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Queensland woman fined $7,560 for alleged unlawful advertising in relation to COVID-19

29 June 2020

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has issued three infringement notices totalling $7,560 to a woman based in Brisbane for alleged unlawful advertising in relation to COVID-19.

The woman allegedly advertised, through her website and eBay store, a hydrogen peroxide product for therapeutic use that is not included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). Unless a specific exemption, approval or authority applies, therapeutic goods must be entered in the ARTG before they can be lawfully advertised to the general public in Australia.

The advertising allegedly suggested that hydrogen peroxide could be used, including by consumption, as a treatment for COVID-19. Under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (the Act), any claims or references to treating COVID-19 (and related terms) are restricted representations. A restricted representation refers to a serious form of a disease, condition, ailment or defect. The use of restricted representations in advertisements for therapeutic goods is unlawful without an approval or permission from the TGA.

Hydrogen peroxide is a substance used to bleach human hair and sometimes for topical first aid or dental purposes. However, the TGA is not aware of any accepted clinical or scientific evidence to substantiate therapeutic claims in relation to the ingestion of hydrogen peroxide. The TGA is particularly concerned about potentially harmful effects from internal administration. Swallowing hydrogen peroxide can cause serious adverse reactions and poses a significant risk to health that could result in hospital admission.

The TGA has informed the individual that all advertising in relation to COVID-19 and therapeutic goods not included in the ARTG must be immediately removed from the relevant website and eBay store.

Advertisements of this nature are of significant concern given the current pandemic. The TGA has published a warning to advertisers and consumers about illegal advertising relating to COVID-19.

The TGA takes action against advertising breaches

The regulatory scheme is important to the safety of Australian consumers and the TGA investigates suspected illegal activity in relation to therapeutic goods. A range of compliance and enforcement tools are available and where necessary, this may include criminal or civil court proceedings, which can result in substantial penalties, fines or imprisonment.

Any person, including businesses, must comply with the requirements for advertising. The TGA encourages people to report suspected non-compliant advertising via its advertising complaints form.

The TGA website includes tips for consumers about how to spot a dodgy health product ad.