UK ASA ruling: Zara’s Herbal Tea

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The United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority offers a useful assessment of many complaints about products that make medicinal claims. The UK ASA operates slightly differently from the ASA of SA. 

Some of the differences between these bodies and the different systems of medicines regulation in each country are highlighted in the rulings. In this ruling, it is clear that the UK ASA did not accept that claims could be made for this tea because a clinical trial was being planned.

Nor did they accept the reasoning that the marketers "ethos was to promote natural healthcare".

Nor did they accept as evidence that the product had helped cure a dog of cancer.

Here is the story:

A magazine ad, for a herbal drink, showed a picture of a woman and young girl above the text "After a consultation last week, my skin cancer appears to be clearing up. This I believe is a direct result of taking ZARA'S HERBAL TEA 'neat'. I am astounded [1] by these results as this is after only 1 month".

Beneath that was a photo of the product next to the text "I can help YOU fight CANCER – HEART DISEASE – DIABETES – HIGH CHOLESTORAL – INDIGESTION – FLU – HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE – CONSTIPATION – FOOD POISONING – MENOPAUSE – ASTHMA – PAIN RELIEF – ARTHRITIS – HAIR LOSS – MORNING SICKNESS – THE AGING PROCESS – SKIN DISORDERS – INCONTINENECE – VIRUSES – INFECTIONS – AGGRESSION plus much more ..".

* [1.] whenever you see the word "astounded" in an advert of this nature, regard it as a red flag that the advert may be misleading

Two complainants objected that the implication that the drink could treat or cure serious medical conditions was misleading, irresponsible and likely to exploit the vulnerable. The ASA ruled that the ad breached CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Social responsibility), 50.1 and 50.3 (Health & beauty products and therapies.

 

ASA Adjudications

Gramma's International Ltd PO Box 218 East Ham London E66 BG Ad

A magazine ad, for a herbal drink, showed a picture of a woman and young girl above the text "After a consultation last week, my skin cancer appears to be clearing up. This I believe is a direct result of taking ZARA'S HERBAL TEA 'neat'. I am astounded by these results as this is after only 1 month".

Beneath that was a photo of the product next to the text "I can help YOU fight CANCER – HEART DISEASE – DIABETES – HIGH CHOLESTORAL – INDIGESTION – FLU – HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE – CONSTIPATION – FOOD POISONING – MENOPAUSE – ASTHMA – PAIN RELIEF – ARTHRITIS – HAIR LOSS – MORNING SICKNESS – THE AGING PROCESS – SKIN DISORDERS – INCONTINENECE – VIRUSES – INFECTIONS – AGGRESSION plus much more ..".

Issue

Two complainants objected that the implication that the drink could treat or cure serious medical conditions was misleading, irresponsible and likely to exploit the vulnerable.The CAP Code: 6.1;50.1;50.3;2.2

Response

Gramma's International Ltd (Grammas) said their ethos was to promote natural healthcare and it was not their intention to mislead their customers.

They said they had tried to ensure the ad did not imply Zara's Herbal Tea would cure, prevent or heal, but rather that it could help in the fight against various conditions, as well as improve, manage and maintain overall health.

They said the tea contained African Bush Willow and that an anti-cancer drug based on that ingredient was currently undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. They said they had contacted the Department of Health to enquire about applying for research funding to undertake clinical trials in the UK on Zara's Herbal Tea.

They sent a letter to show that. They said that research at a UK university was planned later this year. They said they had given the formula to their dog and she had been cured of her cancer as a result. They also sent a number of customer testimonials.

Assessment

Upheld
The ASA noted that Gramma's was currently seeking to undertake clinical trials on Zara's Herbal Tea in the UK. However, we considered that the claim "help YOU fight CANCER – HEART DISEASE – DIABETES – HIGH CHOLESTORAL – INDIGESTION – FLU – HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE – CONSTIPATION – FOOD POISONING – MENOPAUSE – ASTHMA – PAIN RELIEF – ARTHRITIS – HAIR LOSS – MORNING SICKNESS – THE AGING PROCESS – SKIN DISORDERS – INCONTINENECE – VIRUSES – INFECTIONS – AGGRESSION plus much more .." implied that Zara's Herbal Tea could help treat those conditions listed.

