The complaint concerned a section on a homeopathy website which detailed the so-called autism therapy CEASE – or Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression. The site claimed the treatment’s creator, Dutch physician Tinus Smits, helped over 300 children with autism prior to his death in 2010. Dr Smits was a public critic of vaccines as a possible cause of autism and other health problems, claims he faced a regional medical disciplinary tribunal for.
Teddington Homeopathy was run by CEASE therapist Melissa Wakeling.
The technique – widely discussed on the net – used a form of homeopathy known as Isotherapy which involved the “gentle removal of toxins” from the body using a “form of nutritional supplements to nourish the body and restore intestinal function”. It claimed to be beneficial for conditions like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) too.
The price of homeopathy
Homeopathy is only available on the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) in some areas of the country where there are NHS homeopathic hospitals. Meanwhile some NHS GP practices also offer homeopathic treatment.
It is largely practiced privately though, in which case the price for an initial consultation can range from £20 to £80 (€28 - €114) and products typically cost £4 to £10 (€5- €14).
A 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy criticised the continued NHS funding of a sector it said threatened “patient trust, choice and safety”. It also urged the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to stop licensing such products.
The ASA upheld the complaint that the advert was misleading and that it discouraged treatment for autism.
“We considered that autism was a condition for which medical supervision should be sought. In the absence of evidence to demonstrate that CEASE therapy could treat autism and that any treatment was carried out by a suitably qualified healthcare professional, we concluded that the ad was misleading and breached the Code,” it wrote in its final ruling.
Homeopathy is a complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) based on the use of highly diluted substances. Practitioners say this can help the body heal itself while critics say such products are no more effective than placebos.
Testimony is promotion
The website also contained testimony from parents of a child currently receiving CEASE Therapy. It said the child developed autism after being given the MMR vaccination but autism-related issues like tantrums and delayed speech development improved after several months of homoeopathic treatment.
Whilst this was followed by a disclaimer that this reflected the personal opinions of the parent and was not evidence, the ASA said readers were likely to take this as gospel.
Teddington Homeopathy said the site was intended to provide the general public with “correct information about different healthcare options”, however the ASA considered the material to be marketing for services available on the site.
The company has since deleted the testimonial and other material regarding removal of toxins from the page, which the ASA said it welcomed. However it added that remaining information about Tinus Smits and the links provided still implied a benefit for homeopathy and CEASE therapy for autism, and that the intention of CEASE therapy was to treat autism.
“Although advertisers may provide information about the history of a therapy, care should be taken not to make unsupported claims for the treatment when describing this background,” it wrote.
The ASA said the website must not appear again in its current form.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – which includes Asperger syndrome and childhood autism – is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.
The exact cause of the disorder is unclear but it is generally thought to be due to a combination of several complex genetic and environmental factors. In the past the vaccine MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) has been blamed, but research on this found no link.
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), about one in every 100 people in the UK has some form of ASD. About half of those with ASD also have other learning difficulties.