Memorandum submitted by the Advertising
Standards Authority (ASA) (HO 44)
1.1. The Advertising Standards Authority
(ASA) is grateful for the opportunity to provide evidence to the
Science and Technology Select Committee review into homeopathy.
The ASA is happy for this submission to be published and to give
evidence, if called.
1.2. The ASA is the UK self-regulatory body
for ensuring that all advertisements, wherever they appear, are
legal, decent, honest and truthful.
2.1. The protection of consumers is at the
heart of the ASA's work. The rules we administer aim to ensure
high standards in advertising, by ensuring that advertisements
do not mislead, harm or offend.
2.2. This response provides
A summary of the UK advertising self-regulatory
Details on how the ASA regulates advertisements
2.3. Relevant rules, guidance for non-broadcast
advertisers, and summaries of two recent rulings are included
in full in the Annexes.
2.4. We do not have any recommendations
for the Science and Technology Select Committee in this area.
There are robust regulations in place for advertising and the
low level of complaints indicates that there is no great consumer
concern in this area.
3.1. More detailed information about the
ASA can be found on our website www.asa.org.uk. The website also
contains a searchable database of all our adjudications from the
past five years.
3.2. The ASA is the UK body responsible
for regulating advertising in all media. It does this by enforcing
the UK Advertising Codes, which are written and maintained by
two industry bodies, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)
and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP).
3.3. The ASA accepts complaints from the
public and industry about ads that seem to have breached those
Codes. It also conducts other activities such as providing training
and advice, and proactively monitoring ads in order to keep advertising
3.4. The system is based on a concordat
between advertisers, agencies and the media that each will act
in support of the highest standards in advertising. Compliance
with the Codes and ASA adjudications is binding on all advertisers.
It is not a voluntary system.
3.5. The system is entirely funded by industry,
through a levy of 0.1% on display advertising space and airtime
and 0.2% on Royal Mail Mailsort contracts. The levies are collected
by two arm-length funding bodies, the Advertising Standards Board
of Finance (Asbof) and the Broadcast Advertising Standards Board
of Finance (Basbof).
Last year the ASA was awarded £8 million to run the
3.6. The system is both self-regulatory
(for non-broadcast advertising eg press, poster, cinema, online)
and co-regulatory (for TV and radio advertising).
3.7. The Codes sit within a legal framework,
which means that, where appropriate, they reflect the standards
required in law, eg the Consumer Protection for Unfair Trading
Regulations 2008 (CPRs) for misleading advertising. The Codes
also contain additional protections that are not required under
law eg rules related to taste and decency and social responsibility.
3.8. Notably for homeopathic treatments,
the Advertising Codes sit within the strict legal framework that
regulates medicines. EC Directive 2001/83/EC (as amended by EC
Directive 2004/27/EC) on Medicinal Products For Human Use regulates
medicines. Only products that have data to show that they have
a medicinal effect can obtain a Marketing Authorisation (from
the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency or the
European Medicines Agency) and only products that hold a marketing
authorisation may be advertised as a medicine in the UK and make
medicinal claims, in line with the product's Summary of Product
3.9. The Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products
Directive, 2004/24/EC will, by 30 April 2011, allow traditional
herbal products to have their traditional use acknowledged in
the market place. By 2011all traditional herbal medicinal products
must be registered or removed from sale. Such products will be
able to advertise their traditional use, but may not make efficacy
3.10. The ASA deals with more than 26,000 complaints
per year. Just one complaint can cause the ASA to launch an investigation
and remove an advertisement, if the ad is found in breach of the
3.11. The Committee of Advertising Practice
(CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)
are the industry committees responsible for writing and maintaining
the Advertising Codes.
3.12. CAP writes and updates:
The British Code of Advertising, Sales
Promotion and Direct Marketing ("the CAP Code"), which
governs non-broadcast advertising (eg print, poster, cinema, online).
3.13. BCAP writes and updates:
The BCAP TV Advertising Standards Code.
The BCAP Radio Advertising Standards
The BCAP Code on Text Services.
The Rules on the Scheduling of Television
3.14. Final adjudications on investigations
are decided by the ASA Council and published on the ASA website.
The Council's membership incorporates two-thirds members of the
public, one-third advertising experts and is independently chaired
by the Rt Hon the Lord (Chris) Smith of Finsbury.
3.15. In the event that the ASA upholds
a complaint against an advertisement, the advertiser or broadcaster
is required to amend, withdraw or schedule the advertisement appropriately.
3.16. Advertisers that breach the Code face
financial loss from having an ad campaign pulled and loss of reputation
through the publication of upheld adjudications.
3.17. The vast majority of advertisers comply
with ASA rulings straightaway. For those advertisers who refuse
to comply, industry and other pressures can be brought to bear.
For example, pre-vetting can be imposed and direct marketing companies
can have benefits such as Royal Mail bulk-mailing discounts removed.
