TGA calls on Power Balance to withdraw claims and advertising

The promoters of Power Balance wrist bands are in trouble again. This time the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has ruled against them. 

In part the decision says:

In reaching this conclusion, the Panel noted that the claims made in the advertisements were extraordinary to such a degree that no reasonable retailer could publish them on the basis of assurances from the product sponsor, without requesting evidence that such claims could lawfully be made about the product.

The TGA are asking for the: Withdrawal of representations, Withdrawal of advertisement and the Publication of a retraction.

To re-cap;  Power Balance wrist bands are coloured silicone rings with two small plastic holograms glued on.  The popular silicone bands sell for about $60 (Aus).  A pendant version of the Power Balance sells for about $90 (Aus). The promoters of Power Balance claim the bands somehow, magically, improve your strength and balance. The claims are usually couched in more pseudo scientific terms like:

“…balance, promoting a free exchange of positive and negative ions and align your body’s energy pathways….”

An almost identical product, which I would argue is equally effective (i.e. completely ineffective beyond the placebo effect), is the Placebo Band, which sells for just $2.

Power Balance in Australia has been asked by the TGA to put the following retraction on web sites advertising Power Balance wrist bands:

click - full size

Will Power Balance publish the retraction? Or, once again, will a company ignore the TGA ruling (as many do). We’ll wait with interest.  The Federal Government has come under criticism for giving the TGA the power to investigate shonky medical products and to warn the public, without the authority to fine or force the withdrawal of products.  The TGA has been particularly reluctant to act where a product is considered to have a low risk of causing harm to the user.

As a background to this, readers may be interested in the Vic Skeptics position paper on reforming the TGA; which can be found here.  Our submission on the Position Paper on the Promotion of Therapeutic Goods.

The full TGA decision on Power Balance can be read here:

And will soon be posted on the TGA website here.

Dr Ken Harvey

The complainant in this case was Dr Ken Harvey.

 

Vic Skeptics are in awe of his tenacity in attempting to hold purveyors of valueless therapeutic goods to account – sensational work, Dr Harvey!

He argued:

- that the benefits claimed for the product were “biologically implausible”

And

- that the advertised product fell within the definition of “therapeutic goods” found within the Act, and its advertising therefore breached section 42DL(1)(g) of the Act.

And

- that the advertisements breached sections 4(1)(a), 4(1)(b), 4(2)(a), and 4(2)(c) of the Code because of the benefits claimed for the product.

The TGA also drew attention to some of the more ludicrous claims of the promoters of Power Balance bands:

“….everyone’s body is essentially a complex set of electro-chemical processes, a series of organic chemicals generating electro-magnetic energy….”

“…..you can restore balance & harmonic equilibrium…with a new ‘switch’.”

“Power Balance, after years of research and development, has produced a system to safely restore and optimise the electro-magnetic balance within the human body…”

“RESULTS ARE ALMOST IMMEDIATE… & TRULY PHENOMENAL”

Recently the promoters of Power Balance were called out by consumer magazine Choice, who awarded them a Shonky Award.  Choice gave a beautiful description of Power Balance during the ceremony, “stronger, bendier, balanceder, dumber”.  Choice actually ran a series of double-blind tests to detect any improvement in a person’s balance whilst wearing the band – none was found.

Mal

27 Responses to TGA calls on Power Balance to withdraw claims and advertising

  1. Tom says:

    Yessssss!! Take that Australian Mens Fitness, most of Surfing Australia and the rest of you advertisers and organizations who have taken Power Balance’s dirty money.

    • Phil says:

      fact of the matter: anyone and any organization who publicly displays and promotes these products are corporate whores and sellouts, lacking any morals or integrity.

  2. Jason says:

    Congrats on hitting PowerBalance with the TGA, now, to get them to feel some more pressure.

    Can I suggest we spread this to as many point-of-sale retailers and distributors as possible, and also increase pressure on Eken, QLink, Shuzi and Phiten, among others? Their claims are identical

  3. Perhaps some one at Vic Skepics could make up a flyer, a product warning that could be downloaded by supporters and posted on community notice boards.

    • malvickers says:

      At the very least, where PB is on sale, people can ask if they know about the TGA’s decision. There are some graphic artists in the Vic Skeptics, you know who you are :-)
      Maybe they can help. All good suggestions, keep them coming.

