ASA Adjudication on The Tanning Shop Ltd
The Tanning Shop Ltd
17 November 2010
Number of complaints:
An e-mail from The Tanning Shop Ltd contained a commentary written by Professor Sam Shuster, which stated "Don't cover up all summer: Some exposure to the sun is good for you ... in recent years our delight in the sun has been clouded by bullying health warnings". Underneath the text an image showed a woman in a bikini sitting on a sandy beach, holding an umbrella. Further text stated "health organisations would have us shun our summer days ... because of fear of the dreaded big C: cancer. But if all this miserable propaganda has got you scared and worried, you shouldn't be; Because the evidence ... isn't true".
The ad continued at length to claim that UV or sunburn was not the cause of cancer and melanoma, and that there was no evidence that sun beds were dangerous, or that sun-screens were protective. The ad further stated “Suntan is an evolutionary device: it protects against burning ... So don't keep yourself and your children out of the sun: far better to develop a healthy tan without burning".
The complainant objected that the ad was misleading and irresponsible because it stated that exposure to the sun and UV light was desirable, healthy and had no established links to skin cancers and melanoma.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
The Tanning Shop said that the e-mail was not an ad but an article published in the Mail Online. They said the article did not hide the fact that there was a relationship between UV exposure and skin cancer, but instead explained that the limited available evidence was being skewed in favour of a complete abstinence from UV light. They did not consider the article to be misleading or ambiguous but said that it merely stated that exposure to sunlight was good. They said they did not condone unsafe practices and the article clearly stated that, although the sun had benefits, you should not burn.
The Tanning Shop also said that the article was clearly the opinion of the author and that, although it was one they shared, their agreement was not stated in the e-mail. They believed that, given the qualifications of Professor Shuster, he was entitled to present counter arguments to any general consensus and said the article did not portray the Professors opinions as generally agreed. They nevertheless argued that the Cancer Research UK website stated "you can enjoy the sun safely and not burn while getting enough vitamin D" and they reiterated their belief that there was nothing unsafe about suggesting to adults and children that they spend time outdoors in the sun, as long as they were careful not to burn. They sent links to some other websites that they believed supported their view.
The ASA acknowledged that the text was taken from an article but noted that, because it was reproduced as part of an e-mail promotion, it was received as direct marketing material. We therefore considered that it constituted marketing material for the purposes of the Code. We noted the website links provided by the Tanning Shop in support of the claims in the ad but considered that they did not constitute sufficiently robust documentary evidence to substantiate the claims in the ad that the evidence underlying public health warnings about the risks of sun exposure were not true.
We acknowledged that it was not unsafe to suggest that people spent time outdoors in the sun, if they took care not to burn. However, in the context of promoting sun bed use, we considered that the claims in the ad that referred to health organisations as "killjoys" and "scaremongers", and health warnings as "bullying" and promoting "miserable propaganda" were irresponsible and likely to encourage readers to ignore health warnings and medical advice about the potential dangers of overexposure to UV light. We therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 11) clauses 2.2 (Responsibility); 3.1 and 3.2 (Substantiation); 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 10.1 (Safety).
The ad must not appear again in its current form.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)