FTC considers similar endorsements by non-medical “doctors” deceptive
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking the Federal Trade Commission to take enforcement action against the dietary supplement brand Relief Factor, whose dietary supplements were recently endorsed for back pain by former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka. A promotional video for the pills identifies Gorka as “Dr. Sebastian Gorka” even though Gorka does not hold a medical degree—an advertising practice frowned upon by the FTC.
“I’m out of pain, and chances are you can be in less or no pain too by ordering the three-week quick start,” Gorka states in the video. “Pete and Seth Talbott have discounted it to only $19.95.”
FTC rules hold that when ads represent, directly or by implication, that a commercial endorser is an expert, the endorser must have actual expertise in a relevant field. In guidance to industry, the agency gives the example of an advertisement for a hearing aid featuring an endorsement from a “doctor.” If the endorser were not a medical doctor with substantial experience in audiology, the ad would likely be deceptive, said the FTC. Non-medical holders of PhDs or physicians without relevant experience may endorse products, but, if the ad identifies them as “doctor”, the ad “must make clear the nature and limits of the endorser’s expertise,” according to the FTC guidance.
In a complaint to FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons, CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie, a physician, wrote that the endorsement misleads consumers into thinking that it is based on a medical knowledge of back pain, and that the agency should issue a cease and desist letter to the manufacturer.