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 Advertising Standards Authority.

Asthma is a common condition that can cause coughing, wheezing and breathlessness as a result of inflammation of the airways. CAP understands it can be caused by many things but the symptoms of asthma can have a range of triggers which vary from person to person. Common triggers include house dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke, mould or damp, chemicals in carpets and flooring materials, exercise, and cold air and chest infections.

Can marketers claim to treat or alleviate asthma?

Asthma is considered a medical condition for which advice from a suitably qualified person should be sought (Rule 12.2). Therefore, claims that a therapy or product can diagnose, alleviate the symptoms of or treat asthma are not likely to be acceptable unless conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional.

In 2012, the ASA upheld complaints about a complimentary therapy which claimed it could treat, amongst other conditions, asthma. It considered that the ad discouraged essential medical treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, and ruled that it breached the Code (Radiant Life Technologies, 12 December 2012).

If it can be demonstrated that the referenced treatment for the lung condition is being undertaken with adequate medical supervision, marketers are advised that they would also need to hold robust documentary evidence (in the form of clinical trials) to support the claims. 

Is the product a medicine?

Claims to treat or alleviate asthma (the symptoms or the route cause) are likely to be considered medicinal.  Medicinal claims should not be made unless the product holds a marketing authorisation (such as a medicines licences) to treat that condition.

Is it a medical device?

Device ads which claim to help with lung diseases and conditions, including asthma, are likely to be considered medical devices and as such, marketers making those claims should ensure the marketer holds the appropriate CE certification.

Marketers are also reminded that advertising references to the treatment of lung conditions (and their symptoms) using medical devices which are not carried under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical condition, would be likely to be considered by the ASA to discourage essential medical treatment. 

In 2017, the ASA ruled that an ad for a device which claimed to help with the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) discouraged essential medical treatment for a serious medical condition.   It also ruled that any claims to treat medical conditions were unacceptable because the marketer did not hold a current CE Certification (BioLife Solutions Ltd, 30 August 2017).

If an appropriate CE certification is held and the ad does not discourage essential medical treatment (for example, if the device in question is used in treatment by a medical professional), marketers are reminded that they would also need to hold robust clinical trial evidence to support any treatment claims.   

Marketers who are unsure about medicinal products should consider the MHRA Guide to What is a Medicinal Product

Marketers of devices may also want to view the MHRA Regulatory Guidance for Medical Devices.

Please also see: CAP Advice on Allergy Claims and  CAP Guidance on referencing medical conditions in ads for health, beauty and slimming products and CAP Guidance on the level of substantiation expected in health, beauty and slimming claims.

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