Principle Healthcare, who removed claims from their website shortly after I contacted the MHRA in 2009, also made some claims on their website for products that did not come under the jurisdiction of the MHRA. So, with their remit extended to cover marketer’s own websites, I thought I’d try the ASA…
Principle Healthcare’s Website
Here’s something from their page on “vitarenew skincare”:
Vitarenew™ Skin Care supplement has been specially formulated to promote clear, youthful skin and taken daily can help to revitalise, improve the quality of the skin and reduce visible signs of ageing.. [PDF]
I decided to challenge the claims made. Can collagen pills really promote clear, youthful skin?
Here, we have their “Pregnancy Boost Effervescent” product:
This great tasting, orange flavoured, formula boosts the body’s energy levels and immune system when it’s needed the most. [PDF]
I’d be very interested indeed to see what evidence they have that their effervescent tablet with vitamins and iron actually boosts the body’s energy levels and immune system. (I’m also pondering whether “boosting the immune system” would actually be desirable.)
As well as boosting energy levels and immune systems, Principle Healthcare can apparently boost your “vitality”. Seriously. The product is even named “Vitality Boost”.
Has been specially formulated with essential vitamins to give an all round vitality boost. [PDF]
According to the website, it also boosts the immune system.
As well as looking at the claims I had challenged, the ASA themselves challenged whether the ads for Pregnancy Boost and Vitality Boost made unauthorised medical claims.
1. Pregnancy Boost (challenged on the basis that I considered the claims to be misleading and that the advertiser would be unable to substantiate them)
2. Vitality Boost (challenged on the basis that I considered the claims to be misleading and that the advertiser would be unable to substantiate them)
3. Vitarenew (challenged on the basis that I considered the claims to be misleading and that the advertiser would be unable to substantiate them)
4. Pregnancy Boost and Vitality Boost (the ASA challenged whether unauthorised medical claims were made for these products)
Principle Healthcare’s response was to (partially) defend themselves against the challenges. Sir Humphrey might have considered this to be a courageous decision. They provided scientific opinions from EFSA to substantiate two of the claims made – items (1) and (2); they removed mention of one product from their website “because it had not been launched yet” and did not provide substantiation for the claims in the ad – item (3); they defended the challenge that unauthorised medical claims were made for two of their products. Here is the ASA’s summary of the defence against this final challenge:
Principle Healthcare said their website was built before the extension of the ASA’s remit to marketer’s own websites and before the EU health claims directive that governed the claims permitted on vitamins. They said the EFSA had just released their final batch of opinions and they would be undertaking a full review of their products and ads to ensure they complied with the new EU legislation that would apply to claims for their own products.
1. Upheld – the ASA considered that the claims had not been substantiated and concluded the claims were misleading, breaching four of the CAP Code (Edition 12) rules.
2. Upheld – the ASA considered that the claims had not been substantiated and concluded the claims were misleading, breaching four of the CAP Code (Edition 12) rules.
3. Upheld – the ASA considered that the claims had not been substantiated and concluded the claims were misleading, breaching four of the CAP Code (Edition 12) rules.
4. Upheld – the ASA considered that the ad breached CAP Code rule 12.11 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
Action: The ad must not appear again in its current form. The ASA told Principle Healthcare not to use the word “boost” in their ads or claim their products could “boost” energy levels and the immune system. They advised them not to claim that Vitarenew Skincare could “promote clear, youthful skin”, or “help to revitalise, improve the quality of the skin and reduce visible signs of ageing”.
Principle Healthcare have a ‘regulatory and legal affairs team’, which “continue to monitor the national and international framework of laws, regulations, guidelines and principles governing food supplements and herbal medicines. To benefit our customers, we are proactive with our approach to regulations“. On the same page, they report on an ASA adjudication: cached page. I wonder if they will be reporting on the ASA’s investigation into their own website.
Principle Healthcare were the firm that, in March 2010, instructed their lawyers to write to Martin Robbins of Lay Science. They stated that they required “the disabling of the relevant blogs” and threatened to “instruct a U.S. attorney to take appropriate action against” Martin Robbins. While I welcome comments from readers I would ask you, in light of the actions of Principle Healthcare in 2010, to be especially careful with your words and try to avoid posting anything that might be seen as defamatory. That should go without saying but, well, you can’t be too careful can you?
Edited to add: link to ASA adjudication.