A Facebook post by sunbed retailer Cyrano, seen on 22 July 2019, included a testimonial which stated, “The simple answer is that sunbeds are about the same as being in the sun”. The post included text which stated the quote was by “Mark Birch-Machin; a skin cancer expert at Newcastle University” and also indicated that it was taken from the Guardian newspaper.
Melanoma UK believed the quote had been taken out of context from the quoted article, which indicated ultraviolet (UV) exposure from sunbeds was as harmful as being in the sun, and challenged whether the testimonial was misleading.
Cyrano Ltd believed consumers would exercise the same caution when using sunbeds as they would to being in the sun and that they would understand that the same pros and cons of UV exposure applied to both sunbeds and the sun. They said consumers would not consider one to be more or less harmful than the other. Cyrano said that view was supported by government sponsored advice about sun awareness, which outlined a cautionary approach. Therefore, they believed consumers were educated in sun awareness and would understand they would need to use a cautionary approach to UV exposure generally, either from a sunbed or from the sun. Cyrano believed the quote did not suggest to consumers that sunbeds were not harmful. They accepted that tanning through using a sunbed, or from natural sunlight, would expose the skin to potentially harmful levels of UV radiation, but added that both should be treated equally. Cyrano referenced legislation which limited the maximum output of a sunbed so that it was equivalent to the Mediterranean sun. They said that the intention of the quotation was to establish that both sunbeds and the sun were equal in the context of risk and awareness of use, with both being as safe and as ‘un-safe’ as each other.
The ASA considered consumers would understand the quote, as presented in the ad, to mean that Professor Birch-Machin believed a comparison of sunbeds and natural sunlight showed that harm from sunbeds should be downplayed because they only exposed users to a dose of UV equivalent to being in the sun. However, the quote was used in the original article to support its argument that any level of tanning, either through using a sunbed or from natural sunlight, would expose the skin to potentially harmful levels of UV radiation. The article stated “Given the different types of sunbed available and variations in the intensity of natural sunlight, it’s almost impossible to make a direct comparison”. Therefore, because the quote was taken out of context to suggest that harm from sunbeds should be downplayed, when the article argued otherwise, we concluded that it was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), and 3.47 (Endorsements and testimonials).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Cyrano Ltd that, if they used quotes in future ads, not to mislead by inaccurately representing the opinions of the person quoted.