The Effects of Deceptive Marketing of Herbal Products
The deceptive marketing of herbal products is unethical because they take advantage of vulnerable and desperate consumers by offering them ineffective treatments and false hope for their recovery. “Some of these products make claims that they support immunity, improve memory, and even cure cancer. Such claims appear to be a response to increasing popularity among consumers of nutritional products that improve or maintain health and wellness” (Hoffmann and Schwartz 54). Consumers are currently being subjected to a barrage of health claims when they purchase foods and dietary supplements. These claims are often false and they are intended to manipulate shoppers to purchase the products in question. The products target the desire by consumers of health products to enhance their health and overall well-being. “A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined how the FDA has responded to information about serious adverse events and its ability to identify and act on concerns about the safety of dietary supplements and to educate consumers about this problem” (Marcus and Grollman 1035). Dietary supplements are usually self-prescribed, consequently, consumers do not have the knowledge to make informed choices regarding their use. “Physicians should provide guidance to patients about the use of dietary supplements. Unfortunately, physicians’ knowledge of this subject often is limited” (Marcus and Grollman 1036). The readily available information on the internet, on the supplements, and on the media is misleading. The common information on supplements typically exaggerates their efficacy and does not sufficiently document the side effects of these products. “Education about dietary supplements in many academic institutions is provided by advocates of complementary and alternative medicine in integrative medicine programs. The poor quality of integrative curricula concerning dietary supplements and other alternative therapies was reviewed recently” (Marcus and Grollman 1036). The pervasive deceptive marketing of herbal products is compounded by the fact that the information on these products mostly originates from individuals who vouch for the inclusion of alternative medicine in hybrid herbal products and conventional medicine programs.
Many herbal dietary supplements like Ginsomin are deceptively marketed in contravention to existing statutes and regulations. Avigan et al. postulate that:
In the United States (US), the risk of hepatotoxicity linked to the widespread use of certain herbal products has gained increased attention among regulatory scientists. Based on current US law, all dietary supplements sold domestically, including botanical supplements, are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a special category of foods. Under this designation, regulatory scientists do not routinely evaluate the efficacy of these products prior to their marketing, despite the content variability and phytochemical complexity that often characterizes them…(1)
There has been an increase in the occurrence of hepatotoxicity due to the use of certain herbal products, and this has been linked to the absence of a routine evaluation of herbal products prior to their marketing. The deceptive marketing of herbal products like Ginsomin is dangerous because it leads to their unrestricted use, and this is responsible for the incidences of clinically serious hepatotoxicity. Avigan et al. (1) state that 15.5% of the patients admitted with hepatotoxic events in the United States are precipitated by herbal products and dietary supplements, herbal drug induced liver problems rose from 7 to 20% in the period between 2004 and 2013. The misleading information provided by marketers of herbal products portends adverse consequences for users. The rising cases of toxicity caused by the abuse of these medicines have the potential to cause serious debilitating injuries, and in the worst scenarios, they can cause death. It is prudent to list all the active ingredients in herbal products to protect vulnerable groups such as the elderly, pregnant women, and allergic individuals from the side effects that may present as a consequence of using the products.
Hoffmann and Schwartz state that:
Even more troubling is the potential for harm caused by giving consumers false hope that nutritional products are the best solution to their health problems. In the case of some nutritional products, internet advertisements claim that the products can improve symptoms related to serious illnesses, including chronic diseases and chronic pain. Such claims might lead consumers to forgo medically recommended therapies…. (56)
Clients suffering from serious illnesses like cancer and HIV/AIDS can be tempted to disregard their treatment regimens and opt for herbal products after being subjected to deceptive marketing, and this can reduce the quality of their lives. Carriers of the HIV virus may abandon their antiviral drugs and replace them with “safer” herbal products that may not help with their illness. Moreover, cancer patients can forego useful treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Apart from reducing the quality of their lives, such actions can drastically shorten their lifespans.
Herbal products such as Ginsomin are typically used to alleviate and mitigate the effects of certain medical conditions. They may also be used to improve the quality of life. Even with their widespread popularity, some herbal products do not have the scientific proof to back up the claims of their effectiveness. Ideally, the claims on such products should contain precise language telling users and potential consumers that there is little evidence to support the information outlined. Moreover, the drugs should have advisory dosages to prevent the instances of overdosing by clients who are desperate to get rid of their health problems. The manufacturers of herbal products should also avoid misadvising consumers regarding the capacity of their treatments to substitute tried and tested medicines and procedures.
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