Homeopathy claims banned for ‘misleading’ readers

Homeopathic medicines in a London pharmacy. The ASA ruled that The Society of Homeopaths' website was 'misleading'. Picture: Getty
Homeopathic medicines in a London pharmacy. The ASA ruled that The Society of Homeopaths' website was 'misleading'. Picture: Getty
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CLAIMS made on the Society of Homeopaths website that controversial therapies could treat conditions such as arthritis and hayfever have been banned in a landmark ruling by advertising watchdogs.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has had a remit since 2011 to investigate claims made online, and the organisation said it had a large number of complaints relating to claims on homeopathy websites.

It chose to investigate the website of industry body the Society of Homeopaths as a test case “to establish our lead position on claims for homeopathy”.

The authority also looked at the body’s Twitter page, which included the tweet: “Antidepressant prescriptions up by 43 per cent. For more holistic healthcare which doesn’t rely on drugs try #homeopathy”, with a link to the home page.

The ASA found that all of the claims investigated were misleading and breached guidelines on health advertising.

The society’s homepage states: “There is a growing body of research evidence suggesting that treatment by a homeopath is clinically effective, cost-effective and safe.

“Currently, there is sufficient research evidence to support the use of homeopathic treatment for the following medical conditions: allergies and upper respiratory tract infections, ankle sprain, bronchitis, childhood diarrhoea, chronic fatigue, ear infections, fibromyalgia, hay- fever, influenza, osteoarthritis, premenstrual syndrome, rheumatic diseases, sinusitis, vertigo.

“Your local homeopath would be happy to discuss any health problems with you and offer advice about whether they might be able to help.”

The ASA asked whether the site could discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, and whether the claims that homeopathy could treat the medical conditions could be substantiated.

In relation to the tweet, it investigated whether it could discourage essential treatment for depression, a medical condition for which medical supervision should be sought, and misleadingly implied that homeopathic remedies could alleviate symptoms of depression.

The Society of Homeopaths said it did not believe there was anything on the web page in question, or their website as a whole, which discouraged patients from seeking medical treatment.

Its site recommended maintaining a relationship with a GP or specialist and said homepathy could be used “alongside conventional medicine”, it pointed out.

But the ASA found that the claims were in breach of advertising rules.

A spokesman said: “We considered that the reference to these specific medical conditions meant the ad was targeted at consumers with a pre-existing diagnosis of these conditions or who were suffering from those symptoms.

“We considered the average consumer targeted by the ad was therefore particularly vulnerable.”

All medical claims “must be backed by evidence”, he said.