Solal “Medicine Making You Sick”: ASA ruling

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Posted 21 October 2011

Mr Low lodged a consumer complaint against Solal’s Internet advertisement promoting its range of products. The complainant submitted that the advertisement was published in the Woman and Home magazine, but that he was unsure of the date. However, the advertisement was accessed on the respondent’s website at www.solathech.com/adverts.html. The advertisement is headed “Is your medicine making you sick?”, and states, , inter alia, as follows: “Whilst pharmaceutical medicines have life-saving benefits, many of them have serious side effects, ranging from insomnia (caused by most antidepressants) to heart failure (caused by cholesterol-lowering medicines). A large number of these side effects are a result of nutrient deficiencies that these medicines cause. In other words, a pharmaceutical medicine can rob you of nutrients, resulting in health problems. These medicines act as anti-vitamin pills, taking away the substances you need for good health. The only solution to averting pharmaceutically-induced nutritional deficiencies is to replace the depleted nutrients through nutritional supplementation.” Below this, the respondent promotes four of its own products, each with headings detailing what they are aimed at assisting with, how this is done, and what the dosage instructions are. The complainant, who submitted two letters, effectively disputes the respondent’s advertisement on the basis that: It disparages professional medical treatment by suggesting that pharmaceutical medicines may cause nutritional deficiencies. The complainant couched this complaint in terms of the provisions of the previous version of Appendix A of the Code. The complainant also added that the claimed potential damage by cholesterol-lowering medicine is over-stated and disparaging of standard medical practice. The generalisation that pharmaceutical medicines generally cause nutritional deficiencies is exaggerated, misleading and unsubstantiated. The advertisement falsely suggests that supplementation with the respondent’s products is necessary for maintenance of health. The advertisement aims to create fear and anxiety in the user that his/her medicine is currently, or may in future be, making him/her sick, and that supplementation is the solution. This complaint was again couched in terms of the previous version of Appendix A. The advertisement makes various unsubstantiated claims that specific supplementation is required in specific situations.

Solal Medicine Making You Sick / M Low / 16636
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Mr Marcus Low Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Solal Technologies (Pty) Ltd Respondent

20 Oct 2011

http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=5797

Mr Low lodged a consumer complaint against Solal’s Internet advertisement promoting its range of products. The complainant submitted that the advertisement was published in the Woman and Home magazine, but that he was unsure of the date. However, the advertisement was accessed on the respondent’s website at www.solathech.com/adverts.html.

The advertisement is headed “Is your medicine making you sick?”, and states, , inter alia, as follows:

“Whilst pharmaceutical medicines have life-saving benefits, many of them have serious side effects, ranging from insomnia (caused by most antidepressants) to heart failure (caused by cholesterol-lowering medicines).

A large number of these side effects are a result of nutrient deficiencies that these medicines cause. In other words, a pharmaceutical medicine can rob you of nutrients, resulting in health problems. These medicines act as anti-vitamin pills, taking away the substances you need for good health. The only solution to averting pharmaceutically-induced nutritional deficiencies is to replace the depleted nutrients through nutritional supplementation.”

Below this, the respondent promotes four of its own products, each with headings detailing what they are aimed at assisting with, how this is done, and what the dosage instructions are.

COMPLAINT
The complainant, who submitted two letters, effectively disputes the respondent’s advertisement on the basis that:

It disparages professional medical treatment by suggesting that pharmaceutical medicines may cause nutritional deficiencies. The complainant couched this complaint in terms of the provisions of the previous version of Appendix A of the Code. The complainant also added that the claimed potential damage by cholesterol-lowering medicine is over-stated and disparaging of standard medical practice.

The generalisation that pharmaceutical medicines generally cause nutritional deficiencies is exaggerated, misleading and unsubstantiated.

The advertisement falsely suggests that supplementation with the respondent’s products is necessary for maintenance of health. The advertisement aims to create fear and anxiety in the user that his/her medicine is currently, or may in future be, making him/her sick, and that supplementation is the solution. This complaint was again couched in terms of the previous version of Appendix A.

The advertisement makes various unsubstantiated claims that specific supplementation is required in specific situations.

RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
The complainant identified the following clauses of the Code as relevant:

• Appendix A (which has since been entirely repealed by a new version of this Appendix)

• Clause 4.1 of Section II – Substantiation

• Clause 4.2.1 of Section II – Misleading claims

RESPONSE>
The respondent’s response was submitted on its behalf by Stefan Vos Marketing Regulation Advisors and attorneys Fluxmans Inc. In summation, the respondent submitted that:

The material complained of does not constitute “advertising” as defined in the Code. The complainant is uncertain of the date of publication in Woman and Home magazine and could therefore not have been offended by the advertisement as published in the magazine. The complainant has also by inference admitted that the date of publication is beyond the 90 day period as required by Clause 3.1.4 of the Procedural Guide. Accordingly the complaint should be dealt with as if it was lodged against the advertisement as found on the Solal website only.

The advertisement was sourced from respondent’s website archives, where old advertisements are kept. The archive section of the website is not “current” for the purposes of the Code and as such the Directorate has no jurisdiction.

The ASA has no jurisdiction to enforce the requirements of Appendix A (or Appendix F for that matter).

The respondent also raised other procedural issues, which have since been addressed in various other rulings and/or correspondence, and therefore need not be summarised here. Finally, it attached documents marked “confidential” as well as a “non confidential summary” compiled by Brent Murphy – B Pharm (Rhodes), MPS as substantiation for claims made in its advertising, along with a letter from Prof. Sarel F Malan.

ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered all the relevant documentation submitted by the complainant.

In recent times rulings involving the respondent have become riddled with procedural disputes, disagreements on jurisdictional and interpretational issues, and generally cumbersome due to the nature in which the respondent argues cases.

Although many arguments and concerns appear to be raised in different disputes, or in some instances more than once in one dispute, the Directorate sees no need to continuously reverberate its decision on such issues. For the sake of convenience, the issues raised by the respondent will be addressed briefly, with specific references to prior rulings where the same issues were addressed.

Other than the arguments insofar as substantiation are concerned, the respondent effectively raised five issues worth mentioning:

That the advertisement is not “current” for the purposes of the Code and therefore falls outside of the ASA’s jurisdiction;

That the advertisement is not an “advertisement” as defined in the Code;

That the complainant is not a legitimate consumer complainant, but rather a competitor complainant masquerading as a consumer;

That the Directorate and ASA have no authority or jurisdiction over the provisions of Appendix A of the Code (and Appendix F);

That certain documentation should be regarded as confidential despite the ASA’s decision to the contrary.

Status of the advertisement (its “currency” as well as its standing as an “advertisement”)
The respondent submitted that the advertisement is not current for the purposes of the Code. The argument in this respect is also used to support the allegation that the advertisement was not “intended to promote the sale” of the products in question, and therefore does not qualify as an “advertisement”.

In Solal Tech healthy Fast Foods / M Low / 16575 (29 June 2011), the Directorate considered, and rejected arguments that were fundamentally and substantially similar to those advanced in the current matter, ultimately finding that material that appeared on the respondent’s “archive” section of its website.

This reasoning still holds true and is equally applicable to this matter, and the respondent’s argument in this regard is rejected.

Status of the complainant
The essential arguments raised here are again nearly identical to those raised in Solal Tech healthy Fast Foods / M Low / 16575 (29 June 2011).

Again, the Directorate is satisfied that the reasoning and ultimate decision to accept the complainant as a consumer within the definition of the Code still holds true. The respondent’s argument in this regard is rejected.

ASA’s jurisdiction on Appendix A (as well as Appendix F)

Without regurgitating the comments of the respondent, it deserves mention that in its ruling, handed down on 7 October 2011, the Advertising Standards Committee (the ASC) effectively agreed with the Directorate insofar as its reasoning and jurisdiction of Appendix A and F are concerned. In the ruling, referenced as SolalTech Omega 3 & 6 / K Charleston / 16711 (7 October 2011), the ASC again confirmed that Appendix F (and by implication Appendix A) was valid, and an accepted part of the ASA Code.

While this takes care of the issue insofar as the Directorate’s ability to interpret and apply the provisions of Appendix A as identified by the complainant are concerned, the Directorate has to point out that the Appendix A as quoted by the complainant is no longer a part of the Code. Shortly after the complaint was received, this appendix was completely removed and replaced by a new appendix, which expressly excludes products of this nature (refer Clause 2.2.2.3 of the current Appendix A).

In light of this, the Directorate will not rule on the complaint in terms of the objection in relation to the now obsolete Appendix A.

The Directorate determination in terms of Confidentiality
The Directorate, at its absolute discretion as afforded to it in terms of Clause 5.3 of the Procedural Guide, determined that the respondent’s documentation does not qualify as confidential, and would not be treated as such.

