Statement of Commissioner
Roscoe B. Starek, III
Schering-Plough Healthcare Products, Inc.
File No. 942-3341
I have voted to accept for public comment the consent agreement with Schering-Plough Healthcare Products, Inc. ("Schering"), because I have reason to believe that the challenged advertisements are deceptive and I find that the proposed order, for the most part, provides appropriate relief. I do not, however, support the requirement that Schering produce and distribute a consumer education brochure that includes numerous specified "messages or themes." As set forth in the proposed order, this consumer education remedy is overbroad and in any event is unlikely to assist in the prevention of the violations alleged in the complaint. Although I am an advocate of a strong Commission consumer education program, and we can be proud of the valuable work done by the Bureau of Consumer Protection's Office of Consumer and Business Education, this remedy is a well-meaning but not legally justifiable effort to fund a general consumer education campaign.
The Commission enjoys extensive authority to fashion fencing-in relief for deceptive practices so long as the remedy has a reasonable relation to the violations alleged in the complaint. See, e.g., FTC v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 380 U.S. 374, 394-95 (1965); FTC v. National Lead Co., 352 U.S. 419, 428-29 (1957). With such authority, however, comes the responsibility to exercise it judiciously. In my view, the consumer education remedy mandated by this proposed order bears no reasonable relationship to the violations alleged in the complaint.
The proposed complaint alleges that Schering lacked a reasonable basis for the claim that a single application of Coppertone Kids provides six hours of protection from the sun for children engaged in sustained vigorous activity in and out of the water.(1) The order addresses this allegation by requiring scientific substantiation for claims about the efficacy of any children's sun protection product in providing protection against any harmful effect of sun exposure or ultraviolet radiation, or about the length of time that any such product will provide sun protection for individuals engaged in sustained vigorous activity in and out of the water.
In addition, however, the order would require Schering to design, produce and print a brochure -- subject to the approval of the Associate Director of the Division of Advertising Practices ("DAP") in the Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection -- about the importance of sunscreen usage by children. The order mandates that the brochure include all of the following "messages or themes":
Order IV. The respondent must disseminate 150,000 copies of this brochure to parents or to organizations with access to parents or others who work with or care for children under age twelve.(2)
Of the six required messages, only statement (E) seems likely to assist in the prevention of future deception like or related to that alleged in the complaint. Yet by including this key reapplication information in an extensive list of other facts about sunscreen, the order makes it less likely that consumers will see the reapplication information. In my view, it is highly unlikely that a parent who receives and reviews whatever brochure is approved will recall the one piece of information related to the complaint allegation when the parent makes a sunscreen purchase. Because the scope of the information to be included in the brochure is so broad, the consumer education remedy is not reasonably related to the violations alleged in the proposed complaint.(3)
It is also troubling that if the Commission issues this order, it essentially will be ordering the respondent to advertise that persons should buy and use more of the respondent's products. Schering already has every incentive to communicate the required messages to consumers. In fact, the consumer education remedy is advertising ("use more sunscreen") that the company might wish to do in any event since the conduct provisions of the order may prevent it from continuing to distinguish its children's sun protection product from others by claiming that it requires fewer applications. The deterrence value of this remedy is minimal at best.
Finally, if this relief were sought in litigation, rather than obtained through a consent agreement, it would not withstand scrutiny under the First Amendment. For purposes of First Amendment analysis, there is no difference between compelled speech and restrictions on speech. Riley v. National Fed'n of the Blind, 487 U.S. 781, 796-97 (1988). A valid restriction on commercial speech must be no more extensive than necessary to serve the substantial governmental interest directly advanced by the restriction. Rubin v. Coors Brewing Co., 115 S. Ct. 1585, 1591 (1995) (discussing Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm'n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557, 566 (1980)). Thus, disclosures compelled by the FTC can be no broader than necessary to prevent future deception or to correct the effects of past deception. See, e.g., National Comm'n on Egg Nutrition v. FTC, 570 F.2d 157, 164 (7th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 821 (1978). Additionally, the government bears the burden of showing that a speech restriction will advance its interest "to a material degree." 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island, 116 S. Ct. 1495, 1509 (1996) (plurality opinion of Justice Stevens) (citing Edenfield v. Fane, 507 U.S. 761, 771 (1993)). A commercial speech restriction that "provides only ineffective or remote support for the government's purpose" does not pass this test. 44 Liquormart, 116 S. Ct. at 1509 (citing Central Hudson, 447 U.S. at 564).
The dubious efficacy of the proposed consumer education remedy makes it unlikely that it will directly advance the asserted governmental interest in preventing future deception by the respondent. In addition, I doubt that a credible argument can be made that the information that the order specifically requires be included in the brochure is no more extensive than necessary to prevent future violations by Schering. Certainly Schering has waived any First Amendment objections to this relief by entering into the consent agreement. Nonetheless, when a remedy implicates First Amendment rights, the Commission should be particularly reluctant to obtain through negotiation relief that it lacks at least a colorable chance to obtain in litigation.
In my view, it would be better to have no consumer information remedy in the consent order if the only alternative is an overbroad remedy of doubtful efficacy that raises First Amendment concerns.
1. The proposed complaint challenges as false the claim that Schering has conducted tests demonstrating that a single application of Coppertone Kids provides six hours of protection from the sun for children engaged in sustained vigorous activity in and out of the water. The proposed order broadly prohibits false establishment claims for any sun protection product.
2. Like the brochure, the dissemination plan is subject to the approval of the Associate Director in charge of DAP.
3. The consumer education remedy here stands in contrast to a fencing-in provision contained in a consent order issued by the Commission last year. See Blenheim Expositions, Inc., Docket No. C-3633 (Jan. 18, 1996) (requiring a franchise show promoter to undertake a limited distribution of an FTC consumer education brochure to customers attending its franchise shows). The respondent in Blenheim allegedly made unsubstantiated claims regarding the earnings and success of franchise owners and false claims regarding a poll of franchise owners. The brochure specifically identified FTC requirements with which franchisors must comply, including consumers' right to receive an earnings claims document, and it provided instructions on how to evaluate earnings claims. It thus contained information likely to assist the respondent's customers to detect and protect themselves from possible future misrepresentations of earnings like those alleged in the complaint. Although the brochure also addressed other issues related to the purchase of a franchise, all of the advice in the brochure at least arguably would help prospective franchisees avoid becoming victims of future violations by the respondent.