Challenging misleading healthcare claims

Diluting misleading claims - ASA update

The Advertising Standards Authority take strong action to bring advertising by homeopaths into compliance

In March 2011, our very first campaign was against the misleading advertising claims made by homeopaths on their websites. That was six years ago, and we gave the Advertising Standards Authority a huge headache: how to persuade homeopaths to abide by the same rules all advertisers have to abide by.

Without those advertising rules (in the form of the CAP Code), advertisers would have free rein to make whatever claims they wanted; it would be a wild-west for all sorts of cowboys and quacks and one where the poor consumer would suffer.

Homeopaths have featured in the ASA's list of adjudications and informally resolved cases over the years, but the ASA have recently preferred to let their Compliance Team deal with homeopathy advertisers because they had already extensively reviewed the evidence — notably through complaints about the Society of Homeopaths and homeopath Steve Scrutton, Media & Communications person at the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths — and had an established position on it. Read more about these adjudications in: Landmark decisions for homeopaths.

prosecutedA few advertisers have been somewhat recalcitrant, believing they could face down the ASA. Some even seemed to think the ASA could be ignored, but many have found that is not a sensible course of action and one that's not good for their business.  However, many advertisers of complementary and alternative therapies appear in the ASA's list of Non-compliant online advertisers and others have been referred to Trading Standards (TS).

Trading Standards have now successfully prosecuted 'Electronic Healing' (a provider of complementary and alternative therapies and devices) who had been referred to them by the ASA. TS have also had numerous websites taken down: they cannot be ignored.

We have no doubt that many homeopaths were just not aware of the advertising rules or the need to abide by them. Many will now comply because they understand the need for rules to protect consumers and are responsible traders who want to stay on the right side of the law. But not all.

Action

Today, the ASA announced that they have written to homeopaths across the UK to remind them of the rules that govern what they can and can’t say in their marketing materials, including on their websites. This included their previous Guidance for Advertisers of Homeopathic Services and FAQs about advertising regulation and the sanctions the ASA can impose.

It also builds on the advertising guidance published by the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) a few days ago, which had been reviewed by the ASA. You may remember that the SoH themselves fell foul of the ASA three years ago and an adjudication against numerous claims they made on Twitter and on their website found they had breached the CAP Code on multiple counts. Read more about the adjudication in: Landmark decisions for homeopaths.

While we generally welcome the guidance from the SoH, we believe this guidance is incorrect and misleading in places and goes beyond what we believe the CAP Code allows, but at least it's a step in the right direction. Whether they ensure their members now comply with the CAP Code remains to be seen.

With the ASA's letter to thousands of homeopaths, their published guidance on compliance and the SoH's letter to their members, there really is now no excuse whatsoever for homeopaths to continue to make misleading claims.

The ASA has given them a deadline of 03 November 2016 to change their websites to become compliant:

After the expiration of this period, we will carry out extensive monitoring spot checks. Homeopathy practices that have failed to comply will be contacted again. After this time, we will consider the application of appropriate sanctions.

Campaigning continues

This is the culmination of six years of campaigning for us — our initial campaign and the occasional prodding of the ASA and submitting the odd strategic complaint. Although there is much more still to do, we've done our bit to highlight the many issues with homeopathy advertising: it is now up to homeopaths to take the responsible action they know they must.

Perhaps the Society of Homeopaths could set a good example to its members by having a thorough review of its own website?

29 September 2016


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