Without dwelling on the issue, it strikes the Directorate as disingenuous that the documents attached as “Annexure 1” to the respondent’s submissions dated 8 June 2011 (labelled by the respondent as “a confidential extract from the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database” was also attached to its response submitted on 3 March 2011, with no request for confidentiality. This appears to support the impression that the respondent attempts to take trivial procedural issues simply for the sake of frustrating the process.

When afforded the opportunity to withdraw the alleged “confidential” information, the respondent refused to, and reserved its rights to claim compensation for any damages suffered as a result of the ASA’s determination.

As pointed out, the discretion over whether or not certain documentation deserves to be treated as confidential lies with the Directorate. While the respondent may have reasons for not agreeing, the Directorate has afforded it due opportunity to withdraw any documentation it wished to prior to ruling on the matter. The respondent opted not to withdraw any documentation. It is therefore noted that the information contained on file will not be treated as confidential for this, or any future dispute that may arise from this file.

Merits of the complaint
At the outset, it should be noted that circumstances have since overcome the complaint in that Appendix A has been completely rewritten, and no longer contains any of the provisions applicable to the complaint. In fact, Clause 2.2.2.3 of the current Appendix A expressly states that complementary medicines are excluded from the provisions of this appendix. This new appendix was introduced into the ASA Code shortly after the complaint was received.

As a result, the complainant’s concerns insofar as they relate to clauses 5.11 (prohibiting claims or statements that disparage the medical profession or the value of professional medical attention) and 7.3 (prohibiting the causing of unwarranted fear or anxiety) now fall by the wayside and cannot be considered by the Directorate at this time.

The implication of this is that the Directorate is left to consider whether the “… generalisation in paragraph 2 of the advertisement … is exaggerated and misleading and should be substantiated …” as well as whether the “… various claims that specific supplementation is required … should be substantiated …”.

With regard to the latter of these two, the complainant argued that “The advertisement also makes various claims that specific supplementation is required in specific situations. All of these claims should be substantiated in terms of Clause 4.1.1 and 4.1.2 of Section 2 of the code. (This refers to each instance in the advertisement where it states ‘What to take to correct this deficiency’)”.

Looking at the advertisement, the Directorate notes that the respondent is promoting four products under the auspices that they assist in “filling the gap” so to speak between the deficiencies caused by specific medication and the supplements contained in the respondent’s products. Each product is described and associated with numerous, specific claims.

It is trite that the ASA can only consider objections when they are clearly formulated, explained, and, in the case of efficacy claims, specifically related to the claims at issue. Insofar as this specific complaint is concerned, the complainant has not clearly articulated his complaint. In fact, his complaint in this regard is completely general, and too broad for the Directorate to ascertain without doubt which claim/s he has a specific issue with.

As such, the complaint that “The advertisement also makes various claims that specific supplementation is required in specific situations. All of these claims should be substantiated in terms of Clause 4.1.1 and 4.1.2 of Section 2 of the code. (This refers to each instance in the advertisement where it states ‘What to take to correct this deficiency’)” cannot be considered and ruled on based on the complaint at hand.

The Directorate therefore simply has to determine whether the following claim is adequately substantiated within the meaning of the Code:

“A large number of these side effects are a result of nutrient deficiencies that these medicines cause. In other words, a pharmaceutical medicine can rob you of nutrients, resulting in health problems. These medicines act as anti-vitamin pills, taking away the substances you need for good health. The only solution to averting pharmaceutically-induced nutritional deficiencies is to replace the depleted nutrients through nutritional supplementation.”

Other than submitting various research extracts and information apparently pulled from certain websites (such as the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database), the respondent also submitted an opinion from Professor Sarel Francois Malan, a Professor and Director of the School of Pharmacy at the University of the Western Cape.

His CV indicates that has been registered at the South African Pharmacy Council since 1988, and has lectured extensively in this field. He has, inter alia, published 49 articles in subsidised journals, 5 articles in professional journals, and written 3 internal university text books. He is also a member of the Expert Committee of the Medicines Control Council as well as the World Health Organisation’s “Expert Advisory Panel on International Pharmacopoeia and Pharmaceutical Preparations, among other memberships he holds. He also serves on the Advisory Panel of the national Research Foundation, and is a reviewer for several journals in the field to which his expertise relates.

Prof Malan effectively deals with the advertisement under the following headings:

“Cholesterol-lowering medicines can damage your heart”;

“Anti-inflammatory and antidepressants can cause insomnia”;

“Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and oral contraceptives can cause vitamin B and folic acid deficiencies” and;

“HRT and oral contraceptives can also increase the risk of breast and other hormone-sensitive cancers”.

