The ASA has issued an enforcement notice highlighting its concern about the recent spate of ads on social media promoting injectable Vitamins D and B12 as possible treatments for coronavirus. This follows hot on the heels of April’s enforcement notice regarding ads for IV drips that also promised to cure the virus (we commented on that here).
These enforcement notices have come about in response to the numerous ads, mainly on social media, promoting drinks, injections, IV drips and all sorts of other products falsely claiming to have virus-fighting capabilities. The ASA has been busy churning out rulings against the advertisers of these products (see here, here and here), but perhaps tired of this endless game of whac-a-mole, it has issued the latest enforcement notices to put advertisers on advance notice of the potential sanctions they face by flouting the rules. In particular, the ASA warns that it will refer advertisers to professional regulatory bodies such as the MHRA (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency).
You may well have seen some of these ads yourself and dismissed them as the nonsense they clearly are. However, at a time when people are particularly vulnerable to this sort of snake oil, the ASA is understandably keen to, well, cut off the head of the snake - and kill off these ads before they see the light of a phone screen (or further clutter the ASA’s desks).
Apart from the fact that these bogus potions, concoctions and contraptions are clearly misleading consumers, and are therefore fundamentally in breach of ad regulations, they are also running roughshod over the more sector-specific rules on medicines and medical products set out in section 12 of the CAP Code. As the latest ASA enforcement notice points out, injectable Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 are prescription-only medicines and therefore cannot be advertised to the public at all, regardless of whether or not they actually work.
The upshot of the ASA's guidance in these enforcement notices is this:
1. Don’t advertise prescription-only medicines to consumers - this includes Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 “Vitamin Shots”.
2. Don’t claim “Vitamin Shots” or IV drips can prevent or treat coronavirus or Covid-19 as this would bring the product within medicines regulation - and currently no medicinal products have been licensed to treat the illness.
3. Don’t make implied or indirect claims that these products can treat or prevent coronavirus or Covid-19 - the ASA takes a broad approach and references to the treatment of “viruses” and “viral infections” will be problematic, as will claims to “boost the immune system” in the context of general references to the pandemic.
It will be interesting to see if the ASA’s latest action helps to limit the spread of these sorts of ads. I hope it does, although I, for one, feel I already have some degree of immunity - the very idea of injecting vitamins or voluntarily hooking up to an IV drip is enough to have me scrolling away from the ad faster than you can say "viewable impression".
The MHRA considers that any mention of Coronavirus/COVID-19 in the promotion of an injectable vitamin product would bring the product under medicines regulations. No medicinal products have been licensed for the prevention or treatment of Coronavirus/ COVID-19.