ASA fast tracks clampdown on ads that ‘exploit health-related anxieties during crisis’

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

ASA clamps down on ads ‘exploiting health-related anxieties’

Related tags: Asa, Chuckling Goat, PCK SKIN

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is instructing a probiotics firm and aesthetic clinic to revise claims made on its ads that the watchdog says exploits health related anxieties during the current crisis.

In its ruling​, ASA ordered gut health company ‘Chuckling Goat’ to ensure future ads did not state or imply that their food products could prevent, treat or cure human disease.

Along with a poster ad campaign, the firm had also been reprimanded over a website ad containing the text, “Scientists have linked disturbances in the gut microbiome, called dysbiosis, with a weakened immune system that can leave you more vulnerable to catching the flu.

“Improving your gut health is a direct way to boost your immune system. Contact one of our Nutritional Therapists on live chat for quick, free advice on how to improve your gut health and strengthen your immunity”.

Further text states, “Products suitable for people who wish to improve their gut health in order to boost immunity are: …” followed by product listings for ‘Probiotic Goats Milk Kefir’, ‘Complete Prebiotic’, ‘Microbiome Test’ and ‘CG oil’”.

Prohibited by Code

ASA agreed that text for the poster and website ads implied that Chuckling Goat food products could help to protect against viruses and the flu and were claims to prevent, treat or cure disease, which were prohibited by the Code.

The Authority also prohibited specific health claims contained in the ads for Chuckling Goat food products that claimed could boost the immune system.

In response, the Wales-based company said that the poster ad campaign had now ended and that they had removed the “Viruses” and “Flu” pages from their website.

They provided web links to three articles in relation to gut health and immunity to which they had referred to guide the claims they made in their ads.

They added they would cooperate with legal standards and did not intentionally violate any standards, but they did not provide a substantive response.

Prescription-only meds

Also incurring the wrath of ASA were Manchester-based ‘PCK SKIN’ trading as ‘SkinSpaceUK.’ The clinic found itself in hot water over a promotional email that had the subject line “40% off! In the fight against viruses!"

Text in the body of the email stated, “Its [sic] time to boost yor immunity! In the fight against viruses! Book in for your vitamin D & B12 shots! Supports your immune system, lung function and aids faster recovery from illness & viruses!".

ASA pointed out​ that all licensed forms of injectable vitamin D and injectable vitamin B12 were prescription-only medicines and its advertising to the general public was prohibited.

The Authority also said of the email’s text that “In the context of a global pandemic of coronavirus/COVID-19 consumers were likely to understand that “viruses” included coronavirus.

“The ad gave the impression to recipients that the vitamin D and vitamin B12 injections being sold were effective in helping to prevent or treat coronavirus/COVID-19,”​ ASA says.

“However, the vitamin D medicinal product was indicated for use in patients with gastrointestinal, liver or biliary disease associated with malabsorption of Vitamin D, resulting in hypophosphataemia, rickets, and osteomalacia.

“The vitamin B12 medicinal product was indicated for the treatment of Addison Pernicious anaemia; prophylaxis and treatment of other macrocytic anaemias associated with vitamin B12 deficiency; treatment of tobacco amblyopia; and treatment of Leber’s optic atrophy.

“None of those medicinal products were therefore indicated for the prevention or treatment of coronavirus/COVID-19. Because the ad promoted prescription-only medicines to the general public, we concluded that it breached the Code.”

PCK SKIN response

In response, PCK SKIN said the email was only sent to its client database, who were current clients or had opted in to receive communications from SKINSPACEUK.

They said a full consultation by the treating medical practitioner was always undertaken prior to administration of any POM. They also required a recent blood test to determine if there was any deficiency present.

A client would have to present with a deficiency before any treatment was given the clinic said, adding that overall benefits of vitamin B12 and vitamin D, including on immunity, were well documented worldwide in clinical studies, citations and media outlets.

PCK SKIN concluded by stating they would ensure no further campaigns were sent referring to any prescription-only medicine.

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