Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and one was Not upheld.
A poster and claims on the advertiser’s website www.puressentiel.co.uk, seen on 10 December 2015:
a. The poster stated “Puressentiel PURIFYING AIR SPRAY … VIRUSES? BACTERIA? STOP! BREATHE A PURER AIR! PROVEN EFFICACY 3 IN 1 … BACTERIA … VIRUSES … ALLERGENS … 41 ESSENTIAL OILS … 100% NATURAL ORIGIN”.
b. The website stated “Puressentiel … Efficacy at its purest … Air Spray with 41 essential oils … AROMATHERPAY PRODUCT … To help to … Get rid of bacteria, viruses, microscopic fungi … Limit sources of allergies … Essential oils and bioalcohol: 100% natural origin”. Under the heading “Studies and customers [sic] tests” the ad stated “Patented formula with scientifically proven efficacy by 9 studies: Bacterial efficacy: Study conducted on bacterial strains often involved in respiratory allergies: Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus hirae. Fungicidal efficacy: Study conducted on yeast and mold [sic] strains often involved in respiratory allergies: Aspergillus niger, Candida albicans. Virucidal efficacy … Efficacy observed after 5 min on two Type 1 Poliovirus strains and Type 5 Adenovirus … Efficacy observed after 1 min on the avian flu virus: Virus Influenza A (H1N1) … Insecticide and insect repellent efficacy: final and excellent on bed bugs (Cimex Lectularius [sic] and cloth [sic]moths (Tineola bisselliella)”.
The complainant, a medical doctor and freelance journalist, challenged whether:
1. the efficacy claims for Puressentiel in ads (a) and (b) were misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. ad (a) breached the Code because it implied that the product was effective merely because it was natural.
1. Puressentiel UK Ltd said that the efficacy claims for their air spray had been substantiated by European standardised and recognised tests. They said the tests had proven their product’s effectiveness against traditional and common home pollutants as a disinfectant with bactericidal, virucidal and fungicidal activity and it was officially classed as a type 2 biocide product. In relation to the product’s bactericidal activity, Puressentiel said their spray was tested on four bacterial strains. It was also tested on the various viruses listed in the ad. They said that the test results showed that the air spray killed more than 99.99% of the bacteria and had a virucidal effect.
They said that the fungicidal activity of their air spray was evaluated against two mould types and the results showed that their product also had a fungicidal activity. With regard to the insecticidal efficacy claims, they said that a study showed that direct surface treatment supported the claim that their product was effective at killing bed bugs. Puressentiel provided the studies, which they said supported the claims made in their advertising.
2. Puressentiel said they had not directly or indirectly claimed that their product was effective merely because it was natural. They said that the wording “Puressentiel Purifying Air Spray with 41 essential oils” was consumer information only, regarding the fact that the product was of natural origins.
The ASA considered that the prominent claims “Puressentiel PURIFYING AIR SPRAY … VIRUSES? BACTERIA? STOP! … PROVEN EFFICACY 3 IN 1 BACTERIA … VIRUSES … ALLERGENS” in ad (a) and “Puressentiel … Air Spray … Get rid of bacteria, viruses, microscopic fungi … Insecticide and insect repellent efficacy”, along with the specific references to individual microorganisms, in ad (b) would be understood by consumers to mean that the product’s mode of use was as an air spray and when used in that manner the product could effectively eliminate the listed microbes. We also considered that consumers were likely to understand the claim “Insecticide and insect repellent efficacy: final and excellent on bed bugs … and cloth moths” to mean that that Puressentiel’s air spray would also be fully effective at removing those insect infestations, especially due to the claim “final and excellent”, again, in the context of the ad, when used as an air spray.
We took expert advice. We noted that Puressentiel’s air spray was tested under the relevant ‘disinfectant standard’ and the results indicated that the product had the potential to be effective if used under the same conditions as the laboratory test environment, which was in direct contact with the various microorganisms. However, the method used meant it was not possible to determine the efficacy of the product when used as an air spray in the home. In addition, we understood that the product’s efficacy when used directly on the microorganisms, such as in the lab tests, was likely to be greater than when compared to its use as an air spray.
We considered the trials carried out on the insects, which were also conducted by spraying the product directly onto an infested surface. We noted that the reported laboratory tests concluded that the reduction in bed bugs and adult and nymph clothes moths was 81%, 83% and 86% respectively. While the reduction for each group of insects appeared significant, the result was not “final and excellent”, as claimed in ad (b). In addition, we were concerned that it was again not possible to determine whether the product was effective on bed bugs and clothes moths when used as an air spray, as emphasised in the ad.
For the reasons given, we concluded that the efficacy claims in ads (a) and (b) were misleading and had not been substantiated.
On that point, ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
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.
Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product.
Objective claims must be backed by evidence, if relevant consisting of trials conducted on people. Substantiation will be assessed on the basis of the available scientific knowledge.
Medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that is licensed by the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA, or for a CE-marked medical device. A medicinal claim is a claim that a product or its constituent(s) can be used with a view to making a medical diagnosis or can treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition, whether of body or mind, in human beings.
Secondary medicinal claims made for cosmetic products as defined in the appropriate European legislation must be backed by evidence. These are limited to any preventative action of the product and may not include claims to treat disease. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
2. Not upheld
We considered that in the context of the ads as a whole, which highlighted the product’s essential oil contents, together with wording such as “PURIFYING … 100% NATURAL ORIGIN” in ad (a), and “Efficacy at its purest … 100% natural origin” in ad (b), consumers were likely to understand that Puressentiel’s purifying air spray contained only natural ingredients and therefore no synthetic additives. Notwithstanding the fact that the ads made various efficacy claims for the product, for which we had not seen adequate evidence, we considered that the “natural” claims was likely to be understood to convey the product’s composition, rather than making a direct correlation between its claimed efficacy and its natural contents. We therefore concluded it did not imply that the product was effective merely because it was natural.
On that point, we investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.10 12.10 Marketing communications must not suggest that any product is safe or effective merely because it is "natural" or that it is generally safer because it omits an ingredient in common use. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products), but did not find it in breach.
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Puressentiel UK Ltd not to make efficacy claims for their products in the absence of adequate evidence.