The Goop-ification of wellness is on the way out (you can thank Gen Z)
Rina Raphael, Los Angeles Times
TINA.org breaks down the legal issues of marketing a "hangover supplement."
UPDATE 12/29/21: Tomo has removed the word “hangover” from several of its customer reviews, replacing it with words and phrases that describe the symptoms of a hangover such as tiredness and difficulty functioning “the next day.” Our original ad alert follows.
In a feat of linguistic gymnastics, Tomo, on its homepage, uses an array of euphemisms to describe what its “post-alcohol recovery” supplement is formulated to address, without actually saying the word.
Rather than come out and say “hangover,” Tomo alludes to “that nasty feeling,” “that crippling feeling” and “discomfort” after drinking. (Tomo actually has a good reason to avoid the term, which we’ll get to in a bit.) Its users, on the other hand, whose reviews Tomo features further down the homepage, are more direct. They are not afraid to speak the unspoken word.
Writes one user:
This is the best hangover supplement on the market today! After only one week of using this product, my friends and I could tell a huge difference in how we felt the next day after an evening of drinking. Highly recommend it to everyone who wants to wake up feeling refreshed the next day after drinking alcohol, no matter how much you consumed or how late you were out drinking with your friends! Also tastes great!
Adds another user:
This stuff really works! The only supplement that ever helped me when I get bad hangovers and it works every time, would definitely recommend trying it out if you suffer from bad hangovers like I do!
And one more for good measure:
My friends were amazed how I could drink as much as them without getting hungover.
These user reviews also appear on the supplement’s product page. Here’s why they’re a problem: According to the FDA, “A hangover is a sign or symptom of alcohol intoxication, a disease.” Therefore, claims to prevent hangovers are claims to prevent a sign or symptom of a disease, which are claims that only FDA-approved drugs can make.
Last year, the FDA issued warning letters to seven supplement makers regarding claims that the companies’ products cure, treat, mitigate or prevent hangovers. Three of the seven letters cited “personal testimonials.” Among them: “This stuff really works. Either before you imbibe, or after. If you have had too much to drink, it will stop the spins, and staggers, and you don’t get a hangover the next morning. It will knock out an existing hangover as well.”
In response to an inquiry by TINA.org, a Tomo spokesman said on Tuesday morning “all violating customer comments” will be removed “as soon as possible.” As of Wednesday afternoon, no progress had been made.
As part of its inquiry TINA.org also asked whether Dr. Joris Verster, who is described as an “advisor” on the Tomo website, in addition to the founder of the Alcohol Hangover Research Group, is, or ever was, compensated by the company. The spokesman confirmed that the company “reimbursed Dr. Verster for the time he spent on advising Tomo.”
It is a paper written by Dr. Verster that serves as “the science” behind Tomo, according to a How It Works page. In the paper, Dr. Verster doesn’t shy away from using the term “hangover,” but he also acknowledges that more research is needed regarding Tomo’s effectiveness. For example, he writes:
[D]ata supports the hypothesis behind Tomo that administering ingredients with antioxidants properties (vitamin C, L-Cysteine, zinc, niacin, vitamin B6 & B12, mung bean sprout powder, L-Glutamine, green tea leaf extract, prickly pear leaf extract, and broccoli sprout extract) could diminish the alcohol hangover by reducing the oxidative stress reaction.
Dr. Verster also admits in the paper that “scientists are still trying to fully understand hangovers.” Meanwhile, a box of Tomo Post-Alcohol Recovery, containing 10 packets that you mix with water and take before, during or after drinking, sells for $35.
In the news
Tomo (formerly known as SunUp) has gotten a lot of positive media coverage by virtue of its two founders being Yale students at the time of its launch. “Yale Students Think They’ve Found a Natural Cure for Hangovers,” TIME.com wrote in 2017, in a typical headline.
Despite TINA.org alerting Tomo to the issue, the company continues to claim that it has found a hangover cure. And if action isn’t taken to correct the deceptive marketing, perhaps its founders shouldn’t be surprised to wake up one morning with something worse than a hangover: a warning letter from the FDA.
Find more of our coverage on alcohol here.
Rina Raphael, Los Angeles Times
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