FTC issues homeopathic advertising guidelines

Interesting new information on something that seems to show up here in Port Townsend.

The Federal Trade Commission has announced a new policy toward homeopathic product advertising. The agency also released its staff report on its 2015 workshop. Homeopathy, which dates back to the 1700s, is based on the medically disputed notion that disease symptoms can be treated by repeatedly diluted doses of substances that supposedly produce similar symptoms when provided in larger doses to healthy people. Many homeopathic products are diluted to such an extent that they no longer contain even a single molecule of the initial substance. The policy statement notes:

  • The FTC will hold efficacy and safety claims for OTC homeopathic drugs to the same standard as other products making similar claims. Companies must have competent and reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims, including claims that a product can treat specific conditions. The statement also describes the level of scientific evidence that the Commission requires for such claims.
  • For the vast majority of OTC homeopathic drugs, the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product’s efficacy. Thus health-related claims for these products are likely to be inherently misleading.
  • Unsubstantiated claims may be permitted if the advertising or labeling effectively communicates that: (a) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and (b) the claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.
  • Any such disclosures (a) should stand out and be in close proximity to the product’s efficacy message, (b) might need to be incorporated into that message, and (c) should not be undercut by additional positive statements or consumer endorsements. If the “net impression” of an ad conveys more substantiation than a marketer has, it will violate the FTC Act.

The marketplace would be more efficient if product labels and ads would list only ingredients and include no efficacy claims, as recommended by Dr. Stephen Barrett. [Barrett S. Comments and proposed testimony for the FTC workshop on advertising for over-the-counter (OTC) homeopathic products. July 29, 2015] But the FTC appears willing to permit efficacy claims accompanied by “sufficient” negative disclosures.

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