The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been asked to investigate celebrity endorsements of detox teas.
In a three-page letter to the FTC chairman, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D), said social media marketers are engaged in “false promotion as shortcuts to healthy weight loss and management.” He cited several brands and singled out Khloé Kardashian and Kim Kardashian West.
“Kim Kardashian, a powerful influence on young women, recently raved about how Flat Tummy Co.’s products are ‘helping me get my tummy back to flat,’ implying that these products are an integral part of achieving this level of fame and success,” he wrote. “Additionally, celebrities can reportedly earn six-figure sums for a single social media post promoting a ‘detox tea,’ frequently without any expectation that these celebrities personally use these teas and expose themselves to the products’ associated dangers, in violation of the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines.”
In his letter he said celebrities are paid $10,000 to $300,000 for an Instagram post promoting products that “are ineffective at best and dangerous as worst.” He cited Fit Tea, Lyfe Tea, Bootea, SkinnyMint Tea, and Flat Tummy Co.
Blumenthal did not include in his letter the names of more conventional brands that include ‘detox’ on their labels and marketing materials. Many tea firms use this description. Instead he singled out brands containing senna.
Blumenthal said that while approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an over-the-counter laxative for occasional use, “the National Institutes of Health (NIH) cautions against using this product for more than 14 days, and notes there is insufficient evidence for its effectiveness in promoting weight loss.” He explained that adolescents and young adults experiencing psychological problems could be further harmed by weight-loss marketing messages.
“Research has shown that girls and young women who begin using laxatives — like those found in ‘detox teas’ — for weight loss are at a higher risk for developing eating disorders, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents avoid these products completely due to their associating with eating disorders,” writes Blumenthal.
Side effects can lead to bowel damage, heart function disorders, muscle weakness and damage to their livers, Blumenthal said.
People Magazine reported Blumenthal’s praise for Jameela Jamil — an actress actively fighting against these products and criticizing celebrities who endorse them — as someone who was negatively impacted by laxative products, and for her work against them.
“She has stated that ‘I was the teenager who starved herself for years, who spent all her money on miracle cures and laxatives and tips from celebrities on how to maintain a weight that was lower than what my body wanted to be. I was sick, I have had digestion and metabolism problems for life.’” writes Blumenthal.
In 2017 FTC began mandating that influencers on social media explicitly state when a post is sponsored by #ad or #partner.
The Connecticut senator, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Action, called for the FTC and FDA to work in tandem “to inform the public about the true harms of these teas” and “take appropriate enforcement action to protect unwitting consumers from harm.”
Read full text of his letter here.