The random thoughts of a sceptical activist

These are the rules, nothing more, nothing less

For completeness, the relevant sections in the The British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP) seem to be:

GENERAL RULES

Principles

2.2 All marketing communications should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.

Substantiation

3.1 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims, whether direct or implied, that are capable of objective substantiation. Relevant evidence should be sent without delay if requested by the ASA or CAP. The adequacy of evidence will be judged on whether it supports both the detailed claims and the overall impression created by the marketing communication. The full name and geographical business address of marketers should be provided without delay if requested by the ASA or CAP.

3.2 If there is a significant division of informed opinion about any claims made in a marketing communication they should not be portrayed as generally agreed.

3.3 Claims for the content of non-fiction books, tapes, videos and the like that have not been independently substantiated should not exaggerate the value, accuracy, scientific validity or practical usefulness of the product.

3.4 Obvious untruths or exaggerations that are unlikely to mislead and incidental minor errors and unorthodox spellings are all allowed provided they do not affect the accuracy

Matters of opinion

8.1 Marketers may give a view about any matter, including the qualities or desirability of their products, provided it is clear that they are expressing their own opinion rather than stating a fact. Assertions that go beyond subjective opinions are subject to 3.1 above (also see 12.1 below).

Safety

10.1 Marketing communications should not condone or encourage unsafe practices. Particular care should be taken with marketing communications addressed to or depicting children (see section 47).

Testimonials and endorsements

14.3 Testimonials alone do not constitute substantiation and the opinions expressed in them must be supported, where necessary, with independent evidence of their accuracy. Any claims based on a testimonial must conform with the Code.

HEALTH & BEAUTY PRODUCTS AND THERAPIES

General

50.1 Medical and scientific claims made about beauty and health-related products should be backed by evidence, where appropriate consisting of trials conducted on people. Where relevant, the rules will also relate to claims for products for animals. Substantiation will be assessed by the ASA on the basis of the available scientific knowledge.

50.3 Marketers should not discourage essential treatment. They should not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for serious or prolonged conditions unless it is conducted under the supervision of a doctor or other suitably qualified health professional (eg one subject to regulation by a statutory or recognised medical or health professional body). Accurate and responsible general information about such conditions may, however, be offered.

50.1 is the most significant one:

Substantiation will be assessed by the ASA on the basis of the available scientific knowledge.

If they can’t provide proper scientific evidence to back up a claim, they lose. Simple as that.

There is also this, which states very clearly what the ASA (and hence the GCC) will accept as acceptable chiroquack claims. The third paragraph is the clincher! Remember that the GCC COP talks about ‘guidance’ issued by the ASA, so it would appear to include this, not just the main CAP.

The document referred to (Health Beauty and Slimming Marketing That Refers to Medical Conditions) is also well worth a read as it gives the details of what they would accept without any further evidence, what they would require evidence for. In the section, ‘Conditions for which suitably qualified medical advice should be sought’, they list asthma, ear disorders (serious), eating disorders, as conditions for which ‘suitably qualified medical advice should be sought’. Colic, sleeping problems, feeding problems (other than ‘eating disorders’) aren’t on the list. They would allow a claim that a chiroquack ‘can probably treat’ arthritic pain.

Their list of ‘Conditions for which evidence could be sought by the ASA or CAP’ includes colic, trouble getting to sleep and intermittent sleeplessness, meaning that a chiroquack would need to provide scientific evidence for any such claims.

As an aside, one of the codes that applies to environmental claims states at paragraph 49.5:

The use of extravagant language should be avoided, as should bogus and confusing scientific terms. If it is necessary to use a scientific expression, its meaning should be clear.

Pity this doesn’t apply to all claims, particularly to chiroquacktors’ subluxations.

First posted: 22 May 2009

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