Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
A national press ad for an anti-radiation device, seen in December 2016, featured a young child holding a mobile phone to their ear. Text stated "H.A.R.D. HYDROUS ANTI RADIATION DEVICE PROTECTION Protect yourself and those you care about from the dangers of mobile phone radiation ... Mobile phones are potentially dangerous Manufacturers warn about this but keep it in small print. What's worse, our children are far more vulnerable to these potential dangers. Cooler Coms has developed a range of audio devices to protect against electromagnetic radiation including 800 megahertz to 4 gigahertz, more commonly known as microwaves ... mobile phones pose a potential danger to the user and for the past 15 years we have been developing technology to obviate or reduce this danger. Perceived wisdom has it that wired headsets protect against such radiation by distancing the phone from the head. Unfortunately this is not true. Whilst it is dangerous to hold a mobile phone next to the head it can be just as dangerous to use a corded headset because dangerous electromagnetic frequencies may travel up the outside of the cord and enter a user's audio canal. Even more dangerous is when a cord attracts electromagnetic frequency from the ambient atmosphere by acting as an antenna. This danger increases if the cord is divisible by the wavelength of the frequency which a mobile phone is utilising; creating a hot spot at the top of the cable ... The Cooler Coms' product range incorporates patent protected opto-isolation technology through to powerful dielectric materials to absorb radiation from headset cables and ensure that no microwave frequency can travel up any headset. Our wireless Bluetooth devices shield the user's brain and eyes from microwave signal ... Learn about the potential dangers of mobile phone radiation at [website address]".
The ASA received seven complaints.
1. Six complainants challenged whether the claims relating to mobile phones and electronic equipment were misleading and could be substantiated.
2. Five complainants challenged whether the efficacy claims for the advertised products could be substantiated.
3. Three complainants challenged whether the ad was likely to cause undue fear or distress.
1. Cooler Comms Ltd said people were ignorant of the hazards of certain products and that just because they were on sale, understood they must be safe. They said the evidence in support of the potential dangers of mobile phones was exhaustive and growing. They said they also ensured that independent expert opinion in the form of videos and scientific research was published, in full and not in abstract, on their website which they believed highlighted the potential dangers of mobile phones. They said they could not provide for all of the published studies in their advertising. They provided the ASA with a number of studies with certain extracts highlighted, and referred to news articles.
They used the analogy that cigarette use was once promoted in support of their position. They said they understood the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, had concluded that mobile phones were “possibly carcinogenic” and had placed them in the same category as lead, DDT and petrol exhausts. They said they believed as mobile phone manufacturers printed warnings that users should keep their mobiles phones away from their bodies that this corroborated their views on the potential dangers of mobile phones.
2. They told the ASA their Cool Call product was not a shield, like the products described in the CAP Guidance on Mobile Phones and Radiation. They explained that if ear buds were worn inside the ear, electromagnetic frequency travelled up the cord, and then would enter the audio canal. They said if radio frequency did not dissipate, it travelled up the cables because they are not un-terminated cables. They said their product, which had a high value dielectric, absorbed the radio frequency. Further, they said Bluetooth used microwave signal and their product shielded users from microwave signal generated by these. They said they had published videos explaining this process of the electromagnetic frequency travelling up headphone cables from a mobile phone, the science behind Cool Call and experiments they had conducted on their website. They said they directed people to their website, in their advertising, so they could learn how their product worked, which they said was the result of a decade of research and development. They provided us with documentation they believed demonstrated the efficacy of their product. They said that they did not claim to reduce any risk to health from mobile phones.
3. They said the use of a child holding a mobile phone and the statement “mobile phones are potentially dangerous” was consistent with the CAP guidance, specifically the statement “In response to the Stewart Report on mobile phones and health, the Government has discouraged children from using mobile phones except for essential purposes”.
They said they were clear to not state that mobile phones cause health problems, but that there was a “potential danger” from them. They said their claim “more dangerous is when a cord attracts electromagnetic frequency from the ambient atmosphere by acting as an antenna” was restating the findings of the Consumers’ Association and, given that these were published findings intended to inform consumers, they did not believe they should cause alarm and distress.
