Types of claims: “Safe”


INSIGHT
Published
Apr 26th '24
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Most claims that a product or service is safe are likely to be considered objective claims. Before claiming that any product or service is safe, marketers should ensure that they hold evidence which substantiates the claim. In addition to this, specific rules may apply to “safe” claims depending on the product type.

 

  • Cosmetic surgery ads, and ads for health and beauty products

In January 2024, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published two rulings concerning ads for cosmetic surgery in Turkey. One described the advertised rhinoplasty procedure as ‘safe’, and the other described their abdominoplasty procedure as ‘Safe Surgery’. In both instances, the ASA thought consumers would understand the claim to mean that undergoing the advertised procedure could not result in any detriment to the patient. Given the ASA understood that all cosmetic surgery procedures carried some level of risk to the patient, including when carried out at appropriately certified institutions, it was determined that the safety claims were misleading (Rule 3.1) and irresponsible (Pasifik Health Services Inc t/a Care in Turkey, 24 January 2024). See also May Health Tourism Services t/a MAYCLINIK, 24 January 2024.

 

Section 12 of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code applies to ads for medicines, medical devices, treatments, health-related products and beauty products, and includes rules which relate to safety claims about these products. Ad rules state that marketers must hold proof before suggesting their product is absolutely safe.

 

Additionally, ad rules prevent marketers from suggesting that their product is safe merely because it is “natural”, or that a product is generally safer simply because it omits an ingredient in common use. By way of example, in 2013, the ASA concluded that a claim a product had no side effects due to the use of natural ingredients breached the CAP Code, as it implied the product was safe simply because it was natural (Jazzy Deals Ltd, 17 July 2013).

 

Marketers are advised to consider the following guidance before advertising health-related, or beauty products: Substantiation for health claimsBeauty and cosmetics: GeneralHealthcare: Medicinal claims.

 

  • Electronic cigarettes and smoking products

Section 22 of the CAP Code concerns the regulation of marketing communications for electronic cigarettes. Marketers are advised to read the rules in Section 22 in full before marketing electronic cigarettes.

 

In terms of safety claims for electronic cigarettes, CAP understands that the consensus among public health experts is that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoked tobacco, but are not “safe”. As such, claims of absolute safety are unlikely to be considered acceptable by the ASA.

 

Marketers should also consider whether any safety claim could be considered an implied health claim. Whether direct or implied, there are limitations on when health claims can be made, and certain types of claims are unlikely to be permitted. All health claims must be supported by robust evidence.

 

Marketers are advised to consider the following guidance before advertising electronic cigarettes: Electronic cigarettes: Health and medicinal claimsElectronic cigarettes: Media prohibitionsElectronic cigarettes: General.

 

In 2022, the ASA said products only to be used in conjunction with smoking cigarettes should never be described as safe. In short, the ASA found the claim ‘safe to use’ to be misleading and irresponsible in an ad for a product that was used whilst smoking cigarettes. As smoking cigarettes was harmful to health, and because the product – crushable flavoured balls to insert into the cigarette filter – was used whilst smoking, the ASA decided the ‘safe to use’ claim was contrary to the CAP Code (SmokePops LDN, 20 July 2022).

 

  • Claims of safety for children or pets

Any objective claims that a product is safe to be used by, on or around children or pets must be supported by robust evidence.

 

In 2022, the ASA investigated an ad for a baby bed. The complainant challenged if ‘certified safe for unsupervised, overnight sleeping’ was misleading, as they believed there were no recognised standards for testing baby nest or pod products. Because consumers would consider the phrase to mean a distinct certificate had been awarded, the claim was deemed misleading, as this was not the case. The ASA also investigated whether a reference to a particular British Standard breached the CAP Code, as it was believed the standard did not apply to the product. The advertiser claimed to have tested the product against aspects of a standard relevant to carrycots. The ad was deemed misleading, as the advertiser failed to make clear the entire standard was not applicable to the product, and because consumers were likely to think the product had been tested to a standard that was established as relevant, which was not true (Weybury Hildreth Ltd t/a Purflo, 20 July 2022).

 

In 2017, the ASA investigated an ad for a lawn weed killer which stated “Safe to use around children and pets” and “Safe for children & pets”. The ASA considered consumers would understand these claims to mean that using the product would not cause harm to people or animals. The advertiser needed to provide evidence showing that the product would not cause physiological harm to children or animals, if they came into contact with it on lawns. As the testing was sufficiently robust and reflected the manner in which children or animals may come into contact with the product, the claims were not misleading (Westland Horticulture Ltd, 20 September 2017). See also Amazon Europe Core Sarl, 31 October 2018where the advertiser was unable to substantiate the claim that the sound limit (85 decibels) was ‘safe’ and ‘recommended’ for children, in their ad for children’s headphones.

 

  • Motoring

Section 19 of the CAP Code relates to motoring. Ad rules state that safety claims must not exaggerate the benefit to consumers. Marketers must not make absolute claims about safety unless they can substantiate them.

 

  • Comparative safety claims

Marketers also need robust evidence to prove comparative safety claims.

 

The ASA has upheld complaints in the past which challenged the claim that the use of toothpastes containing titanium dioxide were potentially harmful. The body of evidence was not adequate to substantiate such claims (ZING Oral Care Ltd, 15 November 2023).

 

In 2023, a complainant challenged whether a claim stating that most deodorants prevented the body from expelling harmful toxins, worsened body odour, and were linked to health problems, was misleading. The ASA made clear that robust substantiation would be needed to back up claims that competing deodorants or antiperspirants had a negative impact on body odour and health, and that the advertised product was safer. The evidence provided was not sufficient. In another ad, the advertiser suggested the use of antiperspirants containing aluminium salts could cause health concerns. As a result, the ASA expected to see robust scientific evidence. The advertiser failed to provide evidence of clinical trials conducted on people to support the claims (Wild Cosmetics Ltd, 17 May 2023).

 

The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claim “… the safer way to feed your lawn” alongside the qualification “Safety compared to lawn weed & moss killer fertilisers that contain pesticides” to mean that the product was less harmful to human health than comparable products containing pesticides. The ASA considered that the testing was sufficiently robust to substantiate these claims, so complaints about the ad were not upheld (Westland Horticulture Ltd, 20 September 2017).

 

For more information on comparisons, see Comparisons: Identifiable competitors.

 

Source: CAP

 

About CAP

The CAP is the sister organisation of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and is responsible for writing the Advertising Codes.

 

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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