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.
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 claims. In addition to this, specific rules may relate to “safe” claims made for certain products.
Section 12 of the CAP Code applies to marketing communications for medicines, medical devices, treatments, health-related products and beauty products, and includes rules which relate to safety claims about these 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 also the section on electronic cigarettes below.
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). The claims "Since it is an entirely natural product, Xipisan causes no side effects, no chemical alteration of the body’s metabolism, no dangerous dehydration nor depression” and " ... diet pill with no side effects" have also been considered a breach of rule 12.9 (Famous Rainbow Corporation Pte Ltd, 20 October 2010).
It is, of course, legitimate for marketers to highlight if a product contains natural ingredients, or any benefits of using their natural products, but they should not suggest that this makes the product safe, or use 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 some consumers, and was misleading and alarmist (The Purist Company Pty Ltd, 7 February 2007).
Marketers are advised to consider the following guidance before advertising health-related, or beauty products: Substantiation for health claims, Beauty and cosmetics: General, Healthcare: Medicinal claims.
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, which include a number of content requirements and prohibitions, 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 not “safe”. As such, claims of absolute safety are unlikely to be considered acceptable.
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: substantiation for health claims, Electronic cigarettes: Health and medicinal claims, Electronic cigarettes: Media prohibitions, Electronic cigarettes: General.
Any objective claims that a product is safe to use around children or pets, or for use on or by children or pets, must be supported by robust evidence.
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 that consumers would understand these claims to mean that using the product as directed would not cause harm to people or animals, and therefore, that the advertiser would need to provide evidence which demonstrated that the product would not cause physiological harm to children or animals, if they came into contact with it on lawns. Because the testing was considered sufficiently robust and reflected the manner in which children or animals may come into contact with the product when used as directed, the claims were not misleading (Westland Horticulture Ltd, 20 September 2017).
As well as being misleading, unsubstantiated claims that a product is safe for children may be considered irresponsible. In 2018 the ASA received complaints about an ad for headphones which were advertised as being “for kids” and included the claims “Limit sound to a safe 85 decibels” and “levels recommended as safe for young ears”. The Advertiser did not provide evidence which demonstrated that 85 decibels was the safe and recommended limit specifically for children’s headphones. Because the ads presented that volume limit as “safe” and “recommended” for children, the claims were irresponsible (Amazon Europe Core Sarl, 31 October 2018)
Section 19 of the CAP Code relates to motoring. Code rule 19.5 states that safety claims must not exaggerate the benefit to consumers. Marketers must not make absolute claims about safety unless they hold evidence to substantiate them. See Motoring.
Marketers will also need to hold robust evidence to prove any comparative safety claims. 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 2017, the ASA considered that the claim that bio-identical hormone replacement therapy was "considered a safer option than synthetic hormones as used in conventional hormone replacement therapy" was misleading because the advertiser could not provide sufficient evidence to substantiate the claim (Stratford Dermatherapy Clinic, 06 September 2017).
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 advertised was less harmful to human health than comparable products that contained pesticides. Because the ASA considered that the testing was sufficiently robust to substantiate these claims, complaints about the ad were not upheld (Westland Horticulture Ltd, 20 September 2017).