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The world is gripped with fear because of the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Seeking to capitalize on this fear, certain people have started marketing supposed SARS cures and prevention products on the Internet. Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration are starting to crack down on false and misleading online SARS claims. Information about Internet marketing relating to SARS protection or treatment was gathered through an Internet “surf” coordinated by the FTC, with help from the FDA and the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services. Web sites were reviewed that promised that consumers would be protected from SARS if they purchased items such as air purifiers, disinfectant sprays and wipes, respirator masks, latex gloves, certain dietary supplements, and various SARS “prevention kits.” The Internet surf revealed 48 Web sites that tout quite a variety of SARS treatment or prevention products. The FTC also located seven promotions for SARS products from its spam database. The FTC and the FDA have warned Web site operators who suggest that their products prevent, treat, or cure SARS without providing scientific proof for such claims that they must remove misleading or deceptive claims from the Internet. The FTC and the FDA thus sent warnings to Web site operators and e-mail solicitors explaining to them that it is against the law to assert claims about SARS protection or treatment without valid scientific support. The FTC and the FDA intend to revisit the targeted sites to ascertain whether they have deleted or revised unproven claims. LEGAL IMPLICATIONS Web sites can be subject to state or federal investigation and prosecution for making deceptive or misleading marketing claims that their products can prevent, treat or cure SARS. Indeed, companies or individuals who violate the Federal Trade Commission Act could be subject to a federal court injunction, enforceable through contempt proceedings, or an administrative cease and desist order, enforceable through penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. Refunds to purchasers also could be ordered. In addition, the marketing of any unapproved drugs could result in an injunction and the seizure of illegal products under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. As much as we all would love to see the true development of SARS protection products, and while some people who market SARS remedies may actually believe that they are helping the cause, we must be patient and await scientifically backed solutions. In the meantime, as recommended by the FTC and the FDA, we should all be skeptical of claims that pills can treat or cure SARS or that air purifiers or other such products will kill or eliminate the disease. When receiving an Internet pitch to purchase SARS-related products, ask yourself whether a true scientific breakthrough as to SARS would first be learned by you in an Internet pitch — if the answer is no, do not consider the product any further. Otherwise, keep washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizers, consider avoiding travel to SARS affected regions, seek medical attention if you demonstrate SARS symptoms or if you have been in direct contact with someone with SARS, and stay informed from various sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars, or the FDA, at www.fda.gov/opacom/hottopics/sars. This article was distributed by the American Lawyer Media News Service. Eric J. Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris ( www.duanemorris.com), where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology disputes. His Web site is www.sinrodlaw.com, and he can be reached at [email protected]. To receive a weekly e-mail link to his columns, please type “Subscribe” in the subject line of an e-mail to be sent to [email protected].

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