An ad for Go-Vi Eradicator 19, an air and surface purifier, seen on the website www.protect-nhs.co.uk, in November 2020, included the claim “Proven to destroy Coronavirus* cells”. Asterisked text near the bottom of the page stated “*Go-Vi’s Eradicator19+** air purification system has been tested by independent laboratories and proved to be effective against the following: …” accompanied by further text which stated “H5N1 & Coronavirus – a reduction of 5.7 logs (99.9998%) in less than 0.44 seconds in destroying airborne H5N1 avian influenza virus. Testing performed by The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Lyon, France. (CNRS, The National Scientific Research Centre under the authority of France’s Ministry of Research)”.
IssueThe ASA challenged whether the claim that the product could destroy coronavirus cells was misleading and could be substantiated.
Go-Vi Ltd stated that their product was effective at destroying Covid-19. They said that it had been tested by independent laboratories and was proven to be effective against the H5N1 virus and coronavirus, and could destroy the H5N1 virus in 44 seconds. They said that tests against Covid-19 were undertaken by a laboratory in Florida which was accredited by the US Centers for Disease Control, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture, and Florida’s Department of Health. Go-Vi Ltd provided documentation which comprised a report by the product supplier, a press release and paper by the manufacturer and a letter from the lab director of the manufacturer. They said that they were no longer promoting the product and that their website was no longer live as a result of a change in their business model.
The ad was seen in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the ad did not refer to “Covid-19” specifically, we considered that references to “Coronavirus” would be understood as references to Covid-19. We therefore considered that consumers would interpret the claims “Proven to destroy Coronavirus* cells”, and “*Go-Vi’s Eradicator19+** air purification system has been tested by independent laboratories and proved to be effective against the following: H5N1 & Coronavirus”, to mean that the Go-Vi Eradicator19 could remove the Covid-19 virus from the air and therefore help protect against infection. The product was designed to draw in air from the atmosphere and use UVC light and ozone to clean it, before releasing it back out into the room.
We understood that ozone was an approved active substance under the Biocidal Product Regulation. We sought advice from the Health & Safety Executive. The product contained an active substance with the intention of destroying a harmful organism by means other than mere physical or mechanical action. We therefore understood it was likely to be classified as a biocide. We referred to Guidance on the “Potential application of Air Cleaning devices and personal decontamination to manage transmission of COVID-19”, published by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in November 2020. We understood that the effectiveness of air cleaning devices depended on multiple parameters including the underlying technology, the design of the device, the in-room location of the device, the environment in which it was used and the maintenance of the device. The performance of most devices was based on data measured in idealised controlled environments, and was likely to be different and often lower in a real-world setting. The guidance stated that air cleaning devices had limited benefit in spaces that were already adequately ventilated and discouraged the use of air purifiers unless there was strong evidence of their efficacy.
We also 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 product, including simulation tests and field tests, which 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 noted that in principle UVC light at a wavelength around 254 nm was effective against Sars-Cov-2; testing, however, would still need to account for how the product would be used in situ. We considered the evidence provided by Go-Vi 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. One document described testing of the product against coronavirus strain OC43, one of the viruses which caused the common cold. The virus was put on glass carriers and placed at a 12-inch distance from the air purifier. The results showed that the virus was removed at a 99%+ efficacy rate in 0.25 of a second to one second. However, the test design did not account for how the product was likely to be used in a real-world setting, particularly considering that the ad indicated that it could be used to remove virus particles from air circulating in a room, as well as disinfecting surfaces. It did not consider the conditions of realistic use, such as the amount of airflow depending on the type of space where the air purifier was placed, the variable settings likely to be applied to the air purifier, the type of the space where the air was being disinfected, or relevant soiling and interfering substances. Test results provided by the supplier of the product stated that the product had removed 99.9998% of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in less than 44 seconds. However, there was no further information provided about the methodology of testing.
A press release stated that UV light technology made by the manufacturer had shown a greater than 99.999% reduction of the Sars-Cov-2 virus after less than one second. However, it was unclear if the testing related to the product being advertised, and no details of the study were provided. Go-Vi Ltd did not provide any other evidence to demonstrate how the product provided any benefits in addition to the use of stand air filtering or a normal cleaning regime, for example by testing the ventilation capacity of the product without the addition of UVC light or ozone. Although the active substance used in the product had been approved, we considered that the testing methodology we had seen was not adequate evidence that the product could destroy viruses on surfaces and in the air, thus decreasing the risk of transmission in a real-world setting. 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 ads must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Go-Vi Ltd to ensure that they did not state or imply that their air purifier could destroy viruses, including COVID-19, thus decreasing the risk of transmission, if they did not have sufficient evidence to substantiate their claims.