ASA ruling: Slimbetti Fibre Slim

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Posted 07 September 2011

From the same scam artists (Jasmine and Christopher Grindlay) who brought you Hoodia Slender Gel, Slender Max. As soon as the ASA rules against their products, they relaunch them under new branding. Has the ASA bared it’s teeth? Will they believe Allison Vienings (“the expert”), who has “substantiated” a number of other products that I regard as scam products?

Slimbetti Fibre Slim / HA Steinman / 18208
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate

In the matter between:
Dr Harris Steinman Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Water Berry Trading cc t/a Slimbetti  Respondent

06 Sep 2011

http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=5712

Dr Harris Steinman lodged a consumer complaint against Slimbetti’s internet advertising promoting its range of slimming products, one being “SlimBetti FibreSlim”. The advertising appeared on www.slimbetti.com. The homepage provides a brief breakdown of all of the products in the SlimBetti range.

When one accesses the page specifically allocated to the “FibreSlim” product, it explains, inter alia, that “SlimBetti FibreSlim is an innovative Concentrate created to act as an effective fibre bulking agent helping to reduce food intake at meal times, as well as an appetite and craving suppressant”. It also carries the claim “FibreSlim is completely safe for everyone! You can use it any time and it contains only natural ingredients – No Drugs!!”

Below this, the following claims appear:

• no more cravings
• slow down digestion
• relieve constipation
• reduce absorption of fat in carbohydrates
• reduce absorption of calories
• regulated digestion
• improve bowel function
• lower cholesterol
• increase energy
• balanced blood sugar levels
• lower blood pressure
• reduced mood swings
• natural and organic

In addition to the above, it contains a heading “FibreSlim works Fast!” with the following copy below it:

“FibreSlim contains Konjac Extract which is a soluble plant fibre that swells and fills the stomach when consumed with sufficient water, before a meal, helping to make you feel full quicker when eating. It has also been shown to assist with regulating blood glucose levels which may improve energy levels, mood and reduce cravings. The increase of soluble fibre in the diet also assists with improving and regulating digestive, bowel function and lowering of cholesterol.”

COMPLAINT
In essence the complainant argued that the advertiser has a substantial history with the ASA for making unsubstantiated weight loss claims. A search on the website URL http://www.networksolutions.com/whois-search/slimbetti.com reveals that the “Admin Contact” is “Jasmine Grindlay, Water Berry Trading trading as Slimbetti”. It also lists the email address [email protected]

The complainant pointed out that the above “company” has had numerous adverse rulings on its weight loss products, and that the latest advertising is simply another way of making the same claims only for a different product.

He also specifically took issue with the following claims, which he argued were unsubstantiated:

“Clinically proven weight loss results. You do not need to change anything in your normal diet and exercise. Clinical trials on the ingredients in FibreSlim prove LDL cholesterol levels drop 15 – 20 mg / dl over an 8 week period.”

“SlimBetti FibreSlim is an innovative formulation of the Konjac Root Extract and Hoodia Gordonii Concentrate created to act as an effective fibre bulking agent helping to reduce food intake at meal times, as well as an appetite and craving suppressant.”

Finally, he took issue with the bulleted claims listed above, and the claim that “FibreSlim works Fast!”, also arguing that these are unsubstantiated.

RELEVANT CLAUSE OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
In light of the complaint Clause 4.1 of Section II (Substantiation) was taken into consideration.

RESPONSE
The respondent submitted that it would “revise the stated complaint issues to comply with the regulatory requirements concerning [its] advertising, claims and labelling, with the advice of Allison Vienings, MRA Regulatory Consultants, [its] elected ‘expert’ in this matter”.

It also attached correspondence from Ms Allison Vienings from MRA Regulatory Consultants, an independent regulatory consultancy, explaining that this is to “testify to the above”.

In addition, a host of research articles, supporting literature and abstracts were submitted to support the comments made by Ms Vienings.

The Directorate will deal with the relevant portions of the response in the ruling.

ASA DIRECTORATE RULING

The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.

History of the advertiser
The complainant correctly pointed out that Christopher and Jasmine Grindlay have, on numerous occasions, received adverse rulings for making unsubstantiated weight loss claims for various products.

In Hoodia Slender Gel / HA Steinman / 12857 / 13994 (3 February 2011), the Directorate sanctioned the company Planet Hoodia CC for what was regarded as clear and deliberate disregard of the Code and existing rulings. Christopher Grindlay and/or Jasmine Grindlay have, at all times acted as representatives of this company. In fact, as recently as 15 August 2011, the ASA received correspondence from Mrs Grindlay where she and Mr Grindlay were respectively identified as the “DIRECTOR” and “MNG DIRECTOR” for Slender Max, a product ruled against, and still promoted by Planet Hoodia CC.

