Below is a reproduction of an actual FTC warning.



DATE: August 1, 2001

This message from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is being sent to you and other Internet advertisers as part of the FTC's industry compliance and education effort. FTC staff has reviewed promotional material from your website. We remind you that the FTC Act requires that claims made to promote the sale of products or services must be truthful and not misleading. Health-related claims, such as the ones made on your website, must be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. In other words, it is against the law to make health claims without scientific support or to deceptively exaggerate the state of science or the benefits of products or services you are promoting. Consumer testimonials, even if accurate, do not constitute adequate support for claiming that a product can cure, mitigate, or treat diseases.

On June 14, July 6, and July 13, 2001, as part of Operation Cure.All, the FTC announced eight law enforcement actions against websites that were using unsupported or false claims to market health products containing St. John's Wort, shark cartilage, comfrey, colloidal silver, DHEA, ephedra, chitosan, and a number of other dietary supplements and herbs; an at-home urine test; and a number of electrical devices, including the Zapper, Beck-Rife unit, Rife Frequency Generator, and Magnetic Pulser.

These companies claimed that their products were effective in reversing the aging process, in causing weight loss without a restricted calorie diet, and in treating, curing and preventing numerous serious diseases and health conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, carcinomas, adenocarcinomas, melanomas, arthritis, blood poisoning, diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, Alzheimer's, poor liver function, herpes simplex, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, influenza and hepatitis B infections, whooping cough, mania, hypochondria, fatigue, hysteria, dysentery, gonorrheal herpes, influenza, leprosy, lupus, malaria, meningitis, rheumatism, shingles, staph infections, strep infections, colds, syphilis, yeast infections, and 650 disease-causing organisms. One company also claimed that its urine test provided a clinical gauge of an individual's overall healthiness and youthfulness.

In addition to challenging the above claims as unsubstantiated, the FTC also charged that some of these companies misrepresented that products containing comfrey, St. John's Wort, and ephedra are either safe or have no contraindications. In fact:

  1. comfrey is not safe for internal use because it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are known to be toxic to the liver, and taken internally such substances can lead to serious illness or death;
  2. St. John's Wort is known to interfere with a number of prescription medications, including anticoagulants, oral contraceptives, anti depressants, anti seizure medications, drugs to treat HIV or prevent transplant rejection; and
  3. ephedra or ephedrine alkaloids can cause dangerous effects on the central nervous system and the heart and can result in serious injury.

Seven companies agreed to orders prohibiting unsubstantiated health claims. The eighth case is pending in Federal District Court in Washington and a preliminary injunction against the company has been entered. Five companies were ordered to provide specific disclosures concerning the serious health risks associated with products containing comfrey, ephedra, and St. John's Wort. Three companies agreed to notify and refund money to their customers and one paid the FTC $150,000 for consumer redress. One or more of these companies had received an advisory like this before the FTC file its action.

For more information, see




We strongly recommend that you review the following FTC business education materials and take steps to ensure that your promotional and marketing materials in your web site comply with the FTC Act:

  1. Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry at www.ftc.gov/opa/1998/9811/dietary.htm and www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/dietsupp.htm (Examples provided in this guidance apply to both dietary supplements and therapeutic devices.)
  2. Frequenctly Asked Advertising Questions: A Guide for Small Business at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/ad-faqs.htm
  3. Advertising and Marketing on the Internet: The Rules of the road at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/ruleroad.htm

Unfair or deceptive acts or practices are unlawful under the FTC Act. The FTC Act prohibits deceptive advertising in any medium, including the Internet. If your advertisement is untruthful or contains unsubstantiated claims, you could face a law enforcement action.

That could mean:

  1. An injunction issued by a Federal District Court. Violations of court orders could result in civil or criminal contempt proceedings.
  2. Consumer refunds.
  3. Administrative orders to cease and desist, with fines up to $12.000 per violation should they occur after the orders are entered.

Unfair or deceptive acts or practices also are unlawful under various state statutes. The standards under these statutes are often similar to those of the FTC Act.

From: FTC


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