A consumer lodged a consumer complaint against SA Natural Products’ print advertisement for its Multiforce Alkaline Powder product.
The advertisement states, among other, “Acidity may contribute to, or aggravate the following conditions: Pain in the body joints; Inflammatory conditions; Poor quality skin, hair and nails; Reduced immune response; Kidney and gall stones; Weight fluctuations; Low vitality and energy; Indigestion, constipation and flatulence; Water retention; Lower back ache; Gout; Osteoporosis; Promoting cancer”.
How did the ASA rule?
Multiforce Alkaline Powder / S Kaye / 15729
|Ruling of the : ASA Directorate|
|In the matter between:|
|SA Natural Products (Pty) Ltd (SANP)||Respondent|
29 Sep 2010
Mr Kaye lodged a consumer complaint against SA Natural Products’ print advertisement for its Multiforce Alkaline Powder product that was published in the Lifestyle magazine of the Sunday Times during May 2010.
The advertisement contains the statement “Multiforce is my friend! My fingers are no longer stiff after a morning of cycling and I can play the piano again. The burning sensation in my bladder is gone since I use Multiforce. My acid attacks are something of the past …”
Page 5 of advertisement states, inter alia, “Acidity may contribute to, or aggravate the following conditions
• Pain in the body joints
• Inflammatory conditions
• Poor quality skin, hair and nails
• Reduced immune response
• Kidney and gall stones
• Weight fluctuations
• Low vitality and energy
• Indigestion, constipation and flatulence
• Water retention
• Lower back ache
• Promoting cancer”.
The advertisement that appears on page 7 is headed “The human body knows what is best to maintain good health” and states “Acid overload is silently eroding your health, and you may not even be aware of it!” It also contains the conditions stated on page 5.
In essence, the complainant submitted that it is a fact that alkaline will reduce acidity but there is no proof that the respondent’s product can reduce acidity in the human body. The complainant further submitted that the advertisement lists illnesses that may occur through increased “acidity”. These conditions include cancer, implying that the use of Multiforce will reduce acidity and therefore protect the consumer from the listed conditions. The complainant added that the anecdotal quote in the advertisement does not have reference to the origin of the quote and no research to show that the product was responsible for any improvement in the health that person experienced.
Lastly, the complainant added that the consumer is led to believe that if they take the product, they would be protected from, amongst other things; reduced immune response, which could mean HIV-AIDS, kidney and gall stones, osteoporosis and even cancer. The complainant only submitted the advertisement appearing on page 7 with her complaint.
RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
In light of the complaint the following clauses of the Code were taken into account:
- Section II, Clause 4.1 – Substantiation
- Section II, Clause 4.2.1 – Misleading claims
- Appendix A – Medicinal and related products and advertisements containing health claims
- Appendix F – references to diseases in advertising
The respondent submitted that the pages that appeared separately are linked to the original article and should therefore not be read in isolation. It submitted that when read in context, together with the main article, there are no unfounded statements made. The respondent submitted an opinion from Dr DP van Velden from the University of Stellenbosch.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.
At the outset, it must be noted that medicinal products cannot be treated as an ordinary general commodity. They have the potential for harmful as well as beneficial effects and can cause serious problems if not used safely. For this reason, there are specific regulations that strictly control the advertising and promotion of medicinal products. The scope of this ruling is limited to the subject matter of the complaint brought to the ASA, namely whether the claims concerning the efficacy of the respondent’s product can be substantiated.
Clause 4.1 of Section II states, inter alia, that an advertiser must hold documentary evidence to support all claims that are capable of objective substantiation. In addition, it clarifies that such documentary evidence shall emanate from or be evaluated by an independent and credible expert in the particular field to which the claims relate.
In such cases, the Directorate has two key considerations:
For the reasons set out below, the Directorate does not have to consider whether or not Dr van Velden qualifies as an independent and credible expert in the field to which the claims relate at this time.
