Consumer Watch: Homemark slapped down for product efficiency
Cape Town - Adverts for foot patches that help to detox the body; a “diet” product purporting to prevent belly fat, increase the metabolism and regulate blood sugar; a “detox tea” that cleanses the system; and an oil that improves the nail condition are the latest disallowed from broadcasting by the Advertising Regulatory Board.
But at least one broadcaster has been found to have ignored the regulator’s ruling, which undermines its efforts to regulate a sector that is rife with abuse and deception.
Last week, the board issued three rulings in favour of consumer activist and medical doctor, Harris Steinman, against Homemark Detox Tea, Argan Oil and the Remedy Health Detox Foot Patches.
They follow an earlier ruling against Herbex, for its Ultraslim range of herbal “diet” tablets, also brought by Steinman. It’s the second ruling against Herbex in two years – the previous ruling, for misleading advertising, was made by the ARB’s predecessor, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), in 2018.
Steinman is a leading critic of “scams, pseudoscience and voodoo science”, which he posts about on his website, CAMcheck.co.za.
All four adverts appeared during primetime programming on DStv. Despite the ARB ruling in favour of Steinman, the Ultraslim advert was flighted again the following week on Carte Blanche.
In the Herbex ruling, the board agreed with Steinman that there was no scientific evidence to support claims that Ultraslim balances blood sugar levels, prevents belly fat or “enhances” the metabolism.
Herbex, represented by DM-Fialkov Attorneys, rejected efforts to co-operate with the ARB, arguing the body had no jurisdiction over it as it was not a member. Herbex has refused to participate in ASA processes in the past, with previous attorneys accusing it of extortion.
In October 2018, the ASA was forced to liquidate by business rescue practitioners Eripio, after years of legal battles with advertisers, dwindling financial backing and unsustainable operational costs.
At the time Gail Schimmel, the ASA chief executive, described the decision as a “devastating blow”. However, she was confident of member support and said they were determined the authority’s demise would not mean the end of self-regulation of advertising.
Schimmel said consumers needed protection from misleading and potentially harmful advertising.
The following month, the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) was born, with the same original core members the Marketing Association of South Africa, the Association for Communication and Advertising and the Internet Advertising Bureau. And on November 16, it made its first ruling, on a “bread-and-butter” issue, about whether Rama is margarine or a spread (It’s a spread).
Earlier this month, Steinman put Herbex’s claims before the board once again, submitting evidence in support
of his complaint. While the ARB noted Herbex’s failure to participate it processed the complaint as a guidance to its members and broadcasters in terms of the Electronic Communications Act.
Steinman had submitted that neither the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database nor PubMed held any evidence to support Herbex’s claims, which was upheld by the ARB.
Detox Foot Pads
In the latest rulings, Homemark’s “Remedy Health Detox Foot Pads”, the complainant (Steinman) argued the Mayo Clinic says there’s no reliable evidence the pads work, nor have scientific studies been published showing they work or were safe. “The Federal Trade Commission has even charged some distributors of detox foot pads with deceptive advertising.”
He contacted the FDA’s Division of Small Manufacturers, International and Consumer Assistance to query the claim that the products were “tested in an FDA-certified laboratory facility”, but the division denied certifying laboratories and said there was no facility registered under the number provided by the complainant.
The product, it said, was registered as a “medical absorbent fibre”, and not a “Detox Foot Pad” (which would require a different type of registration).
Citing write-ups appearing on www. sciencebasedmedicine. org, Steinman said these “detox” products are a scam and cannot deliver on any efficacy claims.
The second Homemark product slapped down, the “Aragan Secret Nail Treatment”, has been a bugbear for years. The advert shows images of damaged and discoloured nails, with a voice-over stating: “Ingrown, thick, flaky, brittle, what a nightmare or worse, of embarrassing deformed nails destroying your sanity? Morocco’s best kept secret; Aragan Secret Nail Treatment, is your answer to beautiful and moisturised nails. The legendary Argan Oil, harvested exclusively in Morocco is a key ingredient in this powerful treatment. It’s easy, quick and safe to use …”
The advert shows an animation of a drop of product being applied to a badly damaged nail, which repairs itself as the liquid is brushed on.
As evidence, Steinman explained a 2017 report published in the reputable Alternative Medicine Review, found no evidence argan oil was beneficial to nail conditions, including nail fungus. He said another review, published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, failed to validate the claims, and a 2014 review focussing on the cosmetic benefits of Aragan Oil reported “no evidence for efficacy, while two further studies noted that this oil may cause eczema”.
In the final ad, Homemark’s Remedy Health “Detox Tea” was taken to task for claiming to be a powerful,
effective and delicious tea that “will give you results straight away”. “Help get your body back in peak condition, with the amazing Detox Tea”.
The ad begins with scenes of actors looking tired, irritable, struggling to fit in their pants, rubbing their stomachs and appearing lethargic. After apparently drinking the detox “elixir”, the actors are shown to be happy and enjoying life, with a graphic accompanying indicating a colon cleanse.
Homemark, too, declined to engage in the process, on the advice of its lawyers.
Despite the board’s alert issued the National Association of Broadcasters on November 11, in which it advised broadcasters not to accept adverts from Herbex Ultraslim, the adverts have continued to run.
Steinman told the ARB on Friday: “The adverts have not been amended in any way. They are identical to my original complaint. They are also flighted unchanged during other programmes during the remainder of the week, including last night.”
A MultiChoice spokesperson said that as members, they respect and are bound by the rulings of the ARB and enforce them as required.
“There are, however, circumstances that may limit immediate implementation, but we are in consultation with the clients against whom rulings have been made, and the commercials in question are in the process of being removed.”
* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.
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