A manufacturer of well-known home and personal care products has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it did not have adequate substantiation for advertising claims for its Vaseline® Brand Intensive Care® Anti-Bacterial Hand Lotion (VICAL). Conopco, Inc., doing business as Unilever Home & Personal Care USA (Unilever), advertised VICAL as a hand lotion that "stops germs longer than washing alone." The ads at issue also represented that VICAL provides enough germ protection to "stop germs for hours." The proposed settlement would prohibit Unilever from making claims about any antimicrobial product unless it possesses scientific substantiation.
"No marketing claims will wash without adequate substantiation. That's the law," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "And right now, there's simply no evidence that using anti-bacterial lotion reduces the incidence of any disease. We want consumers to know that washing well with soap and water is as good as it gets when it comes to warding off disease causing germs and protecting themselves from colds and flu."
Unilever, based in New York, ran ads for VICAL that were widely disseminated throughout the country. The advertisements appeared on television, in magazines, on the radio and in newspaper inserts. The ads contained statements such as:
"NEW VaselineBrand Intensive Care® Lotion Anti-Bacterial Hand Lotion
STOPS GERMS LONGER THAN WASHING ALONE ... GERM PROTECTION"
"Arm your hands With The Only Hand Lotion That HEALS DRYNESS With Proven Vaseline® Moisturizers And Stops Germs For Hours."
"Somewhere in America,
A teacher is mastering a new form of self defense. A salesman is learning hand to hand combat. A mother is launching a counterattack. Now it's your turn. Arm your hands against dryness and against germs. The first Anti-Bacterial Hand Lotion from Vaseline Intensive Care is here. It's time to arm your hands."
The FTC alleged that by making such claims, Unilever is deceiving consumers into believing that by using VICAL, they will be shielded from disease-causing germs. The FTC's complaint alleges that Unilever lacked adequate substantiation for its claims that Vaseline® Brand Intensive Care® Antibacterial Hand Lotion:
stops germs on hands longer than washing alone;
provides continuous protection from germs for hours; and
is effective against disease-causing germs, such as cold and flu viruses.
According to the complaint, the degree and duration of the lotion's effectiveness have not been scientifically established. In addition, it is noted that VICAL's active ingredient is "triclosan" - an anti-bacterial ingredient used in many consumer products. According to the complaint, triclosan has not been proven effective against viruses - the cause of the most common diseases suffered by consumers, including colds or influenza.
The proposed consent agreement would prohibit Unilever from making any claims that VICAL or any antimicrobial product is as effective as, or more effective than, washing alone in protecting users against germs; has a continuous effect against germs; has any effect on any specific germ; or treats, cures, alleviates the symptoms of, prevents, or reduces the risk of developing colds, allergies, influenza, food-borne illnesses or any other disease or disorder, unless they possess competent and reliable scientific evidence.
The proposed order would not apply to any product sold or distributed to consumers by third parties under private labeling agreements with Unilever, provided Unilever does not participate in any manner in the funding, preparation or dissemination of the product's advertising.
The proposed order would allow Unilever to make drug claims that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pursuant to either a new drug application or a tentative or final standard.
The proposed order also contains various recordkeeping provisions to assist the Commission in monitoring Unilever's compliance.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 4-0. An announcement regarding the proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.
Copies of the complaint, proposed consent agreement and an analysis of proposed consent order to aid public comment are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. Consent agreements subject to public comment also are available by calling 202-326-3627. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File No. 982 3046)