FTC Finally Cracking Down on Homeopathic Marketing Claims

The Federal Trade Commission has announced that it will now hold OTC homeopathic drugs to the same marketing standards as science-based medicine, meaning they will have to meet a higher standard for efficacy and safety in their advertising.

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The Federal Trade Commission today announced a new “Enforcement Policy Statement on Marketing Claims for Over-the-Counter (OTC) Homeopathic Drugs.” The policy statement was informed by an FTC workshop held last year to examine how such drugs are marketed to consumers. The FTC also released its staff report on the workshop, which summarizes the panel presentations and related public comments in addition to describing consumer research commissioned by the FTC.

The policy statement explains that the FTC will hold efficacy and safety claims for OTC homeopathic drugs to the same standard as other products making similar claims. That is, companies must have competent and reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims, including claims that a product can treat specific conditions. The statement describes the type of scientific evidence that the Commission requires of companies making such claims for their products.

Homeopathy, which dates back to the 1700s, is based on the theory that disease symptoms can be treated by minute doses of substances that 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 detectable levels of the initial substance. According to the policy statement, homeopathic theories are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

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.

That’s a good step, but not far enough. Not just homeopathic drugs but also the vast array of OTC supplements should be regulated by the FDA and only be allowed to be sold if they can prove that they actually work and that they have manufacturing standards that produce a consistent product. Forget not letting them advertise, you should not be able to sell any health product until you first show it works. The moment you make a health claim, including vague claims like “increasing your vitality” or “boosting your performance,” you should first have to pass FDA approval.

About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.