Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General

 

Division of Consumer Affairs
Reni Erdos,
Director

For Immediate Release:
For Further Information Contact:
October 16, 2003
Genene Morris, 973-504-6327

NEW JERSEY SUES FOUNDER OF GOEN SEMINARS
Alleges Promoter, Maker and Distributor of Dietary Supplements Such as "TrimSpa"
And Other Defendants Deceived Consumers and Put Them at Risk for Health Problems

NEWARK—New Jersey is suing the founder of Goen weight-loss and stop-smoking seminars alleging he and other defendants intentionally misled consumers through a series of false and deceptive claims that extolled the benefits of hypnosis as a drug–free alternative to other weight–loss and smoking-cessation programs, Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and Consumer Affairs Director Reni Erdos announced today. In fact, the seminars were nothing more than a ploy to sell dietary supplements, including ephedra-based TrimSpa, without regard for the health of consumers, Harvey and Erdos said.

The State's six-count complaint, filed today in Morris County Superior Court, alleges Alex Szynalski, founder of Goen Seminars Institute, Inc., carried out a bait–and–switch advertising scheme that promoted the use of hypnosis at Goen seminars as a foolproof way to lose weight or to stop smoking, without the use of drugs. It was not until after consumers attended the seminars that they learned the truth: Goen dietary supplements were the focal point of each program.

The complaint against Szynalski alleges that to boost sales of Goen supplements, he and other defendants misinformed consumers about their effectiveness, making claims that had no scientific basis. For example, they deceptively referred to one supplement, Lipo Spa, as "liposuction in a bottle."

In addition, the Attorney General alleges that defendants’ advertisements failed to warn consumers of the dangers of taking the ephedra-based supplement TrimSpa and also failed to provide adequate notice that they should consult a physician before taking the product. Ephedra is a stimulant derived from the Chinese herb ma huang that has been proven to cause headaches, irritability and heart palpitations, and has been associated with strokes, seizures, high blood pressure and heart attacks.

When defendants did advise consumers to consult a physician, the information was buried in their promotional materials and in fine print.

Advertisements claimed that for the $59.99 cost of the seminars, participants could lose as much as 120 pounds a year or stop smoking. They asserted that participating consumers "can achieve immediate and life long results after only one simple session" and that they would experience "34 high powered, fat eliminating suggestions best described as a deliberate and systematic bombardment of fat destroying technology." The advertisements did not, however, say that participating consumers could achieve those results only if they purchased Goen supplements.

"The only thing that was deliberate and systematic was the defendants' deception," Attorney General Harvey said. "The seminars were just a veiled attempt to sell Goen supplements. What's even more troubling is that the defendants hawked these supplements without clearly warning consumers about the potentially life–threatening side effects of products containing ephedra, such as TrimSpa."

"The defendants' representation that Goen Seminars used hypnosis as a drug-free alternative to lose weight or stop smoking was a bald faced lie," said Director Erdos. "Once consumers attended the seminars, they were bombarded with sales pitches for the supplements. In fact, the hypnosis portion was a minor part of the seminars and, we allege, no effort was made to ensure participants were, indeed, hypnotized."

At the seminars, participants were urged to make purchases ranging from a single bottle of one supplement for $44.95 to a 16-pack combination of supplements for $459.99.

This is the second time this year that the Attorney General's Office has filed suit against a company that markets ephedra-based supplements. In July, New Jersey sued Cytodyne Technologies, the Manasquan-based company that markets Xenadrine RFA–1 and Xenadrine EFX, alleging it misrepresented the efficacy of the dietary supplements and deliberately withheld troubling information about the potentially life-threatening side effects of the products. Xenadrine RFA–1 contained ephedra. The State's case against Cytodyne Technologies is still pending.

In addition to Szynalski, who is also known as Alex Goen, the State's complaint also names as defendants:

Goen Technologies, Nutramerica and Goen Institute are all headquartered at 8 Ridgedale Ave., Cedar Knolls, N.J. The defendants sell TrimSpa, Lipo Spa and CarbSpa to consumers who are overweight to allegedly help them slim down. They also sell TrimSpa to consumers who want to stop smoking without gaining weight. In addition, defendants manufacture ephedra-free TrimSpa EF, which they claim is for consumers who have high-blood pressure, thyroid complications or a history of heart complications or who are taking MAO inhibitors.

In addition to failing to disclose the potential risks associated with TrimSpa, the complaint alleges that the defendants made unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of Goen supplements through mail promotions, newspaper and radio advertisements and Web sites. For example, the defendants asserted that TrimSpa takes "extra glucose and blood sugar that your body produces when you overeat – or eat the wrong things – and directs it to your muscles, where it's used as energy instead of being stored as – you guessed it – fat!" Their advertisements also claim that TrimSpa has "thermogenic (fat destroying) influences" that help "to immediately metabolize ugly fat."

There is no scientific research supporting the claims that TrimSpa metabolizes fat or regulates blood sugar, according to the State's complaint. Rather, the complaint alleges, ephedra acts as an appetite suppressant. While a patent application for TrimSpa identifies glucosamine as an active ingredient that "blocks the effect of insulin, burning up stored fat and resulting in weight loss," clinical studies have found that glucosamine infusion in humans has no effect on insulin.

The complaint also alleges that there is no scientific basis for defendants' claims that CarbSpa "reduces absorption of carbohydrates" and that Lipo Spa "sucks the fat right out of food you eat before it can get to your hips, thighs, waist, neck or arms."

The complaint alleges that defendants offered a 110-percent, money-back guarantee, but regularly refused to make full or timely payments to people who demanded a refund. The State is seeking civil penalties and restitution for affected consumers, as well as an order that would permanently bar defendants from making unsubstantiated claims about their supplements and that would require them to disclose the risks associated with the use of ephedra.

Deputy Attorneys General Joshua T. Rabinowitz and Sunil Raval of the Division of Law are handling this case for the State.

The active ingredient in ephedra is ephedrine, which is regulated as a drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when chemically synthesized. But herbal ephedra is classified as a dietary supplement, like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and other herbs and botanicals. Herbal supplements are not subject to the same strict regulation as drugs.

TrimSpa actually contains both ephedrine, in the form of herbal ephedra, and guarana seed, an herbal supplement that has the same chemical composition as caffeine. Although the FDA has banned over–the–counter drugs that combine ephedrine and caffeine, because of the health risks associated with the combination, the ban does not extend to the equivalent herbal combination found in TrimSpa.

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Posted October 2003