The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) alerted the agency to leaflets produced by Ever Well Ltd, which breached eight clauses of the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing.
In particular, they made unsubstantiated claims about the safety of traditional Chinese medicines, contained references to treatment of serous diseases such as cancer, and claimed that most Western medicine has dangerous side effects which is avoided by Chinese medicine.
Richard Woodfield, head of herbals policy at the MHRA said: "We made these complaints to the ASA because of our increasing concern that some clinic leaflets, particularly in the traditional Chinese medicine sector, are making unsubstantiated claims about safety. Herbal medicines, like any other medicine, can have a significant effect on the body and should be used with care."
Following the decision, Ever Well offered to amend the treatment claims in the leaflet and this was welcomed by the ASA, which also advised it to consult the CAP Copy Advice team for assistance. The company was also told not to claim that its products could treat particular conditions in future unless it held documentary evidence to prove it, and to avoid implying that traditional chinese medicine was safer than western medicine or referring to serious medical conditions in similar, future advertisments.
The company was also told to change references to doctors on its staff, since although the individuals had graduated from Chinese medical universities, it considered that readers would infer that the staff held qualifications equivalent to a general medical qualification in the UK, which was not the case.
The latest ASA adjutication follows other complaints, also upheld, about claims made by Chinese traditional medicines. In December MHRA complained about breaches of the code made in a "Dr China" leaflet, and last August a consumer complained about a "Dr & Herbs" leaflet claiming that Chinese herbal medicine will not interfere with the effects of any Western medicine.
"Our aim is that the public should be able to make an informed choice about the use of herbal medicines. Consumers should be aware of the possibility of adverse reactions, including interactions between herbal and conventional medicines," added Woodfield.
The MHRA does not have any direct responsibility for advertising regulation. Rather, it is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work and are acceptably safe. Nonetheless, it is contacting herbal practioner associations, urging them to ask them to remind members about the provisions of the code.
Chinese herbal medicines have been on the agenda of the MHRA in the past: in 2004 it warned consumers about the poor quality of some products in the sector and advised them to aoid all products not labeled in English. In November it said that it had found high levels of mercury in two traditional Chinese medicines, Fufang Lu Hui and Zhuifeng Tongu Wan.