UK standards watchdog refers ‘misleading’ claims to Trading Standards for first time

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd June 2014
Farenheit60's Aspire product is one of the products the ASA has referred on to Trading Standards

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has stepped up action on ‘misleading’ claims by referring two advertisers to Trading Standards for the first time under a new legal backstop regime.

Electronic Healing and Fahrenheit60 Ltd have been referred to Trading Standards, the ASA’s legal backstop, for “persistent misleading” advertising health claims in breach of the UK’s Advertising Code. The ASA said unproven health claims to treat medical conditions could “discourage potentially vulnerable people from seeking professional advice for those conditions”.

Electronic Healing was subject to two formal investigations by the ASA and found in breach of the rules for making misleading efficacy claims on its website for its ‘Bob Beck Protocol’ and ‘Liquid Oxygen Drops’. It claimed that Bob Beck Protocol “kills or disables microbes (virus, bacteria, and fungus) in the body” while Liquid Oxygen Drops were “credited with a multitude of significant health benefits from healthy energy to immunity and disease prevention”. A video on its website also claimed that The Bob Beck Protocol could “amplify the immune system, remove the need for flu vaccinations, increase oxygen in the blood, reduce HIV infection levels and help fibromyalgia”.

Fahrenheit60 Ltd was formally investigated by the ASA and found in breach of the rules for making misleading efficacy claims on its website about its soft drink, ‘Aspire’. It claimed the drink could create a “thermogenic” reaction which could increase metabolism and burn up to 200 calories per can. It also claimed that ingredients in the drink would boost metabolism, suppress appetite, accelerate weight loss and oxidise fat. ‘

The ASA said both advertisers “failed to provide adequate evidence to support their claims” and were placed on a list of non-compliant online advertisers on the ASA website. The non-compliant online advertisers section on the ASA website is a list of traders who continue to make claims on their online sites that do not comply with the UK Advertising Code despite repeated requests for changes from our Compliance teams. Details of each non-conforming trader remain in place until they have appropriately amended their marketing in line with the Advertising Code.

The ASA said that despite being listed as non-compliant, both companies continued to make problematic claims.

“Misleading advertising is unfair, but a misleading health claim can also be particularly harmful,” said Guy Parker, ASA Chief Executive. “Our referrals to Trading Standards are a clear warning to those who won’t stick to the rules that they face the prospect of legal sanctions. And these are just the first referrals: we’re preparing our cases against other advertisers who persist in making misleading claims,” he said.

Since 2013, responsibility for the ASA’s backstop power has been with the National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) who work with the London Borough of Camden to undertake any necessary enforcement work. The ASA said Camden Trading Standards had accepted the referrals and was now investigating both companies’ advertising.

Trading Standards provides a legal backstop for the ASA in relation to misleading, aggressive or otherwise unfair non-broadcast advertising.  Where an advertiser is unwilling or unable to follow the rules and continues to mislead consumers or business the ASA can refer to Trading Standards who will consider statutory action, including warnings and seeking criminal prosecutions or civil enforcement orders.

“The self-regulation system operated by the ASA works very well but key to this is those few firms who won’t comply, knowing that they will face formal enforcement action if required,” said Lord Toby Harris, Chairman of the NTSB.