In serious and persistent cases of non-compliance advertisers
can be referred to the OFT (for misleading advertising) and broadcasters
can be referred to Ofcom. Referrals are rarely required.
3.18. The system places a lot of importance
on helping advertisers to get their ads right before they are
published, through education and pre-publication advice.
3.19. For broadcast advertisements, the
broadcasters have set up pre-clearance bodies: Clearcast for TV,
and the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) for radio. These
bodies clear ads before they go on air and are very effective
at maintaining high standards. However, pre-clearance does not
prevent the ASA from investigating or upholding a complaint about
a broadcast advertisement.
3.20. It would be impossible to pre-clear
the many millions of non-broadcast advertisements that appear
every year in the UK. However, CAP offers pre-publication advice
for non-broadcast advertisers through its Copy Advice team and
providing comprehensive online guidance.
3.21. The total number of ads about which
the ASA receives complaints accounts for less than 1% of all advertising
published or broadcast in the UK. The ASA also monitors ads to
check levels of compliance and have non-compliant ads removed.
Compliance surveys regularly show that the vast majority of advertising
is compliant with the Advertising Codes.
3.22. The Advertising Codes can be accessed
4.1. Broadly, the Advertising Codes contain
clear rules that state that advertisers must not mislead consumers,
by act or omission.
4.2. The Advertising Codes also require
advertisers (and broadcasters) to hold substantiation for the
claims they make. The substantiation must be robust and capable
of withstanding third-party scrutiny. Mandatory information which
must be included can be found in the Medicines and Healthcare
products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA) Blue Guide, which can be found
on the MHRA website: www.mhra.gov.uk.
4.3. As mentioned in 3.8 above products
may only make medicinal efficacy claims in advertisements if they
hold a Marketing Authorisation. Products registered as a traditional
herbal product may advertise their product as having a traditional
use, but may not make efficacy claims.
4.4. Advertisements for unauthorised products
cannot include medicinal or therapeutic claims or refer to a particular
ailment. They may only be advertised on an "availability-only"
4.5. This is in line with requirements of
EC Directive 2001/83/EC (as amended by EC Directive 2004/27/EC)
on Medicinal Products for Human Use.
4.6. All the rules specifically relating
to homeopathic medicines can be found in Annex 1.
4.7. The CAP Copy Advice team offers specific
online guidance for homeopathy and this can be found in Annex
5. ASA ACTION
5.1. The ASA undertakes investigations into
advertisements for homeopathy either reactively, as a result of
complaints, or proactively, through the ASA monitoring team.
5.2. The investigations we have conducted
into advertisements for homeopathy focus on three areas:
the efficacy claims in advertisements;
the veracity of the testimonies used;
whether an ad is irresponsible if it
is likely to dissuade consumers from seeking professional medical
5.3. The ASA has received 54 complaints
about 50 advertisements for homeopathy in the last five years,
which led to 11 advertisements being formally investigated,
all of which were upheld or partly upheld. One investigation is
currently ongoing. Summaries of two recent example rulings can
be found in Annex 3; however, all rulings can be found on the
ASA website: www.asa.org.uk.
5.4. 30 advertisements were either
not investigated because there was no problem under the Codes;
saw the complaint withdrawn; were referred to CAP for compliance
work (this means that we may have had dealings with the claim
in the past); or were out of remit (eg the complaint related to
5.5. A further eight advertisements were
dealt with informally. Informal rulings may occur if the ASA has
already publicly ruled on the matter (for example with a different
advertiser) and if the potential breach is not considered to be
materially harmful. This allows for a speedy resolution and compliance
with the Advertising Codes. However, we cannot define the cases
as breaches as they have received no formal investigation. Advertisers
that go through the informal process are named on the ASA website.
5.6. Advertisements for homeopathy represent
a very small minority of complaints and investigations. From our
complaints and monitoring work, we do not consider that advertisements
for such products are of significant concern, particularly in
light of the impending formal regulation of all products.
5.7. The ASA is grateful for the opportunity
to provide evidence to the Select Committee. If the Committee
has any questions arising from this response then please do not
hesitate to contact me.
Annexes 1-3 are available on the Advertising
Standards Authority's website, www.asa.org.uk:
Annex 1: Relevant Advertising Codes and Homeopathy
Annex 2: CAP Copy Advice (Therapies, Homeopathy
and Therapies, General)
Annex 3: Two recent rulings (Homeo Home25 March
2009 and Darulshafa Shirquia15 July)
Communications and Policy Manager
38 www.asbof.co.uk and www.basbof.co.uk Back
The Advice Online section has articles on advertising of therapies,
and the full list of all Advice Online articles can be found at:
The high compliance rate is often demonstrated in the various
sector-specific surveys undertaken by the ASA. These surveys can
be found on the ASA website at http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/research/ Back