ASA swamped with complaints re: Homeopathy.

Quickie about a letter from the ASA to all who have complained about website with homeopathic levels of honesty.


As you may or may not be aware, the Nightingale Collaboration has co-ordinated a campaign to highlight and complain about some of the ridiculous and unsupportable claims that alternative medicine practitioners make on their websites – the current project is targeting homeopathy websites within the UK.

As someone who has complained recently about a homeopathic website or two, I recently received this bulk mail-out from the ASA:

Dear Sir/Madam

ADVERTISING CLAIMS ON HOMEOPATHY WEBSITES

Thank you for your recent complaint.

As you may know, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received over a hundred and fifty complaints about over a hundred different websites for homeopathy.  Complaints cover a range of issues from specific claims made by individual advertisers to general concerns about the sector as a whole.  Because of the volume of complaints, we are sending this letter to everyone who contacted us on these issues to let you know what action we intend to take.

The ASA has an established position on claims that can be made, and those claims that are not likely to be acceptable for homeopathy, based on the requirements set out in the CAP Code and previous ASA adjudications.  Although we have not historically received many complaints about advertising for homeopathy, the Code has general requirements for substantiation of claims in the health sector and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) offers specific advice on marketing health-related products and services. Further information about the requirements of the advertising Code is available on our website www.asa.org.uk and from www.copyadvice.org.uk.

We are seeking to enforce compliance with the Code even-handedly across the sector by contacting all of the advertisers we have received complaints about as well as the bodies that represent homeopaths and homeopathy in the UK.  We will be explaining the Code’s requirements, giving advice on how to ensure advertising claims do not breach the Code, and asking advertisers to remove any claims which do not comply.  More information about what that means in practice is provided in the CAP Help Notes on Substantiation for Health, Beauty and Slimming claims and Health, Beauty and Slimming Marketing Communications that Refer to Medical Conditions.  You can find these documents on our Copy Advice website, as indicated above.  Because the ASA has only been regulating websites since 1 March many of the advertisers we contact will not be familiar with us or the work we do and will need help and assistance from us.  For that reason, we plan to monitor compliance 3 months after making our expectations of them clear. We feel that this will give advertisers, some of whom are very small and have limited resources, sufficient time to make the necessary changes.

The ASA will not be publishing individual adjudications on this occasion.  We will however publish specific, up-to-date advice to the industry and its representative bodies in due course and we will work with them to ensure that advertising for homeopathy is compliant with the Code.

Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us.  While you will not see immediate results please be assured that we are working hard in the background to resolve the issues that have been complained about.

Yours sincerely

What do I think about this?

First off  it shows that the Nightingale Collaboration (NC) has been successful in co-ordinating a fair few complaints within the 2-and-a-half weeks it has been running this campaign – whether this number of complaints matches the expectations of the NC, only they know.

It would appear that the ASA recognise that UK-based homeopaths are often making unsupportable claims about the efficacy of their sugar pills on their websites – to such an extent that they are going contact both the complained-about homeopaths and their ‘regulatory’ bodies (ARH, SoH, BHA etc) about these breaches, and make them aware of the rules that they should be adhering too. If after 3 months they have not complied with UK advertising regulations – the ASA may take further action.

Whilst individual complainers may miss out on the satisfaction of seeing adjudications against the websites they have complained about – the end result should be the same – and in fact much more far reaching. This wholesale action against all UK-homeopaths (via their ‘professional’ bodies) by the ASA should ensure that they are no longer allowed to make outrageous claims about efficacy (or claim that they were unaware of the rules).

Provided the ASA take a suitably tough line with the homeopaths, and they ensure that the rules are adhered to, I think that this can be seen as a very effective first strike by the Nightingale Collaboration.

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7 Responses to ASA swamped with complaints re: Homeopathy.

  1. Adam says:

    On the face of it, this is good news. People making misleading claims about health is dangerous and irresponsible, and I welcome anything that makes it harder for people to do so.

    However…

    There’s something that bothers me a little about the way this works. I hope I shall be proved wrong, but I have a feeling that the little guys will be greatly more inconvenienced than the big guys.

    I have not been impressed with the ASA’s record of keeping big companies in check. Here’s a little example of what happened recently when I tried to report one.

    I made 3 complaints to the ASA on 1 March: one was about an individual homeopath (definitely one of the little guys), whose website has already been changed, and one about Boots (definitely one of the big guys). Boots are still making misleading claims about homeopathy, and I wouldn’t actually be that surprised if they continue to do so even after the ASA have done their stuff.

    So while I welcome a tightening in standards, I do worry that they may not be applied consistently, leading to further inequalities in a society where big companies already have way too much power.

    I do hope I’m wrong about this.

    • xtaldave says:

      Absolutely – on the face of it – good news – and at this stage, we have no choice but to take the ASA’s release on face value.

      If in time, it turns out that this is really an exercise in “lalalaIcan’thearyou” or “maybe-this-will-go-away-if-we-wait-long-enough” then the ASA are at fault and are not doing their job of enforcing the advertising rules…

      Time will tell.

  2. jon says:

    Adam makes a very interesting and important point. However, given the reach which the Nightingale Collaboration appears to have, I imagine it would be possible to put sufficient pressure on the ASA, both through correspondence and publicly, to ensure that it cracks down on the larger companies. Hopefully.

  3. Sean Ellis says:

    Although, as you say, the individual complainants can’t see the rulings case-by-case, I would urge them to monitor the websites of the businesses they complained about, and see when (and whether) they amend the websites in line with the ASA guidelines.

    If they do, send a “success” message to the Nightingale Collaboration (the NC website has information on how to do this).

    Conversely, if after 90 days they haven’t, send a follow-up message to the ASA – they will probably then get named-and-shamed on the ASA website.

  4. Bob says:

    Instead of spending your time complaining, you should get a life and try to get out more !

  5. […] ASA swamped with complaints re: Homeopathy. (xtaldave.wordpress.com) […]

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