Try not to scratch while reading this story: the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with a company accused of making deceptive claims about head lice and bed bug remedies.
Chemical Free Solutions, its related subsidiaries, and owner Dave Glassel falsely promised consumers that the Best Yet line of cedar oil-based products was “natural,” “organic,” and could treat and prevent bed bug and head lice infestations, the agency alleged. It challenged claims that the products were invented for the U.S. Army; that the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared the bed bug product as the “#1 choice” of bio-based pesticides; that the Environmental Protection Agency warned consumers to avoid chemical solutions for treating bed bug infestations; that the product was effective in killing head lice eggs in a single treatment; and that scientific studies proved Best Yet was more effective than synthetic pesticides and was effective in stopping and preventing head lice.
A radio ad for the line stated: “In light of the recent bed bug media frenzy that has all of us nervous, you need to know that bed bug prevention and eradication relief are available. So let’s not all freak out. All you need is Best Yet from CedarCide.com. . . . Best Yet was developed at the request of the USDA for our military, as a solution for killing sand fleas. But guess what, it’s equally deadly to bed bugs, larvae and eggs.”
The product was sold to consumers by phone and online at $29.95 for a quart-sized spray bottle and to hotels, other commercial establishments, and school districts, as well.
Pursuant to the settlement, the defendants are prohibited from making a number of ad claims absent competent and scientific evidence. The defendants agreed to refrain from false claims that a product or service is endorsed by a government agency and promised not to misrepresent the results of scientific tests or studies.
Approval from the Food and Drug Administration is required for future head lice claims, which must also be non-misleading. Glassel agreed to pay a $4.6 million fine; the company’s $185,000 payment was suspended. Three corporate defendants are still engaged in litigation with the agency.
To read the complaint and the consent orders in the cases, click here.
Why it matters: While all of the Commissioners supported the settlement of the false and deceptive advertising claims, a disagreement arose over the requirement for FDA preapproval for head lice claims, resulting in a 3-to-1 vote. Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen voted against the settlements because she believed the FDA requirement “is inconsistent with Commission precedent and that imposing such a high bar for these types of claims in general may ultimately prevent useful information from reaching consumers in the marketplace.” She noted that the Commission did not include such a requirement in the recent POM case. In a joint statement, Chairperson Edith Ramirez and Commissioner Julie Brill noted that the FDA considers a head lice infestation, or “pediculosis,” as a medical condition, with significant medical consequences if a head lice treatment is misused. The “natural” product claim by the defendants makes it an unapproved drug under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because it was marketed as a treatment for a medical condition. “Under these circumstances, requiring the defendants to have FDA preapproval as substantiation for future claims is particularly appropriate as it harmonizes their obligations under the FDCA and the FTC Act.”