Ad Claims Contradicted Risk Disclosures on Labels
The Federal Trade Commission has reached an agreement with RBR Productions, Inc., a beauty salon products supplier, to resolve charges that the firm overstated the human safety or environmental benefits of two disinfectants and one aerosol fingernail-glue drying spray, in some instances making advertising claims that contradicted federally required warning labels on the products. At issue are advertising and promotional materials for RBR’s disinfectants, "Let’s Dance" and "Let’s Touch," touted as non-toxic or non-corrosive to skin and eyes, and for its "Let’s Go" drying spray. The settlement agreement the FTC obtained would prohibit RBR from making specific misre-presentations about the safety of the disinfectant products to users, and require the firm to have evidence to back up certain other human safety and environmental benefit claims.
RBR, which sometimes does business as Isabel Cristina Beauty Care Products, is based in Ridgefield, New Jersey. The FTC complaint detailing the charges names both RBR and corporate officer, Richard Rosenberg. As described in the complaint, Let’s Dance and Let’s Touch are concentrated disinfectants designed to be used in diluted form -- Let’s Dance is for use on non-metal instruments and surfaces such as combs and counter tops, and Let’s Touch is for use on metal beauty-care instruments such as manicure scissors -- and they provide a higher level of protection than traditional salon disinfectants. Let’s Go is an aerosol spray used to speed up nail-glue drying. RBR advertises in professional beauty magazines and also through promotional materials and videos for distributors.
“The purpose of this settlement is to make clear that the virtues of a better product can’t be overstated,” said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The government requires careful labeling of disinfectants and other pesticides because of their potential risks to humans and the environment, and advertising that undermines those warnings could lead to users being less careful than is necessary to protect themselves, their customers, and the environment.”
HUMAN SAFETY CLAIMS:
According to the FTC complaint detailing the charges in this case, through various statements and depictions in the advertising and promotion materials, RBR has falsely implied or stated that:
- Let’s Dance concentrate is non-corrosive to the skin and eyes;
- Let’s Dance and Let’s Touch concentrate are non-toxic and do not pose risk of adverse health effects; and
- Let’s Dance and Let’s Touch dilutions are classified as non-toxic under Federal Hazardous Substances Act.
In fact, the FTC said, Let’s Dance and Let’s Touch are not even regulated under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. Their ingredients (Let’s Dance contains o-phenylphenol, para-tertiary amylphenol and phosphoric acid, and Let’s Touch contains o-phenylphenol) are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Funsicide, Rodenticide and Pesticide Act (FIFRA), which requires that products containing these ingredients bear label warnings about their potential for harmful health effects. (The FTC case challenges only the advertising of these products, not their labeling, which did not contain the allegedly false claims.)
The FTC also alleged that RBR’s evidence did not have support for its claims that the diluted versions of Let’s Dance and Let’s Touch are non-toxic and do not pose risk of adverse health effects on consumers. Nor did RBR have substantiation for the claim that Let’s Dance and Let’s Touch are three to five times less toxic than quaternary aluminum compound disinfectants (a competing category of disinfectants), the FTC charged.
This case also challenges for the first time biodegradable and environmental safety claims made for a product disposed of in the public water treatment system. The FTC charged that RBR did not have substantiation for its claim that Let’s Dance is safe for the environment after ordinary use, or that it will completely decompose within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal (that is, being poured down the sink).
In addition, the FTC alleged that RBR’s use of statements such as “environmental formula” implied that its Let’s Go aerosol product does not contain any ingredients that harm or damage the environment; yet the firm could not substantiate that claim. In fact, Let’s Go contains volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s) which can contribute to ground-level smog, the FTC said. Finally, the FTC alleged that RBR’s “recyclable” claim for the Let’s Go can was false for practical purposes because so few facilities in this country accept aluminum aerosol cans for recycling.
The proposed consent agreement to settle these charges, announced today for public comments, would address the safety and environmental claims for the disinfectant products challenged in the FTC’s complaint by prohibiting RBR and Rosenberg from making these particular claims and requiring RBR and Rosenberg to have competent and reliable evidence (scientific, where appropriate) to back up any such claims in the future. The settlement also would bar implied unsubstantiated representations, through the use of phrases such as “environmental formula” or “ozone friendly” or “contains no Freon,” that products containing VOC’s will not harm the environment. A broader provision in the order would require RBR and Rosenberg to have substantiation before claiming that any disinfectant or aerosol product offers any absolute or comparative health, safety or environmental benefit.
In addition, the order would bar misrepresentations about the extent to which a product or package can be recycled, or the extent to which recycling programs are available to consumers. The order would permit RBR to claim that an aluminum aerosol can is recyclable so long as the claim is true, and if the company qualifies the claim by disclosing, for example, the approximate number of U.S. communities with recycling programs for such cans.
The settlement also contains various reporting and recordkeeping requirements that would assist the FTC in monitoring the respondents’ compliance.
The Commission vote to announce the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 5-0. It will be published in the Federal Register shortly and 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, 6th Street and 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 $10,000.
Copies of the complaint, proposed consent agreement, and an analysis of the agreement to assist the public in commenting are available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY 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 news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. 942 3322)
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2161 or 202-326-2180
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