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Zicam: Smelling Trouble?

Apr 11, 2006 | Washington Post

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched an inquiry into the advertising and promotion of Zicam Cold Remedy and half a dozen similar over-the-counter cold products manufactured by Matrixx Initiatives of Phoenix. The company disclosed the investigation last week in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying it was designed to determine whether Matrixx engaged in "unfair or deceptive acts or practices." Matrixx has been asked to provide information to the agency by April 27.

The Response

Matrixx spokesman Rob Murphy said that the company is cooperating with the FTC request, that it believes its advertising and promotions are accurate and comply with the law and that it stands by its products. John Mendenhall, director of the FTC's Cleveland office, where the inquiry was initiated, declined to comment or to confirm that an investigation is underway.

The Background

In January the company agreed to pay $12 million to settle 340 lawsuits brought by consumers who claim that Zicam Cold Remedy, the zinc nasal gel that is the company's flagship product, damaged or destroyed their sense of smell. Matrixx denied that Zicam was responsible and blamed a virus.

Last fall the company introduced a new control tip sprayer that prevents the gel from being forcefully expelled. The company said the new tip was a "product advancement," not a response to the hundreds of lawsuits it was then facing.

Around the same time, Matrixx launched a national advertising campaign on behalf of Zicam featuring testimonials from users, among them radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

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