A Utah company, Xlear, is being sued by the Federal Trade Commission over claims its nasal sprays can stop COVID-19.

“Companies can’t make unsupported health claims, no matter what form a product takes or what it supposedly prevents or treats,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “That’s the lesson of this case and many others like it, and it’s why people should continue to rely on medical professionals over ads.”

The federal agency said in a news release Thursday the American Fork-based company is being sued “for violating the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, alleging that it falsely pitched its saline nasal sprays as an effective way to prevent and treat COVID-19.”

The civil penalty complaint filed in U.S. District Court of Utah by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC asks a federal court to impose monetary penalties against Xlear, Inc. and its owner and “bar them from continuing to make such false and unsupported claims,” the agency said.

In a news release Friday, Nathan Jones, CEO of Xlear, Inc., said the company “denies the government’s allegations. We will vigorously defend against the government’s case, and, in doing so, defend the science against politics, paternalism, and dogmaticism.”

Jones said it is troubling that “the government refuses to tell the American people that washing your nose may significantly reduce your risks of getting a severe case of COVID-19, which could result in hospitalization and death.”  

He cited a study done on the company’s nasal spray that appeared on the National Institute of Health website, calling it “nonsensical” that government is asserting “that when Xlear tells people about scientific studies, even ones republished by the NIH, we are somehow misleading people and making false claims.”

The post about the study on the NIH website includes a link to a disclaimer, stating, “The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government.”

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In July, the FTC sent a warning letter to Xlear stating that after a review of the company’s website, social media and YouTube channel, “We have determined that you are unlawfully advertising that certain products prevent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

The warning letter said there are no “appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies” supporting those claims as required by law. “Thus, any coronavirus-related prevention claims regarding such products are not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. You must immediately cease making all such claims.”

The defendants promised to remove the claims from their website and other platforms, but then continued making them, according to the complaint. The FTC release said Xlear conducted no clinical trials to support its claims and “its advertising grossly misrepresented the purported findings and relevance of several scientific studies.”

The company’s website describes Xlear as “the leading manufacturer of xylitol-based products in North America” including the “original” xylitol nasal spray and urges people to click a link and sign a change.org petition seeking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the use of nasal sprays.

“Doctors, nurses and other public health professionals are petitioning the Centers for Disease Control to issue Guidance calling on: Americans to use nasal sprays to combat the COVID-19 pandemic; and doctors to use them in treating COVID-19 patients. Help them, lend your voice to the effort,” the petition states.

More than 5,000 people have signed the petition, which claims “Scientific studies now show nasal sprays can help protect you from getting sick and reduce the risk of transmission: There are scores of studies showing nasal sprays wash pathogens from your nose — just like hand washing only better for respiratory infections like COVID-19.”

Xlear, Inc. products also include dental care items and sweeteners. The contents of the company’s nasal sprays marketed under the Xlear Sinus Care brand include xylitol and grapefruit seed extract. The sprays are sold on Amazon.com and at Rite-Aid, CVS, Walgreens, Target and other retailers.