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Your bad breath may be worth $10

Wrigley agrees to pay consumers of Eclipse gum and quit saying that it kills germs. A complaint against Trident is pending.

By Teresa Mears Jun 8, 2010 2:02PM

If you have chewed Wrigley's Eclipse gum in the last two years, you're eligible for up to $10 as part of a class-action settlement (.pdf file) over advertising claims.

 

What? You mean it didn't really kill the germs that cause bad breath?

 

Maybe it did. Maybe it didn't. Wrigley had claimed that an ingredient in the gum, magnolia bark extract, killed germs. But the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit said the studies were flawed and there was no scientific proof that magnolia bark extract, a substance used in Chinese medicine for a variety of conditions, killed germs that cause bad breath.

As part of the settlement Wrigley, which did its own research, agreed to quit making those claims and refund up to $6 million to consumers who bought the gum.

 

Jonathan Stein, an attorney at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, which represented the plaintiffs, explained the plaintiffs' views in a statement:

Today, a lot of consumers are looking for foods and products to help improve their health, their aesthetics and help them live longer, and we want to make sure that companies have substantiation for the claims that they're making.

Wrigley and Cadbury USA, the maker of Trident, have been engaged in a battle of tit-for-tat complaints about each other's medical claims for sugarless gum, a multimillion-dollar market that has grown as consumers buy manufacturers' claims that gum could be good for their teeth.

The New York Times last year examined the growing use of health claims to market sugarless gum. Despite the recession, sales of the product have grown. Sugarless gum accounts for 80% of the gum sold, up from 48% in 1998, the Times reported.

 

Packaged Facts, a market research company, noted the effect of health claims on consumers in a report last year:

As long as the deep economic recession lasts, millions of Americans will think of saving money on postponed visits to the dentist, every time they select a chewing gum.

But Wrigley and Cadbury challenged each other's claims with the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau.

 

The National Advertising Review Board, an industry group, recommended last November that Wrigley quit saying that "most other gums just mask bad breath." The NARB also suggested Wrigley quit advertising that it has been scientifically proved that the magnolia bark extract in the gum kills germs that cause bad breath, BrandWeek reported.

Wrigley had no immediate comment on the settlement of the lawsuit but defended its claims after the NARB ruling.

"Wrigley respectfully disagrees with the NARB's findings and stands behind the scientific research regarding Eclipse gum with magnolia bark extract," Wrigley representative Jennifer Jackson Luth said, as reported in BrandWeek.

 

And Cadbury USA's claim that chewing Trident Xtra Care sugarless gum strengthens your teeth because of an ingredient called recaldent? After Wrigley complained, the case was sent to the Federal Trade Commission, which has yet to rule.

 

If you want to make a claim in the Wrigley Eclipse case, you'll need to wait until the judge approves the settlement and the claim forms are drawn up. Consumers who submit a simplified claim can receive $5 and those who submit a more complex form and attest under penalty of perjury that they purchased the Eclipse gum can receive up to $10. The exact amount will depend on the number of claims made.

 

Speaking of claims: The case is a reminder that medical claims for nonmedical products should be taken with a grain of salt. If a company comes up with another claim that chewing gum improves your teeth, your health or your golf score, be skeptical.

 

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