No one is going to amend the nursery rhyme, but if you market products aimed at fighting bed bugs or head lice and are itching to keep your promotions in line with the law, two FTC lawsuits merit your attention. Even if bugs aren’t your bag, the cases are a reminder of the need to back up your claims with solid science.
The first case, which resulted in a settlement, challenged claims for Rest Easy, a liquid containing cinnamon oil, peppermint, clove oil, and the like. Available from national retailers, Rest Easy was advertised to “Kill & Repel Bed Bugs.” As the ads said, “Rest Easy is HIGHLY effective, killing 90% of bedbugs within 2 seconds of contact, and the rest within 30 minutes . . . ” In addition to eradicating pesky vermin, the marketers pitched the gallon size as an effective litigation repellant: “For commercial use in apartments, hotels, and more. Never have to deal with another tenant complaint and clear away the looming threat of lawsuits. Don't let your business be a victim of a growing and serious concern!"
But according to the FTC, Florida-based RMB Group and corporate officers Howard Brenner and Bruce Brenner didn’t have sound science to back up their promises that Rest Easy kills or repels bed bugs or that by spraying Rest Easy around a bed, users can create a barrier against the pests. Under the settlement — which includes a $264,976 judgment suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay — RMB Group and the Brenners will need competent and reliable scientific evidence to support performance or efficacy claims they make about Rest Easy or any pesticide they market in the future.
The second case, which is awaiting trial, challenges claims for BEST YET!, a line of cedar oil products sold by Texas-based Cedarcide Industries, Dave Glassel, and related companies. Ads for BEST YET! "Get Rid Bed Bugs" sprays, kits, and foggers represented that the products are effective in stopping and preventing bed bug infestations and are more effective than synthetic pesticides. The complaint challenges similar claims for BEST YET! Louse Eradication Fluid and the BEST YET! Head Lice Treatment Kit. According to the FTC, the company’s prevention and treatment promises are unsubstantiated and its claims that the products’ effectiveness and superiority have been scientifically proven are false.
In their ads, the defendants also claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency had advised consumers to avoid other products: “Perhaps that’s why the EPA recently warned victims fighting bed bugs to ‘avoid chemical solutions altogether.’” Not so, says the FTC. As the complaint alleges, “In fact, the EPA recommends a combination of techniques known as integrated pest management (IPM) — an approach that includes prevention, monitoring, and limited use of chemical pesticides.”
The FTC’s lawsuit also challenges as false the defendant’s claims that BEST Yet! was invented for the United States Army at the request of the United States Department of Agriculture and that the USDA has acknowledged BEST YET! as the number one choice of bio-based pesticides.
The complaint is pending in federal court in California.