By: Robert A. Ciccia
In February of 2012 Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), a ranking member of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, released a report concerning false and misleading information provided by tanning salons across the nation. The report detailed the risks associated with indoor tanning, as well as the strategies employed by the tanning industry to improve tanning rates. However, the report fell short of recommending any policy to curb the use of indoor tanning. This article analyzes tanning in Massachusetts, and recommends litigation as a policy initiative to counter false and misleading information disseminated by tanning salons.
To address the issue, the first section briefly describes the health risks and public health impacts associated with indoor tanning. This is followed by an examination of the veracity of several local tanning salons’ health claims. Next, the article details current federal and state laws applicable to the tanning industry including the tanning industry’s history of false and misleading advertisements, along with the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) past decisions. In addition, Massachusetts’s Consumer Protection Act is introduced as a potential theory of liability. The last section of the article focuses on possible consumer protection actions and addresses potential issues that may arise.
Indoor tanning is a serious health issue. The World Health Organization recently classified tanning beds as “carcinogenic to humans,” the organization’s highest risk category. Tanning is linked to several types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Despite these known risks, it is estimated that 30 million Americans use indoor tanning services every year; many of these users are young women between the ages of 18-29. As a result of increased tanning rates, skin cancer is now the most common cancer in the United States. Moreover, while the incidence of many other cancers is falling, the incidence of melanoma is rising faster than the seven most common cancers.
Complicating this issue further are social beliefs that a tan is a sign of health, beauty, and success. Additionally, individuals who tan do not perceive tanning risks and are pressured to tan by friends or family members who engage in the same behavior. Although several public education campaigns were launched to curb tanning rates, several studies indicate that educational efforts alone are insufficient to decrease such rates. Several states have passed legislation limiting the tanning services available to minors, but many tanning facilities fail to comply with these regulations because there is little state enforcement. Thus, this article recommends litigation to raise awareness of this public health issue, reprimand tanning salons for deceptive business practices, and spur societal change. However, before delving into a solution, it is critical to understand the marketing techniques tanning salons employ in Massachusetts.
The Strategic Marketing of Tanning Salons in Boston
Tanning salons often employ misleading advertisements to promote indoor tanning. Despite the well-publicized association between indoor tanning and skin cancer, many tanning salons advertise that their services are safe and healthy. Several tanning salons across Boston perpetuate these false claims.
For example, Tanorama, a tanning salon located on Newbury Street, an upscale shopping district of Boston, stated on their website that indoor tanning is “safer than the sun.” In the predominately white working class neighborhood of South Boston, Sobella Salon stated on their website that “[t]anning beds help the body produce more vitamin D that helps keep your bones, teeth and joints very healthy . . . some studies conducted show that a person’s mood significantly improves when they use a tanning bed.” Last year, the Tan Man Sun Spa, which is also located in South Boston, posted on its Facebook page that “new studies show that the large amount of Vitamin D your sessions produce actually burns fat cells, promotes weight loss & increases muscle strength.” Many salons commonly cite the benefits of Vitamin D production, despite the fact that physicians recommend oral supplements rather than increased exposure to UV radiation. Advertisements often state that tanning can even be used as treatment for seasonal depression. The Tan Man Sun Spa published an update on its Facebook webpage that claimed indoor tanning produces “serotonin” and “endorphins” which help combat seasonal depression. However, these health claims are without a verifiable scientific basis. Only the FDA can classify and approve devices for health purposes, presently UV tanning lamps are limited to the use of tanning the skin.
There are also health claims that are less explicit. Campus Tan, which has several franchises near college and university populations, takes such a route. On its webpage, Campus Tan advocates that users avoid use of SPF lotion during indoor tanning because their booths allow for controlled exposure. However, many health professionals state that protective sun lotion should be used prior to receiving large amounts of UV exposure –indoor tanning would fall under such a category. Campus Tan also stated that it used “Browning Lamps” instead of what it referred to as “Burning Lamps,” and while it is believed that such a statement is meant to convey a competitive advantage over other salons, there is an implicit claim that its lamps are healthier because they do not cause burns. Physicians also agree that any manner of indoor tanning, unless prescribed for medical necessity, is not healthy.
The Smart Tan franchise has three locations across the Boston area, and the franchise is one of the more visible salons in Boston. Its business slogan is “Faster, Safer, and Less Costly,” which conveys that it is less dangerous than its competitors. Smart Tan is most notable for a TV advertisement that aired on both MTV and E! Entertainment; channels which tend to cater to a young female demographic. The TV advertisement claimed that several medical studies advocated for increased sun exposure, and by extension, more indoor tanning. On its website, Smart Tan also lists several “proven benefits” to indoor tanning and links to other pro-tanning websites.
