A federal judge has ordered Alpine Industries, Inc., a Greenville, Tennessee, manufacturer of ozone generating air treatment machines, and its president, William J. Converse, to stop claiming that their machines provide relief from any medical condition or remove a wide variety of indoor air pollutants. The interim injunction follows a November 1, 1999, verdict where a Federal jury found unanimously that Alpine Industries and Converse violated a 1995 Federal Trade Commission order by failing to have "competent and reliable scientific evidence" to support hundreds of claims for their products. Alpine was also found to make unsupported claims that its products control indoor ozone levels.
The injunction orders Alpine and Converse to notify their thousands of dealers that they cannot make any of these claims.
"What's particularly unconscionable is that the company used unsupported health-benefit claims to tout an expensive product to consumers in clear violation of an FTC order," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "This case violates the basic laws of advertising. If a business makes a claim about a product or service, it had better have evidence to support the claim." Bernstein expressed her appreciation to the Department of Justice's Office of Consumer Litigation and the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee for litigating this action at the Commission's request.
The jury returned a verdict after a 13-day trial and six days of deliberations. It determined that Alpine and Converse claimed that Alpine products would prevent or provide relief from various health or medical conditions, including allergies, asthma, sinus and breathing problems, emphysema, lupus, migraine headaches and an unspecified incurable eye disease. The jury determined that these claims lacked competent and reliable scientific support.
The jury decided that the defendants made claims in their marketing materials that Alpine products removed or reduced various pollutants from indoor air, including mold, mildew, dust, viruses, insect parts, insect eggs, dead human skin, human hair, chemical gases, formaldehyde and other contaminants. The jury also decided that Alpine and Converse claimed that Alpine products reduced or removed from the air a variety of bacteria and viruses, including streptococcus, staphylococcus, e. coli bacteria, Aspergillus fungus, candida yeast, salmonella, legionella, and tuberculosis bacillus. The jury found that these air cleaning claims (with the exception of claims relating to cigarette smoke, tobacco smoke and smoke removal) were not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.
The jury further decided that the defendants' claims that Alpine machines could control the ambient level of indoor ozone using a sensor installed in the machine were not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.
The interim injunction is the first step in the ongoing "remedies" phase of the case. The court will decide later the amount of the penalty, whether to order restitution to consumers and the specific terms of a permanent injunction.
Alpine Industries is a privately held, multi-level marketing plan that claims to have between 75,000 and 100,000 active dealers nationwide. Its main facilities are in Greene County, Tennessee. William J. Converse is the company's president and chief executive officer. Michael Jackson is vice-president and heads the company's marketing activities. The flagship product of Alpine Industries is the XL-15, which sells for approximately $600 per unit.
The United States was represented in this litigation by Elizabeth Stein, of the Department of Justice's Office of Consumer Litigation, Helen Smith, of the U. S. Attorneys Office and Elena Paoli, of the Federal Trade Commission.
Copies of the news release and legal documents related to this matter 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; 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC Matter No. C-3614, X980005)
(Civil Action No. 2:97-CV-509)