  4. Jason says:

    Good suggestion by Sean there. I’d distribute a load of those myself, let me know if a flyer gets done.

    Might even knock one up if I have time, but with TAM fringe activities already starting I might be a bit pressed for time…

  5. larry says:

    Hi skeptics,
    What a sad old bunch you are..
    How about asking all those people who have had such great benefits from this product.

    Why don’t you bunch do something useful for once.. Stop moaning.

    • Hey buddy, watch the ageism there :)

    • Matt says:

      Hi Larry,

      I’m not sure there was any ‘moaning’ in this article. We were quite pleased with this outcome.

      Also, if you find you’re getting good results from the Power Balance band, then I’d encourage you to consider getting a Placebo Band.

      You’ll get exactly the same results, and they’re only $2 instead of $60!

    • Jason says:

      Hey Larry,

      did you hear a “whooooosh” sound as the point of the article flew past you?

      The only effect power balance has is a placebo and money drain.

    • RipleyP says:

      Call me silly but wasn’t it a sceptic who got the TGA to administer a reality check to PB. I would call that something very useful.

      Or is it a case that Larry might be feeling a little sad about being caught by some scammers selling majic bracelets. It’s ok Larry, scammers are clever and catch the cleverest people. I am glad there are sceptics doing something useful and revealing scams and frauds where they can.

    • Joseph says:

      GOOD JOB LARRY YOU TELL THEM ………………..

    • BillyJoe says:

      Okay, Larry, let us accept that it works through the power of suggestion. But aren’t you just a little concerned that a product that costs $2 to make was sold to you for $60. And that the ‘inventor’ of this product must know it doesn’t work in the way he claims it works. Certainly there is no science here on which the product could possibly be based.

  6. Frat says:

    I doubt whether the ruling will have any effect on people stopping wearing them. A fool and their money are soon parted but a fool and their beliefs stay. People giving up their plastic bracelets will mean that they admit that they were conned in the first place. Best story was from a student at the school I teach at who bought a heap of second power bands for $2 each and sold them for $30 each. When I confiscated one from him he said that he knew that they were useless but he liked making money.

  7. Luke says:

    Hm

    As a former skeptic I must put my two cents in. Until today I would make fun of dumbass “Q-ray” and the like. But today, somebody gave me one of these “Energy bands” (I think the brand was energy armor or something), and did a couple of balance tests (standing on one leg with my arms out and him pressing on one of my arms). Without the bracelet, I stumbled fairly easily. Then he put the bracelet on and it took him MUCH more effort to make me lose my balance. Then he took off that bracelet and put on another one. When he performed the test again, I fell over just as easily. When I pointed out to him that this time it didn’t work, he pointed out to me that this second bracelet was simply just a black rubber bracelet. This surely eliminates the placebo effect theory? I don’t know

    • Matt says:

      Hi Luke,
      I like your thinking. Unfortunately, this is a common “trick” used by promoters of products like Power Balance.
      Check out the videos here:

      http://vicskeptics.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/video-fest-the-power-balance-wrist-band-and-the-arm-press/

      They’ll show you how it’s done.
      Cheers … and stay skeptical! :-)

    • Jason says:

      Luke, “Applied Kinesiology”, the trick they sue to demonstrate the purported effect is an *operator bias* trick.

      It doesn’t much matter what the person standing with their arms out does, it’s all about the direction in which the person pushing them applies force. A subtle change in push angle of only a couple of degrees can make the difference between the “mark” (i.e. you) falling over or not falling over. It’s almost imperceptible.

      In fact, it’s entirely imperceptible *if* you don’t know what’s being done, and it’s easy. I can do the trick with or without rubber bands, on demand.

      As long as the *operator* knows which band is in use, the effect appears to work. Think of it as a really duff magic trick, but rather than being designed to entertain, it’s designed to con $60 out of you.

  8. Michael says:

    I ran the balance test on my brother and surely I’m not the operator in any con. Now you can argue the placebo effect and I didn’t grab a cheap 2$ one just to test (trick) him. However if the effects are real enough placebo or medical and it’s worth it to the consumer then it’s a moot point. That’s like getting mad you pay 4 bucks for a burger at McDonalds and it cost them all of a dollar to make.

