A paid-for Google ad for an online pharmacy, Numan, seen on 31 May 2021, featured text that stated "60% Off ED Treatments ... Unlock stronger erections with clinically proven treatments. Buy online from £1.25/tablet ... End of Season: 60% off ED Tablets For Men".
IssueThe complainant challenged whether prescription-only medicines (POMs) were being advertised to the public.
ResponseVir Health Ltd t/a Numan explained that they offered a digital health service, providing online consultations and information for a range of health conditions. Their website offered pharmacy medication, blood tests, consultations, and POMs for erectile dysfunction (ED). They said that those products and services were presented in an informational style, with no treatment promoted over any other. Requests for treatment were initiated by a consumer completing a questionnaire, which was then reviewed by a prescriber. There was no guarantee that a request for a POM would be granted.
The CAP Code stated that prescription-only medicines or prescription-only medical treatments must not be advertised to the public.
The ASA noted that the ad featured the claims “£1.25/tablet” and “60% off ED Tablets For Men” but did not mention specific products. The website landing page to which the ad linked featured a range of POM and non-POM tablets, for the treatment of ED. In that context, we considered that the references to “tablets” in the ad would be understood by consumers as referring to both POM and non-POM tablets for the treatment of ED and that the 60% off promotion therefore applied to the advertiser’s POM and non-POM tablets.
We sought advice from the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Their view was that an ad for ED treatment that included references to “tablets”, and which also had a clear implication that would be the outcome of a consultation, were likely to promote POMs, unless it made clear that an over the counter (OTC) product was being advertised.
We noted that the ad did not refer to any other treatment options and considered that it therefore had a clear implication that tablets would be the outcome of a consultation.
While we noted that the ad did not specifically name any of the POMs that could treat ED, we considered that in the absence of any information stating that the 60% off promotion applied exclusively to non-POMs, the ad promoted POMs to the public and therefore breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.12 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Vir Health Ltd not to advertise POMs to the public in future.