Lawsuit loser Airborne changes its packaging art


Last year, Cory wrote that Airborne, a cold remedy ("CREATED BY A SCHOOL TEACHER!") lost a class action lawsuit for deceptive advertising and had to award its customers $23 million in damages.

I just noticed that Airborne has also changed its packaging art, probably as a term of losing the lawsuit.

The old art shows a man in a blue suit sitting next to a woman coughing into her fist. Behind him, a man is sneezing into a handkerchief. The man in the blue suit is looking fearfully at a menagerie of ugly germs floating overhead, no doubt let loose by the coughers and sneezers around him.

In the new artwork, the coughing woman has been miraculously cured of her cold. She even sports some fashionable red lipstick. The sneezing gentlemen has traded in his snotty handkerchief for a petite napkin, which he uses to politely dab his lips while enjoying an airplane meal. The germs are gone. The blue-suited man, however, remains as frightened as before. This time, he's staring in shock at a gold emblem, which Airborne apparently awarded itself for "quality, purity, and safety" (See close up here). What is Airborne trying to tell us here?


  1. My wife is a schoolteacher and my sisters are doctors. They are all charming and intelligent women, but guess which ones I go to when I need medical advice?

  2. I’ve tried Airborne because a friend swore by it. I had avoided the stuff because well, created by a schoolteacher doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

    About 20 minutes after I took it, my skin felt like I had a severe rash and I was itchy *everywhere*. I tried taking a shower only to find that it felt as if it was burning. It took several hours for the symptoms to disappear.

    Since I wasn’t 100% sure it was Airborne, I tried it again a few weeks later with the exact same result.

    So I for one will not be touching this stuff regardless of the new packaging.

  3. Maybe the school teacher in question is trying to teach us all a lesson about believing everything we read.

  4. My wife, a former schoolteacher, swears by this stuff. I’ve tried it, and couldn’t see any effect on my colds. Oddly enough, she seems to get sick more often than I do!

  5. Whatever the package art looks like, this stuff has helped me avoid several colds, as well as my friends; perhaps it’s a placebo, or perhaps the vitamin blend in it does its job. In any case, it certainly isn’t hurting me, and I’d rather spend a few bucks to take something that certainly seems to help rather than not take it and be guaranteed of getting sick.

  6. There is a law known as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. It was signed in 1994 by Bill Clinton. It allows dietary supplements to make structure/function claims in their marketing with no evidence whatsoever.

    A structure/function claim is something like “boosts memory”, “helps immune-system”, etc. They can even get away with something like “for flu symptoms”. As long as they don’t say something specific, especially about a disease, such as “cures herpes” they will not be required to provide any evidence to support their claims.

    This is why purveyors of snake oil like Airborne, Oscillococcinum, Zicam, Head-On, etc. are not all in jail. This is why Jamba Juice can sell all these “boosts,” even though there is no evidence whatsoever that any of those concoctions actually boost anything.

    If we can overturn the DSHEA of 1994, Airborne will have to change a lot more than their packaging. They’ll be changing their address to federal prison.

  7. Whatever the package art looks like, this stuff has helped me avoid several colds…

    How exactly did Airborne help you avoid a cold? Are you sure? (Hint: I’m guessing another factor (read: your immune system) played a larger role.)

  8. “What is Airborne trying to tell us here? “

    It`s trying to tell us that dietary supplements aren`t so carefully regulated.

  9. @Gobo Why would you be guaranteed of getting sick by not using Airborne? I don’t use Airborne and I very rarely get sick.

    If you think the vitamin blend helps you, go buy some regular multivitamins. Amazon, for example, sells Centrum multivitamins for about 1/9th the price of Airborne (9 month supply of Centrum for same price as 1 month supply of Airborne) and the Centrums have a much more complete lineup of vitmatins and minerals.

  10. I think that the packaging art is by Lloyd Dangle, creator of the Troubletown comic strip, which originated in the SF Bay Guardian. He lives in Oakland, according to Wikipedia. It looks a lot like his style, at least. Someone should give him a ring and ask him if he was commissioned to make the art changes, or was the change made by some anonymous production artist? Dangle also created the AIDS awareness character “Bleachman” and has served as president of the NorCal Graphic Artists Guild.

