U.S. Federal Trade Commission: Homeopathic Remedies Can’t Falsely Advertise That They Work November 18, 2016

U.S. Federal Trade Commission: Homeopathic Remedies Can’t Falsely Advertise That They Work

The Federal Trade Commission — a consumer protection agency — took a major step this week to weaken the harmful effects of homeopathic remedies, which don’t work and are effectively no better than placebos, yet which far too many Americans take in lieu of actual medicine.

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The FTC says homeopathic drugs will have to uphold the same standards as real drugs in showing that there’s scientific evidence of its efficacy… and if there isn’t any, there must be a statement saying as much on the label:

For the vast majority of OTC homeopathic drugs, the policy statement notes, “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.” As such, the marketing claims for these products are likely misleading, in violation of the FTC Act.

However, the policy statement also notes that “the FTC has long recognized that marketing claims may include additional explanatory information to prevent the claims from being misleading. Accordingly, it recognizes that an OTC homeopathic drug claim that is not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence might not be deceptive if the advertisement or label where it appears effectively communicates that: 1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and 2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

The policy statement notes that any such disclosures should stand out and be in close proximity to the product’s efficacy message and might need to be incorporated into that message. It also warns marketers not to undercut a disclosure with additional positive statements or consumer endorsements reinforcing a product’s efficacy. The statement warns that the FTC will carefully scrutinize the net impression of OTC homeopathic marketing claims and that if an ad conveys more substantiation than a marketer has, it will violate the FTC Act.

How’s that for a warning label?

There’s no proof that this product works!

We use a recipe cooked up by people from the 1700s and real doctors say it’s all bullshit.

Will it stop gullible people from wasting their money? Not necessarily. I mean, if they cared about scientific rigor, they wouldn’t be buying this nonsense. But for the handful of people who buy this stuff because they think it’s just as good as the alternatives, maybe it’ll convince them to put the item back on the shelf.

The Center for Inquiry testified about these issues before the Food and Drug Administration last year, and they’re excited about the new development:

“This is a real victory for reason, science, and the health of the American people,” said Michael De Dora, public policy director for the Center for Inquiry. “The FTC has made the right decision to hold manufacturers accountable for the absolutely baseless assertions they make about homeopathic products.”

“Consumers can’t help but be confused when snake oil is placed on the same pharmacy shelves as real science-based medicine, and they throw away billions of dollars every year on homeopathy based on its false promises,” said De Dora. “The dangers of homeopathy are very real, for when people choose these deceptive, useless products over proven, effective medicine, they risk their health and the health of their families.”

The FDA could still go a step further by treating homeopathic remedies no differently from real medicine and pulling them from the shelves if they don’t live up to certain standards (which they don’t). Until that day comes, however, a warning label that points out the uselessness of homeopathy is at least a step in the right direction.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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