Yesterday, the Advertising Standards Authority inducted the first members into their Hall of Shame.
Their Misleading Online Advertisers page (EDIT 04/02/12 now ‘Non-compliant’ online advertisers), tantalisingly online yet empty since the digital remit was extended this March, now lists four culprits – three of whom are in the Alternative Health sector. Two of these specialise in Reiki Healing - a form of ‘energy healing’ which, though some people find pleasant and relaxing, lacks plausibility and evidence of efficacy for any condition.
The four guilty parties are Samantha Pearce, Allan Sweeney, Life Healthcare (t/a Life Natural Cures) and Vistaprint.
Her Sam’s Healing Hands website continues to make outlandish, irresponsible and unsubstantiated claims about the supposed health benefits of Reiki, despite repeated requests for assurance of future compliance by the CAP Compliance team. She continues to claim:
- Reiki healing can help with stress relief, sinusitis, menstrual problems, M.E. eczema, arthritis, menopausal problems, back pain, depression and insomnia.
- Reiki is effective for both chronic and acute conditions and is suitable for everyone, from the young to the elderly.
The ASA published an adjudication against Allan Sweeney in July of this year, regarding some shocking statements made on his company website, suggesting that Reiki is effective against a range of conditions including depression, tinnitus and even cancer. Sweeney failed to respond to the ASA following the original complaint and is apparently continuing to ignore their demands, with his website still boasting the following claims:
Effective therapies offered include for cancer, ADHD, back pain, migraine, depression, anger, low energy, sleeplessness, ADD, sadness, bereavement, tinnitus, and sciatica.
Cancer therapy – click here to learn more This two-week program helps every level of being of a cancer patient, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We have had success even for patients who had lost hope.
While I understand that some people may feel therapies such as Reiki help them cope better and to relax, any claims of medical efficacy beyond placebo are clearly ludicrous. It is of particular concern that Sweeney could be discouraging essential treatment for which proper medical advice should be sought – especially with respect to cancer. Since he states ‘we have had success even for people who have lost hope‘, I feel he is implying that he is actually able to treat and possibly even cure the cancer itself.
The Cancer Act (1939) states that
No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement—containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof
(EDIT: I have just discovered that there was also an adjudication against Sweeney in 2001 – for making misleading claims about cancer, a range of other conditions including schizophrenia and for calling himself ‘Dr’)
(EDIT 10/10/11 I have edited this post in response to a legal request from a foreign company also called Life Healthcare. I must point out that the named and shamed company is based in Jersey and trading under the name ‘Life Natural Cures’. I am following the lead of the UK Advertising Standards Authority in using the company name ‘Life Healthcare’.)
The CAP Compliance team has contacted Life Healthcare (t/a Life Natural Cures) on several occasions about problem claims regarding Celabolin pills and cream – which are clearly still visible on the website today…
Further reading on their site reveals that they seem to be making misleading claims about a wide variety of products (including a product which apparently replicates the effects of Viagra without the unpleasant side effects).
It is also clear that this company are long-term repeat offenders. They have previously had three complaints upheld against them: about a leaflet making misleading claims about a ‘Thyroid Support Formula'; catalogues also making problematic claims about a number of supplements and creams, and a magazine insert advertising a ‘herbal supplement’ which could supposedly ‘dramatically improve sex for men and women’ by giving you ‘stronger longer-lasting erections’, boosting sexual and muscular performance and increasing blood surges to all body parts. There are also details here of another complaint about them – again regarding misleading claims about their thyroid support formula.
This company have the dubious honour of being the only company listed that are not in the Alternative Health sector. Vistaprint have continued to quote prices exclusive of VAT on their website, despite repeated requests by the ASA to either amend this or provide evidence that the majority of their customers either pay no VAT or are able to recover it.
As the ASA explain on their Sanctions page, their main aim is to ensure that advertisers comply with the Codes, rather than to punish them. But they do have sanctions at their disposal for those who choose to ignore them. Possible sanctions include ad alerts to the media, withdrawal of trading privileges, pre-vetting and sanctions in the digital space – for example asking search websites to remove a marketer’s paid-for search advertisements.
If an advertiser refuses to comply with the ASA, as appears to have been the case here, they state that:
The ASA Chief Executive is able to refer the advertiser to the Office of Fair Trading for legal proceedings under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 or the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008.
It will be interesting to see how effective the naming and shaming will be – or whether further action will be necessary.