  11. @GOBO, I have a magic stone I would like to sell you that is guaranteed to help you avoid white tiger attacks.

  12. What is Airborne trying to tell us?

    Obviously that Airlines have a meal service again!
    Next time I fly, if I don’t get fed, … I’LL SUE!

    I flew first class on Delta two weeks ago and there was no friggin’ meal service in first! WTF!?

  13. I used to work for a vitamin company years ago and was often disgusted with the claims made for products such as colloidal silver, which there is no reason to take EVER.

    I think there are definitely reasons to use supplements,for instance I do supplement with calcium because it is hard for me to get enough of it in my diet, but they do get away with too much insofar as the claims made. The “healthy immune system” products are nothing compared to weight loss and muscle gain. It is very misleading. I remember, for instance, a man from some where in Africa coming into the store and asking me what supplements would be good for typhoid because he wanted to take them back with him for his family members. I told him his best option was to tell a doctor he was going to Africa and needed Cipro. I still wonder if he took my advice.

  14. i also got monies from airborne for my fiancee’s fanatical buying of them when they first came out.

  15. @10, I don’t know who told you that my brother was killed by a white tiger selling ‘protection’ stones…but it’s not funny!!

  16. @ blueelm #14:

    I used to work for a vitamin company years ago and was often disgusted with the claims made for products such as colloidal silver, which there is no reason to take EVER.

    Come on, wouldn’t you trust this man on the topic of health supplements?

  17. M.M. ChiTown,

    I’d like that magic stone, ’cause I’m deathly afraid of white tiger attacks… I’ll trade you the family cow for it. Deal?

  18. The active ingredient in this stuff is just a megadose (as in many, many times the recommended amount) of Vitamin C. Not only is megadosing vitamins ineffective, it can be dangerous. From the wikipedia article on Airborne: “Vitamin C in doses higher than 1 g increases oxalate and urate excretion and may cause kidney stones”

  19. That itching? You are sensitive to low doses of Niacin (Vitamin B3).

    The almost hives-like effect of redness, inflamation, itching and formication are a common, temporary effect of B3 absorbtion threshold.

    Since B3 is water soluble, the effect lasts between 5 and 15 minutes, unless you are severely dehydrated.

    There are reasonable claims, with some evidence, that mega-doses of B3 are “cleansers” of residual material in body and nerve tissue. Some go as far as calling such material “toxins” – but that is an assertion for which I haven’t seen evidence. Certainly there is massive, temporary capillary dialation, and increased bloodflow to the extremities. That’s what’s making you itch! Vascular dialation means more O2 to the sensitive nerve endings, along with everything else.

  20. @ Jerimiah #23:

    At first glance I thought you said “fornication” was one of the effects of B3, which would have made all the other side effects worthwhile.

  21. Picking on Airborne is kinda a jerk-off thing to do. Look — it’s a tasty multivitamin with a buffet of random herbs thrown in for good measure. Nobody has a cure for the common cold, there is evidence that suggests vitamins keep your immune system happy, and this product is fairly cheap. Fact is, placebos tend to have about as much affect as anything, minus the side effects.

    Generally speaking, it’s ridiculous to crusade against naturopaths, homeopaths, etc. Most of them barely scrape by. My dad, who is an M.D., turned to naturopathy. He can barely pay the bills. As an M.D. he raked in high six figures, and made millions more for his hospital and the big pharma corps. I’m not saying that there’s no evil in the “alternative” medical fields, I’m just saying they’re nowhere near public enemy number one, and certainly not a serious cause of this country’s health problems.

    You should reconsider how you use your soapbox.

  22. There’s nothing wrong with Airborne being a tasty multivitamin (well… I think our definitions of “tasty” differ, but that’s beside the point).

    What’s wrong is when they tout it as some sort of miracle cure that will stop illness dead in its tracks when it’s only as effective as good nutrition.

    #25, maybe your dad struggles for his choices and maybe he means the best, but the fact of the matter is the people who go to him think they’re getting better care than they really are.

  23. @ Superflat #25:

    I have no grudge against any of those people as long as they don’t make false or unsupported claims about their products. Airborne was one of the companies that did, which is why they got their asses sued.