Given the fact that the Directorate is not looking into these specific claims by virtue of the vague complaint in relation to those specific products and claims, the comments made under these headings are largely irrelevant.

It is trite that the ASA requires unequivocal verification for the claims as they appear in the advertising at issue. The opinion from Prof Malan, however, neither discusses, nor quotes this specific claim. In fact, the opinion is very specific and does not deal with the generalisation as highlighted by the complainant.

By virtue of this, the following paragraph is currently unsubstantiated and in contravention of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code:

“A large number of these side effects are a result of nutrient deficiencies that these medicines cause. In other words, a pharmaceutical medicine can rob you of nutrients, resulting in health problems. These medicines act as anti-vitamin pills, taking away the substances you need for good health. The only solution to averting pharmaceutically-induced nutritional deficiencies is to replace the depleted nutrients through nutritional supplementation.”

Given the above finding:

The claim must be withdrawn;

The process to withdraw the claim must be actioned with immediate effect on receipt of this ruling;

The withdrawal of the claim must be completed within the deadlines stipulated by Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide; and

The claim may not be used again in its current format.

This aspect of the complaint is upheld.

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6 Responses to Solal “Medicine Making You Sick”: ASA ruling

  1. Sky 8 September, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

    Solal 3-per-day takes my depression away. I literally can’t become depressed while on it. It’s my happy pill. It is my choice of multivitamin for life.
    I understand the attack on Solal. Big Pharma wants a sick society, not a healthy one. Our food is littered with shit, that is affecting our bodies chemistry.
    I’m a Solal consumer for life, though.
    Remove this comment, and it will show what a bad person you are for attacking Solal.

    • Harris 9 September, 2016 at 11:43 am #

      @Sky
      “Big Pharma” (Ascendis) has now bought Solal.

  2. sky 11 September, 2016 at 8:20 pm #

    Explains why Solal prices have drasticly increased over the last few years.As everyone is aware, some of Solals best products ha ve been scheduled and is only obtainable by prescription. I’ll be back tomorrow posting some eye opening facts about evil and criminally greedy Big Pharma wanting to buy out all the best health brands on the market.

    • Harris 12 September, 2016 at 8:40 am #

      @Sky
      You may be surprised to find that there is much evidence that many CAM companies operate no different to Big Pharma.
      For example:
      1. Big Pharma may promote products for conditions for which there is preliminary, scanty evidence. CAMS promote products for conditions for which the medicine has never been tested, or if, for which there is preliminary, scanty evidence (often from studies in rats).
      2. Big Pharma charges far greater for a product that is cheap to make – CAMS no different. One month’s amitriptyline costs around R130. Solal’s equivalent replacement, theanine, costs R261. (www.solal.co.za/theanine).
      You may be interested to know that theanine is broken down in the body by hydrolysis to to L-glutamate and ethylamine. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is broken down in the body to glutamate too.

  3. Sky 12 September, 2016 at 7:20 am #

    I was on put on amitriptyline for insomnia caused by Post traumatic stress disorder more than ten years ago. I took it for a very long period of time. It depletes zinc, q10, and B1 and B2. I developed a bacterial skin infection that required me to see a dermatologist. He said the amitriptyline made my blood dirty. He put me on antibiotics for six months. Funny how you never hear of Sandoz (also owned by Big Pharma) being attacked in the media. Chip products contain MSG, Cadbury is A GMO product but nobody takes them to task. Solal does not produce a synthetic product that results in withdrawal symptoms after you stop taking it. It won’t kill you by taking more than the usual dose. This is a pseudo scam website attacking an authentic product that has only beneficial results for humans. Of course big pharma is going to buy out the best supplement brands on the market, but the quality of Solal has not been TAINTED by Big Pharma yet, so I will continue to buy Solal’s amazing products because it affects my mood, skin and my digestive system and body in a healthy way.

    • Harris 12 September, 2016 at 8:24 am #

      @Sky
      Many of Solal’s products are synthetic.
      Amitriptyline may cause side effects, but does not “make the blood dirty”. This is a blatant lie.
      Solal use ‘fillers’ in some of their products. These fillers are often derived from wheat, e.g., Sodium starch glycolate (www.solal.co.za/multi-mineral#). Starch glycolates derive from rice, potato, wheat or corn origin, and therefore may be GMO derived.

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