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Product: Health & Beauty
Advertiser: Molloys Pharmacies
Medium: Online – Company Social Media Account
ASAI Code 7th Edition: 2.4(c), 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10, 8.1(a), 8.1(b), 8.2, 8.8, 8.9, 8.10, 8.11, 8.14(a), 8.14(b), 8.14(c), 8.25, 8.26
The advertisers’ Facebook Page included a cover photo that featured various health supplement products comprising of four bottles and one box. The advertisement stated:
“Boost and strengthen your immune system
Our front line teams recommendations for boosting & building a strong and healthy immune system.”
The advertisement included a link to a webpage on the advertisers’ website, titled ‘Immune support’ which listed 54 products.
The complainant, a General Practitioner, viewed the advertisement on the company’s Facebook page and said that it linked to their website where a list of approximately 55 products was given.
The complainant considered that it was misleading to promote 'immune-building' products when there was no evidence for most, if not all, of the products listed. The complainant said that as a doctor, they were aware of some evidence for Vitamin D supplementation but were not aware of any evidence for the majority of the products listed.
The complainant said that while the advertisement did not specifically mention immunity against COVID-19, given the timing they considered that the advertiser was trying to take advantage and make money from society's fear of and anxiety about the pandemic.
The advertisers advised that they were a family-owned business located in the West of Ireland, and that they had been serving their communities for over 50 years. They said that it was their mission, through their bricks and mortar stores and online channels, to become health educators and ensure that they were offering and promoting products designed to benefit their customers' overall health & wellbeing.
They said that they delivered their services through their network of seven stores manned by qualified Pharmacists and experienced staff, and through their online channels where they offered their customers a live web chat facility where they can contact them to seek advice and where appropriate, they refer their queries to relevant personnel (their health experts, in-store Pharmacists and general store teams). They said that they consistently receive 5-star reviews on 'Trustpilot on the back of this service and that they align their marketing strategies with key health events throughout the year and work with several societies such as the 'Asthma Society of Ireland' and 'Croí Heart & Stroke Charity' to heighten awareness of common health conditions and how steps can be taken to reduce health risk. They said that their Marketing team utilises tools such as H.S.E. Ireland awareness days to ensure their Marketing strategy is aligned with key health awareness days that encourage healthier lifestyles within the community. They also said that their Chief Executive hosts a monthly health slot on Mid-West Radio, and they encourage listeners to phone or text in their health concerns which he personally deals with on-air.
The advertisers said that maintaining the highest level of ethical standards was paramount to the values of Molloy's Lifestyle Pharmacies and as such they worked very closely with doctors, nurses and other health professionals to ensure that they were offering accurate and up to date health advice to their customers both in-store and online. They said that their 'Boost & Strengthen Your Immunity' campaign highlighted products which they, as health professionals, have recommended and administered to patients throughout their years in business.
They provided research studies which they stated were on some of the products listed within their immunity web pages on the role of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Selenium and Zinc and the part they play in supporting the immune system:
• Randomized trial of Vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal inﬂuenza A in school children – Published ACJN. Copyright – American Society for Nutrition
• The seasonality of pandemic and non-pandemic inﬂuenzas: the roles of solar radiation and Vitamin D – published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases
• Dietary Selenium in Adjuvant Therapy of Viral and Bacterial Infections – American Society for Nutrition. Also states – Advances in Nutrition – An International Review Journal
• Immune-Enhancing Role of Vitamin C and Zinc and Effect on Clinical Conditions - Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism
• Vitamin D and Its Role in Cancer and Immunity: A Prescription for Sunlight – Nutrition in Clinical practice, American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition
• The influence of selenium on immune responses – National Library of Medicine
The advertisers said that they worked very closely with doctors, nurses and other health professionals to ensure that they were offering accurate and up to date health advice to their customers both in-store and online. They said that their 'Boost & Strengthen Your Immunity' campaign highlighted products which they, as health professionals, have recommended and administered to patients throughout their years in business.
In noting that the advertising claim related to ‘boosting’ and ‘strengthening’ the immune system, the ASAI Executive reviewed the EU Register on Nutrition and Health Claims (1) to ascertain whether the ingredients in the advertised products were permitted to carry marketing claims related to ‘boosting’ and ‘strengthening’ of the immune system. They noted that Copper, Folate, Iron, Selenium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc were authorised for the claim “contributes to the normal function of the immune system”, Vitamin C was also authorised for the claim “contributes to maintain the normal function of the immune system during and after intense physical exercise” and Vitamin D was also authorised for the claim “contributes to the normal function of the immune system in children.”
(1) https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/register/public/?event=search (accessed on 01/02/21)
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response. The Committee also reviewed the studies provided by the advertisers together with the information from the EU Register on Nutrition and Health Claims.
Issue 1 – Upheld:
The Committee noted the EU level authorisation to carry claims related to ‘contributing’ to the normal function of the immune system. While the Committee therefore considered that some of the products listed on the advertisers’ immunity web pages were authorised to make a claim that they ‘contributed to the normal function of the immune system’, the claim used in the advertisement was to “Boost and Strengthen your immune system”. The Committee noted that some of the advertised products may have value to individuals with a compromised immune system, however, the claim that one or any of the products could ‘boost’ or ‘strengthen’ an already healthy immune system were stronger claims than those authorised. In the light of this and as not all products listed on the immunity web pages had authorised health claims, the Committee considered that the advertisement claim was in breach of Sections 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10, 8.10, 8.11, and 8.25 of the Code.
Issue 2 – Not Upheld:
The Committee noted that the response had not specifically addressed this aspect of the complaint. While they noted that the advertising coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, they did not identify any evidence from the material submitted to suggest that the marketing communications was targeted in any particular way and did not uphold this part of the complaint.
The advertising must not reappear in its current form.
The Committee told the advertisers to ensure that only nutrition and health claims that were authorised on the EU Register should be made.