Complaint Alleges that Ads and Promotional Materials For "TERMINATE" Are Deceptive
The Federal Trade Commission and eight state Attorneys General today sought a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court to require the marketer of TERMINATE, a termite bait system, to modify the claims in its ads and promotional materials. In the complaint, the federal and state officials allege that the company's claims about the use and effectiveness of the product are deceptive and lack adequate substantiation.
TERMINATE, which is manufactured and distributed by United Industries Corporation, is sold through national home improvement stores and regional chains. According to the complaint, the St. Louis, Missouri-based company promotes its termite bait system, which sells for $60 to $100, in advertising and other promotional materials as "... the first do-it-yourself termite home defense system."
"Just the thought of termites strikes fear in the hearts of homeowners," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "These pests can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage and consumers shouldn't be bitten twice -- once by termites and a second time by deceptive claims about a termite bait system."
In addition to the FTC, the Attorneys General of Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia joined in filing the complaint in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Maryland.
The complaint alleges that United Industries does not have adequate substantiation to support certain challenged claims. For example, in the complaint the federal and state officials allege that the company's materials about TERMINATE imply, without substantiation, that use of the product alone is effective in preventing termite infestations and damage in homes, that it is effective in eliminating active termite infestations in homes, and that TERMINATE is as effective or more effective than chemical barrier treatments in preventing termite infestations and damage in homes.
The complaint also alleges that in advertising and promotional materials:
- The company implies that use of Terminate requires only that users place bait stakes in the ground around their home and Terminate does the work. In fact, the use of the product requires the consumer to inspect the bait stakes every two-to-three months, or more frequently where termite infestation is heavy or suspected; add additional stakes if termite activity exists; and replace or remove all stakes every nine months.
- The company implies that Terminate is a do-it-yourself method of killing termites that damage homes. According to the complaint, the company has failed to disclose that bait stakes do not work against drywood termites, and that professional pest control services are recommended for homes with active infestations or in areas with drywood or Formosan termites.
In addition to asking the court for the preliminary injunction, the FTC and the states are seeking consumer redress. Also, some states are seeking civil penalties for violations of state laws.
The Commission vote to file the complaint was 4-0, with Commissioner Orson Swindle concurring in part and dissenting in part. In a separate statement, Commissioner Swindle said that, although he had voted to file the complaint to challenge as deceptive most of the advertising claims that United made for Terminate, he did not support challenging the claim that Terminate is effective with only a one-time installation of bait stakes because he does not believe that United made that claim. Commissioner Swindle also stated that "[b]ecause some of the [advertising] claims challenged appear to have had their genesis in label claims that the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") approved under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, I also strongly urge the EPA to take prompt remedial action to address these label claims."
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the full text of the complaint are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); 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 File No. 982 3183; Civil Action No. Y-98-3455)
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Bureau of Consumer Protection
Office of the Florida Attorney General: Bob Buchner, 954-712-4628
Office of the Georgia Attorney General: Daryl Robinson, 404-651-6194
Office of the Texas Attorney General: Ron Dusek, 512-463-2050
Office of the North Carolina Attorney General: Amy Green, 919-716-6412
Office of the Virginia Attorney General: David Botkins, 804-786-3518
Office of the Kentucky Attorney General: Corey Bellamy, 502-696-5300
Office of the New Jersey Attorney General: Genene Wiggins, 973-504-6327