We noted the CAP Code specified that ads should not offer advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for serious ailments like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and arthritis, unless it was conducted under the supervision of a doctor or a suitably qualified health professional. We considered therefore that the ad should not have referred to those serious medical conditions and was irresponsible [2] for doing so.

** [2]. this strong word is seldom if ever used in ASA rulings in SA

In addition, we considered that all the references to ailments were misleading, because Grammas had not sent evidence to demonstrate that Zara's Herbal Tea was effective in treating any of them. We considered that, to make claims for the treatment of ailments, Grammas would need to hold robust clinical trial evidence on people for efficacy for each of the conditions listed [3.], and furthermore would require a marketing authorisation from the Medicines and Health care products Regulatory Agency Traditional Herbal Medicines Registration Scheme, before making any medicinal claims. We also noted that advertising any treatment for cancer to the general public was prohibited by law.

We noted it was a breach of the CAP Code to make advertising claims without holding appropriate evidence and to make medicinal claims for a herbal remedy without an appropriate marketing authorisation. We concluded the ad was irresponsible, likely to mislead and could exploit the vulnerable. (underlining not in original)

*** [3]. note that the evidence required must be robust, obtained from clinical trials, on people (not animals), and for every single one of the claims listed

Comment: In South Africa at present this level of proof for a product is not required. All that is needed is an "expert" who is prepared to validate the product. Once the expert's credentials have been accepted by the ASA, they virtually have to accept anything that person says to support a product. The ad breached CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Social responsibility), 50.1 and 50.3 (Health & beauty products and therapies).

Action The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Gramma's to consult the CAP Copy Advice team before advertising again. Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)

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4 Responses to UK ASA ruling: Zara’s Herbal Tea

  1. Linda Parker 10 November, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    What’s up is the pharmaceutical companies afraid the public will find a natural remedy that really works instead of their toxic substances? They might not make as much profit on their poisons if the public found a better less dangerous remedy.

  2. Patricia Strawson 4 October, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    I completely back Gramma’s all the way. The public should be left to make up their own minds and not be dictated to. Gramma’s is nothing but natural products and I have been very pleased with it in the past, so now I am not allowed to buy it because of restrictions? There have been many, many people who know and have seen for themselves the benefits of Zara’s herbal tea, and I agree with how the pharmaceutical companies (as well as some medical professionals) would prefer to make the only options available to us the drugs which could kill as well as ‘possibly’ cure.

  3. Martin Cooper 18 October, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

    It would be good to know if the ‘2 complainants’ had any links to the pharmaceutical industry. We know that the clinical trial situation is arranged & priced so that it is virtually impossible for anyone other than large wealthy corporations to afford the high costs involved. The pharmaceutical companies will never finance trials of natural products as there is simply not enough profit in it for them. I see no problem with natural / herbal medicine producers being allowed to show real testimonials as long as they are real & are clearly labelled as having no clinical trial proof of effectiveness. As Adults, surely we have the ability to make up our own minds on this.

    • Harris 18 October, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

      @Martin
      The complainants had no links to the pharmaceutical industry. It is a fallacy that the clinical trail situation is arranged and priced so that it is is impossible for small companies to do trials – it is also vital that if a small company believes in claims for their product that they have to prove it, for else it may be simply a lie. Pharmaceutical companies have done trials or financed trials of natural/herbal products. For example, Unilever invested in hoodia – an investment which resulted in Unilever finding that hoodia did not work. Real testimonials have been shown to be fake or influenced by many other factors, including placebo responses etc. Also, what if only ten out of 1,000 people find the product works – is it then fair to sell it to all as if it works when only 1% will benefit? Only a trial can show this. Adults DO have their own mind to make up their mind – but ONLY if full information is furnished, and advertisers almost never do. Will an advertiser advertise a product with the claim that “there is zero proof that this product works but my uncle says it does”?

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