FTC Holds Workshop on Consumer Disclaimers

The complexity of developing and delivering product disclosures to consumers was the subject of a day-long workshop hosted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Sept. 15 in Washington, DC. While the advent of new technology like cell phones and tablets has created new technical challenges, the FTC has been interested in disclosures for most of its 100-year history.

In her opening remarks, FTC Chair Edith Ramirez noted that, “In some cases, disclosures are necessary to limit or qualify other advertising or marketing statements in order to prevent deception. Other disclosures are required to inform consumers of the risks or dangers from using certain products. Still others make consumers aware of choices they may have.” The focus of the workshop, Ramirez said, was not to examine what information must be disclosed, but rather “how to evaluate whether disclosures are effective.”

The issue of the effectiveness of consumer disclosure is important to the members of the association because the association’s advertising and labeling guideline recommends the use of a disclosure with homeopathic product claims. In connection with the workshop the FTC held last year on homeopathic drug advertising, the AAHP sponsored research which showed that the appropriate use of label and advertising disclaimers can present the consumer with truthful and non-misleading information about the status of homeopathic products. The research showed that many consumers are less confused about FDA’s role in regulating homeopathy than about many other regulated product categories.

One clear takeaway from the FTC workshop was that drafting and testing consumer disclosures is a complex task and that not all disclosures necessarily benefit consumers. One speaker noted that when cardiac surgeons received public ratings on the outcome of their surgery, many declined to operate on sicker patients lest their rating suffer.