Many, if not all of these advertisements, use images of slim young women to help perpetuate the notion that tanning is desirable, healthy, and beautiful. Images of women in bathing suits along with bright radiant colors used in the websites’ design are commonly used in these kinds of advertisements. These images, along with the false and misleading messages they convey, are harmful to the public’s overall perception of tanning. The totality of these advertisements compounds the harmful effects of tanning by promoting its use through ecological and social factors.
There are several key regulations and legal remedies available to protect consumer rights against false and misleading advertisements, including the Federal Trade Commission Act (“FTC Act”). In Massachusetts, the state’s consumer protection act also can be employed when businesses engage in unfair or deceptive practices.
The Role of the Federal Trade Commission
The FTC Act established the Federal Trade Commission in 1914. Since then, the FTC has been responsible for protecting “both business and the public from anticompetitive behavior and unfair and deceptive acts and practices.” Typically if a business is charged with “unfair and deceptive” practices, the FTC will investigate to determine if a violation of the commission’s rules occurred. However, only the FTC can bring a claim under the FTC Act.
Over the past two decades, the FTC has taken action several times to curb the deceptive claims and practices of the tanning industry. In August 1997, the FTC settled charges with California SunCare. The charges arose from the company’s assertion that, “moderate exposure to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun and in indoor tanning salons is not harmful.” The FTC ordered California SunCare and its CEO to cease from making such health claims, and required the company “to have scientific substantiation for any claims about the health benefits of UV exposure.” Despite the settlement by the FTC, tanning salons continued to disseminate false and misleading material.
In 2008, the Indoor Tanning Association, a prominent lobbying group that represents tanning facilities and suppliers, launched a nationwide campaign to depict indoor tanning as safe and healthy. In January 2010, the Indoor Tanning Association settled with the FTC on charges of “making false health and safety claims” concerning tanning. The terms of the settlement required the Indoor Tanning Association to cease any further marketing campaigns premised on unsubstantiated medical claims. In addition, the FTC required any future advertisements making health claims to contain disclosures on the risks of developing skin cancer. The FTC also published a consumer factsheet to warn consumer of potential risks.
Although these settlements were lauded as progress against the tanning industry, the FTC’s continued regulation of the tanning industry is relatively weak. In fact, many tanning salons continue to tout other benefits of UV rays on their website. Nonetheless, the FTC settlements are important litigation resources for consumer protection claims.
Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act
In 1967, the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act (“Chapter 93A”) was enacted to declare unfair and deceptive acts of business unlawful. The law is one of the broadest and most powerful consumer protection statutes in the country. It created new consumer rights and procedures to enforce these rights. The law encompasses any acts “in the conduct of any trade or business,” and includes: advertisements, offerings of sale, the sale, and distribution of services. The purpose of the law was to ensure that businesses properly disclosed information, and did not profit from unfair practices. Chapter 93A is often described as a “Little FTC Act” because it tracks the language of the FTC Act, however Chapter 93A permits consumers and businesses to pursue private remedies against violators —unlike the FTC Act, which only permits the FTC to bring claims.
False advertisements are treated as deceptive acts under Chapter 93A. The requirements for a deceptive act are not as stringent as other common law principles because courts have interpreted Chapter 93A to extend far beyond the scope of the common law principles of fraud and deceit. For example, there is no requirement to prove the defendant’s intent under deception; proof that the plaintiff relied on the deceptive act is sufficient for a claim. Additionally, Section 2 of Chapter 93A permits state courts to use the interpretations of the federal courts and the FTC to determine if a business practice is deceptive. This is beneficial for consumer advocates because recent case law in Massachusetts has confirmed that a violation of the FTC Act is a violation of Chapter 93A.
Another benefit to consumer claims under Chapter 93A is that the law is receptive to class action lawsuits. Traditionally Rule 23 of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 23”) governs class action certification in Massachusetts. For class action consumer protection claims, however, Section 9(2) of Chapter 93A governs over the provisions of Rule 23. As the case law in Massachusetts points out, Rule 23 has more rules and prerequisites than Chapter 93A, thus consumer protection claims are more likely to be certified in Massachusetts than a traditional class action claim in the state.
