Health: Pain

Feb 24th '20

Claims to treat or alleviate pain are likely to be considered medicinal and marketers would need to ensure that any necessary licences and marking authorisations are held and, where relevant, objective claims are supported by documentary evidence.


Claims to treat or relieve pain are likely to be considered medicinal in nature.  Depending on the product or service being advertised, different requirements are likely to apply to those treatment claims.


  • Is it a therapy?

Therapists, including alternative and complimentary therapists, commonly make references to treating or alleviating pain caused by a variety of conditions.


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) accept that the techniques used in physiotherapyChiropractic and Osteopathy can be used to relieve some types of pain.


In almost all other instances, marketers would need to hold documentary evidence in the form of clinical trials to support claims to treat or relieve pain.


  • Is it a medical device?

If ads include claims that a product or device can treat or relieve pain, it is likely to be treated as a medical device. Medical devices need to hold appropriate CE certification (CE Marked) before any treatment claims can be made in advertising.  Marketers should seek advice from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on the requirements for medical devices.


Marketers of devices that are not CE Marked should not make claims to treat, relieve or reduce pain (directly or indirectly).


Additionally, treatment claims, including claims that the device can treat, reduce or relief pain, will need to be supported by clinical evidence in the form of clinical trials.


  • Is it a medicine?

If the product is not a device or a therapy it might be a medicine (by presentation or by content).  Medicinal claims in advertising are only permitted for products that are licenced as medicines by the MHRA.


Marketers that hold a licence should be careful to restrict advertising claims, including those that relate to pain relief, to those that mirror the Summary of Product Characteristics (SPC) that accompanies that license.


Marketers with a licence should also familiarise themselves with other rules in the CAP Code (Section 12) in relation to the advertising of medicines.


Marketers without a licence should not make claims to treat, relieve or reduce pain (directly or indirectly).


  • What about conditions for which medical treatment should be sought? 

Pain, is not in itself likely to be a condition for which medicinal supervision should be sort.  However, references to certain types of pain (arthritic pain) or some descriptions of pain (like chronic pain) could be understood as a reference to a condition for which medical supervision should be sought.


Ads for devices and therapies should take care when referencing such conditions because unless that treatment is carried out under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional, those treatment claims could have the effect of discouraging essential medical treatment.


Marketers can contact the Copy Advice team for guidance but might be interested to learn that the clinical evidence for many painful conditions has been reviewed by groups such as the Oxford Pain Relief Group and the results can be found on this website.


The Cochrane Collaboration also is a resource of immense value.


Source: CAP


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA.


CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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