that does everything from reversing aging to curing diseases.

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