    Airborne may be relatively benign (even if their business model was built on a foundation of lies) but the “alternative medicine” movement has been far from harmless. Countless thousands have died of treatable diseases because they relied on “natural cures” instead of taking the advice of medical professionals.

  24. Are the purveyors of quack nostrums public enemy number one? Probably not, though that says more about the various malignant forces working on society than about their harmlessness. They do a great deal of harm, both because they do no good and because they spread memes that encourage people not to actually deal with their problems. Should one not oppose a group that harms society just because many members of the group don’t make a lot of money doing so?

  25. The germs were the best thing about that airborne packaging, with their odd shapes and silly little faces.

    They even kind of made fun of themselves with it – on the inside of the box, where you couldn’t possible see before purchasing, there is a little black and white picture of one the little creepies labeled “actual germ”.

  26. Air travel has always made me sick. I get a stuffy/runny nose, which drains into the throat and life gets worse from there. On short trips, I’m miserable just about until it’s time to fly home, and it starts all over again.

    I jumped on the Airborne bandwagon only a couple of years ago, and for me, it was like a miracle — no sickness. I don’t believe Airborne is anything more than some multivitamins packaged conveniently, resulting in an easy to use and enjoyable product.

    It works for me, and I will continue to use it. IDK if it’s a placebo, or simply that I stay better hydrated because using it forces me to drink more fluids. I don’t care – it meets my purposes, and it’s worth $10.00 of Airborned to feel well and to NOT spend $10.00 on Nyquil/Dayquil/Sudafed, etc.

    Of course, YMMV.

  27. Seems like a bunch of you missed the part where too much vitamin C can cause kidney stones. This isn’t just a harmless placebo, it can actually be dangerous. I’m willing to consider plenty of alternative remedies but Airborne is snake-oil selling of the worst kind.

  28. The new packaging says:

    “Helps support your immune system †”

    Does anyone know what the footnote is to the “†“?

  29. Apparently I’m a douche who uses a fake product. OK, folks, you’ve rubbed it in. I’m a sucker.

    But, strangely, when I start getting a cold, and I take Airborne, my cold seems to retreat before taking hold. Is it the Airborne? A magic stone? Prayer? Wishful thinking? Sure. In any case, I don’t have a cold, and I appreciate that.

  30. I can’t believe what some people are saying here. “Picking on Airborne is kind of a jerk-off thing to do?” They just lost a lawsuit for claiming that their product does something it can’t be shown to do. It isn’t only ineffective, but can be harmful. Isn’t _defending_ Airborne kind of a jerk-off thing to do?

    Oasis0b1–will you give me $10 for telling you to drink a glass of water?

    Brainspore and Roninkakuhiko both hit the nail on the head–most of these “supplements” are worthless at best and harmful at worst.

  31. Basically all “alternative medicine” is bullshit*, it’s just a matter of whether or not it’s actually harmful. Or rather, harmful beyond the fact that you’re taking people’s money to do something you can’t actually do, and the fact that some people are going to use it in lieu of legitimate treatment.

    *We have a really rather good system for evaluating the truth of objective claims about how repeatable processes (such as medical treatments) work, which we call science. There is really only one reason to intentionally bypass said system, which is if your claims are objectively false.

  32. Yeah, I’ve had this argument with my partner for a while now. She swears by Airborne and wasn’t fazed when the lawsuits and all happened; wouldn’t even put in a claim for reimbursement because she felt she’d got her money’s worth from the product, regardless of their false claims. She believes in “alternative” remedies and I generally don’t, but I’ve learned that it’s usually just easier to shut up and take the stuff, as long as I’m pretty sure it’s not going to hurt me!

  33. On a related note, how come smilin’ Bob is still swinging his large one and pushing Enzyte on late night TV? I thought that company ran into federal fraud charges.

  34. @19
    That was the FIRST thing I thought when I saw the package in the drug store. I’m glad I’m not the only perv here.

    @46& 47
    I see those ads on Comedy Central, etc. Despicable.

