Support Safety Claims With Scientific Proof

William H. ShawnCo-Managing Partner, ShawnCoulson

The Federal Trade Commission continues to crack down on companies that don’t have adequate scientific basis for claims they make about the health and safety benefits of their products.

For example, two companies settled with the agency in 2003 over charges that they made false and misleading statements without sufficient scientific evidence. Using television and Internet advertising, the companies claimed that their cell phone “shields” protected consumers from harmful radiation emissions.

Some studies have shown a possible link between cell phone usage and cancer. While it is unclear whether cell phone radiation is harmful, it is generally accepted and courts have repeatedly held that shields designed to protect consumers from the radiation do not work.

According the to FTC, the companies “deceptively indicated that their patches, designed to fit over the earpiece of any cell phone, could block a substantial amount of radiation and other electromagnetic energy emitted by cellular telephones, thereby reducing consumers’ exposure to this radiation.”

Rhino International, Inc. claimed that its “WaveScrambler” blocked as much as 99 percent of all radiation emitted from mobile and cordless phones. Safety Cell, Inc. claimed its “WaveGuard” blocked most mobile phone radiation.

The settlement with the FTC requires both companies to back all future claims with adequate scientific evidence. In addition, Rhino International was ordered to pay consumers a total of $342,665. (FTC v. Rhino International, Inc., and FTC v. Safety Cell, Inc.)

Cases involving cell phone shields have repeatedly come before the FTC. In an earlier case, the agency settled a lawsuit against a California company that claimed its “WaveShield” products blocked up to 99 percent of radiation and other electromagnetic energy emitted by cellular telephones. (FTC v. Comstar Communications, Inc.)

The Lesson: Be certain you can back health and safety claims with scientific evidence. It is not enough to base a claim on an unsubstantiated theory — the product must be able to produce the effect promised.