Zicam’s Safety Withdrawal Language Isn’t Much of a Withdrawal

In New media, Product recall on June 17, 2009 at 10:02 am

In terms of announcing the withdrawal of Zicam, Matrixx does a very good job of making the information prominent on its Zicam website. However, a bigger issue may be what the company says, rather than how easy the information is to access.

In the paragraphs below we’ll see how the company uses a combination of denial, bolstering, and attacking the accuser in its statement. More importantly, we’ll see how those strategies may ultimately confuse consumers and lead to additional health risk.

On June 16, the FDA sent Matrixx a warning letter and issued an alert about its Zicam products–citing more than 130 reports of people losing their sense of smell (a condition known as anosmia). According to an article in the NY Times, Matrixx itself “has received more than 800 reports of Zicam users losing their sense of smell but did not provide those reports to the F.D.A.” As a result, Matrixx reluctantly announced that it is voluntarily complying with the FDA to withdraw those products, but will seek a meeting with FDA officials.

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In both the opening webpage and the “message to consumers” page, Matrixx denies the accusations, blaming the incidents of anosmia on the common cold rather than the Zicam products. In its statement, the company argued:

“… the most common cause of anosmia is the common cold, which Zicam Cold Remedy intranasal gel products are taken to treat. Given the enormous number of doses sold and colds treated, there is no reason to believe the number of complaints of anosmia received is more than the number that would be expected in the general population.”

Matrixx also employs a bolstering strategy throughout its statement with comments such as:

“consumer safety “as always been the company’s top priority”

“scientific and medical evidence compiled…has demonstrated both the safety and efficacy of Zicam”

“Zicam Cold Remedy products have alleviated countless numbers of colds for millions of satisfied consumers”

Finally, the company inserted an attack of sorts on the FDA for (1) not working with Matrixx before issuing the warning and (2) for not being up to speed on the scientific data regarding anosmia:

“We were surprised that the FDA decided to take this action without notifying us first, given our cooperative relationship with the FDA since we launched our first product in 1999. Had we had the opportunity to sit down with the FDA beforehand, we are confident that the FDA would have agreed that the scientific data clearly demonstrated the safety of our products.”

In the end, this analysis demonstrates that Matrixx is following the FDA’s recommendation and is even making the safety information easy for consumers to see. However, based on the comments made by the company, consumers are receiving a mixed message that may leave them confused, which may lead to them continue taking medication that may harm them.

Questions? Additional thoughts? Analysis of your own? Please leave a comment.

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