On March 9, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products.
Three days later, on March 12, New York Attorney General Letitia James ordered Alex Jones, radio show host and far-right conspiracy theorist, to immediately cease and desist selling and marketing products as a treatment or cure for the coronavirus.
Mr. Jones, through his website www.InfoWarsStores.com — was marketing and selling toothpaste, dietary supplements, creams, and several other products as treatments to prevent and cure the coronavirus.
“As the coronavirus continues to pose serious risks to public health, Alex Jones has spewed outright lies and has profited off of New Yorkers’ anxieties,” Ms. James said in a news release. “Mr. Jones’s public platform has not only given him a microphone to shout inflammatory rhetoric, but his latest mistruths are incredibly dangerous and pose a serious threat to the public health of New Yorkers and individuals across the nation.”
A day before she ordered Mr. Jones to stop selling his products, Ms. James sent cease and desist orders to two companies that claimed their products are also treatments for the coronavirus.
The first notice was sent to The Silver Edge company, which claims its Micro-Particle Colloidal Silver Generator “beats coronavirus” and that there is “clinical documentation” to prove it.
The second notice was sent to Dr. Sherrill Sellman, who has been marketing colloidal silver products as a cure for coronavirus and selling them on her website and on the “Jim Bakker Show.” Ms. James ordered the “Jim Bakker Show” to stop marketing Dr. Sellman’s colloidal silver products for the same reason.
State and government agencies are particularly concerned that products that claim to cure, treat or prevent serious diseases like COVID-19 (the coronavirus) may cause consumers to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm.
There are currently no vaccines or drugs approved to treat or prevent COVID-19. There are vaccines and treatments under development.
There’s a deep history of swindlers and scoundrels trying to take advantage of illnesses by pitching false claims and products. Scammers, Ms. James said, commonly exploit real public health concerns and use heightened public fear to prey on consumers and profit from frauds related to those health fears.
But there are also home “remedies” that people have used to fight the flu. For example, during the 1918 pandemic, some people turned to onions.
“An anecdote from the 1919 influenza epidemic claims cut onions placed around the house will fight off the flu virus,” according to the website of the National Onion Association (motto: Nature’s Ninja).
“Cold and flu viruses are spread by contact, not by floating in the air where the onion can supposedly attract or destroy them,” the Association says.
However, “The Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia states that juice released from cut onion is known to kill or inhibit the growth of several types of microorganisms, including some of those capable of causing food poisoning in humans,” according to the Association.
The government first tried to stop fraudulent products from coming to the market in 1906 with the Food and Drugs Act. The law was eventually enhanced in 1938 by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
A 1918 advertisement for Vicks VapoRub found in the files of the Watertown Daily Times prompted a rather quaint approach to treating the flu pandemic of 1918, which globally killed between 50 and 100 million people and about 675,000 Americans:
“Call a physician. Go to bed. Stay quiet. Don’t Worry,” the advertisement with the title, “Treating Spanish Influenza” reads.
The disease attacks “principally patients in a run-down condition — those who don’t go to bed soon enough or those who get up too early.”
But if afflicted with the flu, VapoRub, then a comparatively new product in New York State, should also be administered, the ad said. “The influenza germs attack the lining of the air passages. When VapoRub is applied over throat and chest, the medicated vapors loosen the phlegm, open the air passages and stimulate the mucus membrane to throw off the germs.”
Another Times advertisement from 1918 promoted Dr. Chase’s Blood and Nerve Tablets, targeting “grippe, influenza or other wasting diseases.” The cost was 60 cents a box, but 90 cents for “special strength.”
Today, supposed “cures” for COVID-19 have spread to social media. One claim making the rounds is that gargling with water mixed with vinegar and salt will wash the virus away. Facebook officials have tagged the post promoting the claim “False Information Checked by Independent Fact-Checkers.”
The 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act mandated pre-market approval of all new drugs. A manufacturer had to prove to the FDA that a drug was safe before it could be sold. It prohibited false therapeutic claims for drugs and a separate law granted the Federal Trade Commission jurisdiction over drug advertising. The law also mandated legally enforceable food standards and factory inspections.
The state’s Office of the Attorney General continues to surveil and monitor businesses across the state for potential scams and price gouging schemes designed to exploit public concern related to the spread of the coronavirus. If you believe you have been the victim of a scam or have witnessed potential price gouging, the office said the instances should reported.
On March 9, the FDA and FTC jointly issued warning letters to Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., Xephyr, LLC doing business as N-Ergetics, GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC, and “The Jim Bakker Show.”
The products cited in the letters are teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver. The FDA has previously warned that colloidal silver is not safe or effective for treating any disease or condition. According to healthline.com, colloidal silver is a suspension of silver particles in a liquid. “It’s an ancient remedy that was once used to treat bacterial, viral and fungal infections.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Colloidal silver isn’t considered safe or effective for any of the health claims manufacturers make. Silver has no known purpose in the body. Nor is it an essential mineral, as some sellers of silver products claim.”