British Advertising Standards Authority Issues Warning about Homeopathy Claims


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
June 10, 2012

The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced that it has received so many complaints about homeopathic claims that it is is taking a different approach to its normal investigative process and is dealing with them as part of a wider investigative project. In a recent release, the ASA stated:

  • We’ve contacted marketers of homeopathic treatments and services about whom we’ve received a complaint and advised them to avoid making efficacy claims for treatments where robust evidence is not held to back them up.
  • Specifically, we have told them to remove marketing claims that refer to, or imply, the efficacy of homeopathy for treating or helping specific health conditions.
  • Advertisers making claims for homeopathic medicinal products have been told to ensure their products have a licence from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency before they are marketed.
  • We are now monitoring these websites to see whether the necessary changes have been made.
  • In the meantime, we won’t be contacting the owners of any other websites that are brought to our attention. But we will retain their website details for future compliance initiatives, if we consider such action to be necessary. We’re taking the complaints we’ve received seriously and we’re pleased that we’re already seeing evidence of website owners amending claims and contacting us for advice. This is encouraging and represents good progress.
  • This entire process is likely to take some time, especially given the number of businesses involved in the sector.
  • Sending us additional complaints on the same topic is most unlikely to alert us to new issues and it can have the unintended consequence of slowing down our work.

The ASA’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the body responsible for writing its Advertising Code, has produced a guidance document for advertisers of homeopathic products [2]. Its key points are:

  • Before publishing a marketing communication, marketers must hold factual evidence (based on clinical trials) that it is true.
  • Therapeutic or medicineal claims must not be made for products that are not registered and licensed by the MHRA.
  • Marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.
  • The ASA has not seen persuasive evidence to support claims that homeopathy can treat, cur,e or relieve specific conditions or symptoms. We therefore advise homeopathy marketers to avoid making specific claims of efficacy for treatments where robust evidence is not held to substantiate them.

This situation is unusual because the ASA generally and quickly reacts to every complaint it receives. In contrast, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reacts to only a tiny percentage of comlaints it receives and often takes years to do so.

References

  1. Complaints about homeopathy websites. ASA Web site, accessed July 10, 2012.
  2. Guidance for Advertisers of Homeopathic Products. Committee on Advertising Practice, Sept 22, 2011.

This article was posted on June 10, 2012.