  35. @ Aloisus & Jeremiah Cornelius–
    I got the worst hives of my life after tryin Airborne the first time. I was trying to keep from catching my boyfriend’s cold. After a day or two of following the directions, taking the stuff a couple times a day, I started getting hives all over every inch of my body and they kept appearing for two weeks. I tried several different antihistamines recommended by my doctor and finally had some luck with Zantac or some similar antacid. My doctor told me there are all kinds of herbs and stuff in Airborne and I must be allergic to one of those weird, rare ingredients. I think it was one of the mysterious Chinese herbs because I had the same reaction at a pure veg restaurant in Chinatown (Philly. The mock duck was good though). ANYWAY THAT STUFF GAVE ME A$$CRACK HIVES I HATE THEM and I feel smug about my check for $13.96 that came last month.

  36. I see a lot of people posting that they know Airborne is just snake oil, but they take it anyway. If this is you, then perhaps you need the help of a psychologist, as opposed to a physician.

  37. Wait – she’s coughing?

    I thought she was miming a BJ!

    Wow, did I get it wrong.

    Guess I’ll stop offering Airborn to women in schools, airplanes, the office, at the gym …

    And I thought the guy in the blue suit had just farted (from all that effervescence) and the guy behind him was covering his nose. Which is why I never took it myself.

  38. The first time I ever used this was at the insistance of my wife. I had been feeling poorly and was scheduled to fly on business. She stuffed a few of these tablets into my bag and told me to take one before I got on the plane.

    At the airport I had forgotten all about this and when they announced the boarding was starting I suddenly remembered her advice. Having never taken one of these before, I quickly popped it into my mouth (not knowing you are supposed to dissolve it into a glass of water and drink it).

    That medium sized tablet suddenly started foaming and swelling inside my mouth as I was walking toward the gate. I started to panic and quickly decided to wash the whole thing down with a quick gulp of Coke.

    That was absolutely the wrong thing to do. It was like a huge alien ebola virus went into a birthing frenzy inside my mouth. My cheeks were expanding and I could feel all that foamy-cokey-healing goodness start up my nasal passageways and down into my lungs.

    Just as I was about to board the plane I dashed for a trash can, spewing coke/foam/airborne out my nose, my mouth, and I’m quite sure, my tearducts. Hucking and retching, with everyone looking on, I finally pulled my head out of the trashcan. I couldn’t believe it! My stuffy head was now incredibly clear.

    Airborne mixed with Coke is not unlike Liquid Plumber for your head. However, I don’t advise trying this prior to boarding a plane because I had odd looks from my fellow passengers for the rest of the flight.

  39. “Just as I was about to board the plane I dashed for a trash can, spewing coke/foam/airborne out my nose, my mouth, and I’m quite sure, my tearducts. Hucking and retching, with everyone looking on, I finally pulled my head out of the trashcan. I couldn’t believe it! My stuffy head was now incredibly clear.”

    Okiedokie! Thank you for making me genuinely laugh out loud. That is hilarious. I bet people thought you had some terrible disease.

  40. “Vitamin C in doses higher than 1 g increases oxalate and urate excretion and may cause kidney stones”

    So, er, if the grocery store down the street (cough Safeway cough) was selling big bags of oranges for half price, and I brought one home and was munching oranges all day, it might make me have to piss all the time?

    I mean, hypothetically.

    Nobody tells us these things. I was 23 before I discovered, in an emergency room, the consequences of not drinking enough water every day. (You really don’t want to know.)

  41. After viewing the close up image, I can tell that some of the text has been added to the photo. It was added after the image was taken. Dietary Supplement; Helps Support Your Immune System; The Zesty Orange text and graphic; and finally even the gold seal has been added. Are they just pulling our leg?

  42. Airborne is snake oil. Plain and simple. The real shame is the $23 million in penalty is peanuts compared with the $$$ they are raking in with this product.

  43. andythebrit #47:

    Enzyte is allowed to stay on the market because it, like the repackaged Airborne, doesn’t actually claim to do anything. Smilin’ Bob is just selling the ambiguous concept of “Natural Male Enhancement.” If you take that to mean that a dietary supplement can give you a super-powered monster penis then that’s on you, not them.

