The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint involving the promotion of prescription-only medicines to the general public. The complainant challenged whether the advert breached the Code because it promoted prescription-only medicines (POMs).
The case in question involved a promotional email from Skinspace, an aesthetic clinic, received on March 17th 2020, which had the following subject line:
“40% OFF! IN THE FIGHT AGAINST VIRUSES!”.
Text in the body of the email stated:
“ITS [sic] TIME TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY! IN THE FIGHT AGAINST VIRUSES! BOOK IN FOR YOUR VITAMIN D & B12 SHOTS! SUPPORTS YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM, LUNG FUNCTION AND AIDS FASTER RECOVERY FROM ILLNESS & VIRUSES!”.
That was followed by pricing information.
- 12.11 – Medicines must have a licence from the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA before they are marketed. Marketing communications for medicines must conform with the licence and the product’s summary of product characteristics. For the avoidance of doubt, by conforming with the product’s indicated use, a marketing communication would not breach rule 12.2. Marketing communications must not suggest that a product is “special” or “different” because it has been granted a licence by the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA.
- 12.12 – Prescription-only medicines or prescription-only medical treatments may not be advertised to the public.
In response to the complaint, PCK SKIN (Manchester) Ltd t/a SKINSPACEUK made the following points.
- The email was only sent to their client database, who were current clients or had opted in to receive communications from SKINSPACEUK.
- They said a full consultation by the treating medical practitioner was always undertaken prior to administration of any POM. They also required a recent blood test to determine if there was any deficiency present.
- A client would have to present with a deficiency before any treatment was given.
- They said the overall benefits of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, including on immunity, were well documented worldwide in clinical studies, citations and media outlets.
- They said that they would ensure no further campaigns were sent referring to any prescription-only medicine.
Despite these points, the complaint was upheld. The ASA said that the advert must not appear again in the form complained about. ASA asked PCK SKIN (Manchester) Ltd t/a SKINSPACEUK to ensure they did not promote prescription-only medicines to the general public.
The ASA made the following comments:
“The advertising of prescription-only medicines to the general public was prohibited by the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 (HMRs) and that was reflected in CAP Code rule 12.12 We understood that all licensed forms of injectable vitamin D and injectable vitamin B12 were prescription-only medicines. The ad stated “BOOK IN FOR YOUR VITAMIN D & B12 SHOTS” and was sent to existing SKINSPACEUK customers, who were consumers, rather than medical professionals.
“The ad promoted prescription-only medicines to the general public and therefore breached the Code.
“Notwithstanding that the promotion of the medicines referred to in the ad to the general public was prohibited, we also assessed the specific claims made for them. The email stated “ITS [sic] TIME TO BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY! … SUPPORTS YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM, LUNG FUNCTION AND AIDS FASTER RECOVERY FROM ILLNESS & VIRUSES!”.
“In the context of a global pandemic of coronavirus/COVID-19 consumers were likely to understand that “VIRUSES” included coronavirus. Therefore the ad gave the impression to recipients that the vitamin D and vitamin B12 injections being sold were effective in helping to prevent or treat coronavirus/COVID-19. However, the vitamin D medicinal product was indicated for use in patients with gastrointestinal, liver or biliary disease associated with malabsorption of Vitamin D, resulting in hypophosphataemia, rickets, and osteomalacia. The vitamin B12 medicinal product was indicated for the treatment of Addison Pernicious anaemia; prophylaxis and treatment of other macrocytic anaemias associated with vitamin B12 deficiency; treatment of tobacco amblyopia; and treatment of Leber’s optic atrophy. None of those medicinal products were therefore indicated for the prevention or treatment of coronavirus/COVID-19. Because the ad promoted prescription-only medicines to the general public, we concluded that it breached the Code.”