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Do you trust advice from your local supplements sales clerk?

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) presented to congress the results of a “secret shopper” investigation, which found that in some stores, salespeople made inappropriate or illegal claims about dietary supplements.

What to do?

In response, the Natural Products Association (NPA) announced an expanded effort to educate and train retailers and their staffs on what can and cannot be said to customers.

This effort initially will include the following:

  • A “tool kit” for retailers to use to train their staffs
  • Expanded training programs
  • Partnerships with industry to broaden the reach of educational materials
  • Rules for salespeople
  • An education and training web page

The bottom line?

The underlying problem is that those who sell supplements could just as easily be selling soap. Most have no appreciation for the potential for damage that herbals and other supplements can cause.

This isn’t meant as a criticism of sales people. It’s just not fair to expect people without a healthcare-related degree to understand or appreciate the implications of their casual, unsubstantiated comments.

And it’s unlikely that the average sales person will learn much from “educational” materials designed and distributed by organizations with a vested interest in selling these products. Why would a supplements manufacturer be any different from a pharmaceutical company?

My suggestion is to make an accredited degree as a pharmacy technician the first criterion for sales applicants in a vitamin shop.

5/28/10 12:40 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.