The New York state attorney general has issued a cease-and-desist order to Alex Jones, the conservative radio host, who has made false claims on his website that his diet supplements and toothpaste could be used to fight the coronavirus.
Jones, according to the attorney general, made a series of claims: That his products could act as a “stopgate” against the virus, that his Superblue brand of toothpaste “kills the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range.”
There are no products, vaccines or drugs approved to treat or cure the virus.
As the disease spreads across the United States, so too has online misinformation and the marketing of fraudulent products that claim to prevent the coronavirus, presenting government officials with a new frontier in their escalating fight against the outbreak.
Sham products, from dietary supplements and food to medical devices and purported vaccines, have popped up on social media and digital marketplaces. Masks and respirators that were counterfeit or deceptively labeled have been listed on Amazon and eBay.
Jones has accumulated much of his wealth from the sale of health-enhancement and survivalist merchandise on his website Infowars, a platform he has used to disseminate conspiracy theories, including the false narrative that the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax.
The coronavirus outbreak presented Jones with yet another opportunity to monetize fear and deception, said Letitia James, the state attorney general, who issued her order on Thursday.
“As the coronavirus continues to pose serious risks to public health, Alex Jones has spewed outright lies and has profited off of New Yorkers’ anxieties,” James, a Democrat said, adding that Jones’ claims are “incredibly dangerous.”
In a statement on Friday, Jonathan Emord, a lawyer for “The Alex Jones Show” — the radio program — and Infowars called the allegations “false” and said the products were never intended “to be used in the treatment of any disease, including the novel coronavirus.”
Emord said a prominent disclaimer would be posted on the website to make that explicitly clear.
On Monday, the Trump administration issued warning letters to seven companies that were selling fraudulent coronavirus products including teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silvers, and ordered them to take corrective measures within 48 hours.
The government also delivered a warning to “The Jim Bakker Show,” which is hosted by the disgraced tele-evangelist Jim Bakker, for supposedly selling products labeled to contain silver and misleadingly saying they could treat and cure the coronavirus.
Last week, James also sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bakker’s show to stop allowing the sale of colloidal silver — in which small flakes of silver are suspended in fluid — after a guest claimed that it could “eliminate” the disease within 12 hours.
Colloidal silver is not safe or effective to treat any disease or symptoms, according to the Food and Drug Administration. It can even be dangerous to a person’s health, the National Institutes of Health has said.
Another company that received a warning from the federal government, Colloidal Vitality LLC, supposedly marketed oils on Facebook with descriptions such as, “So it’s actually widely acknowledged in both science and the medical industry that ionic silver kills coronaviruses.”
Joseph Simons, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said in a statement that “what we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims.”
The federal government has begun to crack down on products that claim to cure or prevent COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, through a surveillance program that monitors the internet for fraudulent sales.
So far, a federal task force has helped remove more than three dozen listings of at least 19 products. It has urged online marketplaces and major retailers to police its listings.
EBay recently said it would ban face masks and hand sanitizer listings altogether, while Amazon recently notified sellers that it was no longer accepting requests to sell masks, sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and sprays, among other products.
And social media platforms including Facebook, which had struggled to curtail misinformation about the virus on its website, announced bans on ads that promise to cure the illness.
Government officials are also tackling the price gouging of products that can help reduce the risk of falling ill with the disease, such as hand sanitizer and face masks.
Federal and state lawmakers are considering anti-price-gouging legislation after reports of hand-sanitizer bottles selling for as much as $400.