A radio ad for Copper Clothing, heard in November 2020, stated “Your face mask, it may look good but does it offer the protection for others and your loved ones against COVID-19? Copper Clothing have created a face mask that does just this. […] Copper Clothing’s copper-infused face mask destroys 99.99% of COVID-19 in a matter of minutes.”
IssueThe complainant challenged whether the claim that the mask could destroy “99.99% of Covid-19 in a matter of minutes” was misleading and could be substantiated.
ResponseCopper Clothing Ltd provided two studies which related specifically to the COVID-19 virus. In addition they provided two other tests on other coronavirus strains, four studies and fabric analysis in relation to MRSA, two articles on copper-infused fabric and one test report in relation to influenza, which they believed were sufficient to substantiate the claims.Copper Clothing Ltd stated that as far as they were aware there was no Parliamentary law surrounding face coverings and COVID-19. They stated that the Copper Clothing face mask was not Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).Radiocentre provided a letter from Copper Clothing Ltd, which stated that they were working with governments and the NHS. They stated they had reviewed the two studies provided by Copper Clothing Ltd that related specifically to the COVID-19 virus, and the study relating to the bovine coronavirus. They considered that the studies were adequate to support the claims.
The ad stated “Copper Clothing’s copper-infused face mask destroys 99.99% of COVID-19 in a matter of minutes”. We considered that listeners were likely to understand the claim to mean that the Copper Clothing face mask could rapidly kill COVID-19 particles that it came into contact with and would protect the wearer from contracting the virus. While the statement “a matter of minutes” was ambiguous, we considered listeners would understand that the active element of a face covering intended to provide protection via biocidal means would take effect with a high level of efficacy very shortly after contact, if not instantly.
We sought advice from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).The product contained copper with the intention of destroying a harmful organism by means other than mere physical or mechanical action. We understood that the active substance in the product - copper sulphate pentahydrate - was approved for use in the category of biocidal products into which the product fell. That meant that biocidal products containing it needed to be authorised before they could be supplied and used. Copper Clothing’s face masks were not authorised (by HSE) and so we understood it was unlikely they were legally on the market at the time the ad was seen.
That notwithstanding, it was relevant to consider the evidence provided.
We referred to the Efficacy Guidance provided by the European Chemicals Agency for Biocidal products, which outlined various forms of data that might be expected to determine the efficacy of a biocidal product. The guidance recommended at least a log-4 (99.99%) reduction to show efficacy against viruses, and required comparisons with untreated control samples and an environment representative of real life conditions of use. In order to substantiate the efficacy claims, we therefore expected to see methodologically-sound evidence that reflected how the product was likely to be used in real life.
When measuring the reduction of very large numbers of pathogens, even small changes in the percentage figure represented significant changes in the degree of reduction. For example, the 99.99% reduction required by the standard meant a 10,000 times decrease (log 4) whereas a 99% reduction would represent a 100 times decrease (log 2).Copper Clothing Ltd provided two studies in relation to bovine coronavirus, studies in relation to other viruses and general studies which examined copper-impregnated products. However, they did not relate to the Copper Clothing face mask itself or COVID-19 specifically.
Copper Clothing Ltd provided two reports which referenced SARS-CoV-2 as the test organism. The first report listed the fabric tested as “CAZ”. The report provided stated “Good effect” after 10 minutes contact time with a log reduction of 2.31, and “Excellent effect” after 30 minutes contact time with a 5.12-log reduction.The second report listed the test product as “Antiviral non-woven mask”, with an “unmodified mask” acting as a control. The report showed a 98.73% rate of decrease on the test product after 10 minutes and a 99.99% decrease after 25 minutes.
We also noted that both tests only reported the minimum-required log-4 (99.99%) decrease after 25-30 minutes’ contact time, with a much lower reduction reported after 10 minutes’ contact time. We considered that was not in line with the rapid effect consumers were likely to understand the mask had from the ad.
Furthermore, the testing did not take into account how the abilities of the mask would be affected by factors involved in the real-life use of the mask, such as moisture or temperature changes from the wearer’s breathing, or by repeat washing of the item.
We considered that the impression given by the ad, that the mask could rapidly kill COVID-19 particles that came into contact with it and would protect the wearer from contracting the virus, had not been adequately substantiated. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading and breached the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 11.2 11.2 If they are necessary for the assessment of claims, broadcasters must, before the advertisement is broadcast, obtain generally accepted scientific evidence and independent expert advice. (Medicines, medical devices, treatments and health).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Copper Clothing Ltd not to state or imply that the Copper Face Mask could rapidly de-activate COVID-19 virus particles with the effect of protecting the wearer from infection, unless they held sufficient evidence to support their claims.