NARB Recommends S.C. Johnson Discontinue Unqualified ‘Non-Toxic’ Windex Claim

Advertising Law

A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) recommended that S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., discontinue the unqualified “non-toxic” claim on package labeling for its Windex Vinegar Glass and Window Cleaner. However, the panel determined that a properly qualified non-toxic claim would be acceptable if it clearly and conspicuously discloses the nature of the health risks from product misuse. The advertising was challenged by Procter & Gamble before the National Advertising Division (NAD). Following the NAD’s decision, S.C. Johnson appealed.

S.C. Johnson relied on the results of an internal standard it had developed, the “Non-Toxic Claims Framework,” to support its non-toxic claim. Under this standard, S.C. Johnson toxicologists conduct a four-part analysis of a liquid cleaning product to determine whether the cleaner can be considered non-toxic. The NAD concluded that qualifying under the framework does not rule out minor and transient health risks in case of product misuse. The NAD also concluded that the framework analysis did not properly support a non-toxic claim for Windex Vinegar because consumers would expect that a non-toxic product would not cause even temporary physical illness and recommended that the unqualified non-toxic claim be discontinued.

The NARB panel agreed with the NAD’s recommendation. The panel expressed concern that an unqualified non-toxic claim will lead reasonable consumers to conclude not only that a misused cleaning product does not pose a risk of death or serious consequences, but also that product misuse poses no health risks, even those that are not severe or are more transient in nature. For this reason, the panel concluded that the non-toxic claim as it currently appears on the Windex Vinegar package is unsupported and should be discontinued.

However, the NARB panel determined that the framework could be used to rule out significant or irreversible health effects, and therefore concluded that a properly qualified non-toxic claim would be acceptable for a cleaning product, including Windex Vinegar, that passes S.C. Johnson’s framework standards. The qualifying language would need to clearly and conspicuously disclose the nature of any health risks from product misuse.

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