Thousands of checks were recently mailed from the Federal Trade Commission to customers who purchased Oreck vacuum cleaners under a settlement reached in the FTC’s action alleging that the company’s advertising was false and deceptive. Consumers who bought the Oreck Halo vacuum will soon receive $25 for each item purchased.
The FTC‘s 2011 complaint included allegations that Oreck, in both print and broadcast media, represented that its upright vacuum – which generates ultraviolet light – substantially reduces the risk of flu and eliminates virtually all common germs on household floors. Oreck did not rely upon proper scientific evidence according to the FTC.
Oreck entered a Consent Order last year agreeing to the payments and agreeing to stop making claims that the product could reduce the risk of flu and eliminate the germs.
While the decision is somewhat old news, it is worth remembering the important take-away from the case. Assertions of a health benefit generally require scientific support, and not all laboratory testing provides “competent and reliable scientific evidence.”
Here, the FTC’s definition of such evidence included these components:
1) Testing in an objective manner by qualified persons;
2) Testing in a manner generally accepted in the relevant scientific field;
3) The testing is accepted when weighed against the entire body of such evidence; and
4) The results should substantiate that the health benefit claimed is true.
So, if your advisements contain claims of a health benefit, be aware that a testing deficiency under the above definition may invite a claim for violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act. And the penalties such as those assessed against Oreck include termination of the ads, payments to consumers, continued monitoring of all ads and all support for the claims made in the ads, and a 20 year monitoring for violations of any Order entered.