A website and leaflet for O2HyperHealth, a provider of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, seen on 11 June 2023:
a. The home page of the O2HyperHealth website, www.sites.google.com/view/o2hh, featured text that stated “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a medically known, safe non-invasive & painless way to promote healing and recovery for users of all ages by saturating the body’s cells with pure oxygen through the use of a pressurized hyperbaric chamber”. Under the heading “ACUTE & CHRONIC CONDITIONS”, text stated “HBOT can be effective in treating a variety of acute and chronic conditions”. Further text beneath the heading “GENERAL HEALTH & WELLNESS” stated “HBOT has been clinically shown to […] helping [sic] with depression, anxiety, stress […] Oxygen promotes general health and wellness, […] helps with pain relief, stress […]”.
The page embedded a video listed on O2HyperHealth’s YouTube account. Its opening shots featured on-screen text that stated: “Surgery”; “Injury”; “Heart”; “Migraine”; Asthma”; “Chronic Pain”; “Stress”; “Chronic Conditions”; and “Depression”. Further on-screen text stated: “Pills don’t always work adding more medication... can lead to added complications”; “STOP! There is an alternative for all ages Talk to your GP Find out if HBOT is right for you”. The video’s closing shot featured text that stated “It’s time to say YES to great health and goodbye to fatigue and chronic pain”.
b. The leaflet featured the same copy as ad (a), except for the omission of the heading “HOW CAN OXYGEN HELP?”, and the inclusion of additional text following “HBOT can be effective in treating a variety of acute and chronic conditions” in the section headed “ACUTE & CHRONIC CONDITIONS”. That text stated “([…] Autism, Asthma, Migraine, Stress, Pain, Injury, Surgery, Heart, Bone, Brain, […] ADHD etc.) The high concentration of oxygen help [sic] wounds heal faster, repair some types of scars and can help with infections related to diabetes”.
Rugby Borough Council Environmental Health challenged whether ads (a) and (b) discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.
MEP LLC t/a O2HyperHealth stated that their intent had not been to characterise their therapy as a suitable replacement for essential medical treatment, but rather to inform consumers of the potential benefits that it could deliver in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle. They acknowledged that their providers were not medically qualified, but instead had been trained in the safe delivery of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. They highlighted that hyperbaric oxygen could sometimes be used in medical contexts as part of treatment for specific adverse conditions (e.g., carbon monoxide poisoning), but at substantially higher pressures than those involved in their therapy. Because higher pressure oxygen presented an increased risk of complications, they understood that it should be administered by medical professionals. However, in light of the lower pressures involved, they believed their therapy could be safely administered in the absence of medical supervision. They emphasised that staff were careful to establish whether customers had any conditions which required essential treatment or could otherwise render their therapy potentially harmful. If so, they instructed customers to seek medical advice.In relation to the ads’ treatment claims, they stated that they had taken steps to ensure that each was supported by robust scientific evidence. On this point, they provided links to 74 papers delivered by a biomedical publication database under the search query “hyperbaric oxygen therapy”, but did not provide any detail as to their relevance. They noted that some of the treatment claims in each ad stated that their therapy “helped” the conditions listed, which they believed made clear that their therapy could support, but not replace, treatments delivered by medical professionals. Upon receipt of the complaint, they removed many of the treatment claims in ads (a) and (b), but some remained.
CAP Code rule 12.2 stated that marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment was conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. The CAP Guidance on “Referencing medical conditions in ads for health, beauty, and slimming products” noted that, where preceded by “chronic” or similar, references to conditions not normally categorised as requiring essential treatment, could be unacceptable. Evidence relating to the efficacy of a treatment for a serious medical condition was not relevant to the ASA’s consideration of whether claims in an ad breached Code rule 12.2.
Ads (a) and (b) referred to depression, anxiety, asthma, autism, ADHD and infections related to diabetes. Regardless of context, those were conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. The ASA therefore considered consumers would understand those references as meaning that O2HyperHealth offered specific advice or treatment for each condition.
In addition, both ads featured the claim “HBOT can be effective in treating a variety of acute and chronic conditions” and went on to refer to injury, pain, fatigue, stress, and migraines. In that context, we considered consumers would understand ads (a) and (b) as implying that the therapy could treat each condition in cases where symptoms were severe or persistent enough to necessitate medical supervision of treatment. Given they accompanied references to other conditions requiring essential treatment, we further considered that consumers would understand the terms “Brain”, “Heart” and “Bone” in ad (b) as implying that the therapy could provide essential medical treatment for a range of neurological conditions, heart conditions and diseases affecting bone tissue.
The YouTube video embedded in ad (a) also featured on-screen text stating “Pills don’t always work adding more medication... can lead to added complications STOP! There is an alternative for all ages”. In spite of the video’s subsequent reference to seeking medical advice, we nonetheless considered that the claim presented the therapy as a viable treatment method which was often superior to those usually used as part of standard medical care. We considered that the claim reinforced ad (a)’s overall impression that the therapy could treat conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.
O2HyperHealth had not supplied any evidence to demonstrate that their treatment was always conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. We therefore concluded that the ad discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought and that the ad breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told MEP LLC t/a O2HyperHealth to ensure their future ads did not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.