False Advertising? Class action lawyers tee off against Tetley

In yet another example of consumer class action attorneys seeking to extort a windfall from a food product manufacturer, a California class action lawsuit was recently filed against Tetley, USA.  The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court on behalf of California consumers who purchased tea from the company, states that Tetley falsely advertised its tea products by utilizing improper antioxidant, nutrient content, and health claims.  To read the class action complaint, click here.

The Plaintiff also claims that Tetley’s Web site inaccurately states  that the antioxidant in its tea helps to combat a wide list of conditions.  At issue are such statements as the antioxidant: “neutralizes free radicals that can cause cell damage linked to certain cancers”; helps fight heart disease; boosts the immune system and helps “reduce infections”; “lower[s] risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma”; reduces risk of stroke and protects lungs from cigarette damage; reduces risk of breast cancer; and “provide[s] a boost to exercise-induced weight loss.”

In addition, the lawsuit alleges that  the tea company makes false claims on its packaging, such as: “Tetley Tea: the smart choice for your healthy lifestyle; Like fruits and vegetables, tea is an excellent source of natural antioxidants which help boost the body’s immune system. So, drink to your health with Tetley.”  The Plaintiff justifies these claims by pointing to a warning letter sent by the FDA to Unilever, the parent company of Lipton Tea, for making similar claims about its tea products.

The lawsuit  is based on alleged violations of  several California laws: the unlawful business act and practices law, Business & Professions Code Section 17200; the Consumer Legal Remedies Act; the Song-Beverly Act; and the Magnuson-Moss Act. In addition to damages and restitution (based on unjust enrichment or disgorgement), plaintiffs seek an order requiring Tetley to cease and desist from selling misbranded tea products and enjoining Tetley from falsely advertising its products.

A health claim is one of the most powerful triggers in advertising, and like any powerful weapon, manufacturers should think carefully before employing it.  Anticipate a counterattack in the form of a class action lawsuit, and be certain of your ability to adequately defend against one by arming yourself with evidence that fully substantiates any health-related claims.

Author: Seth Heyman
Seth D. Heyman is a California attorney with extensive experience in advertising and marketing law, corporate law, contracts, governmental regulations, international business, and Internet law. He has counseled numerous successful companies, both public and private, and was responsible for regulatory compliance, contract management, corporate governance, and HR best practices for multiple organizations in many diverse industries, including marketing, telecommunications, energy, and technology development. He offers insight and guidance on federal and state direct mail, TV, radio, telemarketing, and Internet marketing laws, as well as online promotions, Internet privacy, data protection regulations, and similar matters.

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