Feb. 26, 2002 -- Two years ago, Tom and Victoria Garret spent $1,000 on cookware, thinking that the pots and pans they would cook with would shield their future family from disease.
Now, the couple believes they were tricked into the purchase by salespeople who told them that other types of cookware — such as non-stick pans — can cause chemical reactions in the pan that lead to health problems.
"I thought, my goodness, if we want to have kids we don't want to give toxic fumes to the child, so we bought into the scam," said Victoria Garrett.
The Virginia salespeople who sold the couple their set of Royal Prestige cookware told them that the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health endorsed the products, the couple said. But the cookware is not endorsed by either of those prestigious health organizations.
It is not the first time that some distributors of Royal Prestige cookware have been accused of deceptive sales practices, Good Morning America Consumer Correspondent Greg Hunter found. Royal Prestige cookware distributors have already run into trouble with attorneys general in two states, and Hunter's investigation found that some cookware salespeople are still going full steam ahead with scare tactics to sell pots and pans.
The Aluminum Connection?
Steve Pollack, who runs a franchise selling Royal Prestige, is part of a nationwide system of houseware dealers who market the cookware directly to groups. Like Pollack, many dealers target newlyweds and engaged couples, luring them into attending cookware sales presentation by offering them free vacations at four-star beach hotels.
At one such presentation in Westbury, N.Y., Pollack compared some aluminum cookware with Royal Prestige cookware, which is made of stainless steel.
"This is the absolute worst," Pollack told his audience, holding aloft some aluminum cookware. "Aluminum is the cause of Alzheimer's. Aluminum is the worst thing for you."
The salesman went on to describe the supposed impacts of aluminum on the human body.
"Your body is able to intake aluminum, but can't withdraw it," a "medical expert" accompanying Pollack said. "Your brain stem is a fatty tissue … aluminum sticks to fatty tissue."
Those claims did not hold much weight with Dr. Victor Herbert, a nutritionist who works at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, one of the largest Alzheimer's research centers in the country. Herbert said that there is no connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's.
He is also a nutritionist on the board of Quackwatch, a group that debunks false medical claims. Quackwatch checked out the Royal Prestige sales pitch about aluminum cookware.
"Our people looked into this claim," Herbert said. "It's pure fraud."
Trouble in Other States
Last August, the attorney general for the state of Texas found that Royal Prestige's "free vacation" offers included coverage for the hotel only, and that the company failed to disclose that airfare is not included.
Two years ago in California, the attorney general there said Royal Prestige made false claims by telling consumers that other brands of cookware could cause health problems. In both the Texas and the California cases, Royal Prestige agreed to change its sales practices, but didn't admit guilt.
Pollack refused to speak with Good Morning America, but Royal Prestige told the ABCNEWS program that it has told its distributors, including Pollack, not to make false claims, prohibiting them from saying aluminum can cause health problems.
Some Royal Prestige salespeople have also given the impression that non-stick pans can be harmful to consumers. That is the type of pitch the Garretts say they heard when they bought $1,000 worth of cookware in Virginia.
Chemical Reaction Cookware?
A salesman used a similar pitch in New York, holding up some non-stick cookware to drive home his point.
"This is horrible," the same "medical expert" said. "Teflon contains mustard gas as one of the ingredients, as well as formaldehyde. When you cook, you get a chemical reaction."
Herbert said that again, the cookware claims were false.
"In the medical profession, we refer to what he's saying as pure B.S.," Herbert said.
At a New York City demonstration, one salesperson got a surprise visit from Good Morning America's Hunter.
After hearing the pitch, which included a claim that "aluminum is unhealthy," Hunter asked the salesman about the claims.
"Do you know what your saying is totally false?" Hunter asked.
The salesman told Hunter that this was only his second demonstration and that he was trained by Pollack. He said his bosses told him that aluminum could cause Alzheimer's, but the new salesman left it out of his presentation.
After seeing Good Morning America's undercover video of the Westbury, N.Y., presentation, Nassau County consumer affairs investigator Roger Bogsted said he was concerned.
"It's a deceptive trade practice to state that your competitor's product actually causes disease," Bogsted said. "Saying that you use this you'll get Alzheimer's is horrendous."
The county filed papers alleging that Royal Prestige had engaged in deceptive or unconscionable trade practices. The company paid $1,000, "in settlement of all costs of investigation," and did not admit to any wrong-doing.