A general record of my ongoing battle with all forms of nonsense.

Monday 18 October 2010

It's a real shame nobody will help stop Boots making false claims

Sadly, the 240 ASA complaints about quack medicine products being sold at Boots got nowhere. Boots took the rather cowardly decision of withdrawing the 3 for the price of 2 offer to take their products outside of the ASA's remit, rather than defend the claims they make about their products.

I didn't think they'd be able to get away with this, though I'm continuing to learn about how the ASA operates. When I complained about the GCC's patient information leaflet last year, the GCC agreed to remove the claims, but initially continued making the claims on a PDF on their website. When I queried the ASA about this, they asked them to remove it even though being online, the PDF was presumably outside their remit.

When I asked about this apparent double standard, the ASA replied as below (I'd skip reading it, it's quite dull):
Dear Simon,

Thank you for your e-mail, I’m sorry for the delay responding to you. As I explained, our remit does not cover material on advertisers own websites where it does not refer to a sales promotion. While I appreciate your concern about these claims and the manner in which Boots have brought their promotion into line with the CAP Code, the ASA (at this time) is not entitled to comment on claims on companies’ own websites (outside of promotions), such as the Ladycare menopause relief magnet you mention.

Leaflets available to download on advertisers websites, when they are also distributed to the public as hard-copy (the contents of which therefore fall within the ASA’s remit) are generally also subject to any ASA Council adjudication on the hard-copy. However, this only applies where the leaflet itself is available to download in identical form to that which is distributed as hard-copy material.

Our main aim in cases such as the original investigation into the objections you raised about numerous claims on Boots’ websites is to ensure claims which fall within our remit are amended or removed. In this instance, Boots agreed to ensure that any claims subject to the CAP Code would in future conform, without a formal adjudication from the ASA Council being necessary and there do not appear to be grounds to challenge this decision, nor material within space governed by our remit which appear to give us grounds to investigate further.

However, claims made on companies own websites is sometimes subject to specific legislation which Consumer Direct (0845 4040506) or the MHRA (020 7084 2000, www.mhra.org.uk) might be able to advise further.

Again, I realise this will disappoint, but thank you for taking the time and trouble to contact us with your concerns.

Kind regards

So I think I've hit a dead end with the ASA. Next stop Trading Standards. The thing is, Trading Standards doesn't really do anything unless a lot of people complain.

And I can't imagine there will be many people who will have come back inspired by the excellent TAM London speakers, ready and willing to do the following:
  • Choose one product to complain about. You might like to complain about the Fanny Magnet that apparently "helps to reduce or completely eliminate the symptoms of menopause". Or maybe about the BioFirm Danish Detox Plan, which they claim "naturally supports the body’s own internal processes of elimination and detoxification." Or maybe you're really angry that they sell "Boots Teething Pain Relief" which claims, in the title, that it is for teething pain relief yet can't possibly work as it's homeopathic.
  • Go the Consumer Direct Complaints Form.
  • Fill it out. I've helped with that below by making it easy to copy & paste some basic info that will be relevant to all complaints.
  • Submit the form.
  • Put a comment below so I can see who did what.
Sadly, I doubt anyone will do this. What a shame.

Helpful advice and information to copy & paste:

Section 1:
Clearly quote any text you believe to be unsupported by robust evidence. Point out that Consumer Protection Regulations 2008 require the company to be able to back up any claims with evidence.

Section 2:
Name of Trader: Boots UK Limited
Address: 1 Thane Road West
Town or City: Nottingham
County: Nottinghamshire
Postcode: NG2 3AA
Telephone Number: 0115 918 2000
Trader's website address: http://www.boots-uk.com
Trader's email address: [Leave blank]

Section 3:
Have you paid for goods or services from this trader?: NO
Leave rest of Section 3 blank.

Section 4:
Please let us know how you heard of Consumer Direct: Website/Internet search.

But as I said, I can't imagine anyone will actually do this and comment to let me know they have done so. Real shame.


Garg said...

I definitely won't look at doing this tomorrow in my lunch. No sir, that wont happen at all.

Marsh said...

Well, if you're going to be all reverse-psychology on us, have this:

Dear Sir/Madam

I'm writing to you regarding the sale of 'Boots Teething Pain Relief' sachets. My concerns centre around the claims made regarding the contents and use of this product, as well as the very name of the product. These sachets are homepathic, and as such contain no active ingredient. Without an active ingredient, it's highly misleading to title the product 'Teething Pain Relief' - in my view it's clear to see how an unsuspecting consumer may confuse this product with one which relieves the pain of teething, which a homeopathic product most certainly could not. The rest of the product information is littered with such misleading statements:

"Boots Teething Pain Relief is a homeopathy medicine which contains Chamomilla to relieve the pain of teething." - not only do the sachets go no way towards relieving teething pain, they in fact contain almost no Chamomilla at all, as the homeopathic preparation process removes all but the infinitesimal traces of this ingredient. This claim is therefore unjustified.