However, given that SlimBetti is, according to its own response, registered as “Water Berry Trading CC, a company (and product) that has not yet been considered by the ASA, the complaint was considered as a new complaint, rather than a breach of an existing ruling.

Merits of the new complaint
The essential question posed by the complainant is whether or not the respondent can substantiate the claims made, as identified by the complainant. The complainant believes that this is not possible.

The respondent did not argue the merits as such, but submitted that it would amend its advertising in accordance with guidance received from its new expert advisor, Ms Allison Vienings.

The ASA has a long standing principle which holds that where an advertiser provides an unequivocal undertaking to withdraw or amend its advertising in a manner that addresses the concerns raised, that undertaking is accepted without considering the merits of the matter.

Given that Ms Vienings was particular in terms of how she believed the respondent should amend its advertising, the Directorate is obliged to consider whether the proposed amendments would address the concerns raised by the complainant.

Ms Vienings elaborated on the historic situation in terms of regulating complementary and alternative medicines as well as traditional African medicines, and elaborates on how she believes regulation should, or will take place in South Africa. In dealing specifically with the “FibreSlim” product, she specifically identifies only the following claims:

• “Improves lipid profile by maintaining normal cholesterol levels”
• “Improves glucose tolerance”
• “Relieves constipation”

In doing so, she also explained that the disclaimer “Only effective when used in conjunction with a kilojoule controlled balanced diet and moderate exercise” also needs to be made so as not to give an impression that the product on its own could deliver the claimed results.

The Directorate has several concerns insofar as these are concerned:

Firstly, Ms Vienings’ opinion appears to be based on ingredient-specific literature, and not product-specific literature. It is trite that the Directorate cannot accept ingredient based substantiation as adequate for an entire product. The Directorate would therefore not accept the substantiation tendered by Ms Vienings, as the Code requires unequivocal verification that is product specific.

Secondly, Ms Vienings’ opinion only highlights one of the claims made by the respondent, being “Relieves constipation”. This presumably means that all the other efficacy claims disputed by the complainant remain unapproved by Ms Vienings. She even goes so far as to state “Delete all the other claims on your website and in advertising as per your memo to me”. Given that the Directorate was not provided a copy of said “… memo to me …” there is no way of knowing whether or not the respondent intends to delete all its efficacy claims save for “Relieves constipation”. It should also be kept in mind that the verification for “Relieves constipation” is based on ingredient-based substantiation, and not product-specific substantiation, which is still problematic.

Finally, Ms Vienings repeatedly emphasises that the disclaimer “Only effective when used in conjunction with a kilojoule controlled balanced diet and moderate exercise” should be made in advertising. However, the Directorate notes that the statement “Only effective when used in conjunction with a restricted or kilojoule controlled balanced diet” appears once only, on the respondent’s homepage, and there is no information from the respondent that would suggest it intends to increase the prominence and prevalence thereof.

It has been established in several ASA rulings that when efficacy claims are only said to be valid when a diet and exercise routine are followed, a statement to this effect should be clearly and prominently made in conjunction with such claims (see Clicks Hoodia Appetite Regulator / HA Steinman / 17987 (25 August 2011), as read with Perc Slimming / Dr H Steinman / 1679 (14 January 2005); Perc Slimming / Dr H Steinman / 1679 (10 March 2005); Bioslim Meal Replacement / J Gardener / 4531 (17 March 2006) and Bioslim Once a Day / Gardener / 589 (8 March 2005) for additional clarity). This principle also appears evident from the wording of Clause 2.3.1 of Appendix E of the Code, which deals with advertising for slimming.

Only including the statement “Only effective when used in conjunction with a restricted or kilojoule controlled balanced diet” once on the homepage is not sufficient for this purpose.

Given the above, the Directorate does not, at this time, accept the respondent’s undertaking to “revise” its advertising as adequate or likely to address the concerns raised by the complainant.

The respondent’s undertaking to “revise the stated complaint issues to comply with the regulatory requirements concerning our advertising, claims and labelling …” is therefore rejected.

Given the above, it is also apparent that the respondent’s current advertising is, for the same reasons, unacceptable and currently in contravention of the requirements for substantiation as set out in the Code.

Given all of the above, the Directorate is satisfied that the claims disputed by the complainant are currently not adequately substantiated within the meaning of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

Based on the above, the respondent is required to:

Withdraw the advertising objected to as well as the claims at issue;

Action the withdrawal of the advertising and relevant claims with immediate effect upon receipt of this ruling;

Ensure that the advertising and claims are withdrawn within the deadlines stipulated in Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide; and

Not use the advertising or relevant claims in the current format again in the future.

The complaint is upheld.

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