The Directorate notes that Dr van Velden appears to base his opinion on, inter alia, articles titled:
- “Excess dietary protein can adversely affect bone” by Uriel S Barzel and Linda K Massey (published in the Journal of Nutrition Vol. 128 No. 6 June 1998, pp. 1051-1053)
- “Acid base imbalance and the skeleton” by David A Bushinsky (published in the European Journal of Nutrition Vol. 40, Number 5, pp. 238-244)
- “History of Nutrition and acid-base physiology” by Friedrich Manz (published in the European Journal of Nutrition Vol. 40, Number 5, pp. 189-199)
- “Adverse effects of sodium chloride on bone in the aging human population resulting from habitual consumption of typical American diets” by Lynda A. Frassetto, R. Curtis Morris, Jr., Deborah E. Sellmeyer and Anthony Sebastian (published in the Journal of Nutrition 138:419S-422S)
- “Effects of potassium citrate supplementation on bone metabolism” by M. Marangella, M. Di Stefano, S. Casalis, S. Berutti, P. D’Amelio and G. C. Isaia (published in Calcified Tissue International Vol. 74, Number 4, pp. 330-335)
- “Diet evolution and aging – the pathophysiologic effects of the post-agricultural inversion of the potassium-to-sodium and base-to-chloride ratios in the human diet” by Frassetto L, Morris RC Jr, Sellmeyer DE, Todd K, Sebastian A (published in the European Journal of Nutrition Vol. 40, Number 5, pp. 200-213)
- “Effect of a supplement rich in alkaline minerals on acid-base balance in humans” by Daniel König, Klaus Muser, Hans-Hermann Dickhuth, Aloys Berg and Peter Deibert (published in the Nutritional Journal 2009, Vol.8, p. 23) and
- “Bicarbonate increases tumour pH and inhibits spontaneous metastases” by Ian F. Robey, Brenda K. Baggett, Nathaniel D. Kirkpatrick, Denise J. Roe, Julie Dosescu, Bonnie F. Sloane, Arig Ibrahim Hashim, David L. Morse, Natarajan Raghunand, Robert A. Gatenby, and Robert J. Gillies (published in Cancer Research 2009 , Vol. 69, Pp. 22260-68
While the respondent did not submit any of these articles, the Directorate was able to view the abstracts of all of them online, and in many instances the full articles. It is noted that the respondent’s product is not mentioned or referred to once in any of these articles.
In addition, Dr van Velden submitted that based on medical evidence, the manufactures of Multiforce compiled an alkaline supplement to correct the acid-base imbalance in the body. He continued to say that it is “quite appropriate to state that this product as a nutritional supplement may stimulate the natural healing properties of the body” and that:
“Medicinal scientists are increasingly investigating mechanisms to stimulate the natural healing potential of the body rather than to treat the symptoms and signs of established disease with potentially harmful allopathic medicines. This is especially true in the management of the chronic and degenerative lifestyle-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer … Supporting the healing potential of the body with dietary supplements to restore the balance and dysfunction in the body may play a role in this regard”.
Following the direction of the Advertising Industry Tribunal in Lifebouy / Dettol / 14813 (27 August 2010), the Directorate is compelled to apply its mind to the evidence on which the substantiating expert bases his claims. The fact that not one of the articles relied on by Dr van Velden makes any reference to the respondent’s product casts doubt over whether or not they serve as adequate substantiation for the claims made in relation to this product.
Secondly, Dr van Velden does not unequivocally confirm that the claims as they appear in the advertising are true for the respondent’s product as sold and when used as recommended. At best, he appears to support the notion that such products may prove useful in due course. This does not suffice.
Based on the above, the claims made on the advertisement remain unsubstantiated and therefore in contravention of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.
Given the above, the respondent is required to:
- withdraw the advertisement in its current format;
- the process to withdraw the advertisement must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of the ruling;
- the withdrawal of the advertisement must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide; and
- The advertisement may not be used again in its current format.
It is therefore not necessary for the Directorate to consider the other clauses at this time. It is noted, however, that should the Directorate accept new substantiation, or should the matter go on appeal, these clauses may well be open for consideration again.
The Directorate would also like to draw the respondent’s attention to the following:
Appendix F of the Code specifically lists a host of conditions and diseases to which no, or limited reference may be made unless the product or advice being offered accords with full product registration and approval by the Medicines Control Council (MCC). The list includes, inter alia, arthritis, kidney disorders or diseases, cancer and urinary infections.
Secondly, a cursory look into the ASA archives reveals that the respondent has previously been ruled against for making similar unsubstantiated claims for this very product (refer Vogel Multiforce Alkaline Powder / HA Steinman & Another / 9195 (12 July 2007) and a breach ruling on the same file issued on 12 January 2010). Similarly, in Echinaforce / S Kaye / 15677 (13 August 2010), the respondent was also ruled against for making unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of its Echinaforce product.
The respondent is cautioned that these adverse rulings may be taken into consideration should the ASA decide to impose sanctions on the respondent following further breaches of the Code or of existing rulings.
The complaint is upheld.