"If symptoms do not go away or worsen speak to your doctor" - this seems to imply that a consumer may have right to expect the product to help make the symptoms go away, whereas the product is not able to do so.

"Active ingredients: Chamomilla 6c" - this simply isn't the case - in the entire pack of 24 sachets, it's unlikely there is a detectable amount of chamomilla, and impossible that there is an effective or 'active' amount.

The Consumer Protection Regulations 2008 require the company to be able to back up any claims with evidence - I see no evidence that homeopathic chamomilla can relieve teething pain, or indeed that any homeopathic product can relieve any symptom. If Boots are not able to produce robust evidence that this product does indeed work, they should not be selling it, as a customer may be misled into believing this product to be anything other than worthless.

Kind Regards

Your unique reference number for this message is CDCO10273910. Please use this if you contact us about your enquiry.

There, that showed you, Perry!

Giles said...

Teething product duly complained about; similar content to Mr Marsh above.

Mike Agg said...

Actually the Teething Pain Relief powder probably will work as advertised. Not because of the "active ingredient", chamomile diluted to 0.0000000001%, because that could hardly be less effective, but because this stuff is 99.9999999999% sugar.

Sadly I speak from experience. My boy loved this stuff when he was teething. My wife buys any woo that's going.

Unknown said...

I've complained about the menopause magnet. Unique claim reference: CDCO10274092

Nic said...

Complaint sent regarding the fanny magnet, unique ref CDCO10274191. Damn you and your reverse psychology, it gets me every time.

Anonymous said...

Complained about the 'minge menopause magnet', ref CDCO10274389.

Gaybodgulator said...

I'm involved in a project assessing the effectiveness of Trading Standards enforcement of the Consumer Protection Regs 2008. One product being complained about is a Boots product. If you're interested tweet me @gaybodgulator and I'll ask the project lead to get in touch.

Anonymous said...

Done. Teething thingy complained about. Ref: CDCO10274493

Mike Agg said...

Complaint about the Detox crap: CDCO10274482

Podblack said...

Thanks - have noticed this as a strategy for the Australian efforts on the 10:23 campaign. :)

e said...

Behind on my twitter, so I have only just seen this. Have another fanny magnet complaint. I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed being able to use the phrase 'I do not believe there is any evidence that putting a magnet in your knickers can do anything to …' Outstanding! Has made my day.

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to you regarding the sale of the 'Ladycare menopause relief magnet' (http://www.boots.com/en/Ladycare-menopause-relief-magnet_122270). I am concerned that the literature for this product outrightly states that is is able 'to reduce or completely eliminate the symptoms of menopause'.

As I am sure you are aware, the Consumer Protection Act (2008) requires companies selling products that make such claims to be able to back them up with evidence and I do not believe there is any evidence that putting a magnet in your knickers can do anything to:
'… reduce:
▪ Hot flushes,heart palpitations
▪ Mood swings, anxiety, irritability
▪ Weight gain,memory lapses
▪ Muscle tension, sore joints
▪ Bloating,bladder problems
▪ Vagina dryness
▪ Loss of libido, painful intercourse
▪ Irregular periods, breast tenderness
▪ Fatigue, trouble sleeping, can't concentrate'

I feel that the product name, description and just about everything else is misleading and claims to do things which it cannot possibly do.

If Boots are not able to produce robust evidence as to how this product works then they should not be allowed to sell it and should certainly not be allowed to make such wild claims about the benefits of using it.

Kind Regards,

Your unique reference number for this message is CDCO10274963. Please use this if you contact us about your enquiry.

Sceptical Letter Writer said...

By an astounding coincidence, the "Biofirm Danish Detox Plan" has already been the subject of at least two ASA complaints.

In April the ASA wrote to tell me:

"You may not be surprised to learn that this ad has already come to our attention"...!

Garg said...

I definitely didn't write this today.

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing this letter in reference to the sale of ‘Ladycare menopause relief magents’ that are being sold by Boots UK Ltd which you can find on their website (which you can find at http://www.boots.com/en/Ladycare-menopause-relief-magnet_122270). My primary concern with this product being on sale is a lack of any evidence that this product will help in the way they have advertised.

