Competition Bureau cracking down on false marketing about COVID-19 treatments
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May 7, 2020, Gatineau, Que. – The Competition Bureau is warning all businesses against making deceptive or misleading claims that their products and services can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19.
The Bureau is actively monitoring the marketplace and taking action to stop potentially deceptive claims that could give Canadians a false impression that products or services can treat COVID-19 infections or protect against the coronavirus.
The Bureau has issued direct compliance warnings to a variety of businesses across Canada to stop potentially deceptive claims, including warnings against:
- making claims that herbal remedies, bee-related products, vitamins, vegetables or other food and drink products can prevent COVID-19 infections; and
- making claims—without first conducting the testing required by law – that certain UV and ozone air sterilization systems, as well as certain air filters or air purifiers, will effectively kill or filter out the virus.
The businesses included a major national retailer and businesses located in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Québec and New Brunswick. Most of the businesses have taken corrective action, pulling products that raised concerns from their shelves or stopping the claims.
The Bureau continues to monitor the situation and will take further action as needed.
Businesses could face severe financial penalties and jail time if their marketing practices do not comply with the law.
Following is a checklist for businesses:
- Know the law: The Competition Act prohibits false or misleading claims about any product, service, or business interest. This includes both the literal meaning of the claims and the general impression they create. The Competition Act also prohibits any performance claims that are not backed up by adequate and proper testing, which must be conducted before the claims are made. Such testing must also be conducted on the product being sold (not a “similar” or “comparable” product), must reflect its real world usage (such as in-home use), and the results of the tests must support the general impression created by the claims. The Textile Labelling Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act also prohibit false or misleading claims on the labels of consumer textiles and prepackaged products.
- Review your marketing practices: Conduct a comprehensive review of your marketing practices to identify any claims that could reasonably be associated with COVID-19. This may include claims on websites, social media and product labelling. It may also include the keywords in website metadata or online advertising campaigns used to attract customers to your website.
- Take corrective action: Take immediate action to correct any potentially false, misleading or untested claims and ensure your marketing practices comply with the law.
- Promote continued compliance: Businesses of all types and sizes can minimize their risk of engaging in false or misleading advertising and other anti-competitive activity by maintaining a corporate compliance program.
“As concerned Canadians take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones during the pandemic, they need accurate information so they can make informed decisions,” said Matthew Boswell, commissioner of competition. “We urge all businesses to ensure their marketing complies with the law – including any claims made about the performance of their products – or face potential legal action by the Competition Bureau.”