FTC, FDA Target "SARS Prevention" Products

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a joint statement May 9 warning Web site operators that are promoting products and treatments for treating Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that there is no proof behind such claims and requiring those claims be removed. Based on information gathered by FTC (www.ftc.gov) and the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, 48 Web sites and seven e-mail spam operators were cautioned about the laws covering marketing of health-related products.

"The FTC Act requires that health related claims, such as claims that a dietary supplement will prevent, treat or cure SARS, or claims that an air filtration device or cleaning agent can kill or eliminate the virus thought to cause SARS, must be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence at the time the claims are made," the letter stated. "It is against the law to make health claims, whether directly or indirectly through the use of a product name, Web site name, metatags, or any other means, without scientific support or to exaggerate the benefits of products or services you are promoting."

Among those contacted were companies promising consumers would be protected from SARS if they purchased such items as personal air purifiers, disinfectant sprays and wipes, respirator masks, latex gloves, dietary supplements and SARS "prevention kits" with a combination of such items. In an FTC Consumer Alert, the agency urged consumers to approach such claims with a healthy dose of skepticism. "When consumers see advertisements touting prevention, treatment or cure claims for SARS, they should ask themselves one key question: If a medical breakthrough involving SARS has occurred, would they be hearing about it for the first time through an advertisement or sales pitch?"

FTC has been active of late targeting unscrupulous marketers of products purporting to prevent side effects of bioterrorism or nuclear strikes. In March, FTC sent 35 advisories to Web sites marketing potassium iodine products for use in nuclear emergencies. The advisory noted not only were claims unsubstantiated, but also that all potassium iodine products for protection against radiation exposure must be approved by FDA prior to distribution. The week of April 29, FTC sent advisories to companies making claims about products and therapies protecting against anthrax, smallpox and other bio-chemical hazards. The warnings included a note to companies marketing dietary supplements for such conditions that the same industry association coalition issued notice in November 2001 stating no dietary supplements should be promoted as cures for anthrax.

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