LA Lap-Band weight loss firm warned about ads

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(AP) – A company that promotes Lap-Band weight-loss surgery was warned to pull advertising that federal officials claim failed to warn potential customers of the risks. The Food and Drug Administration warned Lap-Band VIP last month to change its billboard and television ads or risk regulatory action, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Co-owner Dr. Shahram Salimitari said Monday that his Los Angeles-based company was taking down its billboards. “Most of my patients come through referral,” Salimitari said. “We don’t need to advertise like that to get patients. We do it by taking care of patients.”

The adjustable band has been available in the U.S. since 2001 and the surgery, considered relatively low-risk and reversible, has been growing in popularity despite costs that can run $20,000. During surgery, the band is placed over the top of the stomach and inflated with saline to tighten it and restrict how much food can enter and pass through the stomach. The device was developed as an alternative to gastric bypass surgery, a permanent procedure in which food is rerouted from a pouch in the stomach to the small intestine.

The advertising allegations against Lap-Band VIP were similar to those that the FDA made in December against 1-800-GET-THIN, which steered customers to affiliated clinics in Southern California through freeway billboards and widespread television, radio and Internet advertising. That company also was hit by investigations and lawsuits over the deaths of five patients and has pulled most of its ads.

Lap-Band manufacturer Allergan Inc. told the Times in February that it would no longer sell its product to clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN.

On its website, Lap-Band VIP says the procedure is “the safest weight loss surgery that you can get” and is minimally invasive.

On its website, 1-800-GET-THIN warns that placement of the Lap-Band is “major surgery and, as with any surgery, death can occur.”

Salimitari used to perform Lap-Band procedures at a clinic associated with 1-800-GET-THIN but said he left and later formed Lap-Band VIP.

“There have been no deaths associated with LapBandVIP.com” and its rate of surgical complications is less than the national average, Shayla Reed, the firm’s general manager, said in a statement to the Times.

However, one patient has sued doctors and a surgical center affiliated with Lap-Band VIP, contending that an anesthesiologist cut her esophagus while placing a breathing tube into her throat during a 2010 surgery.

The defendants have denied wrongdoing and trial is pending.

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