Consumer Protection Case Law
While no tanning related consumer protection claim has taken place in Massachusetts, in 2008 the Third Circuit decided Nafar v. Hollywood Tanning Systems, Inc. The case was heard on appeal after a district court judge certified a nationwide class of tanning customers. The lawsuit was primarily based on violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, which is similar to Chapter 93A. In Nafar, the plaintiffs alleged that Hollywood Tanning deceived and failed to warn consumers that exposure to UV rays would increase their risk of cancer. After reviewing the district court’s decision, the Third Circuit vacated the class certification. The Third Circuit held that the district court erred because of several procedural issues: (1) the district court failed to conduct an adequate choice-of-law analysis; (2) failed to consider causation; and (3) did not determine if res judicata was applicable. However, there are several issues that would distinguish the Third Circuit’s ruling in Nafar to a potential case brought in Massachusetts.
First, Nafar is inapplicable in Massachusetts because the Third Circuit’s ruling is only persuasive in the region governed by the court. Massachusetts has its own case law concerning class action consumer fraud lawsuits. A more analogous case is Aspinall v. Philip Morris Companies, Inc., heard by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2004. The case focused on the “certification of a class of purchasers of “light” cigarettes.” In their complaint the plaintiffs alleged, “that the marketing of Marlboro Lights as “light” cigarettes that deliver “lowered tar and nicotine” was deceptive under [Chapter 93A], entitling them to monetary damages.” The primary issue in the case was whether the defendants caused actual harm to the plaintiffs. This was a complicated dilemma for the Court because each cigarette delivered different levels of nicotine and tar, depending on each smoker’s habits. This is a similar dilemma tanning plaintiffs would face because UV ray levels may differ across individuals. Nonetheless, the Court certified the class and determined that the purchase of a falsely advertised product constituted an “injury” under Chapter 93A. Detractors warned that Aspinall would open the gates to consumer class action litigation due to the broad definition of injury, but the case did not have such a drastic effect in Massachusetts. Instead the case is commonly cited in many consumer rights claims.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office brought lawsuits against Darque Tan in 2008 and Euro Tan in 2010 for violations of several state laws. In both cases the state sought an injunction against the vendors for their health based tanning advertisements. The justification for the attorney general’s claim was the tanning salons’ dissemination of false and misleading advertisements to consumers. In the Euro Tan complaint, the state referenced the use of a website and colorful brochures to promote misleading health benefits of tanning. These health claims included the benefits of Vitamin D for those with autism, autoimmune illnesses, other cancers, and chronic pain. Other health claims stated that tanning beds would lower blood pressure, decrease pre-menstrual syndrome symptoms, increase muscle strength and improve the immune system. The suit was premised on violations of the Texas Health and Safety Code, which prohibits tanning salons from claiming health benefits, and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which prohibits deceptive advertising —similar to Chapter 93A. Presently, the Euro Tan case is pending in court. However, after several years of litigation, the Darque Tan case was recently settled in March of 2013. In addition to paying monetary damages, the court entered an injunction to prevent Darque Tan from claiming any health benefits in future advertising campaigns. Thus proving the potential efficacy, at least in a case brought by the state’s attorney general, of a consumer protection claim based on false and misleading tanning advertisements. However, there is no guarantee that the Massachusetts Attorney General Office will ever take up such a case.
The Case for Tanning Litigation in Massachusetts
In order to facilitate change in Massachusetts, litigation is recommended as a policy initiative. The purpose of such action is to limit consumer fraud based on the false and misleading health claims tanning salons continue to assert. Such action should be premised under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, and ideally brought in state court. While individual plaintiffs can bring such a lawsuit, a class action lawsuit is recommended due to the influential nature of such cases. Although federal removal may arise under federal class action rules, a state claim is possible if the class is confined to residents the state of Massachusetts. This would avoid the procedural issues such as class certification, diversity, amount in controversy, and choice of law, that arose in Nafar.
The next issue is to establish deceptive advertising. In this case, the advertisements at issue are those proclaiming the benefits of Vitamin D, the safety of indoor tanning, and dispelling associations with skin cancer. Although there is no definition of deceptive acts in Chapter 93A, prior FTC cases are used to define the term. A class could rely upon the California SunCare or International Tanning Association FTC settlements to prove that such advertisements were deceptive because the health claims made by many Boston tanning salons are similar, if not identical, to those made by California SunCare and the International Tanning Association. Such deceptive advertisements would likely be violations of Chapter 93A. The fact that the FDA has not approved the use of tanning devices for any other purposes also may be used to prove deceptive advertisements.
