ASA Ruling: Solal: “Vitamin D is as effective as a vaccine”

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Solal placed an advert in newspapers claiming that “Vitamin D is as effective as a vaccine.” 
 It further lists the facts of Vitamin D as, inter alia,:
• “Vitamin D is extremely safe. There are virtually no negative side effects from people taking vitamin D supplements, even at seemingly high doses, such as 2000 IU per day (five times the current South African RDA).”

A consumer complained to the ASA, which found that the claims were not substantiated. However, the ruling is more fascinating for a number of reasons: Read on!

 

SOLAL TECHNOLOGIES / KM CHARLESTON / 15601N / 15601

Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Mr Kevin M CharlestonComplainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Solal Technologies (Pty) LtdRespondent

26 Aug 2010

http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=5267

Mr Charleston lodged a consumer complaint against an advertisement for Solal Technologies for its Vitamin D supplement that appeared in The Star newspaper during April 2010.

The advertisement is headed “Vitamin D is as effective as a vaccine.”

It further lists the facts of Vitamin D as, inter alia,:

• “Vitamin D is extremely safe. There are virtually no negative side effects from people taking vitamin D supplements, even at seemingly high doses, such as 2000 IU per day (five times the current South African RDA).”

COMPLAINT

In essence, the complainant submitted that the claims are false and potentially dangerous to at-risk individuals who should use a vaccine. Furthermore, Vitamin D in high doses is poisonous.

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

RESPONSE

Stefan Vos Marketing Regulation Advisers, on behalf of the respondent, provided the Directorate with the curriculum vitae of Doctor Donald Miller and argued that Doctor Miller is independent from the respondent and a credible expert in the field to which the claims relate. Doctor Miller studies and writes articles on the importance of natural and nutritional medicine for maintaining optimum health.

ASA DIRECTORATE RULING

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

Clause 4.1 of Section II requires the advertiser to engage the services of a person/entity which is “independent, credible and an expert in the particular field to which the claims relate, to confirm the accuracy of the claims…”

Because the ASA is not a medical expert, once it is satisfied that the person appointed by the advertiser is credible, independent and an expert in the field relating to the claims, it relies on the opinion of that expert. However, in such instances the expert must unequivocally confirm the advertising claims used.

The primary question before the ASA therefore centres on Dr Miller’s credibility, expertise and independence.

The advertisement states, inter alia, “Vitamin D is as effective as a vaccine” and further “Vitamin D is extremely safe. There are virtually no negative side effects from people taking vitamin D supplements, even at seemingly high doses, such as 2000 IU per day (five times the current South African RDA).”

The respondent did not provide the Directorate with copies of the studies reviewed by Dr Miller and submitted, inter alia, an e-mail from Dr Miller in support of its claims.

The e-mail states “Based on the evidence supplied by SOLAL Technologies and my independent review of the literature on Vitamin D, I can say that the following two statements are truthful: 1) ‘Vitamin D is as effective as a vaccine.’ 2) ‘ Vitamin D is extremely safe. There are virtually no negative side-effects from people taking Vitamin D supplements, even at seemingly high doses, such as 2000IU per day.”

The Directorate perused Dr Miller’s website, namely http://www.donaldmiller.com/ and noted the following:
 

    ) Doctor Miller appears to support the notion that HIV does not cause Aids, a notion that has caused severe controversy in South Africa, and is generally condemned;

  1. ) Dr Miller publically propagates the dangers of vaccines, which arguably indicates a bias on his part when considering any material on this topic. He writes, inter alia, “The day will come when the CDC withdraws its childhood immunization schedule and stops recommending that vaccines be given to children under two years of age. HIV tests will no longer be done and anti-retroviral drugs will be outlawed”. This article is published on http://www.lewrockwell.com/miller/miller32.1.html)
     
  2. ) Furthermore, he is very vocal about peer reviewed science being inappropriate, which is contrary to the principles enshrined in 4.25 of Section I of the Code. This clause explains that scientific substantiation should be “… based on statistically valid data, employing a validated, proven, scientific method and applicable to the claim being made”.
     
  3. ) Finally, he also has a posting on his website urging viewers to “Visit [his] wife’s Vitamark website and view its products”. On this website one can purchase all sorts of supplements, weight loss products and energy drinks. On a prima facie consideration these products do not appear all too dissimilar to those sold by the respondent. As such, it appears that Dr Miller has a potential bias towards these types of products, which casts doubts over his independence.

While the Directorate accepts that one should not always blindly embrace a dogmatic approach to healing, the above points cause some concerns with the Directorate.

