Posted 26 May 2012
I received the following email today:
Dear Dr. Steinman,
A rather trivial matter but here is a company in South Africa marketing an electric shock device for snake bite. Electrotherapy came about in the 80’s when a Catholic priest published a letter in Lancet claiming that the electric current neutralised the proteins in snake venom and worked as a cute.
This has subsequently been tested scientifically and it does not work. Yet the company continues to market their shock device to game lodges in South Africa. This can obviously create a false sense of security and endanger the life of a snake bite victim.
I have discussed the device with employees of ElectroTherapy (http://www.crimestopsa.co.za/snakebitekit.html) as well as the owner but they rely on testimonials and continue to sell the device. Is there any way in which you can assist to have this device banned?
Johan is correct, this product is contrary to physiological principles and without any evidence-based medicine studies to support the claims. Anecdotal evidence is insufficient evidence, it could be made up, it could be that it helped those bitten by harmless snakes, and those bitten by deadly snakes are dead and cannot speak out.
At this product’s website, it states:
|“As featured in the Lancet Medical Journal: “Any positively off-set frequency kills all bacteria, viruses and parasites simultaneously, given sufficient voltage, duration and frequency” – Dr Hilda Clark, Ph. D., ND. & Manufacturing have been|
in personal contact with Dr Giovanni Onores who has worked extensively with the Electro-Therapy kit to treat snake bites on in the jungles of South America.“
“The kit is still regarded as controversial in the medical world, in spite of the success achieved by Dr Onores. We have personally treated both humans and animals for potentially fatal bites from snakes and spiders and scorpion stings. We fully recommend an Electro-Therapy kit to everyone who may into contact with venomous snakes and insects. Your First Aid in Snake and Venomous Bites.“
Note to readers: Snake bite venom has absolutely nothing to do with bacteria, viruses and parasites! The New Scientist would call this fruitloopery! The test is not regarded as controversial in the medical world, it would be regarded as bogus.
I cannot find any article published by Dr Hilda Clark in the Lancet Medical Journal.
In fact there has been a previous ASA ruling in November 2009 against the claims for this product.
This is a perfect example where this company should be reported to the National Consumer Commission
Of course, a breach complaint should be laid with the ASA
| Electro Therapy Snake Bite Kit / A Jackson / 14260|
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Mr Andrew Jackson Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Safe Case Corporation cc Respondent
30 Nov 2009
Mr Jackson, as representative of the Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust, lodged a consumer complaint against Safe Case Corporation email message emanating from the respondent, promoting the Electro Therapy Snakebite Unit.
The advertisement emanates from the respondent’s “Sales & Marketing” division and states, inter alia, “Safe Case Corporation designed and manufactured a special Electro-Therapy snakebite kit which cures ANY/ ALL snakebite; spider & scorpion bites. … No snake identification; anti-venom or hospitalization is necessary when using the Electro-Therapy snakebite kit – and guarantee’s [sic] a full and speedy recovery of the person bitten. … Please see the article on the Snakebite kit that appeared in the farmer’s weekly magazine (August 2009)”.
The referenced article is attached to the mail, and readers are encouraged to contact the respondent for “further information & testimonials on this outstanding product”.
In essence, the complainant submitted that the claims regarding the efficacy of the product are misleading, dangerous and life threatening as there has been no clinical trials or tests done on the product.
RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
In light of the complaint the following clauses of the Code were considered relevant:
• Section II, Clause 4.1 – Substantiation
• Section II, Clause 4.2.1 – Misleading advertising
The respondent addressed the merits of the matter and also submitted copies of testimonials from various people claiming to have used the product with positive results. In addition, it submitted a copy of a letter written to The Lancet publication during 1986, as well as a test Report from The South African Bureau of Standards on the product’s electrical output and safety features.
The respondent also referred the Directorate to different websites containing information on venom and the electro therapy method of treatment as well as testimonials from people who were exposed to snake venom.
The respondent argued that the material in question is not advertising as the product was reviewed in an editorial.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.
The respondent submitted that the material in question is not advertising as the product was reviewed in an editorial.
Clause 4 of Section 1 of the Code defines an advertisement as any visual or aural communication, representation, reference or notification of any kind which is intended to promote the sale, leasing or use of any goods or services; or which appeals for or promotes the support of any cause.
The respondent sent what appears to be an unsolicited message regarding its product as well as a copy of an article that had appeared in the Farmer’s Weekly during August 2009 to the complainant. It is clear that the intention of the message is to promote the respondent’s product to the complainant with the aim of soliciting sales. As such, the material is clearly “intended to promote the sale” of this product.
This intention is further reinforced by statements such as “No snake identification; anti-venom or hospitalization is necessary when using the Electro-Therapy snakebite kit – and guarantee’s [sic] a full and speedy recovery of the person bitten” and “…your visitors; customers & staff depend on your decision their safety and lives lie in your hands”.
Based on the above, the message that is the subject matter of this complaint qualifies as advertising and falls within the Advertising Standards Authority’s jurisdiction.
Clause 4.1 of Section II states, inter alia, that advertisers shall hold documentary evidence to support all claims that are capable of objective substantiation.
It must be clarified that in terms of the Code, the onus of proof lies with the person making the claim. In other words, the respondent carries this onus by virtue of the fact that it makes the disputed claims. The respondent’s suggestion that the complainant should disprove its claims is therefore rejected.
The complainant submitted that the claims regarding the efficacy of the product are misleading, dangerous and life threatening as no clinical trials or tests were done on the unit.
The advertising complained of creates the distinct impression that the respondent’s product will “guarantee” a full recovery from all snake and spider bites as well as scorpion stings. Such claims are clearly capable of objective proof in the manner envisaged by Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.
Clause 4.1.4 of Section II is specific regarding claims which are capable of substantiation. It states that documentary evidence, other than survey data, shall emanate from or be evaluated by a person or entity which is independent, credible, and an expert in the particular field to which the claims relate.
The Directorate is not a technical or scientific body, and as such cannot interpret the information submitted to determine whether or not it sufficiently verifies the statements made. It therefore requested the respondent to submit substantiation that complies with the requirements stipulated in Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code. In short, what the Directorate requires is verification from an independent and credible expert in this field to confirm that the respondent’s product will deliver the claimed results.
The respondent, however, insisted that many people, including medical doctors, have had great successes with this product. It added that the product has been on the market for 12 years without any advertising.
While the Directorate has taken cognisance of these comments, there is still nothing to objectively show that the respondent’s product is capable of achieving such results on the average person using the product. It should also be pointed out that the “article” in The Lancet as put forward by the respondent actually appears to be a letter written to the publication’s editor, which would not necessarily amount to objective verification. In any event, it does not appear to relate to the respondent’s specific product, and as such, is of no assistance to the Directorate. Similarly, the SABS report does not comment on the efficacy of the product, and therefore also adds no value to this dispute. The Directorate can also not accept the attached testimonials as substantiation for the claims made.
Given the absence of any independent, credible verification, there is nothing before the Directorate to unequivocally verify that that product is capable of achieving the claimed results.
Accordingly, all claims referring to the product’s ability to cure snake and spider bites, as well as scorpion stings and result in full recovery are currently unsubstantiated and in breach of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.
In light of the above finding, the respondent is required to:
withdraw all claims referring to the product’s ability to treat or cure snake, spider and scorpion bites or stings in their current format;
the process to withdraw the claims must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of the ruling;
the withdrawal of the claims must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide; and
the claims may not be used again in their current format in future.
In light of the above, it is not necessary to consider Clause 4.2.1 of Section II in relation to these claims at this time.
The complaint is upheld.