A website and a paid-for Facebook ad for ZING toothpaste:
a. The website www.zingtoothpaste.com, seen on 31 May June 2023, featured a home page headed “What you need to know about ‘white’ toothpaste. You shouldn’t have to brush with suspected carcinogens”. Text below stated “If it’s White, it ain’t Right. Toothpaste isn't naturally white. Many common toothpastes use an ingredient to make them look 'white'. This ingredient is called Titanium Dioxide. It's in things like paint. Titanium Dioxide is a suspected carcinogen, and banned in food by the European Food Safety Authority. However, it remains an ingredient in many common 'white' toothpastes. […] That's why ZING is clear. Free from Titanium Dioxide. Free from dodgy dyes. Because you shouldn't have to brush with suspected carcinogens”.
b. The paid-for Facebook ad, seen on 30 June 2023, stated “No dodgy dyes. No supermarket nasties. Free from Titanium Dioxide forever". An image embedded in the ad featured superimposed text that stated “No dodgy dyes. Titanium Dioxide-free […] f*ck cancer a clear gel".
The complainant, a journalist, challenged whether the ads were misleading because they implied that using titanium dioxide-containing toothpastes was potentially harmful.
ZING Oral Care Ltd said they had removed ad (b) from Facebook. They referred to a clinical risk assessment, a systematic literature review, a clinical survey, an online news article, and a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Opinion. They said those sources established that titanium dioxide (TiO2) was likely to cause an adverse reaction in humans following oral consumption.
The ASA understood that TiO2 was frequently used to enhance the white pigmentation of various products, such as in food or paint, and that in 2022 its use as a food additive had been prohibited in the European Union (EU) and Northern Ireland. That was following an EFSA Opinion which indicated genotoxicity – chemical substance damage to human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) – following the consumption of nanosized TiO2 particles through the food additive E171 could not be ruled out. As a result, they could not establish a safe level for daily intake. TiO2 was permitted as a food additive in England, Scotland, and Wales, and the Food Standards Authority (FSA) was conducting its own review of the substance in that regard. In both the UK and the EU TiO2 was permitted for use in cosmetics such as toothpaste, with certain stipulations, and in medicines.
We considered consumers would understand the ads’ claims about TiO2 – which included “You shouldn’t have to brush with suspected carcinogens”, “Titanium Dioxide is a suspected carcinogen, and banned in food by the European Food Safety Authority. However, it remains an ingredient in many common 'white' toothpastes” and “f*ck cancer” – to mean TiO2 was widely used in toothpastes, and that it was potentially carcinogenic. We further considered consumers would interpret the claims to mean that by using TiO2-containing toothpastes they were likely to be exposed to a carcinogen that was not present in ZING Oral Care’s products.
We assessed the clinical risk assessment, literature review, clinical survey and online news article provided by ZING Oral Care. While some of the evidence related to the use of TiO2-containing toothpaste, the risk assessment, survey and online news article did not focus on the claimed carcinogenic nature of the substance when used in toothpaste. Additionally, the EFSA Opinion related to the use of TiO2 as an additive in food. We therefore considered that evidence was not adequate substantiation for the claims under investigation.
We then assessed the literature review. The review examined whether a potential adverse outcome of oral TiO2 exposure was the formation of intestinal tumours. The review covered 18 studies that observed the levels of TiO2 in rats and mice following oral exposure, and then compared them against two studies that outlined the build-up of TiO2 within the organs and tissue of 30 cadavers who had an average age of 86. We acknowledged that three of the studies examined whether TiO2 consumption in rats or mice led to the formation of intestinal tumours. However, we understood that those studies did not observe the actual formation of cancerous intestinal tumours in rats or mice. The review as a whole had drawn its conclusions from studies that had been conducted on animals and then compared with post-mortem human tissues. Additionally, the review made no findings on human exposure to TiO2 in toothpaste, or its claimed carcinogenic nature. We therefore considered the review was not adequate substantiation for the claims.
We welcomed ZING Oral Care’s assurance that ad (b) had been removed. However, because we considered the body of evidence provided was not adequate substantiation for the claims that using toothpaste containing titanium dioxide was potentially harmful, we concluded they had not been substantiated and were therefore likely to mislead.
The ads breached CAP (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told ZING Oral Care Ltd not to claim that using toothpaste containing titanium dioxide was harmful to humans without adequate substantiation.