Tanning salons may claim waivers and warning as a defense for these consumer protection claims. These waivers are now common at many tanning salons, and often attempt to eliminate consumer protection claims. However, tanning waivers or warnings are likely to be ineffective in Massachusetts for two reasons. In Feeney v. Dell, Inc., the Massachusetts Supreme Court invalidated a waiver located in the arbitration clause of a consumer contract. The waiver attempted to eliminate a consumer’s right to bring a class action consumer protection claim. In its ruling, the court stated that such a waiver “is not enforceable because it is contrary to the fundamental public policy of the Commonwealth favoring consumer class actions” under Chapter 93A. The Feeney ruling would not enforce consumer protection waivers in Massachusetts. Tanning salons may also claim they provided warnings to customers, on the health risks. However, even if a salon provides healthy warnings, a Massachusetts statute dictates that “[t]he liability of a tanning facility operator or the manufacturer of a tanning device shall not be affected by the giving of the warnings.” The statute, in effect, eliminates health warnings as a defense. Thus, neither waivers nor warnings would serve as a proper defense for tanning salons in Massachusetts.
The last requirement of such a lawsuit is damages. This requires that the plaintiff show “that he or she has been ‘injured’ in the sense that there has been an invasion of a consumer’s legally protected interests.” This requirement can be satisfied principally in two ways: (1) if the consumer developed cancer, or any other illness associated with tanning; or, (2) if a consumer paid for tanning services and sought to recover the price (e.g., misled due to false or fraudulent advertising).
One major difficulty in proving damages is causation. This is especially burdensome in damages for cancer because there are a variety of variables that may increase risk. For example, if the plaintiff were both an outdoor sunbather and indoor tanning salon user, the causation link would weaken between a particular tanning salon and the cancer claim.
Stronger arguments could be made for the price paid for tanning services if a consumer would not have sought such services “but for” the misleading advertisements. Even if the price of tanning services is the only remedy recovered, a plaintiff can recover reasonable attorney’s fees and treble damages if the violation was knowing and willful under Chapter 93A. While treble damages are difficult to prove, given the knowing and willful standard, recovery is feasible due to the tanning industry’s disregard of prior FTC rulings. If treble damages and attorney’s fee can be recovered, this would likely result in a substantial impact on tanning providers.
It is well documented that the incidence of skin cancer is rising in the United States, despite the fact that many other cancer rates are in decline. This is partly due to the misleading and false advertising tanning salons employ to improve their business earnings. These advertisements often trumpet false health benefits and the safety of their services, while attempting to dispel the proven association between indoor tanning and skin cancer. The FTC has ruled twice that such assertions are false, and has reprimanded the tanning industry for its deceptive acts. Nonetheless, such deceptive practices continue and are especially prevalent in Massachusetts.
In order to combat the misleading rhetoric, litigation is suggested as a possible public policy initiative. A similar campaign was undertaken against cigarette companies, and although the process was long and difficult, it ultimately helped to sway public opinion and public policy against tobacco use. Massachusetts is an ideal location for such action to take place. The state’s consumer protection act, Chapter 93A, is one of the broadest consumer protection statutes in the country. It also provides lenient procedures for class certification, the ideal lawsuit to effectuate change, and the state has relevant case law supporting large consumer protection lawsuits. Massachusetts’ law would also invalidate any waiver or warning that salons attempt to use as a defense. Most importantly, Chapter 93A contains damage provisions that would cause tremendous injury to the tanning industry if a suit were successful.
Massachusetts provides a unique venue for tanning litigation to occur, and if successful, it can effectuate tremendous change for consumers and greater public health for the state. Although a statewide ban on indoor tanning is the ideal solution, there is little evidence such an effort could easily be achieved. Litigation is a slow, expensive, and difficult process, but it remains a powerful tool that public health advocates should consider to ultimately address the tanning issue.
Exhibit 1: Sobella Salon Advertisement
Exhibit 2: The Tan Man Spa Facebook Update
Exhibit 3: The Tan Man Facebook Update
Robert A. Ciccia, Esq. is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law (J.D.) and Tufts University School of Medicine (M.P.H). He is interested in public health litigation and healthcare delivery. While in law school Robert was a staff member of the Northeastern University Law Journal and interned at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Public Health Advocacy Institute, the U.S. District Court in Boston with the Honorable George O’Toole, and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
 The author would like to thank Mark Gottlieb of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, and Marcia Boumil of the Tufts University School of Medicine for their input and continued support throughout the drafting of this article.
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 See Id.
 Mawn V.B., Fleischer Jr. A.B., A survey of attitudes, beliefs, and behavior regarding tanning bed use, sunbathing, and sunscreen use, 29 (6) Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 959 (1993).
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 Exhibit 1: Sobella Salon Advertisement.
 Exhibit 2: The Tan Man Spa Facebook Update..
 See False and Misleading Health Information Provided to Teens by the Indoor Tanning Industry: Investigative Report. 112th Cong. (2012) (U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee).