  9. What he said^ says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Michael.

    Some would argue even if it were a placebo, if it creates a real change by whatever means it would be worth the $60 price tag. Most of you here, wouldn’t, which is fine.

    People forget the power of the human mind all too much in this day and age and find it much more easy to believe a doctor or some other “authority” figure, yep even if they prescribe them sythetic poison for conditions that have been treated for thousands of years via natural alternatives. Talk about the power of suggestion alright. “good on you Dr Ken Harvey” you say, lol.

    How do most western doctors treat people ? They treat the disease or sickness with pharmaceutical drugs rather than trying to treat the underlying cause. Oh well as long as it keeps thier pockets lined and thier bills payed, right? Let’s prescribe drugs, and keep them coming back as a result…the perfect business plan.

    If this band caused harm in some way to the end user, perhaps I’d agree with the ruling, but the TGA as with most government bodies are thoroughly against any type of alternative methods aimed at the betterment of mental and physical health.

    (do it our way, by our rules, or else!)

    It’s healthy to be a skeptic, but it’s certainly not healthy to be closed minded (at least not until you know what you’re talking about first hand and through experience because you miss out on so much of the sublte side of life, the grey area that makes life a truly beautiful experience.

    Think outside of societies box, think for yourself, and talk only out of personal experience when giving your opinion or advice. What’s the point in parroting on when you don’t know first hand if what your saying is really true?

    *ducks for cover*

    • Matt says:

      It’s important to note that a placebo effect isn’t necessarily a “real” change.

      It might simply be the misperception of change. Or it could be the desire for change. Or it could be someone reporting a change because they think that’s what’s expected by the polite practitioner.

      We humans have myriad different ways in which we can fool ourselves into believing things that aren’t true.

      The key point is evidence, evidence and more evidence. The truly open mind takes in all the evidence makes their decision on that basis.

      We here at Skeptics are defending a principle. And that principle is that claims of efficacy have to be backed up by evidence, or they shouldn’t be made.

      You could say the Power Balance band doesn’t, in itself, do harm. Maybe so.

      But what if someone believes in it so strongly they stop their physiotherapy treatment, which they need to recover from their car accident? Is it doing harm then?

      That sort of thing happens way too often. We’ve seen genuinely tragic cases where patients have replaced proper effective treatment with some “magical” placebo, and died as a result.

      If people know the claims are just marketing spin and still want to buy it, that’s fine. But the information about what’s really going on has to be available for those who genuinely wish to seek the evidence.

    • Frat says:

      I think it is easy to use the close-minded comment as a defence because the user tries to paint themselves as an open-minded person when in reality they are more close-minded than those who question the validity of certain products, i.e. Powerband. It is the “close-minded” ones who are willing to run the tests to gather data who open themselves up to ridicule if the product performs as it professes to do. Those who accept the claims without testing the validity of those claims are the close-minded individuals because they are not willing to put up or shut up.

      It is easy to invoke the conspiracy clause because it is easy to blame someone else for one’s gullibility rather than to look at one’s self. The problem is that the makers Powerband and similar products wanted their products to be accepted by the same standards as currently accepted products but were not willing to allow them to be tested to determine if the products met those standards.

      The argument that the TGA and other bodies are totally against alternative products so will not allow their use demonstrates a naivety on the part of someone who doesn’t understand the scientific method and how it is used to determine if the claims made by manufacturers about a product are valid or not.

      Likewise, the idea that paying $60 for a placebo is fine if the individual paying the amount understands that it is a placebo but the price tag and aggressive marketing campaign smell like a con to assist people to lose weight from their back pocket. The claims that Powerband have made are meant to part one from their money not to assist in health and performance. The current justification that it is okay to pay the $60 because even if one knows that it is a placebo and it is worthwhile paying any price to get that edge is likened to someone losing their money to a Nigerian scam and then saying its okay I will know better next time.

      Those who made those claims initially, I dare say, knew that and knew eventually they would be caught so chose to flood the market with the products rather than to subject them to rigorous testing first. Scientists and the skeptics would be more than willing to accept the claims of these products if they stood up to the same rigorous testing routine that other products have to before they went to market.

