Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
Three Instagram posts and a website for Skinny Clinic, a weight loss injection provider:
a. The bio on SkinnyClinic’s Instagram page, seen in May 2020, featured the claim “Lose 11-13 lbs in 3 weeks [surprised emoji]”.
b. An Instagram post on SkinnyClinic’s page, seen in May 2020, was a screenshot of an Instagram story by glamour model Jema Gilsenan which featured her in a mask alongside the text “@SKINNYCLINIC_”, “#skinnypen”, “I’m gonna be coming out of lockdown half the size!!” and “Forgot to eat again [teary laughter emojis].” The caption stated “Keep posting and tagging @skinnyclinic_ please”.
c. An Instagram post on SkinnyClinic’s page, seen in March 2020, featured an image of a slim woman in Jeans and a cropped top and the text “Can’t believe I’ve put on a size 8 pair of jeans today! I am so happy … can’t wait for my next pen to come, it’s a new way of life for me [smile emoji]”. The caption stated, “We love your feedback @skinnyclinic_ The Skinny Pen suppresses your appetite, you feel fuller faster and it burns calories DM for more Details”.
d. The website www.skinnyclinic.co.uk, seen in May 2020, featured a product listing for ‘Weight loss product Saxenda Novo NorDisk’, and included the text “Our weight loss product Saxenda Novo NorDisk is a brand new revolutionary weight loss aid. It’s a self injected daily jab which kicks the hunger, burns calories and makes you feel fuller faster” and “Our Weight Loss Product is Saxenda Novo NorDisk which is newly for weight loss. Saxenda active ingredient is Liraglutide which is MHRA and FDA approved. It is the only licensed injectable prescription only medicine in the UK”.
The ASA challenged whether:
1. the claim “Lose 11-13 lbs in 3 weeks” in ad (a) complied with the Code;
2. ads (b) and (c) were irresponsible because they implied that the product could be used by people who were not overweight; and
3. ad (d) breached the Code because it promoted a prescription-only medicine.
1. Skinny Clinic stated that the claim “Lose 11-13 lbs in 3 weeks” was based on feedback from their clients. They said that their clients were given exercise and nutritional information as well as 24-hour support if necessary, and they had not been aware that specific weight loss claims within a stated period were prohibited by the CAP Code.
2. Skinny Clinic said that they gave their clients advice on reduced calorie diets and increased physical activity as Saxenda had to be given in conjunction with this advice. They said that they had removed the ads and would ensure that future posts complied with CAP Guidance.
3. Skinny Clinic accepted that they should not have promoted prescription-only medicines on their website and had made the necessary changes. They said that clients visited their website and clicked a button for a consultation for weight control. They were then required to complete an online form which was sent electronically to a nurse prescriber, who then arranged a telephone consultation with the client to assess the client’s suitability for the product.
During the consultation, advice was given verbally about a reduced calorie diet and increased exercise. If the client was suitable for Saxenda, a prescription was written by the nurse. Clients were also sent written information on diet and exercise and this information was also available on Skinny Clinic’s website. They said that they were not registered with the Care Quality Commission because they did not treat clinically diagnosed obesity. Their service was an online and telephone business purely for cosmetic purposes and the nurse was an independent nurse regulated by the Nursing & Midwifery Council to prescribe Skinny Clinic’s medicinal product.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must not contain claims that people can lose precise amounts of weight within a stated period. Ad (a) featured the claim “Lose 11-13 lbs in 3 weeks”. We considered that the claim in ad (a) would be interpreted by consumers to mean that they could lose between 11 and 13 pounds within the stated period of three weeks.
We welcomed Skinny Clinic’s removal of the ad. However, because the ad contained claims that people could lose precise amounts of weight within a stated period, we concluded that it breached the Code. On that point, ads (a) and (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.9 (Weight control and slimming).
We welcomed Skinny Clinic’s removal of ads (b) and (c). The CAP Code required marketers to ensure advertising was prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. The image featured a glamour model, who appeared slim. Text in the post stated, “I’m gonna be coming out of lockdown half the size!!” and in ad (b), “Forgot to eat again”. We considered this implied that she wanted to lose a significant amount of weight and the injection would enable her to skip meals to achieve that; consumers, therefore, could also use the product for the same purpose. Similarly, the image of a slim woman alongside the claim “It’s a new way of life for me” in ad (c) implied that Skinny Clinic’s injections could be used for cravings in people who were not overweight to maintain their weight on an on-going basis.
We considered that the message that people who were not overweight would benefit from weight loss treatment was irresponsible. We understood that Saxenda was indicated as an adjunct to a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity for weight management in adult patients who were obese, according to the European Medicines Agency. The ads therefore suggested uses outside the licenced indications listed in the Summary of Product Characteristics for this medicine.
We concluded that the ad was socially irresponsible and breached the Code. On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) 1.3 1.3 Advertisements must comply with the law and broadcasters must make that a condition of acceptance. (Social responsibility).
The advertising of prescription-only medicines to the general public was prohibited by the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 (HMR) and that was reflected in CAP Code rule 12.12 12.12 Advertisements for weight-control or slimming products must not suggest or imply that to be underweight is acceptable or desirable. If they are used, testimonials or case histories must not refer to subjects who are or seem to be underweight. Underweight, for the purpose of this rule, means a Body Mass Index below 20. We understood that injectable liroglutide (brand name Saxenda) was a prescription-only medicine. Ad (d) included the claims, “Our weight loss product Saxenda Novo NorDisk is a brand new revolutionary weight loss aid. It’s a self-injected daily jab which kicks the hunger, burns calories and makes you feel fuller faster” and “Our Weight Loss Product is Saxenda Novo NorDisk which is newly for weight loss. Saxenda active ingredient is liraglutide which is MHRA and FDA approved. It is the only licensed injectable prescription only medicine in the UK”. We noted that references to Saxenda continued to appear on Skinny Clinic’s website. Because the ad promoted prescription-only medicines to the general public, we concluded that it breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 12.12 12.12 Advertisements for weight-control or slimming products must not suggest or imply that to be underweight is acceptable or desirable. If they are used, testimonials or case histories must not refer to subjects who are or seem to be underweight. Underweight, for the purpose of this rule, means a Body Mass Index below 20. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Skinny Clinic not to make claims that people could lose a precise amount of weight within a stated period. We also told Skinny Clinic to ensure their ads did not irresponsibly imply that their products could be used by people who were not overweight and suggest uses outside the summary of product characteristics for a licenced medicine. We further told them not to promote prescription-only medicines to the general public in future.