Tommie Copper, Inc. and company founder Thomas Kallish reached a deal with the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that they misled consumers by claiming that their products would relieve pain and inflammation caused by diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia, and were comparable to—or better than—drugs or surgery.

The New York-based athletic apparel company marketed its copper-infused compression clothing—including socks, braces, sleeves, and shirts—in brochures, print media, social media, as well as in infomercials. From April 2011 to October 2014, the defendants extolled the use of copper to alleviate the pain associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis with advertising statements such as: "By placing the copper at the source of the discomfort, it provides immediate relief from inflammation, starts to stimulate blood flow and harnesses the other well-known health benefits of copper."

Montel Williams appeared in infomercials, touting the products with statements like, "Since my diagnosis over 13 years ago with MS, I have been on a constant mission to manage my pain. I've tried more prescription medication than you can imagine. I dulled my pain, but it's also dulled my life. Now, Tommie Copper truly is pain relief without a pill." Ads for the products, which ranged in price from $29.95 to $69.50, also featured celebrity and consumer testimonials claiming that Tommie Copper garments could provide pain relief comparable to—or better than—drugs or surgery.

But the claims were false and misleading, the FTC said in its New York federal court complaint. "It's tempting to believe that wearing certain clothing will eliminate severe pain, but Tommie Copper didn't have science to back its claims," Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

The defendants reached a deal with the agency, promising to pay $1.35 million (a partial payment of the $86.8 million total judgment) and to gather competent and reliable scientific evidence before making future claims about pain relief, disease treatment, or health benefits.

To make claims about any devices or garments similar to those challenged in the complaint, they must conduct randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled human clinical testing that is "sufficient in quality and quantity, based on standards generally accepted by relevant medical experts, when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that the representation is true."

To read the complaint and stipulated final judgment in FTC v. Tommie Copper, Inc., click here.

Why it Matters: What message should advertisers take from the Tommie Copper settlement? According to an agency blog, it "underscores the long-standing requirement that advertisers need appropriate science to support their representations," noting that this wasn't the FTC's first action challenging allegedly deceptive health claims for apparel. "Regardless of the nature of the product or how it purports to provide a health benefit, established proof principles apply."