FTC Staff Questions Rules Proposed by North Carolina Board of Opticians That Would Restrict Retail Sales of Contact Lenses and Eyeglasses

For Your Information

The staff of the Federal Trade Commission sent comments to the North Carolina Board of Opticians explaining that the Board’s proposal to restrict the sale of contact lenses, eyeglasses, and other optical goods in the state is likely to raise costs to consumers unnecessarily. The comments also state that the proposal appears to conflict with the federal Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act and the FTC’s Contact Lens and Eyeglass Rules, both of which protect consumers’ ability to get their eye prescriptions promptly and at no charge so they can comparison shop for eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Several provisions of the Proposed Rule raise competitive concerns, the comments state, including sections that would:

  • redefine contact lens and eyeglass prescriptions so that opticians would not have to give consumers the measurements needed to fill their prescriptions;
  • impose new requirements on Internet sellers that do not apply to brick-and-mortar stores; and
  • impose new requirements on some out-of-state sellers that are not imposed on sellers located in North Carolina.

According to the comments by the staff, those provisions are likely to restrict competition among optical goods providers in North Carolina – especially those that sell replacement contact lenses on the Internet. Because of this, the provisions may increase prices and decrease consumer access to these products. Staff suggests that the Board seriously consider whether there are consumer benefits that outweigh the costs likely to be imposed by the new, more restrictive regulations. To date, the comment states, there is no evidence of such a health or safety rationale.

The Commission vote approving the staff comments was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Julie Brill recused. The comments were sent to the North Carolina Board of Opticians on January 13, 2011. Copies of the comment can be found now on the FTC’s website and as a link to this press release. (FTC File No. V110002; the staff contact is Daniel J. Gilman, Office of Policy Planning, 202-326-3136.)

Copies of the documents mentioned in this release are available from the FTC’s website at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. Call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP.

(FYI 2.2011.wpd)

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