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.
Before claiming that a product is safe, marketers should ensure that they hold evidence to prove its safety.
Health-related and beauty products
Rule 12.9 states that marketers must hold proof before suggesting their product is absolutely safe. In 2012, the ASA upheld a complaint about a claim that an electronic cigarette was “100% safe”, because the advertiser was unable to provide evidence to demonstrate that the product had no detrimental effect on the body (Cigirex Ltd, 28 March 2012). See Electronic cigarettes.
Rule 12.10 prevents 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. In 2013, the ASA held that a claim that a product contained natural ingredients and, as such, was without side-effects, breached the Code because it implied that the product was safe merely because it was natural, contrary to rule 12.10 (Jazzy Deals Ltd, 17 July 2013).
It is, of course, legitimate for marketers to highlight any benefits of using their natural products, but they should be wary of using an approach which implies that another marketer’s product is unsafe. In 2007, the ASA held that the claim "your hair and skin care products may be toxic … Eight out of ten shampoos sold in the UK contain sulfate cleansers … Some contain sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) which undergoes a chemical process to make it less irritating but may leave it contaminated with 1,4 dioxane - shown to cause cancer in animals …” had gone beyond highlighting that the advertised product did not contain artificial cleansers, which might be of interest to those with sensitive skin, and was misleading and alarmist (The Purist Company Pty Ltd, 7 February 2007).
Comparitive safety claims
Marketers will also need to hold robust evidence to prove any comparative safety claims. For example, the ASA has upheld complaints that challenged the claims “oil is safer than gas” and “Chinese medicine is … safer than western medicine”, because the advertisers could not provide rigorous, objective evidence to support those safety claims (Great Chinese Herbal Medicine Ltd, 7 December 2005 and Ever Well Ltd, 4 January 2006). In 2009, the ASA held that in the absence of a controlled scientific trial or peer reviewed evidence comparing the advertiser’s PVC flooring product with all ceramic tiled surfaces, a claim that it was “safer” was misleading (Altro Ltd, 16 September 2009).