When public health concerns hit the headlines, some companies rush to the market with products advertised to prevent or treat the problem. We’re seeing the same thing with the Coronavirus. But do those businesses have proof for their advertising claims, as the FTC requires? And have their products been approved, cleared, or authorized by the FDA? The FTC and FDA just sent warning letters to seven companies raising concerns about their Coronavirus-related products. If your business is making Coronavirus claims, stop. Pay special attention to what the letters say. The FTC also has advice for consumers about protecting themselves from Coronavirus scams.
Here are the companies that received the FTC-FDA warning letters and some of the products they’re pitching.
Jim Bakker and The Jim Bakker Show. (Yes, that Jim Bakker you may remember from TV in the the 80s.) The FTC-FDA warning letter cites antiviral claims for Silver Sol Liquid, Silver Sol Gel, and Silver Lozenges made in a video titled A Close Look at What’s Not Being Said About the Coronavirus, on social media, and on websites.
Herbal Amy, Inc. The warning letter calls into question claims the Idaho firm is making for multiple products, including a “Coronavirus Protocol.” According to ads, “The formulations are preventative as well as specific for acute infections.”
N-Ergetics. The FTC-FDA letter quotes claims the Oklahoma-based business makes for colloidal silver products. According to its website, “Colloidal Silver is still the only known anti-viral supplement to kill all seven of these Human Coronaviruses,” and “This Chinese Wuhan Flu Pneumonia has a non-traditional remedy that has successfully killed coronaviruses from the flu virus to pandemic diseases, in vitro, for over 100 years. . . .”
Vital Silver. The Florida-based company makes numerous claims on Facebook and on its website that the FTC and FDA cite in the warning letter – for example, “So it’s actually widely acknowledged in both science and the medical industry that ionic silver kills coronaviruses” and “[R]esearch efforts have demonstrated that silver was found to effectively deactivate the human coronavirus strain 229E, a virus linked to SARS . . .”
Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd. On Twitter and on its site, the UK company advertises “Essential Oils To Protect Against Coronavirus” and lists products it sells that are “The most powerful anti-virus essential oils to provide defence against coronavirus.” Those are among the claims cited in the FTC-FDA warning letter.
GuruNanda, LLC. California-based GuruNanda asks on its website, “Just what is this new Coronavirus, and how can you prevent and/or treat it?” According to the company, its frankincense product is a way to “decrease your chances of becoming infected.” The warning letter cites those claims and others the company makes on Twitter and Facebook.
Vivify Holistic Clinic. According to the FTC-FDA warning letter, the Canadian company makes a variety of claims on its site and on Facebook – for example, “Regarding the Wuhan Coronavirus: Stephen Buhner . . . has done extensive research on coronaviruses . . . and has treated them very successfully using his protocols.” The company also makes recommendations about the use of its product “for a preventative dose” and “for an infection dosage.”
What is the FDA telling these companies? “You should take immediate action to ensure that your firm is not marketing, and does not market in the future, products intended to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 that have not been approved, cleared, or authorized by the FDA.”
The FTC reminds those businesses it’s illegal “to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease unless you possess competent and reliable scientific evidence, including, when appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies, substantiating that the claims are true at the time they are made.” Furthermore, because “there currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19),” the FTC says those companies “must immediately cease making all such claims.”
Recipients of the letters have 48 hours to tell the FDA and FTC what they’re doing to address the issues the agencies have raised. The letters also include a reminder of the ramifications of violating the law. If a firm fails to follow through with immediate corrective measures, the FDA may take enforcement action, which could involve criminal prosecution. The FTC may seek a federal court injunction and financial remedies for consumers.
What’s the FTC’s advice for other companies thinking about making similar representations?
- Coronavirus-related advertising claims will be subject to exacting scrutiny. The FTC has a magnifying glass on the marketplace to monitor Coronavirus claims. We’ll be taking a close look at what companies are saying. That also includes an examination of product names, URLs, metatags, and other ways companies can suggest or imply claims to consumers.
- Don’t even think about marketing a product unless you can support your claims with sound science. Under the FTC Act, claims that a product can prevent or treat a serious disease require the support of well-controlled human clinical studies.
- Exercise caution in social media. Promoting your Coronavirus-related product on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., is advertising subject to the FTC Act. If you don’t have solid scientific support, don’t say it in social media.
Both agencies also have guidance for consumers. The FDA is advising them “not to purchase or use COVID-19 related products offered for sale that have not been approved, cleared, or authorized by FDA.”
The FTC has a new page with resources to help consumers steer clear of Coronavirus scams, including content and images you can share on social media or with your employees. Have you spotted a questionable Coronavirus promotion? Report it to the FTC.