Clause 4.1.4 of Section II state that evidence of this nature should “… emanate from or [as appears to be the case here] be evaluated by a person/entity, which is independent, credible, and an expert in the particular field to which the claims relate AND BE ACCEPTABLE TO THE ASA” (our emphasis).

In light of the above, Dr Miller is arguably biased towards supplements over vaccines and his disapproval on peer reviewed science is contrary to clause 4.2.5 of Section I. It is therefore questioned whether he is “acceptable to the ASA”.

In addition to this, his CV indicates that his expertise appears to lie in surgery, and especially cardiothoracic surgery. The advertisement, however, promotes nutritional supplements. It is not clear from the response or from Dr Miller’s CV why he should be regarded as an expert in this particular field.

Accordingly, he does not meet the requirements of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code and his comments cannot be accepted to substantiate the claims made.

Given the above:

  • The claims must be withdrawn;
     
  • The process to withdraw the claims must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of this ruling;
     
  • The withdrawal of the claims must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide;
     
  • The claims may not be used again in its current format.

The complaint is upheld.

For the guidance of the respondent, the Directorate also draws attention to the provisions of Appendix F in relation to the claims made about cancer, heart diseases and diabetes in the advertisement. As no complaint was made against these claims, however, the Directorate will not consider them at this time.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to ASA Ruling: Solal: “Vitamin D is as effective as a vaccine”

  1. Coen van Wyk 28 September, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    There are a number of issues on which I changed my position since my early September Druginfo posting regarding the ASA complaint of KM CHARLESTON. That could lead to the impression that I am an unprincipled turncoat – and that I am not. The simple explanation is that new facts have come to my attention.
    I have taken great care in drafting a cogent explanation of how certain changes in my perceptions came about. The following is an explanation regarding a particular issue:
     (i)        The interest of justice and fair play demand that I give perspective regarding the following comment that I posted in response to Colin Levin’s allegation of “cherry picking” by Harris Steinman:
     ‘You say: "What is quite extraordinary is that Harris seems to "cherry pick" and post all the rulings that initially go against our company, but when the ASA reverses them, he is suddenly very quiet and does not post them.
     
    ‘I say: Cherry picking is part of life, so deal with it! There is nothing extraordinary about the conduct of Harris. The normal course of events is that, if a person with an exemplary reputation engages in disgraceful conduct, then the lewd conduct would not be negated by his prior good reputation.’
    What Levin stated creates the impression that he is bellyaching about the fact that Harris Steinman published all the bad things about Solal and not the good things. But investigative publications (such as Noseweek) do not publish positive stories because they are in the business of exposing mischief and therefore engage in “cherry picking” for mischief to write about, hence my following words addressed to Levin in my Druginfo posting:
     “Cherry picking is part of life, so deal with it! There is nothing extraordinary about the conduct of Harris.”
    It was only after a subsequent telephone discussion with Levin that I realised that he was referring to a fraudulent concealment by Harris Steinman (on his website, camcheck) of the fact that certain ASA ruling, adverse to Solal, were reversed on appeal. Of those ASA reversals I was unaware at the time of my posting on Druginfo. 
    I contend that Levin’s words, "What is quite extraordinary is that Harris seems to "cherry pick" and post all the rulings that initially go against our company, but when the ASA reverses them, he is suddenly very quiet and does not post them”, is ambiguous and clearly inter alia points to a possible interpretation that Harris Steinman does not post rulings on camcheck that eventually go in favour of Solal, whether that occurred at the outset or after a reversal by the ASA.
    In his comment Levin should therefore have called a spade a spade, or, more appropriately, he should have called a spade a … eh…eh…bloody shovel and the copy of his posting should have read something like the following:
    What is quite extraordinary is that Harris, a professional man (a physician, no less) risks his reputation and professional status by fraudulently concealing from the members of the Druginfo list the ASA’s reversals of certain rulings that originally went against Solal.
    Had Levin commented somewhat along the lines that I suggested, then I would not have posted what I posted. I most certainly would never condone the type of extremely dangerous practice of a fraudulent concealment of facts that were perpetrated by Harris Steinman.
    I reiterate that I was truly under the impression that what Levin meant was that Harris Steinman merely published rulings that ultimately went against Solal; but not the rulings in which Solal ultimately prevailed.
    This discussion must however not be seen as a comment on the merits of the matter in which Levin vented his dissatisfaction, since I merely dealt with my comment.
    Needles to say, I am no longer “in the corner of Harris and Roy” and I am now in my own neutral corner.
     

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