The United Kingdom advertising industry is governed by Advertising Codes of Practice.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) own and write the Advertising Codes.
These are administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is the UK’s independent body that endorses and administers the Code to ensure that advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful.
The ASA investigates and adjudicates on complaints about broadcast and non-broadcast advertisements, as well as monitoring and taking action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements, sales promotions, and direct marketing. It also carries out research on many subjects related to advertising regulation.
The ASA’s remit extends to advertising across all media, including TV, internet (see below), sales promotions, and direct marketing including:
The ASA has a number of sanctions it can apply. If an advertisement breaks the Code, the marketer responsible is told to amend or withdraw it, which most willingly do. The principle sanction is adverse publicity from the adjudications published each Wednesday; this is damaging to the advertiser and serves to warn the public.
If an advertiser refuses to comply with the ASA, further sanctions are possible, however, this is normally reserved for advertisers who fail to comply with the ASA’s adjudication. Both CAP and BCAP provide advice to advertisers and work with the broadcast pre-clearance bodies to ensure compliance with the rules and ASA adjudications.
The Advertising Codes, whilst mandatory for all, are self-regulatory and lay down rules for advertisers and media owners to follow.
These include general rules that state that advertising must be responsible and must not mislead or offend.
There are specific rules that cover advertising to specific sectors; these are, but not limited to, children and advertisements for alcohol, gambling, motoring, health, and financial products.
The sections of the Codes which are of particular importance to SAPH members are:
The Advertising Codes apply to all advertisers, and SAPH, in common with other similar professional bodies, requires its members to adhere to the Codes.
CAP takes the view that homoeopathic practitioners should not claim to be able to treat serious or prolonged conditions and that marketers of homoeopathy are advised to encourage consumers to take independent medical advice.
A number of years ago CAP produced a list of those conditions which is set out below. NB This list is not exhaustive. Please consult CAP’s Copy Advice Team if you have any queries about other conditions.
Marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. CAP states, for example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. Accurate and responsible general information about such conditions may, however, be offered.
The list of conditions which may not be advertised and for which ‘suitably qualified medical advice’ should be sought is as follows:
Age-related macular degeneration: AMD
Arthritis [cf arthritic pain (M)]
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder:
Blood pressure, High
Circulation, Poor [circulatory problems]
Chronic obstructive airway disease:
Depression [cf feeling down or feeling<blue]
Drug addiction (substance abuse)
Ear disorders, Serious
Erection problems or erectile dysfunction [eg temporary erection problems, temporary erectile dysfunction]
Eye Disorders, Serious
Gall bladder disorder
Herpes zoster (shingles)
Human immunodeficiency virus: HIV
Impotence [cf temporary erection problems, temporary erectile dysfunction]
Infertility [cf sexual counselling]
Jaw joint dysfunction
Multiple sclerosis: MS
Memory problems or memory lapses
Menstruation, Regulation of
Migraine [migraine headaches]
Obesity [diet, trouble sticking to]
Obsessive compulsive disorder: OCD
Psoriasis [skin problems]
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Sexually transmitted diseases
Skin disorders, Serious
Thrush, Oral [thrush, vaginal]
The fact that there is a prohibition on referring to the conditions which ‘suitably qualified’ healthcare professionals can treat does not mean that advertising of other conditions not listed is necessarily acceptable to CAP and the ASA.
This is because any claim has to be backed up by evidence of trials, conducted on people where appropriate. Substantiation is assessed by the ASA on the basis of current scientific knowledge.