Finally they said it was not their intention to alarm the public (causing fear or distress) but to present them with the facts, as they did in their ad and on their website, which their ad asked them to visit. They said that they were informing the public that there were issues regarding the health effects of mobile phones on children that the public should be aware of and that they intended to draw attention to manufacturers’ warnings on the potential dangers of mobile phone use.
The ASA considered that the repeated use of the word “danger” had the likelihood of creating the impression that there was a significant, scientifically based, risk to health associated with mobile phone use. We, therefore, considered the evidence provided to us by the advertiser. The ASA reviewed only those papers supplied in full, as we considered the news articles and supplied literature, which summarised other studies, did not provide sufficient detail regarding the subjects and methodology used, to ascertain whether or not they had been conducted robustly.
A number of the provided studies reported positive effects. One study concluded that, based on the self-reporting of mobile phone use, there appeared to be an association between mobile and cordless phone use and malignant brain tumours. Another study concluded that there were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma in long-term mobile phone users with high radiofrequency exposure, although the authors suggested these results could not be regarded as causal and that the uncertainties around the results would require replication before they could be considered to be real. Other studies drew similar conclusions about a positive association between mobile phone use and negative health outcomes. However, we were concerned about the quality of the studies and their robustness methodologically. One study suggested there was an increased risk for pituitary tumours related with spicy taste, mobile phone use, and duration of use, personal characteristics and taking vitamins. The study, however, was not randomised, controlled or blinded, the number of subjects was small and it involved participants self-reporting their symptoms.
We also noted the advertiser’s view that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, had concluded that mobile phones were “possibly carcinogenic”. However, we understood the position of the World Health Organisation was that, to date, no adverse health effects had been established as being caused by mobile phone use, and that biases and errors limited the strength of such conclusions and prevented a causal interpretation from being drawn.
We, therefore, did not consider that the advertiser had demonstrated that the views as expressed in the claims were generally accepted by the scientific community or that the body of evidence they had provided demonstrated that conventional mobile phone use was likely to lead to risks to health as implied by the ad.
We therefore considered the claims were likely to mislead and had not been substantiated.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading Advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).
We considered that consumers would understand the claims “… for the past 15 years we have been developing technology to obviate or reduce this danger” and “The Cooler Coms' product range incorporates patent protected opto-isolation technology through to powerful dielectric materials to absorb radiation from headset cables and ensure that no microwave frequency can travel up any headset. Our wireless Bluetooth devices shield the user's brain and eyes from microwave signal” to mean that Cooler Coms’ products were able to reduce any health risk caused by radiation that was emitted from mobile phones and absorbed by the user.
Notwithstanding our assessment of point 1 above, we reviewed the documentation provided to us by Cooler Coms. The documentation was written by the advertiser, which set out a methodology that we did not consider was robust or replicable and the testing did not appear to have been undertaken independently and had not been published or peer reviewed. We were not satisfied that the evidence submitted demonstrated that the product had been robustly tested and proven to absorb radiation.
We therefore considered that the evidence provided was not sufficient to show that the product, when used by consumers, was able to absorb radiation. In the absence of any such evidence, we concluded that the claims were misleading.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading Advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).
We considered that the use of the image of a child holding the mobile phone in the ad alongside the text “Protect yourself and those you care about from the dangers of mobile phone radiation ... Mobile phones are potentially dangerous Manufacturers warn about this but keep it in small print. What's worse, our children are far more vulnerable to these potential dangers” created the strong impression that children could be harmed by conventional mobile phone use and was thus likely to cause viewers fear or distress, particularly parents.
For those reasons, we considered that the ad was likely to cause unjustifiable distress and concluded that it breached the Code.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.2 (Harm and Offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Cooler Comms to ensure that they held evidence to support their claims, and that they did not to state or imply that mobile phone use was dangerous or that their products could reduce mobile phone radiation; and ensured their marketing communications did not cause unjustifiable fear or distress.