 Exhibit 3: The Tan Man Spa Facebook Update.
 21 C.F.R. § 878.4635 (“An ultraviolet lamp for tanning is a device that is a lamp (including a fixture) intended to provide ultraviolet radiation to tan the skin.”).
 Joel J. Hillhouse, Arthur W. Stair and Christine M. Adler, Predictors of sunbathing and sunscreen use in college undergraduates, 19(6) Journal of Behavioral Medicine 543-561 (2012).
 Gary Mendese and Barbara A. Gilchrest, Selected Indoor Tanning Myths and Controversies, Shedding Light on Indoor Tanning 121-133 (2012).
 1 Fed. Trade Comm’n. § 1:1 (2011).
 FTC Announcements of 1997, Federal Trade Commission. http://www.ftc.gov/opa/1997/02/petapp10.shtm.
Indoor Tanning Association Settles FTC Charges That It Deceived Consumers About Skin Cancer Risks From Tanning, Federal Trade Commission. http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/01/tanning.shtm.
 August Horvath, John Villafranco, Stephen Calkins, Consumer Protection Law Developments 468 (2009).
 See Matthew S. Furman, How Chapter 93a Consumers Lost Their Day in Court: One Legislative Option to Level the Playing Field, 15 Suffolk J. Trial & App. Advoc. 107 (2010).
 August Horvath, John Villafranco, Stephen Calkins, Consumer Protection Law Developments 468 (2009).
 Justin J. Hakala, Follow-On State Actions Based on the FTC’s Enforcement of Section 5, 1, FN 3 (2008). available at: http://www.ftc.gov/os/comments/section5workshop/537633-00002.pdf.
 52 Mass. Prac., Law of Chapter 93A § 4.6
 See August Horvath, John Villafranco, Stephen Calkins, Consumer Protection Law Developments 468, 469 FN 1019 (2009).
 August Horvath, John Villafranco, Stephen Calkins, Consumer Protection Law Developments 289 (2011).
 52 Mass. Prac., Law of Chapter 93A § 5.10.
 Nafar v. Hollywood Tanning Sys., Inc., 339 F. App’x 216 (3d Cir. 2009).
 Sean Wajert, Third Circuit Vacates Class Certification In Consumer Fraud Tanning Case, Mass Tort Defense. available at: http://www.masstortdefense.com/2009/08/articles/third-circuit-vacates-class-certification-in-consumer-fraud-tanning-case/.
 Nafar v. Hollywood Tanning Sys., Inc., 339 F. App’x 216, 224 (3d Cir. 2009).
 Aspinall v. Philip Morris Cos., 442 Mass. 381, 385 (2004).
 Donald J. Savery, Brandon L. Bigelow, Aspinall One Year Later: Making Sense of “Similar Injury” in Claims Under Chapter 93a, Section 9, Boston B.J., November/December 2005, at 10.
 State High Court Ruling Departs from Tort Principles in Consumer Protection Case, 2005 WL 310059 (4th Cir. Feb. 10, 2005).
 Donald J. Savery, Brandon L. Bigelow, Aspinall One Year Later: Making Sense of “Similar Injury” in Claims Under Chapter 93a, Section 9, Boston B.J., November/December 2005, at 10.
 Attorney General Abbott Resolves Health Claims, Marketing Issues with Tanning Salon Operators, Attorney General of Texas, https://www.oag.state.tx.us/oagnews/release.php?id=4318.
 Plaintiff’s Original Petition and Application for Permanent Injunction, State of Texas v Ryan, https://www.oag.state.tx.us/newspubs/releases/2010/040510eurotan_pop.pdf.
 Attorney General Abbott Charges Euro Tan of San Antonio With Violating Health and Safety Laws. Attorney General of Texas, https://www.oag.state.tx.us/oagnews/release.php?id=3332.
 Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, in an attempt to curtail the role of state courts in large class action cases by expanding federal court jurisdiction over certain types of class action cases. 28 U.S.C. §§1332(d), 1453, and 1711–1715. In essence, the law eases federal class requirements with regards to numerosity, diversity, and amount in controversy. William Rubenstein, Understanding the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, UCLA Program on Class Actions. 2005 at 5. These changes thereby allow class action defendants to remove a case from state to federal court, a venue where judges may be less likely to certify nationwide classes than state court judges. Id. at 15.
 52 Mass. Prac., Law of Chapter 93A § 4.5.
 Feeney v. Dell Inc., 454 Mass. 192 (2009).
 Feeney v. Dell Inc., 454 Mass. 192, 193 (2009).
 Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 111, § 212 (West).
 52 Mass. Prac., Law of Chapter 93A § 4.18.