A website for Evaq facemasks, www.evaq.co, seen in February 2021, showed an image of a woman wearing a facemask which featured the “Evaq” logo. Text next to it stated “Anti Viral Face Mask kills all viruses on contact” alongside a link to “SHOP NOW”. Further text included the claims “EVAQ Masks kill viruses on contact to prevent cross contamination”, “Only anti-viral coatings like EVAQ’s DiOX D4 (tested to ISO 18184:19) are effective against the latest strains of SARS-COVID”, and “The Evaq mask has been created to help protect the wearer from both airborne and contact infection”.
Further claims on the “about us” page stated “The only mask independently proven to kill COVID-19 on contact”, “Only anti-viral coatings like EVAQ’s DiOX D4 (tested to ISO 18184:19) are effective against the latest strains of SARS-COVID” and “Working with SGS (a leading global ISO rated laboratory) and Cambridge University, DiOX D4 has been tested with protocols aligned to ISO 181814 (Textiles – Determination of anti-viral activity of textile products), adjusted to use a mammalian Coronavirus and formatted as a ‘splash’ test, i.e. small droplets of viral inoculum that mimic sneezes and coughs. The results show that 99.7% of viral pathogens introduced to the fabric surface were killed within one hour”.
The complainant, a technology consultant, who understood that the mask had been tested against a mammalian Coronavirus, challenged whether the claims that it was proven to kill viruses on contact, including COVID-19 were misleading and could be substantiated.
Evaq Ltd said that at the time of their product launch, they believed the EVAQ mask was the only mask to have secured the use of DiOX D4, which was an anti-microbial agent that was the first to be tested against Sars-Covid strain 229E. They said they now acknowledged that there might be other face covering providers using the same technology and they would amend their advertising to reflect that. They said that their product was coated with DiOX D4, which was a quaternary ammonia salt that punctured the outer lipid cell of the coronavirus, and inactivated it. They said that other anti-microbials used ionic disruption which targeted the protein, rather than the outer-cell. As proteins were subject to change with mutation and variation, using ionic disruption to target the virus was not guaranteed to work, unlike a mechanical kill. They said that the antiviral agent within the coating of the mask killed the virus by breaching its protective outer membrane, and unlike other parts of the virus, the membrane remained the same regardless of any type of mutation which is why it would work against any new variant of coronavirus.
Evaq provided a copy of a test report for the product which they said proved the efficacy of DiOX D4 on the mask. They also provided a Material Safety Data Sheet for DiOX D4.
The ASA considered that the claims “Anti Viral Face Mask kills all viruses on contact”, “EVAQ Masks kill viruses on contact to prevent cross contamination”, “The only mask independently proven to kill COVID-19 on contact”, and “Only anti-viral coatings like EVAQ’s DiOX D4 are effective against the latest strains of SARS-COVID” would be understood by consumers to mean that COVID-19 and other viruses would be killed as soon as they had contact with the Evaq mask and therefore the mask could prevent transmission and help protect the wearer from infection.
We sought advice from the Health & Safety Executive.We understood that DiOX D4 was a trade name and that the product contained an active substance Dimethyloctadecyl[3-(trimethoxysilyl)propyl]ammonium chloride with the intention of destroying a harmful organism by means other than mere physical or mechanical action and was listed on the European Chemical Agency’s register of active substances. We therefore understood it was likely to be classified as a biocidal product.
We referred to the Efficacy Guidance provided by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for Biocidal products, which outlined various forms of data that might be expected to determine the efficacy of a biocidal product. The guidance 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.We considered the evidence provided by Evaq Ltd. We understood that at the time, Covid-19 virus samples could not be used for lab testing, and that manufacturers were using other coronaviruses as a substitute to test the efficacy of their products. The test report described testing of DiOX D4 against the Murine Coronavirus strain MHV-A59, which was a hepatitis virus strain found in mice. Pieces of treated fabric (2 cm2 in size), which included unwashed fabric, as well as fabric which had been subjected to 10 and 20 washing cycles, were placed into sterile petri dishes and inoculated with droplets of the virus. We understood that untreated polyester was used as the control fabric. The results for the testing on the unwashed fabric showed a 95% reduction of the virus after 60 minutes and the results for the testing on the washed fabric showed a 67-68% reduction of the virus after 60 minutes. We understood that the results were equivalent to a log-1.25 reduction and less than log-1 reduction respectively, whereas the ECHA Efficacy Guidance recommended at least a log-4 reduction to show efficacy against viruses. Furthermore, in order to determine the reduction of transmission risk in an enclosed or indoor environment, we considered that it would be relevant to measure the level of viral particles much sooner than 60 minutes after exposure.
We considered that the testing did not take into account how the abilities of the coating 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.Although the active substance used in the product had been approved, we considered that we had not seen adequate evidence that COVID-19 and other viruses were killed on contact with the Evaq mask, thus helping to protect wearers from infection. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading and breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading Advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are 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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Evaq Ltd to ensure that they did not state or imply that their masks could kill viruses, including COVID-19, thus preventing transmission, if they did not have sufficient evidence to substantiate their claims.