On this blog so far I’ve written about 2 complaints I’ve made to the ASA. Last year I wrote about the first official complaint I ever made, about a chiropractor and acupuncturist being referred to as a doctor in a TV ad, falsely implying he was a medical doctor. This complaint was settled when the advertisement was amended to specify that he is a chiropractor, not a medical doctor.
After that, I wrote about the second complaint I ever made against U-GO for their online advertisement of amber teething necklaces, and the associated appeal I made after it was considered settled when all the advertiser had done was mark the product as “sold out”. My appeal was rejected, but only because the advertiser voluntarily removed the ad and opted to stop selling the product, so the appeal was no longer necessary.
Aside from these complaints, I have been making many more, all motivated by the same desire to expose and prevent health fraud. In this series of posts I’m going to write about the complaints I’ve been making and their outcomes. Once I’ve written up posts about each of my complaints that have already been completed, I’ll continue to publish similar posts as more complaints are completed.
Balanced Energy Website Advertisement – Complaint 12/649
For some time now, I have had a Google Alert set up to let me know when certain keywords appear in new articles on the NZ Herald website, so I can quickly catch any articles about quackery such as iridology.
I set up this alert after I read an article about qigong and Henri-Noel Venturini. Venturini not only thinks that “chi”, described in the article as “intrinsic life energy, or life essence”, exists, but he also seems to think that it is relevant to one’s health. The article ends with a little advertisement about his qigong classes and a link to his company’s website, and I found myself completely unable to resist checking out the website of a company called “Balanced Energy“.
I wasn’t disappointed either – the website is absolutely full of pseudoscience and superstition. The page dedicated to Mr. Venturini talks about his use of…
- Vibrational medicine
- Colour therapy
- Crystal therapy
- Energy healing
- Sacred geometry
- Five Element Theory
- Aura Balancing
It seems nothing is too crazy for Henri-Noel Venturini.
Most of the Balanced Energy website’s content is typically vague and mystical, but there was one product description in particular that stuck out to me. Almost all of their products are split into 6 different types, and the description for the “Element of Air or Metal” type of products included this in the description:
great… as a preventative for airborne viruses
I couldn’t find any substantiation for this claim on the product detail pages, although their ingredients page did say this much:
Anything we sell that we do not make our selves has been thoroughly researched to ensure it meets our strict standards for purity and effectiveness.
We do not test our products on animals, only willing humans!
Given that this business thinks chakras, chi, and meridians are both real and relevant to health, I don’t expect they have particularly strict standards for measuring effectiveness. That page has been updated since I first saw it, and now explains that they test their products on themselves first, then “on a group of willing, human volunteers”, but still mentions no details of the testing process (I doubt, for example, that it is controlled in any way) and no longer makes any mention of standards for effectiveness.
Needless to say, I made a complaint to the ASA. I explained that the description constituted a therapeutic claim, but lacked the substantiation required by the ASA’s Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 2. I also said that, given this lack of substantiation, the advertisement also didn’t adhere to the high standard of social responsibility rquired by the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 3, as consumers’ false sense of security may lead to an increased incidence of infectious disease.
My complaint was received by the ASA on the 22nd of November 2012, and I received the details of their decision on the 27th of February 2013. The advertiser changed the contents of the advertisement and told the ASCB that they’d registered with ANZA’s TAPS to ensure that future advertisements didn’t breach the ASA’s codes.
To be honest, I’m not happy with the outcome of this complaint. The updated advertisement simply claims that the ingredients of the product have antiseptic and antiviral properties, implying that the product itself shares the same properties in a useful way. Of course, this hasn’t been substantiated, and is probably not true either.
I’m disappointed that the ASCB considered a complaint about an unsubstantiated therapeutic claim to be settled when the advertisement was changed to instead make a different unsubstantiated therapeutic claim, even if the advertiser did promise to get TAPS approval (as far as I can tell they haven’t done this yet), but I haven’t laid another complaint about this website. At least not yet.
I’ve uploaded the details of the ASCB’s decision for you to read. My original complaint is included at the bottom of this post.
Various products on the Balanced Energy website are described as being “great… as a preventative for airborne viruses”.
I have looked throughout the website for any attempt to provide supporting scientific evidence for this medical claim, and the closest I could find was this (retrieved 16/11/2012 from http://www.balancedenergy.co.nz/products/ingredients/):
“Anything we sell that we do not make our selves has been thoroughly researched to ensure it meets our strict standards for purity and effectiveness.
We do not test our products on animals, only willing humans!”
I could not find any information on how (or if) the claims about which I am complaining were tested, or on the details of their “standards for… effectiveness”.
In light of this, I think this medical claim is in breach of the Therapeutics Advertising Code Principles 2 and 3:
Principle 2 – As far as I am aware, there is no scientific evidence supporting the claim. No substantiation of the claim appeared to be available via the website.
Principle 3 – People purchasing and using these products may believe that they are being protected against airborne viruses, which has not be shown to be true. This may lead to increased incidence of infectious disease, and therefore does not observe a high standard of social responsibility.
I anticipate that Balanced Energy may claim that the products in question should not be considered therapeutic products. However, the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code specifies that products “represented in any way to be, or that is… likely to be taken to be for therapeutic use” are therapeutic products, and furthermore specifies that “therapeutic use” includes “use in or in connection with… preventing… a disease… in humans”.