Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Six ads for various trading styles of Tomwill (Holdings) Ltd, seen between February and June 2021:
a. A paid-for Facebook post by ‘Kids Anxiety Disorders’ stated “Exhausted parents can get family life back to normal and eliminate the fear of their child’s anxiety descending to greater levels of anguish and torment … parents like us don’t have to worry about escalating anxiety in their children, the fear of self-harm … Finally there is a way to get their children anxiety free … I have developed a new strategy for dealing with teenage anxiety that will get your teenage child anxiety free without the use of medication, ineffective counselling or other traditional therapies that simply seem to make your child worse”. A link at the bottom of the post took consumers to www.kidsanxietydisorders.com.
b. A website for ‘Kids Anxiety Disorders’, www.kidsanxietydisorders.com, featured a page for a webinar. Text at the top of the page stated “A formula PROVEN in the UK and developed to end anxiety disorders WITHOUT your child having to take meds to recover from Anxiety in UNDER 8 weeks”.
c. A website for ‘Teenage Anxiety Freedom’, www.teenageanxietyfreedom.com, featured a page for a webinar. Text at the top of the page stated “How parents like you CAN see their teenage child Anxiety FREE and happy WITHOUT having to take prescription medication in UNDER 8 weeks”.
d. An email from ‘Anxiety Freedom Formulas’ featured the subject line “Is This You?”. The main body of the email featured text that stated “At first life was amazing, I felt like I had a genuine connection with my children, but slowly I saw my precious daughter change … I was lost and had no clue how to help her … Purely out of fear and desperation, I took her to the doctors ... But all they did was fill her blood with medicine and sedatives and said she has aspergers [sic] ... Then one night I was doing my late night search through my computer for a cure, then I found my new way forward, I found Your Child Freedom Formula … I watched the webinar, Immediately I resonated with it ... my life has never been the same, I have my princess back … Click the link to book a call”. Below that was a link to www.anxietyfreedomformulas.com.
e. An email from ‘Anxiety Disorder Recovery’ featured the subject line “FREE CHILD ANXIETY TUTORIAL!!!”. The main body of the email featured a link to a video and text that stated “These videos are designed for everyone to gain a greater insight into Anxiety Disorders & how they effect [sic] your children. A child suffering with an Anxiety Disorder has a physiological condition and not a psychological disorder. Hence the traditional treatments, therapies and medication routes make children worse not better”.
f. An email from ‘Your Child Freedom Formulas’ featured the subject line “Your Child’s anxiety, If you think your GP has the answer think again!”. The main body of the email featured text that stated “You go to the GP because you know you need to do something. Things are getting worse. The phobia's [sic], the obsessive behaviours, dare you say it - the self-harm? The GP will read off a check list of symptoms, and say YES, your child has an anxiety condition … But your GP has limited tools and resources when it comes to dealing with anxiety. At best a referral to CAMHS … in all the cases we've seen the CAMHS sessions make the anxiety WORSE!. At worst your GP will make a recommendation of a sedative - Drugs to numb the brain, drugs to dumb them down … So what do you do? As parents we will naturally start to look for our own answers … This will often … end in just adding another label or condition to our children: ASD, Dyslexia, PDA, Coeliac … The lists of 'conditions' are endless and keep growing it seems ! But actually ANXIETY is so incredibly easy to treated [sic] in children if you actually TREAT it and not looked past the issue for other things. ANXIETY in children can be cured. YES - CURED! Gone for good. A life time of being ANXIETY FREE. We know because we do it every day - and we can do it for you and your family too …”.
The ASA received two complaints, including one from Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service.
The complainants challenged whether:
1. the claims to treat anxiety in ads (a)-(f) were misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. ads (a)-(f) discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.
1. & 2. Tomwill (Holdings) Ltd t/a Kids Anxiety Disorders; Teenage Anxiety Freedom; Anxiety Freedom Formulas; Anxiety Disorder Recovery; Your Child Free Formulas said that they were not yet at the point of being able to conduct clinical trials to evidence the efficacy of their service – which treated anxiety as a physiological rather than psychological issue – but that they had successfully educated and coached parents and their children out of anxiety disorders.
Tomwill (Holdings) said that since receiving the complaints, and following contact with Trading Standards, they had moderated the language used in their marketing communication and no long used terms such as “proven”, “cure”, “treat”, or “guarantee” in relation to their service.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to understand the claims “Finally there is a way to get … children anxiety free”, “a new strategy for dealing with teenage anxiety that will get your teenage child anxiety free” in ad (a); “A formula … developed to end anxiety disorders” in ad (b); “Anxiety FREE” in ad (c); “FREE CHILD ANXIETY TUTORIAL!!!” in ad (e); and “ANXIETY is so incredibly easy to treat in children”, and “ANXIETY FREE” in ad (f) to mean that Tomwill (Holdings), operating under different business names, were able to treat and cure anxiety in children and teenagers using the service they had developed.
Because neither CAP nor the ASA had previously seen evidence that the approach developed by Tomwill (Holdings) could be effective in treating anxiety, we considered that a high-level body of relevant evidence was needed to prove the claims. However, we noted from their response to the complaints that no clinical trials had been conducted to evidence the efficacy of their offering.
Because Tomwill (Holdings) had not supplied evidence to substantiate the claims made about the efficacy of their service in treating anxiety, we concluded that they were misleading.
On that point, ads (a), (b), (c), (e), and (f) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The CAP Code required 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.
Among other conditions, the ads referred to “escalating anxiety”, “self-harm”, “aspergers [sic]”, “ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)”, “Dyslexia”, “PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome)”, and “Coeliac”. We considered that consumers would understand the phrase “escalating anxiety” as a reference to severe or chronic anxiety; and the term “self-harm” as a symptom of a serious or chronic mental health condition. We considered that the claim preceding those conditions, “This will often … end in just adding another label or condition to our children” in ad (f), implied that those conditions were manifestations of anxiety, and that Tomwill (Holdings) was able to treat or cure them. We considered those were conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, and therefore advice, diagnosis or treatment should be conducted under the supervision of a suitably-qualified health professional. Additionally, we considered that the ads were likely to be taken by consumers as discouraging essential treatment for the conditions listed, namely by discouraging them from consulting their GP and casting doubt on the effectiveness of treatments recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance. We noted that we had not seen any evidence that Tomwill (Holdings) conducted its services under the supervision of a suitably-qualified health professional.
Because Tomwill (Holdings) had not supplied evidence that treatment would always be carried out by a suitably-qualified health professional, and because the ads actively disparaged recommended medical treatment and discouraged consumers from seeking essential treatment under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional, we concluded that they had breached the Code.
On that point, ads (a)-(f) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ads must not appear again in the forms complained about. We told Tomwill (Holdings) Ltd to ensure they did not make claims that their service could treat or cure anxiety unless they held sufficient evidence to support their claims. We also told them to ensure their future marketing communications did not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which advice should be sought from suitably-qualified health professionals.