On their site, they state that:-

LadyCare can help to reduce:

• Hot flushes,heart palpitations
• Mood swings, anxiety, irritability
• Weight gain,memory lapses
• Muscle tension, sore joints
• Bloating,bladder problems
• Vagina dryness
• Loss of libido, painful intercourse
• Irregular periods, breast tenderness
• Fatigue, trouble sleeping, can't concentrate

Each of these claims are either scientifically unfounded and at worse, a complete untruth. Therefore, I would argue that this was a deliberate breaking of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 which require companies to be able to back up any claims with sufficient evidence. As it stands, there is no adequate proof that this product will “…reduce or completely eliminate the symptoms of menopause.”

If Boots UK Ltd are unable to provide this evidence, they should not be selling this product under the misconception that this product will work.

Kind regards,

Mark Rogers.

Thank you for your message.

Your unique reference number for this message is CDCO10278063. Please use this if you contact us about your enquiry.

Adzcliff said...

You're very lucky that I'm in the market for a distraction at the moment:

Dear Sir/Madam.

I am writing to draw your attention to a product sold by Boots UK Limited that purports to be a baby teething pain remedy. 'Teething Pain Relief' (Part No. 2039532) is priced on Boots Website at £4.70 for 24 sachets (http://www.boots.com/en/Boots-Teething-Pain-Relief-24-sachets_845797/). From closer reading, I notice that Boots have labeled this both a homeopathic 'medicine', and as containing an 'active ingredient' of Chamomilla. At a dilution of 6c (i.e. 0.0000000001%), I can only conclude that it is highly unlikely that there is any active ingredient in the majority of these sachets. Furthermore, I am unable to find any robust evidence that this product provides any relief to babies experiencing dental discomfort; and with no active ingredient, fail to see how it could? If Boots have no evidence for the efficacy of this product, then I suggest this is false advertising that has the real potential to mislead customers into purchasing an ineffective product for infant dental-pain, for which other treatments are available.

I would also like to point out that this is probably a contravention of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2008, which requires companies to be able to back up any claims of efficacy with evidence.

In the interests of the informed consent of customers, and the health and well-being of infants in their care, I would request that you follow up this complaint with the utmost urgency.

Thank you for your time, perhaps I can look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Yours Sincerely.


Us said...

I've had a similar claim rumbling along with Trading Standards re the products of a major homeopathy manufacturer for a while. They seemed very keen to ignore it at first, but I'm told they are now "seeking legal advice" over it.

FWIW I relied on the following breaches of the Consumer Protection Regs:

"Misleading actions (R5(2)), with particular regard to benefits of the product (5(b)), fitness for purpose of the product (5(l)), results to be expected from the product (5(q)), results/material features of tests/checks carried out on the product (5(r)) (assuming they have studied these remedies, which one presumes they must have to make these claims for them!).

Also, by playing down the fact that these products have no active ingredient, and they have no good evidence of them working, breach of 6(1)a, b and c.

Also Schedule 1.17 – “Falsely claiming that a product is able to cure illnesses, dysfunction or malformations.”"

Personally I think that it's blindingly obvious that homeopathic "remedies" breach all of these things. I'm curious to see how Trading Standards try to wriggle out of enforcement, as I fully expect they will.

e said...

I got a reply asking for my full address before it is passed on to the relevant Trading Standards office. I had deliberately left it off to see if these would be going to Nottingham TS as the local office of Boots HQ rather than my local East Sussex office which is normally the way these things work. I'm not sure how joined up they are, but I suspect as everyone is going to be passed on to different offices local to where they live the mass emailing might not have the desired effect. Nevertheless, address sent to them. Awaiting further replies.

Thyrisis said...

May, or may not, have complained about the Bach Emotional Eating Kit (as the name made me laugh). Unique ref: CDCO10280651

Big Gay Shaun said...

I didn't complain about the teething nonsense before taking a relaxing bath, and my reference wasn't CDCO10280642. Now, where's the loofah...?

Johnnie said...

Fanny magnet. Done.

Consumer complaints form
Thank you for your message.

Your unique reference number for this message is CDCO10280914. Please use this if you contact us about your enquiry.

Anonymous said...

Looks like someone is listening...
Just had Consumer Direct on the phone to clarify a couple of points. (Their ref: YH74816).
They are to discuss the complaint with my local TS to consider how best to proceed.
I'll keep you posted if I hear any more

Rob McD said...

Ref: CDCO10283156

Dear Sir/Madam,

I'm writing with regard to the sale of "Boots Teething Pain Relief" sachets. Given that the product is stated to be homeopathic in nature, the listing of the "active ingredient" as Chamomilla is misleading at best. Homeopathic preparations rely on diluting the "active ingredient" to such an extent that only small amounts, and in some cases none of it remain. Homeopathy instead relies on the supposed "memory of water" of substances once within it to treat the patient. Such a memory has not been shown to exist despite several scientific studies. The website claims that the sachets will relieve pain, but no homeopathic product has ever been shown to have an effect beyond placebo.

