The Punga Tails website (http://www.pungatails.co.nz) contains several advertisements for amber teething necklaces. In particular, one advertisement for necklaces for infants aged 0-4 years (http://www.pungatails.co.nz/shop/Babies+Natural+Care/Amber+Teething+Necklaces+0-4+years.html), one for children aged 5-10 years (http://www.pungatails.co.nz/shop/Babies+Natural+Care/Amber+Necklaces+5-10+years.html), and more relevant information on an FAQs page (http://www.pungatails.co.nz/FAQs/Baltic+Amber.html).
The website also contains many advertisements for specific types of Baltic amber necklace (e.g. http://www.pungatails.co.nz/shop/Babies+Natural+Care/Amber+Necklaces+5-10+years/Baltic+Amber+Necklace+-+Lemon-2.html).
The FAQs page should be considered part of an advertisement due to its proximity to the pages from which the availability of the necklaces is advertised. Not only do they appear on the same website and describe the products for sale, but both product listing pages and each product detail page also links to the FAQs page.
The advertisement for amber teething necklaces for infants aged 0-4 years contains the following therapeutic claim:
– “Baltic amber is a natural way to reduce pain & inflammation WITH NO SIDE EFFECTS!”
This claim is unsubstantiated, and is therefore in violation of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 2. It is also in violation of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Part B2 Requirement 4.1 (i) as it explicitly states that the product has no side effects associated with use.
The advertisement for amber teething necklaces for children aged 5-10 years contains the following claims:
– “These necklaces are NOT made for chewing – the therapeutic benefits are administered when amber is in contact with the skin.”
– “Baltic amber’s therapeutic properties include analgesic, calmative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, expectorant, and febrifuge (reduces fever).”
– “Baltic amber necklaces are therefore not just for teething but can also boost the immune system and ease many childhood ailments such as eczema, asthma, irritability, sleeping and digestive problems, growing pains.”
None of these therapeutic claims is substantiated, therefore they are each in violation of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 2.
The advertisement on the FAQs page contains the following statements:
– “Of all types of amber, Baltic amber contains the most Succinic acid, which makes it the most valued and most effective. Succinic acid is the component of amber that is believed to contribute healing properties of Baltic amber.”. As far as I am aware, it is true that Baltic amber contains more succinic acid than other forms of amber, but the claims that this makes it “most effective” and that there are any “healing properties of Baltic amber”, whether provided by succinic acid or not, are unsubstantiated.
– “The therapeutic effects of Baltic amber come from the succinic acid contained in it.”
– “Baltic amber warms against the skin, releasing it’s therapeutic properties safely and naturally.”
– “The therapeutic properties of Baltic amber include analgesic, calmative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, expectorant, and febrifuge (reduces fever).”
– “Teething can cause pain and inflammation resulting in irritability, drooling, rashes, redness in the cheeks, nappy rash, swollen gums, low-grade fevers, inflammation and not surprisingly sleeping problems. Baltic amber teething necklaces can reduce these teething symptoms but it is also useful for many other things.”
– “[Baltic amber teething necklaces] can boost the immune system and ease many ailments such as eczema, fatigue, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, psoriasis, menstrual cramping, pain, all types of arthritis, reduces stress, anxiety and depression.”
– “Waring an amber teething necklace can aid in the reduction of these symptoms without having to resort to drugs such as Paracetamol.”
– “Baltic amber is a natural analgesic so is ideal for pain relief with no side effects!”
– “[Hazelwood] will help with the teething just as well.”
– “Baltic Amber teething necklaces generally works for most babies and you should notice some relief within a half hour but may take up to a day. Some conditions continue to improve with consistent wear.”
– “While polished amber works wonderfully, raw amber is recommended where extra relief is needed.”
– “Soap residue can also build up on the beads making them less effective.” While this does not constitute a therapeutic claim in itself, it refers to the beads being “effective”, with the implication that they are effective in a therapeutic sense.
Not all of the above statements are therapeutic claims, but those that are not still imply unsubstantiated claims of therapeutic efficacy of amber necklaces. Those statements that are therapeutic claims are also unsubstantiated and therefore in violation of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 2.
Each of the product details pages also contains an unsubstantiated therapeutic claim about Baltic amber necklaces. All of these pages seemed to have essentially the same content, and make the following claim:
– “This necklace is 100% authentic Baltic amber – the worlds best quality with the strongest therapeutic properties.”
I am not disputing that the necklaces are “100% authentic Baltic amber”, but that they possess “the strongest therapeutic properties”, or indeed any therapeutic properties at all. This claim lacks substantiation and is, therefore, in violation of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 2.
While the advertisement on the FAQs page did contain a suitably highlighted (although not particularly prominent due to its location halfway down the page, below what is visible when the page is loaded) disclaimer that “infants should be actively supervised at all times when wearing teething necklaces”. This information was not present on the pages from which the products may be purchased.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs warns that “The baby will need to be closely supervised when wearing the amber teething necklace”. In order to comply with the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Part B2 Requirement 2, a disclaimer similar to the one on the advertisement on the FAQs page should be placed on the pages from which the product may be purchased.
As these advertisements make unsubstantiated therapeutic claims about a product that appears to be entirely without any legitimate therapeutic use, and especially as this product is intended for use in infants and children and “there is a risk of strangulation and choking” but only inadequate disclaimers regarding this risk, these advertisements do not observe the high standard of social responsibility required by the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 3.
Of relevance to this complaint are several previous complaints lodged to the ASCB regarding similar advertisements of similar products.
Complaint 12/611 was settled when the retailer voluntarily (and permanently) stopped offering the product for sale.
Complaint 13/076 was also settled when the advertisement was changed to include text explaining that, regarding therapeutic claims made about amber teething necklaces, “Scientists and sceptics believe such claims are a load of cobblers”. On its own, a similar change would not be enough in this case, as the content would still be unbalanced in such a way as to be misleading.
Complaint 13/077 was upheld.