In April 2016, the FTC filed a Complaint against Dr. Joseph Mercola and his companies alleging that their indoor tanning system advertisements violated section 5(a) of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive practices in commerce, and section 12(a) of the FTC Act, which prohibits the dissemination of false advertisements in commerce for the purpose of inducing the purchase of foods, drugs, devices, services, or cosmetics. According to the FTC, indoor tanning systems qualify as “devices” under the FTC Act.
In its Complaint, the FTC alleged that the defendants disseminated a number of false, misleading, deceptive, and unsubstantiated advertisements on the Mercola.com website, in search engine advertising, in a YouTube video of Dr. Mercola himself, and via newsletters. Such advertisements include:
- Tanning with Mercola brand indoor tanning systems is safe;
- Tanning with Mercola brand indoor tanning systems will not increase the risk of skin cancer as long as consumers top using the system when their skin is only the slightest shade of pink and not burned;
- Tanning with Mercola brand indoor tanning systems does not increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma skin cancer;
- Tanning with Mercola brand indoor tanning systems reduces the risk of skin cancer;
- The FDA has endorsed the use of indoor tanning systems as safe;
- Research proves that indoor tanning systems do not increase the risk of melanoma skin cancer;
- Certain Mercola brand tanning systems will pull collagen back to the surface of the skin, increase elastin and other enzymes that support the skin, fill in lines and wrinkles, and reverse the appearance of aging;
- Tanning with Mercola brand tanning systems provides various benefits to consumers, including increasing Vitamin D and providing Vitamin D-related health benefits; and
- The Vitamin D Council recommends Mercola brand tanning systems (without disclosing that the defendants arranged for the Vitamin D Council to be compensated for its endorsement).
Today, the FTC announced that, as a result of a settlement agreement reached with Dr. Mercola and its companies, the FTC is mailing $2.59 million in refunds to more than 1,300 purchasers of Mercola indoor tanning systems. According to the FTC, the average refund check is $1,897. Additionally, under the settlement agreement, the defendants are banned from selling indoor tanning systems in the future.
More information regarding the FTC’s views on indoor tanning advertising can be found on the FTC’s website and blog. According to the FTC, no government agency recommends indoor tanning and the FDA requires indoor tanning equipment to contain signs warning users of the risk of cancer. In addition, the FTC actively investigates false, misleading, and deceptive advertisements related to indoor tanning.