According to the Consumer Protection Regulations 2008, the company is required to be able to back up any claims with evidence. The claims for pain relief and an active ingredient are clearly unsubstantiated in the case of any homeopathic product, and as such I do not believe that Boots should be selling this one to unwitting members of the public.

kind regards,

Robert McDermott

Adzcliff said...

And here's a reply from Consumer Direct:

Dear [Me]

Thank you for your enquiry to Consumer Direct dated 19th October 2010. Your reference number for this case is YH 741888 and should be quoted in all further correspondence regarding this case.

Based on the information you have provided the key legal points in response to your enquiry are as follows:

* You wanted to bring to our attention the claims made by Boots the Chemist regarding the product Teething Pain Relief.

Misleading advertising may constitute an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Therefore details of your complaint have been noted and passed onto the relevant Trading Standards department for their information for collation and routine enforcement purposes.

If any further information is required in addition to the details supplied within your email then you may be contacted by a Trading Standards officer, however Consumer Direct are unable to make any guarantees on behalf of Trading Standards.

If you require any further clarification about this case, please do not hesitate to contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 quoting the case reference number.

Thank you for your enquiry

[Author's name]

Consumer Direct

Sceptical Letter Writer said...

Apologies for joining the party so late, but here is my complaint (about the Danish Detox Plan).

(Complaint ref CDCO10296806)

"I write to complain about Boots who, I suspect, are making false medical claims on their website.

For example, the "BioFirm Danish Detox Plan" product [1] is claimed to be an "effective formula" which "naturally supports the body’s own internal processes of elimination and detoxification".

I think this claim cannot be substantiated. In March this year, I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the same product, which was being advertised by a different company.

On that occasion, the advert boasted that "The Biofirm Danish Detox Plan supports your body to deal with toxins", but on 27th April the ASA wrote to tell me:

"You may not be surprised to learn that this ad has already come to our attention and we received an assurance at the end of February that this ad would not appear again."

The UK's leading authority on complementary medicine, Professor Edzard Ernst, has recently written about "detox" therapies [2]:

"Detox, as used in alternative medicine, is based on ill-conceived ideas about human physiology, metabolism, toxicology etc. There is no evidence that it does any good and some treatments...can be harmful. The only substance that is being removed from a patient is usually money."

Unless Boots can provide robust clinical evidence that the "BioFirm Danish Detox Plan" can "suppport the body's...detoxification", I complain that Boots have made false medical claims, in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPR) 2008. As you know, the regulations require companies to be able to substantiate any such claims they make with evidence.

I have compiled a list of two hundred similar dubious medical claims on the Boots website. To assist you with your prompt enquiries, I have decided to submit a single complaint, rather than two hundred and forty separate ones.


[1] http://www.boots.com/en/BioFirm-Danish-Detox-Plan-90-Tablets_10643/
[2] Edzard Ernst, Simon Singh, "Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial", p308. ISBN 978-0-393-06661-6.

Danny Chapman said...

They're still doing 3 for 2 on homeopathy - e.g.


However, they have removed direct claims of efficacy, and some of the stronger hints of efficacy. They've also removed the comments/review section, presumably because Boots could be considered responsible for the definite claims of effectiveness.

So now they're just selling stuff that's "designed for...", which is technically true, but still pathetic.

I submitted an ASA complaint about the one above (after your talk in Oxford :)) to see how the system works. Very very slowly it seems... (though I got positive responses from ASA in the end).

I found it interesting that ASA did (initially anyway, never heard back after my reply) treat MHRA approval as evidence of efficacy (of course it just requires that provings need to be submitted that would satisfy a trained homeopath!).

Tom Carter said...

Heard you on the Strange Quarks podcast, have been looking for someone to help me get active. Complaint made about the Teething Pain Powder

"Consumer complaints form
Thank you for your message.

Your unique reference number for this message is CDCO10398540. Please use this if you contact us about your enquiry."

Danny Chapman said...

I've just complained to ASA again about _all_ the Boots 30c homeopathy products:


this time on the claims on each one like:

Active ingredients: 30c Sepia officinalis

i.e. challenging the claim that it contains any _active_ ingredient.

Even if a 30c product could be demonstrated to be effective (haha) it wouldn't actually be evidence that the ingredient "30c waffle officinalis" was _active_.

I suggested that:

Acitve ingredient: Placebo

would be acceptable.

I assume this particular complaint hasn't been lodged before. Wouldn't do any harm for some others to have a go too :)