  44. Also, I have this friend who takes one of those natural male enhancers. And, yes, he’s really stupid. But what’s funny is that he’s been in the same monogamous relationship for a dozen years and they have sex about once per season. It’s like taking Airborne when you’re alone on a desert island.

  45. Enzyte’s latest commercials claim to “make a man larger.” I’m sure it just promotes water retention, and it makes you larger chiefly around the waist, but that’s what they’re claiming now.

    1. So is he enhanced in any way? Bionic vision perhaps?

      He still has the same fixed rate mortgage that he started with in 1997. Does that count as a superpower?

  46. @ Xopher #61:

    But the commercials don’t say which man the pills make larger. Maybe they’re talking about the big ol’ boner that the Enzyte CEO is getting from the thought of all those suckers buying his product.

  47. But what’s funny is that he’s been in the same monogamous relationship for a dozen years and they have sex about once per season. It’s like taking Airborne when you’re alone on a desert island.

    Not if you’re afraid the sex will go down to NO times per season if you stop taking it, or if your self-image is all tied up in your penis [ow!] size [oh], or if you keep planning to cheat but don’t actually have the guts.

  48. Me, I just pop a few capsules of echinacea extract whenever I feel a cold coming on. Works like a charm.

    But I could have bought one of the old boxes of Airborne just because I really dug the cool bugs on package. Possibly I could even buy it once just for the novelty value of the non sequitur-riddled promotional texts.
    The new boxes – simply not that interesting.

    I think Airborne should have taken it in the opposite direction instead: drop all pretense of being a remedy and turn the germ characters into spokescreatures for chewy vitamin-candy.

    I mean, If Coca Cola could make the transiton from a useless cough syrup to a popular soft drink just by adding soda water…

  49. Vitamins and water are snake oil? Good to know. I’ll stop drinking water and eating food right away.

  50. @ Gobo #67:

    Supplements cross the line into the category of “snake oil” when their marketers begin to ascribe attributes for which there is no evidence. For example, Vitamin C becomes “snake oil” the moment you start selling it as a cure for cancer.

    The exception to this rule is any oil that comes from an actual serpent, which remains “snake oil” no matter what curative properties it may have.

  51. The best way to not get sick is to wash your hands. Period. All the placebos in the world won’t do jack if you don’t wash your hands. Anyone who works with kids knows this.

    Washing hands has gotten a bad rap (OCD! Scary!). It doesn’t make you a freak if you wash your hands a few times a day. It just makes you a person with clean hands.

    Facts on hand hygiene (from

    According to the Center for Disease Control, the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands.

    Nearly 22 million school days are lost due to the common cold alone. Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to 2 hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. (CDC)

    52.2 million cases of the common cold affect Americans under the age of 17 each year. (CDC, 1996)

    Students don’t wash their hands often or well. In one study, only 58% of female and 48% of male middle and high school students washed their hands after using the bathroom. (American Journal of Infection Control, 1997)

    A study of Detroit school children showed that scheduled hand washing, at least four times a day, can reduce gastrointestinal illness and related absences by more than 50%. (Family Medicine, 1997)

    1. Experts at five universities found that people who drank more than two glasses of red wine a day had 44% fewer colds than teetotallers.

      It’s a fact.

  52. Linus Pauling’s standing as a scientist took a dive when he became a fanatical advocate of vitamin c overdoses. This was based on flawed research he did into vitamin c and the common cold.

    If and when I get a cold, all these years later, someone or other will recommend vitamin c tablets or orange juice.

    Pseudoephededrine has an effect, on me, (symptoms only) but maybe if I believed …

  53. Every once in a while, my nose stuffs up a bit. You know what I do? Nothing. Except I blow my nose, I guess. Things develop into a full-blown cold maybe once every year or two, tops.

    I strongly suspect that if I took Airborne whenever I “felt something coming on,” 9 times out of ten it wouldn’t develop into anything then, either.

  54. Hey Boingers, I made the changes to the box. You’re very perceptive! I’ll guarantee you that Airborne kills the specific germs that I scientifically rendered on the box. I defy you prove otherwise.

    Lloyd Dangle

  55. Forget about whether or not it boosts the immune system. The formula is loaded with an estrogen herb…so if you have a young male child and want to feminize him…go ahead and give him some Airborne.

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