      All in all, it has been demonstrated that Powerbands and their ilk have been proved to a con and that the manufacturers used the most gullible in society, athletes, to carry out their con. Athletes, always wanting to get an edge over competitors believed the smoke and mirrors advertising to help the marketers spread the message. The real conspiracy is whether the athletes knew the claims were false and took the money anyway or whether they genuinely believed the hype.

  10. Perhaps, perhaps not. says:

    Humanity as a whole is being programmed to read reality in the desired way – desired by the controllers – by having beliefs and perceptions implanted through ‘education’ (yeah, right), the media, doctors, scientists, politicians and so on. The vast majority are not even doing it knowingly – they are programmed themselves to program others.

    The mind-body decoding system is also systematically imbalanced and destabilised through chemical additives in food and drink, fluoride and other shite in the water supplies, and ever gathering forms of electrical, electromagnetic and radiation pollution. The mind-body is an electrochemical organism on one level and so, of course, it can be distorted electrochemically – and it is.

    Vital for the Control System (the very few) to make slaves of the people (the enormous many) is to ensure that the people perceive and decode reality only through the lens of mind-body and maintain a life-time disconnection from the influence of their true and eternal self – Consciousness. When you retain the connection between mind-body (the computer) and Consciousness (the one at the desk with the mouse and keyboard) you have everything you need. Mind-body ‘logs’ you on to the Cosmic Internet and allows you to interact with its frequency range, but Consciousness gives you the bigger picture, the wider perspective, that the five senses cannot see.

    It is when mind-body becomes disconnected from Consciousness that the trouble starts. I mean, look around you.

    • Jason says:

      Call me cynical, but it’s just possible you might need psychiatric help.

      • Perhaps, perhaps not. says:

        It’s possible, of course. It’s also possible you’re so programmed you fail to understand some simple truth when it’s right in front of you.

        Have a nice life brother.

    • Frat says:

      I am not sure you know what you are talking about and I am definitely sure I don’t understand what you are talking about. You seem to be saying that we are all being controlled by the few through diet and living in a modern society. You also seem to be saying that the link to the universe is through the computer, which is made of the chemicals that you say are destroying our mind-body balance. Am I correct in saying then that the use of Powerbands reconnects you to the cosmic internet? Let me guess, we only use 10% of our brain, right and you have found a way for us to use 100% of our brain?

      Is it then correct that our notion of reality differs from the reality that is connected to our consciousness? If that is the cause, are we really present now or are we merely part of the reality made by our consciousness to serve the needs of the programmers? Did you write the Matrix?

      • Neo From The Matrix says:

        Interesting, interesting.

        Frat, I think you went off the deep end a little there mate.

        Firstly my position in regards to the powerbands is somewhat of a neutral one, certainly to make bold claims a company should have something to back it up if so asked to, but at the same time if the product has helped people then I’m all for that too. To put a price on that or to complain about the profit margin is silly, because you just have to go to any Harvey Norman store to see what I’m talking about, it’s the nature of business in our society.

        I believe “perhaps, perhaps not” has good intentions and just to let you know what he/she “said” was actually a direct quote of david icke (about the programming of humanity etc.) and yeah David is a pretty far out there guy with some pretttty crazy sounding rants, that I’ll say without hesitation. Although in my journeys I have found to be a healthy skeptic you have to be willing and open to at least try and comprehend/research/experience for yourself all information (both sides of the story) that is presented in front of you, before making your judgements. This allows for much more information to be learned than one would perhaps soak up (as opposed to having a completely one sided viewpoint). I found that when I first started activly calling myself a skeptic, I would become very one sided on certiain issues and it really did me no justice. That’s just me though and a lil of my own experience for you to ponder, if you so wish.

        I think it was definitely the wrong place to paste that, LOL, cmon dude on a skeptics board/comment section? What was the desired action/reaction, perhaps to open up our “closed minds” more, perhaps to support the PB, not sure.

        I suppose it does make one think, and just for the record, I LOVE the matrix and even though it’s fiction it made me think a lot.

        Neo, out ;)

  11. Peter Gray says:

    I was just sent a groupon ad for Eken power bands.
    I’ve put in a complaint to the Ad Standards Bureau, should I put one into the TGA as well?

    http://www.ekenpowerbands.com.au/

    eek…

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