DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Iowa’s attorney general claims the Colorado-based maker of “drinkable sunscreen” has provided no evidence to back up its claim that the product protects against cancer-causing UV rays.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller sued Osmosis LLC, Harmonized LLC and their owner, Benjamin Taylor Johnson MD, in Polk County District Court on Tuesday. The defendants are all based in Evergreen, Colo.
According to Miller’s petition in equity, Johnson has been selling ordinary water at premium prices by claiming he has treated the water in ways that "imbue it with amazing medical or cosmetic properties."
Miller says that not only has Johnson been claiming that drinking his products can protect against cancer-causing UV rays and repel mosquitoes that might carry the Zika virus, but that it can also protect the body from pathogens, cure acne and reverse the aging process.
In advertising, Johnson is referred to as Dr. Johnson without the disclosure that he was forced to surrender his Colorado license practice medicine in 2011, according to the petition.
Johnson and his companies claim that the "magical properties" of his water derives from using radio waves to imprint frequencies on the water, which in turn produces beneficial effects, the petition states.
Miller says Johnson uses a machine called the Harmonizer to imprint the desired frequencies.
The petition names two products Johnson sold – the UV Neutralizer, which hit the market in 2012, and the Harmonized H2O Mosquito, which he began selling in 2014.
Osmosis allegedly began selling UV Neutralizer as an ingestible liquid that would protect against damaging sun rays. Miller says Osmosis claimed that "a few pumps from the spray dispenser into one's mouth” could provide three hours of protection from the sun comparable to an SPF 30 sunscreen.
According to the petition, a 3.4-ounce spray bottle was offered for $30 on Osmosis's website.
Miller says Johnson aggressively promoted UV Neutralizer through his company websites, including referring to it as the "world's first drinkable sunscreen."
Starting in 2014, Johnson also allegedly began marketing an ingestible mosquito repellent called Harmonized H2O, which was advertised on its website at $30 for a 3.38-ounce bottle.
According to Miller, Johnson posted misleading testimonials on his website, including one that stated, "Best mosquito repellent! I call this the miracle water!...This water has truly been life changing. I've...been using this water every day for 26 days and not one single bite. I stopped using it the last 2 nights and woke up to 5 bites from the neck down."
Tuesday’s petition says AG Miller is not required to prove that the frequency-imprinting concept is as pseudo-scientific as it appears.
"That is because Iowa law requires those who make performance claims for a product to be able to substantiate those claims,” it states. “This lawsuit alleges that dramatic claims for various 'harmonized' water products cannot be substantiated, that faulty testimonials and other deceptive and unfair practices have infected much of the marketing in question, and that Johnson and his companies inexcusably put consumers, young and old, at risk of wasting their money and, in many instances, endangering their health.”
Miller alleges Johnson, Osmosis and Harmonized put consumers at risk “by claiming that spraying UV Neutralizer into their mouths will provide hours of sun protection.”
“These defendants admit that this product’s only ingredient is water, and we allege they can’t support their highly questionable claims that they can specially treat ordinary water to take on a wide range of health-enhancing properties,” Miller said in a statement. “It’s flat-out dangerous to consumers to make them think without any proof that this water protects them from what we know is proven—potentially cancer-causing exposure to the sun.”
Johnson fired back in a statement provided to Courthouse News, saying testimonials about his products are verified and Miller cited no complaints from Iowa residents.
“I think it is important to note that we have been selling this remarkable product for about 5 years. We have had thousands of re-orders. Surely people understand that as a successful skincare company it would make no sense that we would sell people a fake sun protection water...and if we did, how long does one think those sales would last?” he said. “It would be ridiculous to think we could convince people to keep buying it if it doesn't actually work.”
Johnson also said he is a licensed physician in California and numerous studies have backed up his claims about the products.
“For these reasons we will be fighting [Miller’s] manufactured claims aggressively,” he said.
Miller seeks remedies available under the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act and the Older Iowans Law, including restitution to victims, injunctive relief and civil penalties of $40,000 per violation, increased to $45,000 for each violation committed against older Iowans.
The suit was filed by Assistant Iowa Attorneys General Steve St. Clair and Amy Licht.