The Advertising Standards Authority is one of the few regulatory bodies in the UK regularly prepared to tackle the untruthful and unsubstantiated claims made routinely in the alternative health industry. It is also one of the weakest regulatory bodies in the UK. Nothing could highlight that more than how Life Healthcare (trading under the url http://www.reverseageing.com/) dealt with an investigation.
Life Healthcare had made an advertising leaflet for a product called Thyroid Support Formula and had a heading on the front page that stated “New Scientific Studies Prove That There Is Hope, Read On, and You’ll learn the Secrets That Your Doctor Might Not Be Telling You about an Under-Active Thyroid”. Particularly worrying was the claim that,
But the truth is that conventional medicine does not have the best testing or treatment methods for an under active thyroid. Just because your test results have come back negative for an under active thyroid doesn’t mean you don’t have it.
A complainant to the ASA expressed concerns that a leaflet from Life Healthcare was
potentially harmful because it discouraged people from seeking proper medical treatment or from following the advice of their doctor
and doubted that,
the claims made in the ad for the product’s efficacy could be substantiated
The ASA took a look a the advertisement and also challenged Life Healthcare if they had proper authorisations to market their products and whether the testimonials and photos included in the ad were genuine.
So, pretty serious charges. How did Life Healthcare respond? They didn’t. They completely ignored requests by the ASA to explain themselves. The ASA upheld all complaints and said,
The ASA was concerned by Life Healthcare’s lack of response and apparent disregard for the Code, which was a breach of CAP Code clause 2.6 (Non-response). We reminded them of their responsibility to respond promptly to our enquiries and told them to do so in future.
Their action was,
We told Life Healthcare not to repeat the claims in future advertising. We urged them to seek guidance from the CAP Copy Advice team before advertising again and asked CAP to inform its members of the problem with Life Healthcare.
I, for one, am not convinced that this direction will be adhered to.
Life Healthcare appears to make a business from evading legal restrictions on its practice. The from page of its website informs us,
With draconian EU legislation pending for the UK marketplace your right to buy optimum dose nutritional supplements may be limited, and some ingredients may no longer be available. Fortunately as we are based outside the EU (in the Channel Islands), Life Healthcare can continue to supply these high potency supplements that may have to be withdrawn from the UK and Europe in the coming months and years.
The current weakness of consumer protection laws in the UK will indeed be strengthened in the next few weeks as vastly improved consumer trading legislation comes into force. Whether this makes any difference to companies such as Life Healthcare remains to be seen.
It would appear that fleeing to the channel island might not be the get out of gaol free ticket Life Healthcare hope for. Yesterday in parliament, the Minister for Health Dawn Primarolo, responded to a question asking what the Government was doing about such loopholes. She replied,
The FSA continues to work with the Ministry of Justice, the Department responsible for the Crown Dependencies, and the administrations in the Crown Dependencies regarding implementation of the food supplements directive and Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation to prevent trade in food supplements that would be illegal in the United Kingdom.