The FTC has filed its first lawsuit under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, charging St. Louis-based chiropractor Eric Anthony Nepute and his company, Quickwork LLC, with violating the Act by deceptively marketing nutritional supplements as scientifically proven to treat or prevent COVID-19.
According to the FTC, despite its May 2020 warning letter to Nepute regarding unsubstantiated COVID-19 efficacy claims he made in connection with other products, the defendants continued marketing their vitamin and mineral products—namely, their “Wellness Warrior” vitamin D and zinc supplements—as proven immunity boosters that effectively treat or prevent COVID-19. The FTC also accuses the defendants of routinely dismissing public health guidance and falsely representing that their products provide protection against the disease that is equal to or better than that provided by available vaccines. The FTC’s complaint seeks both monetary penalties and broad injunctive relief.
This is the FTC’s first case under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, which Congress passed in 2020, making it unlawful under Section 5 of the FTC Act to engage in deceptive marketing related to the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID–19 or any government benefit related to COVID-19. The new law authorizes the FTC to seek civil monetary penalties for first-time violations, a remedy not generally available under the FTC Act.
As we have previously written, to date the FTC’s response to COVID-19-related violations has included hundreds of warning letters, several federal court actions, and extensive consumer education campaigns related to health fraud and coronavirus scams.
This latest lawsuit, along with previous legislative and enforcement efforts, reflects the FTC’s continuing focus on pursuing companies making false or misleading claims regarding COVID-19. Marketers should be especially careful to ensure that any claims that even imply a COVID-19 connection are truthful, non-misleading, and properly substantiated.