The Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration jointly sued a marketer of herbal tea, charging the marketer with falsely claiming that its "Earth Tea" is clinically proven to treat, cure, and prevent COVID-19. The government sued B4B Earth Tea LLC, B4B Corp, and its owner for injunctive relief as well as for penalties under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.
In the announcement of the action, Samuel Levine, the Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, "Without any scientific evidence, the defendants claimed that drinking their herbal tea is more effective in preventing COVID-19 than approved vaccines, and cures anyone who has gotten ill within 24 hours. In bringing this matter with our partners at the Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration, the Commission continues its commitment to using every tool available to stop and deter those who would treat the pandemic as opportunity to peddle bogus treatments."
According to the allegations in the complaint, the marketing for Earth Tea made various unsubstantiated COVID-19 treatment claims, such as:
- "Earth Tea Proven Treatment for COVID-19";
- "Get out of quarantine within 24 hrs";
- "Earth Tea is the most effective treatment against #COVID19"; and
- "We are 100% sure we can save you!"
Even though the country is beginning to relax its COVID-related restrictions, this case demonstrates that the FTC and other government agencies are still devoting significant resources to prevent marketers from making false COVID-19 treatment claims.
There are a few aspects of the case, though, that should be of particular interest to marketers generally.
First, the allegations in the complaint largely focus on the claims that the defendants made in social media. This is important reminder, for all marketers, to confirm that you've got proper processes in place to ensure that the claims you're making in social media are truthful and substantiated, just as you would for claims in other advertising materials.
Second, although the defendants said that they have anecdotal evidence from customers to support their claims, this case makes clear, yet again, that the FTC doesn't believe that anecdotal evidence alone constitutes proper substantiation. Testimonials from individual consumers are simply no substitute for having competent and reliable scientific evidence.
Third, although the defendants pointed to a 15 person study in India that supports its claims, the FTC said that the study did not rise to the level of competent and reliable scientific evidence required. In addition to the fact that the study was never published in a recognized scientific journal, the FTC pointed to the fact that the study had a small sample size and no control group. If you're planning on using studies to support your claims, make sure you're working with proper experts who can help you develop studies that will meet the FTC's high standards.
"the Commission continues its commitment to using every tool available to stop and deter those who would treat the pandemic as opportunity to peddle bogus treatments" -- Samuel Levine, Director, FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection