An example of the ASA’s double standards can be seen from a recent case. An individual known to F4H complaint to the ASA about advertising for the flu jab. A certain medical practice had advertised the vaccination as “completely safe”, which is not something even the manufacturer would claim. The package insert for the vaccine includes a long list of side-effects and contraindications.
Although this, and other vaccinations, may result in some side-effects, we considered that the reference to safety was likely to be interpreted as relating to causing serious health problems and, at this time, we have no reason to believe that the vaccination is likely to cause such harm to consumers. On this basis, we concluded that the ad was unlikely to mislead consumers in the manner suggested, and as such we do not propose to take any further action with regards to your complaint at this time.
One can only wonder what the response would have been like had a complementary therapy with known side-effects made the same claim.
As the complainant pointed out to the ASA:
Flu vaccines have flu-like side-effects in between 1 in 10 and 1 in 1 people (manufacturer’s package insert). They also account for the majority of compensation paid out under the US vaccine injury compensation programme. And since their introduction around 50,000 serious adverse events have been reported to the US adverse events reporting system, 5,500 of which were deaths, life-threatening conditions or permanent disability.
Following a further complaint to the ASA, this time by a GP and addressing advertising from a long list of practices and Clinical Commissioning Groups websites, the ASA did act, by referring the matter to the MHRA, who in turn referred it to Public Health England.
It seems unlikely that much will change in practice but such blatantly wrong claims have to be challenged. Moreover, cases like this one help highlight the hypocrisy and double-standards applied by ASA Ltd.