Two ads for Hemp in Avalon, a shop selling hemp products, seen in September and October 2020:
a. An ad seen in The Oracle, a local publication in the Glastonbury area, was headed “Hemp in Avalon welcomes all customers, with or without a mask. The choice is yours”. Beneath that was a photo of shop mannequin wearing a face mask with “HOAX” written on it. Further text stated “***WARNING*** Wearing a mask is dangerous to your health. Wearing a mask for even a short period of time can lead to you breathing in levels of Carbon Dioxide considered by the Health and Safety Executive to be dangerous to health. It also causes you to breath [sic] back in your own toxic waste. This may result in infection and a weakening [sic] of your immune system, making one more prone to viral infection and disease. It also discriminates against people who need to lip read … 10% DISCOUNT FOR FACE TO FACE, UNMASKED TRANSACTIONS ON CO2 EXTRACTED HEMP FLOWER EXTRACTS”.
b. A post on the advertiser’s own Instagram account featured the same image and text. Additional text down the side stated “Who’s the dummy?”. Text accompanying the post stated “Unmask yourselves and breath [sic]! ... I was actually considering a 10% surcharge for cashless faceless transactions … Unmask yourself and realise That real eyes realise Real lies The plandamic The scamdamic The total hoax of Covid 19”.
IssueTwo complainants challenged that the ads were misleading, irresponsible and harmful.
ResponseGeraint Christopher t/a Hemp in Avalon stated that the Instagram post had been removed and they had no plans to run similar ads in future. The Oracle stated that they had run the ad because they understood there was an on-going debate in the country about the efficacy of face masks, though they did not have an opinion on that themselves. They said that they would refuse all such ads in the future.
AssessmentUpheld The ads stated that customers had a choice of whether or not to wear a face covering in the Hemp in Avalon shop. Furthermore, they referred to alleged negative health consequences that the advertiser believed could result from wearing a face covering. They also described Covid-19 as a “hoax”. The ASA therefore considered that the ads discouraged members of the public from wearing face coverings in the Hemp in Avalon shop, and more widely. We understood that Hemp in Avalon were of the opinion that face masks were harmful. However, we noted that, from 24 July 2020, people in England were required by law to wear face coverings in a number of public settings, including shops (unless they were exempt for reasons of age, health or disability). We understood that requirement was based on scientific evidence that suggested that a face covering could help reduce transmission of infected airborne droplets from the person wearing it to those around them, thus helping to reduce the transmission of the virus in the community. We considered that the ads incited people to break the law and concluded that the ads were misleading, irresponsible and harmful. The ads breached CAP Code rules 1.3 1.3 Advertisements must comply with the law and broadcasters must make that a condition of acceptance. (Social responsibility), 3.1 3.1 The standards objectives, insofar as they relate to advertising, include:
a) that persons under the age of 18 are protected;
b) that material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder is not included in television and radio services;
c) that the proper degree of responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of programmes which are religious programmes;
d) that generally accepted standards are applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from inclusion in such services of offensive and harmful material;
e) that the inclusion of advertising which may be misleading, harmful or offensive in television and radio services is prevented;
f) that the international obligations of the United Kingdom with respect to advertising included in television and radio services are complied with [in particular in respect of television those obligations set out in Articles 3b, 3e,10, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 22 of Directive 89/552/EEC (the Audi Visual Media Services Directive)];
g) that there is no use of techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds, without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred"
Section 319(2). (Misleading advertising), and 4.2 4.2 Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards.
Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. (Harm and offence).
The ads must not appear again in the forms complained about. We told Geraint Christopher t/a Hemp in Avalon not to incite people to break the law by discouraging people from wearing face coverings in shops, including by making misleading claims that masks were harmful.