It’s officially cold and flu season, and it looks like consumers are taking note of what ingredients are contained in their over-the-counter cold medications.
Last week, a consumer filed a class action in New York federal court against Bayer Healthcare over its Alka-Seltzer brand over-the-counter severe cold medication. The consumer charged the company with falsely claiming on its label that the product contains honey and lemon, when its ingredient list says otherwise.
Bayer, which sells Alka-Seltzer Plus brand mix-in powder packets to treat “Severe Cold & Flu,” was sued by an Alka-Seltzer customer who claims that the company is improperly targeting consumers who want more natural over-the-counter medications. The product, which is labeled as containing “Honey Lemon Zest,” depicts images of a “wedge of fresh lemon” and a “dripping honey dipper” next to a “steaming cup of tea.” The Plaintiff claims that based on the labeling, consumers understand the product to contain honey and lemon ingredients which are expected to provide some therapeutic benefit. However, according to the Plaintiff, the active and inactive ingredients list reveals that there is no honey or lemon zest contained in the product.
The Plaintiff claims that, with an uptick in interest in the over-the-counter natural products category, consumers viewing the product’s label understand the lemon and honey references as implying that the product will improve their health and immunity – despite a lack of credible evidence supporting the notion that either honey or lemon are effective in treating colds and other symptoms identified. Because of the products’ representations, Plaintiff says, the product is sold at a price higher than it would otherwise be sold for.
The Plaintiff seeks to represent New York residents who bought the product at issue, as well as a consumer fraud multistate class covering residents in other states. The lawsuit seeks damages, attorneys' fees, and other relief.
This lawsuit is another example of consumers taking issue with words and images on product labels that might falsely imply something about the product's ingredients. (Take a look at “wasabi peas” that aren’t made with wasabi or raspberry flavored water.)
"Based on the labeling, consumers will expect the Product contains honey and lemon ingredients, in the form of 'honey' and 'lemon zest,' the outermost layer of the peel and that these ingredients provide some therapeutic benefit in addition to the identified active ingredients."