The Federal Trade Commission has brought lawsuits against three current and former high-level distributors – so-called “Wellness Advocates” – of the Utah-based multi-level marketing company doTERRA International, LLC, for making claims that the company’s essential oils and dietary supplements could treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19. The distributors, all current or former healthcare practitioners, made the claims in a series of webinars in early 2022 and touted their medical expertise in recommending the products.
“Those making baseless claims that essential oils and supplements can prevent or treat COVID-19 will pay a price,” said Sam Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Today’s actions against doTERRA ‘wellness advocates’ should be a reminder that distributors for multilevel marketing companies can face consequences for making deceptive claims.”
The three complaints, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, allege that the defendants made numerous claims about the ability of various doTERRA products to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19, in violation of the FTC Act and the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. The defendants are:
- Eliza Johnson Bacot: Bacot, a nurse practitioner and doTERRA Diamond level distributor, allegedly made claims recommending doTERRA products as a way to prevent as well as treat COVID-19 infection, saying the ingredients in one product “have had some great studies behind them as far as helping with COVID, post-inflammatory response and viral replication,” and that another product could help prevent or treat long COVID-19 “because of the oils in there like tangerine and cilantro, which help the body detox and also repair.”
- Lauren Busch: Busch, a former registered nurse and doTERRA Diamond level distributor at the time of the webinars, allegedly made claims that doTERRA products are part of “protocols that have been found to be completely effective and amazing by practitioners who are actually working with patients who are struggling right now and that they have been very successful with…,” and that there is “amazing research on essential oils that inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein” relating to chemical compounds that are “in several of our oils.”
- Dr. Tina Wong: Dr. Wong, a California pediatrician and doTERRA Blue Diamond level distributor, allegedly discussed specific doTERRA products as part of “COVID prevention basics” and “pediatric prevention/support for COVID.” She also claimed that “…there’s lots of studies that show that oregano is effective against a coronavirus, which is the family that COVID is in,” and that “…lemon and geranium essential oil inhibit the mRNA transcription of the virus.”
The defendants have agreed to court orders that will require them to:
- Stop making unfounded COVID claims: The orders prohibit the defendants from making any claims that a product can prevent, cure, or treat COVID-19 unless the Food and Drug Administration has approved the claim.
- Back up any health claims: The orders require the defendants to have reliable human clinical testing to support claims about other diseases, require them to have scientific proof for any other health claims they make, and prohibit them from mispresenting that a product’s benefits are scientifically or clinically proven.
- Pay a $15,000 financial penalty: Each defendant will be required to pay a $15,000 civil penalty.
The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the complaints to the DOJ and to approve the proposed consent decrees was 4-0. The DOJ filed the complaints and proposed consent decrees on behalf of the Commission in U.S. District Court as follows: in the Northern District of Georgia against Bacot; in the District of Utah against Busch; and in the Central District of California against Dr. Wong.
The FTC staff attorneys on this case are Christine DeLorme and Tiffany Woo of the Bureau of Consumer Protection.
NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Consent decrees have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.