Posted 05 March 2013
A consumer laid a complaint with the ASA against this product arguing that there is no evidence to support the claim that this product can heal all skin problems. A number of other complaints were also presented.
The ASA asked the company to supply evidence that the product works, but they could not.
Note: comfrey is a toxic product – do not ingest it!
|Miracle Comfrey / K Charleston / 20878|
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Mr Kevin Charleston Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Miracle Comfrey cc Respondent
28 Feb 2013
Mr Charleston lodged a consumer complaint against a print advertisement for Miracle Comfrey cream which appeared in the Sunday Times newspaper during August 2012.
The advertisement states, “Miracle Comfrey® For all skin problems! MONEY BACK GUARANTEE! At most pharmacies”.
It also features an image of an arm with obvious and widespread lesions as “BEFORE” and then shows an arm free of any lesions or injuries as “AFTER” along with the wording “NO SCARS!”
The complainant submitted that the advertisement implies that the product can heal all skin problems. he name of the product implies that it has miraculous properties. Furthermore, that comfrey is a poisonous substance if taken internally, and potentially hazardous if applied to broken skin. The complainant added that the Department of Health banned the sale of teas and foodstuffs containing comfrey in 2003.
RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
The complainant identified the following clauses of the Code as relevant:
• Section II, Clause 4.1 – Substantiation
• Section II, Clause 4.2.1 – Misleading claims
• Section II, Clause 4.2.2 – Puffery
• Section II, Clause 13 – Safety
The respondent submitted that Comfrey is often referred to as “The Miracle Herb” because of its exceptional healing properties and because it can be used for all kinds of skin problems. The respondent submitted a list of testimonials from people who used the product, and added that it has been selling these products for 8 years with a money back guarantee. Comfrey is a herbal plant that has been used since the 16th century for the treatment of fractures.
The allantoin in comfrey stimulates cell and therefore tissue regeneration and therefore speeds up the healing process. Comfrey is also rich in mucilage and zinc which also assist healing. It is also rich in selenium.
Modern pharmaceutical industry uses synthesized allantoin. The respondent uses fresh, organically grown comfrey cultivated on its farm. It documents all feedback received on the product and has a lot of testimonies about different kinds of skin problems. Prior to starting the company it undertook extensive research on comfrey. There are different kinds of comfrey, and the kind of comfrey it uses was tested by two different South African universities that no harmful alkaloids were present.
It added that Advocate James Clark assisted to get the South African ban on the sale of comfrey foodstuffs lifted. Comfrey plants have the natural property of ensuring he correct formation of scar tissue. Synthesized allantoin does not have the same properties. Its pictures used in the advertising show that there are no scars thereafter.
It also informed of the natural properties of comfrey and submitted a couple of before and after photographs as well as an extensive list of pharmacies that stock the product.
ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered all the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.
The complainant’s concern is three fold:
That there is no proof to indicate that the cream will heal all skin problems and leave no scars.
That comfrey is potentially hazardous
That the name “Miracle Comfrey” is misleading as it suggests that the product has miraculous properties.
Safety of the product:
It should also be noted that the complainant’s concerns relate to the safety of comfrey in that the use of comfrey is medically advisable only if applied on unbroken skin for a period less than 10 days. It is also not advisable for use on pregnant woman, or for children.
This poses a problem for the Directorate, as the ASA is not empowered to (or expected to) determine whether any product is safe for use. There are certain regulatory and industry specific authorities who are mandated to consider such issues.
The Directorate will therefore not consider this aspect of the complaint at this time, as the concern relates to something that falls outside the jurisdiction of the ASA.
Name of the product:
The name of the product is Miracle Comfrey and it is a cream for problem skin. The Directorate is of the opinion that this would likely be interpreted as puffery, given that a miracle is inexplicable by the laws of nature and is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.
The complainant also noted that miracle healing is impossible to substantiate, which would suggest that Clause 4.1 of Section II does not apply (this clause specifically seeks to govern the manner in which advertisers should substantiate claims “… that are capable of objective substantiation”).
In addition, Clause 4.2.2 of Section II (Puffery) value judgements or subjective assessments are permissible provided that what is being expressed is clearly and opinion and not likely to be taken as a literal claim.
The name (which the respondent clarified is its registered company name) does not create any expectation other than communicating that the respondent regards this product as a miracle product. Clearly this is a matter of opinion, and the Directorate does not believe a reasonable person would interpret it as anything more.
Based on this, the Directorate does not share the complainant’s view that the product (actually company) name “Miracle Comfrey” is deceptive or misleading in terms of Clause 4.2.1 of Section II of the Code.
This aspect of the complaint is accordingly dismissed.
Substantiation of efficacy
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.
The respondent’s advertisement clearly shows a picture of a wounded arm with the caption “BEFORE” written next to it. The second picture is supposedly of the same arm completely healed and the captions “AFTER” and “NO SCARS!” next to the image. It further communicates that the product can be used on “… all skin types …” and that the respondent offers a money back guarantee on its efficacy.
These claims and images combined create an impression that this product is guaranteed to work on any type of skin for any type of ailment, condition or injury. This is clearly capable of objective verification as outlined in the provisions of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.
The respondent submitted quotations from alleged testimonies from satisfied customers as well as a list of all pharmacies that stock the product. It further indicated that the Directorate should contact Mr Danie Theron for copies of its test reports.
It is specifically noted that the Code places the onus of proof at the respondent’s door. Accordingly, the respondent bears the responsibility of proving that its claims are valid and true. The Directorate requires unequivocal confirmation from an independent and credible expert in the relevant field to support the exact claims made in the advertising.
Despite being afforded the opportunity to supply substantiation, none was received from the respondent.
As a result, the advertising currently communicates an unsubstantiated claim that the product will remove all scars from all skin types irrespective ofthe nature and extent of the injury or ailment. The advertising is therefore in contravention of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.
Given the above finding:
The advertisement must be withdrawn;
The process to withdraw the advertisement must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of 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 until new substantiation has been submitted, evaluated and a new ruling is made in terms of, and subject to the provisions of Clause 4.1.7 of Section II of the Code.
This aspect of the complaint is upheld, and the respondent’s attention is drawn to Clause 15.5 of the Procedural Guide, which effectively requires it to remove this advertising from any and all media in which it may appear.