Sen. Blumenthal Seeks FTC Action on Detox Teas, Influencers

Advertising Law

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take a closer look at influencers, in a new letter in which he expresses “deep concern” about potentially misleading and predatory advertising practices.

The lawmaker highlighted the growing trend of “‘detox teas’ and their false promotion as shortcuts to healthy weight loss and management” being marketed to adolescents and young adults through celebrity endorsements and social media. The products “are ineffective at best and dangerous at worst,” Sen. Blumenthal wrote, and are often marketed using terms such as “natural” or “herbal” to give the products “an undeserved healthy image.”

He maintained that the teas do not have any clinically demonstrated benefits and some components of detox teas can be downright dangerous, as they contain ingredients that that the National Institutes of Health cautions against using for more than 14 days, although the advertisers recommend drinking the teas “all year round.”

“Besides their physical dangers, so-called ‘detox teas’ are alarming for their marketing tactics, and for their psychological effects on consumers,” according to the letter. “Supplement manufacturers increasingly rely on social media influencers and celebrities to promote their products, targeting teenagers and young adults who are already vulnerable to body shaming. Research has shown that girls and young women who begin using laxatives—like those found in ‘detox teas’—for weight loss are at higher risk for developing eating disorders, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents avoid these products completely due to their connection to eating disorders.”

Detox tea manufacturers are taking advantage of the insecurities of young people in their advertisements, Sen. Blumenthal said, by harnessing the power of celebrities on social media. For example, Kim Kardashian, “a powerful influence on young women,” has implied that such products are an integral part of achieving her fame and success, with posts such as one for Flat Tummy Co. claiming that the products are “helping me get my tummy back to flat.”

Some of the celebrities—who reportedly earn six-figure amounts for a single social media post to promote a detox tea—do not even use the teas themselves and therefore do not expose themselves to the products’ dangers, the legislator wrote, nor do they comply with the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines by identifying their posts as advertisements.

“The dangers of these products, their widespread use and deceptive marketing demand federal action,” Sen. Blumenthal urged the FTC. He asked the agency to investigate the purportedly false and misleading marketing practices by the manufacturers of the teas and take appropriate enforcement action.

To read the letter from Sen. Blumenthal, click here.

Why it matters: Although the FTC sent more than 70 letters to influencers in early 2017 reminding them to clearly disclose their relationships with brands—and followed up with some recipients in a second round of missives—the agency has yet to bring an enforcement action against a social media influencer, despite efforts by consumer groups. Perhaps Sen. Blumenthal’s focus on the alleged physical dangers of detox teas will spur the FTC to action.