Consumers Feel “Scammed” by Walmart and CVS over Homeopathic Fake Medicine, Survey Shows

For Immediate Release: September 17, 2019
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785

Survey Respondents Lose Trust in Megaretailers, Express Confusion and Betrayal, Favor Clearer Labeling
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Being presented with the facts about homeopathic products leads Americans to lose significant trust in the two largest drug retailers, Walmart and CVS, both of which are the subject of a lawsuit over their sale of homeopathic fake medicine alongside science-based remedies. According to a new survey, exposure to the truth about the pseudoscience of homeopathy leads a large percentage of consumers to feel ripped off and deceived by the megacorporations to whom they entrust their health and the health of their families. 

The survey, conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Center for Inquiry and generously supported by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, asked respondents about how they make their purchasing decisions for cough, cold, and flu remedies at Walmart and CVS, and about their general knowledge of the basic principles of homeopathy, an 18th-century pseudoscience that has been utterly disproven, having no medical benefits beyond that of a placebo. The Center for Inquiry is suing both Walmart and CVS in the District of Columbia for fraud over their deceptive sale of homeopathic products. 

Walmart and CVS sell homeopathic products alongside real, evidence-based medicine, both on store shelves and online, making no meaningful distinction between them. Nearly half of survey respondents said that they rely on their retailers to guide them to the remedies they need. 46 percent said they go to the aisle labeled for their condition (in this survey’s case, “cough, cold, and flu”), and 3 percent ask a store employee who is not a pharmacist. 

FEELING SCAMMED AND CHEATED: Once respondents were told the essential facts about homeopathy’s pseudoscientific claims, 41 percent described their feelings about the purchase of a homeopathic remedy in deeply negative terms. Nearly a quarter of respondents (23 percent) used words such as “bad,” “terrible,” “horrified,” and “upset,” while 15 percent said they felt “ripped off,” “cheated,” “deceived,” “scammed,” or entitled to a refund. 3 percent were made to feel “stupid” or “foolish.” 

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Seeing the facts about homeopathy led to a 17-point drop in respondents’ trust for Walmart and CVS (79 percent before the explanation to 62 percent after), and a 13-point increase in respondents saying they trust them “just a little” or “not at all” (16 percent to 29 percent). 

“The vast majority of consumers have placed their faith in Walmart and CVS, entrusting these retailers with their families’ health and wellbeing every time they purchase a remedy for a medical condition,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “But once they are empowered with information, they realize that these retail giants are selling them useless fake medicine, and a great deal of their trust in Walmart and CVS evaporates.”

MAJORITY FAVOR CLEARER LABELING OF HOMEOPATHIC PRODUCTS: When presented with the facts about homeopathy, 63 percent of respondents say they favor the labeling of homeopathic drugs to effectively communicate that there is no scientific evidence for their efficacy and the claims of homeopathy are not accepted by most modern medical experts, as recommended by the Federal Trade Commission. Of those who expressed an opinion, an overwhelming majority, 78 percent, said they now had a negative opinion of homeopathic products.

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IF IT DOESN’T QUACK LIKE A DUCK…: Before the pseudoscientific principles of homeopathy were explained to respondents, only 1 percent of them correctly identified “Anas barbariae,” the active ingredient in the homeopathic drug Oscillococcinum, as the heart and liver of a duck. 22 percent thought that Anas barbariae was a medicine (it is most certainly not), and 13 percent thought it was a vitamin. Once the ingredient’s true nature was explained, almost half of respondents (46 percent) viewed the product less favorably. 

“The average consumer can’t possibly be expected to understand the scientific-sounding jargon of homeopathy, identify the archaic, polysyllabic ingredients, or comprehend the implications of the numbers describing the hocus-pocus of dilution levels,” said Nick Little, Vice President and Legal Counsel of CFI. “People simply trust that their retailers are offering them safe and effective cold and flu remedies in aisles the store labels ‘cold & flu,’ when in fact they are being sold useless-but-expensive sugar pills and vials of water.”

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CLEAR INFORMATION LEADS MANY TO REJECT HOMEOPATHY: CVS’s own website had once included an explanation of homeopathics that read, in part, “most modern scientific authorities do not take homeopathy seriously, putting it in the same category as perpetual motion machines, ghosts, and ESP.” They no longer include this information.Hearing this explanation alone led 42 percent of respondents to say they felt less favorably about homeopathic remedies. 

“CVS used to plainly and openly acknowledge homeopathy’s lack of scientific validity, and now it doesn’t,” said Little. “And yet it still sells those same products they admitted were pseudoscientific. One wonders: was the truth hurting their sales?”

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SHELVING FAKE MEDICINE WITH REAL MEDICINE A PRESCRIPTION FOR CONFUSION: 1 out of 10 respondents said they have accidentally purchased a homeopathic product, and an additional 2 out of 10 are not sure whether they may have unknowingly done so. “Think of it this way,” said Little. “Of the tens of millions of people who have purchased products from Walmart and CVS that they believed would treat their real medical condition, tens of thousands of them discovered after the fact that they had unknowingly thrown their money away on what Walmart and CVS know to be useless snake oil.” 

“I know I’d feel ripped off, and that’s how many of our respondents said they felt, too.”

Even before the facts of homeopathy were explained to respondents, 32 percent said that homeopathics do not belong in the cough, cold, and flu section alongside evidence-based medicines. 

“Before respondents were even told the facts concerning homeopathy’s principles of dilution—that homeopathic products are simply sugar pills and or water, the ridiculous claims about the potency of non-existent active ingredients, or that one such ingredient in a particular homeopathic cold and flu remedy is the heart and liver of a duck—a third of respondents already believed that homeopathics and real medicine should not be shelved together,” said Little. “It is illustrative of the confusion surrounding homeopathy that 25 percent said they were unsure and 42 percent thought it was fine to shelve homeopathics with science-based medicine. This is the very kind of confusion, that risks consumers health and wastes their money, that we are hoping to end with our legal efforts on behalf of consumers.”

Lake Research Partners designed and administered this survey, which was conducted online. The survey reached 1000 U.S. adults plus an oversample of 200 Washington, D.C. residents. The survey was conducted July 22nd – 26th, 2019. The margin of error for the national sample is +/- 3.1%, while the margin of error for the DC sample is +/- 6.9%.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at