WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Trade Commission, jointly with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have sued a New York-based marketer of herbal tea, seeking to permanently block deceptive ads that claim its Earth Tea is clinically proven to treat, cure, and prevent COVID-19. The FTC also is seeking to impose civil penalties on the defendants behind Earth Tea under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.
The complaint announced last week names as defendants Brooklyn-based B4B Earth Tea LLC, B4B Corp., and its owner, Andrew Martin (“Busta”) Sinclair.
“Without any scientific evidence, the defendants claimed that drinking their herbal tea is more effective in preventing COVID-19 than approved vaccines, and cures anyone who has gotten ill within 24 hours,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “In bringing this matter with our partners at the Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration, the Commission continues its commitment to using every tool available to stop and deter those who would treat the pandemic as opportunity to peddle bogus treatments.”
“The Department of Justice will not tolerate individuals or companies seeking to profit from the COVID-19 public health emergency by unlawfully advertising unproven products,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The Department is committed to protecting consumers and enforcing the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act and the FDCA against those who unlawfully market unproven COVID-19 treatments.”
“Products like this may delay patients from seeking proven treatments from their health care provider. Preying on patients’ vulnerabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic is unacceptable,” said Judy McMeekin, Pharm.D., FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. “The FDA will continue to actively monitor the U.S. market for any companies or individuals falsely marketing products with claims it prevents or treats COVID-19, and will take actions against those who violate the law and endanger patients.”
“COVID-19 has tragically claimed nearly one million lives in this country and close to six million lives worldwide,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace. “Unfortunately, there are too many people who are taking advantage of this crisis by pushing alleged treatment products that are nothing more than snake oil. We will not tolerate attempts to make a dishonest dollar while putting our communities at risk during a pandemic.”
According to the joint agency complaint, Sinclair and the two companies he owns and operates sell Earth Tea for $60 per 16-ounce bottle to consumers nationwide via social media and the Internet. Since at least April 2020, the complaint alleges, on their own websites and through social media posts and videos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter TikTok, and YouTube, Sinclair, and his companies have misrepresented that Earth Tea prevents or treats COVID-19 and falsely claimed to have evidence of its efficacy. The defendants say they have anecdotal evidence from customers to support the claims, but there are currently no published reports or any well-controlled scientific studies or research indicating that Earth Tea can either prevent or treat COVID-19.
Among other things, the ads for Earth Tea claim:
- “B4B Corp is sharing a COVID-19 Update…Earth Tea works!! The all natural instant immune booster clinical trails proves its [sic] effective against Covid19;” and
- “Our Clinical Trial was successful. So successful we are offering a Money Back Guarantee against covid-19 if 2 bottles do not get you negative you will get your money back.”
Earth Tea’s ads also include unsupported claims such as: 1) “Vaccines trial shows preventing hospitalization is 85%-96% while so far Earth Tea Extra Strength is 100% we have helped people who are vaccinated;” 2) “No one who was positive and used Earth Tea went to the hospital;” and 3) comparing a vial of vaccine with a bottle of Earth Tea, “Which one is 100% effective with 0 side effects…#COVID19 Trial Report Is The Answer Not What Leaders Want…Compare Both.” The ads also falsely claim the Earth Tea is clinically proven to cure COVID-19 in 48 hours. In at least one tweet, the defendants claimed the cure would only take 24 hours.
The defendants behind Earth Tea cite one 15-person study conducted in India to support their health claims for Earth Tea, but the study has a small sample size, no control group, and the results were never published in a recognized scientific journal. The results do not rise to the level of providing “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to support the health claims, according to the complaint.
The Commission vote to refer the civil penalty complaint to the DOJ for filing was 4-0. The Department of Justice filed the complaint on behalf of the Commission in the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of New York. In addition to the violations alleged by the FTC, the complaint includes charges by the FDA alleging violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.