Solal has bitter pill to swallow as ASA rules on anti-ageing claims

Posted 28 November 2012

By Wendy Knowler

The Star November 28 2012 at 09:00am

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered Solal Technologies, a South African company professing to be “leaders in anti-ageing, integrative and preventative medicine”, to stop making misleading claims about several of its key products.

In hearings held earlier this month, the ASA found the company had failed to provide adequate substantiation for some of its claims.

In the case of Solal’s Anti-Aging Pill, the company has been ordered to stop using the name of the product, as it was unable, in the Directorate’s view, to provide evidence to back up the expectation that the name creates in consumers’ minds.

Complainant Dr Harris Steinman told the ASA the product’s anti-ageing claims were based on tests involving worms, rats and mice, but not humans, and thus the name was misleading. In fact, he said, there was no single study that tests this product formulation on humans.

The ASA evaluated the evidence supplied by Solal and concluded it was indeed insufficient to substantiate its claims.

“There is nothing in the respondent’s submissions to suggest the research findings are also applicable to humans and to the respondent’s product, as available on the market, and when consumed at the recommended dose,” the ASA found.

Steinman had also taken issue with the following claims on Solal’s website and packaging:

“Preliminary research indicates that long-term administration of resveratrol can increase lifespan, improve heart function”; “Pterostilbene has also been shown to increase learning and memory” and “Grape seed polyphenols also reduce the formation of skin wrinkles, build new collagen and protect skin-elastin fibres”.

Responding, Solal’s attorneys began by saying the claims in question had been removed from the company’s website. They claimed the ASA Directorate was biased against Solal, and that it was “improper” to expect “product specific” evidence for complementary medicines, as this was not required by the Medicines Control Council because they are regarded as “generic medicines”.

And here’s an argument that should interest consumers of so-called complementary medicines: “The complainant is inaccurate in his interpretation of the advertising, which, in reality, clearly expresses any efficacy as a possibility, as opposed to a guaranteed fact.”

The attorneys also claimed that Steinman’s complaint was “vexatious”, and actually a competitor complainant, and that he had no right to lodge the complaint. The Directorate dismissed these allegations.

Given that the contested claims had been removed from the website by the time the hearing was heard, the Directorate didn’t consider their merits, but focused on whether the name of the product was misleading.

The Directorate concluded that Solal was “attempting to bring this type of efficacy [anti-ageing] into the realm of reality, implying factual effect, rather than possibility”.

“Directly below the product name, it states ‘Activates the life-extending anti-ageing gene… Protects the heart, brain and immune system… Slows skin damage and skin ageing’.

“These claims are communicated as fact, not as potential or puffery. By referring to, for example, the activation of ‘the life-extending anti-ageing gene’ a consumer is led to believe this will be done by consuming the product.

“This is further emphasised by the words ‘Scientifically proven formulation’.”

Interestingly, in the light of Solal’s “repeated transgressions” of the ASA’s code, the company was given until tomorrow to give the Directorate its views on whether or not sanctions are appropriate, and if so, what sanctions.

The ASA Directorate ruled against two other Solal products’ claims this month. The company was ordered to withdraw the following reference on its 24-in-1 Super Fruit & Veg Drink: “18 fruits, vegetables and herbs with five antioxidants and probiotics”.

With respect to Solal’s Flu Bacteris product, about which Professor Roy Jobson lodged a complaint of misleading advertising, the Directorate ruled against Solal and ordered the claims be withdrawn.

Jobson had argued the advert was inaccurate in suggesting flu was caused by bacteria, as it is caused by viruses.

The Directorate noted that instead of providing evidence to back up its claims, Solal had “opted for an antagonistic and adversarial approach, accusing the ASA of improper conduct and illegal requirements”.

“It’s true Solal has instituted legal action against the ASA… all such issues will be properly ventilated in court.”

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