Friday, 29 January 2010

Dr & Herbs - at last, a cure for hayfever!


UPDATE, 27th Feb: According to a sign posted on the front door of the Luton branch, Dr & Herbs has gone into compulsory liquidation. Good riddance.

UPDATE, 6th Apr:
Dr & Herbs were back in business a few days later. Boo! Hiss!

"Dr & Herbs" is a chain of shops in the UK offering Chinese Traditional Medicine, acupuncture and other "alternative" treatments.


As a life-long sufferer of hay fever myself, I was particularly excited to discover that they claim to offer a cure. Unfortunately, the claim doesn't seem to stand up, as my complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority argues.

"I write to complain about the advertising leaflets produced by "Dr & Herbs", a Chinese medicine retail outlet, on 30th January 2010.

The leaflet is entitled "Hay Fever - Looked everywhere for a cure? Pre-season prevention plan from just 33p per day". I believe the leaflet is in breach of several sections of the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP) Code.

For your convenience, I have made a scan of the leaflet available on a popular image sharing website [here and here]. I can provide a copy of the scan by email, or send an original copy of the leaflet by post, if required.

1. "Dr & Herbs" is a chain of shops selling Traditional Chinese Medicine, courses of acupuncture and other treatments.

2. I obtained this leaflet from a stand at the entrance of the Luton branch of Dr & Herbs. Their full address is: Dr & Herbs, Unit 182, The Arndale Centre, Luton.

3. The leaflet makes four separate claims of a cure for hay fever based on a "Chinese Medicine Approach". In addition, the leaflets presents two testimonials attesting to the efficacy of the treatment.

4. (i) The first page of the leaflet states "Hay Fever. Looked everywhere for a cure? Pre-season prevention plan from just 33p per day"

(ii) Although the "prevention plan" is not explicitly claimed to be a cure, these three sentences together make a strong implied claim that the "prevention plan" is as effective as a cure might be.

5. (i) The third page of the leaflet states "Unlike antihistamines which are conventially used to lessen hay fever symptoms, chinese
[sic] herbal medicine offers a preventative cure designed to stop hay fever before the peak season starts."

(ii) With the use of the word "cure", the leaflet makes an explicit claim of a cure for hay fever.

6. (i) The third page of the leaflet states "Dr & Herbs offer a two-month pre-season prevention plan of once-daily Chinese herbal medicine tablets which will benefit over 90% of sufferers."

(ii) With the use of the words "90%", the leaflet makes an explicit claim of a cure for hay fever.

7. (i) The third page of the leaflet states "We are so confident that our pre-season prevention plans will cure your hay fever, we offer a 100% refund if it isn't completely effective."

(ii) With the use of the word "cure", the leaflet makes an explicit claim of a cure for hay fever.

8. The leaflet includes two testimonials attesting to the efficacy of the treatment offered by Dr & Herbs.

9. (i) "L Penney - Watford" is reported to state "My hay fever symptoms have been nominal despite the high pollen counts we've experienced."

(ii) "M Crane - Bayswater" is reported to state "I had very bad hay fever and all other conventional tablets had failed... for me, this form of alternative therapy has really worked."

COMPLAINT

10. The CAP code, section 3.1, states “Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims, whether direct or implied, that are capable of objective substantiation.”

11. I have not been able to find any clinical studies attesting to the efficacy of Chinese Traditional Medicine in treating hay fever.

12. I challenge whether:

(i) Dr & Herbs hold documentary evidence to prove any of their three direct claims of a cure for hay fever;

(ii) Dr & Herbs hold documentary evidence to prove their implied claim of a cure for hay fever;

(iii) Dr & Herbs hold documentary evidence to prove that any of their "five treatment plans" might be more suitable for a given individual than any of the other "five treatment plans";

(iv) Dr & Herbs hold documentary evidence that anyone is capable of recognising the correct treatment plan (out of the five) for any given individual;

(v) Dr & Herbs hold documentary evidence that any of their staff is capable of recognising the correct treatment plan (out of the five) for any given individual.

13. Section 50.1 o the CAP code states "Medical and scientific claims made about beauty and health-related products should be backed by evidence, where appropriate consisting of trials conducted on people."

14. I challenge whether Dr & Herbs' claims of a cure for hay fever are backed by evidence.

15. Section 6.1 of the CAP code states “Marketers should not exploit the credulity, lack of knowledge or inexperience of consumers.”

16. Few consumers are aware of the clinical evidence, published in peer-reviewed medical journals, for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

17. If satisfactory clinical evidence supporting this treatment does not in fact exist, I challenge whether Dr & Herbs has exploited the credulity and lack of knowledge of consumers by representing their treatment as a "cure".

18. Section 2.1 of the CAP code states “2.1 All marketing communications should be legal, decent, honest and truthful.”

19. If satisfactory clinical evidence supporting this treatment does not in fact exist, I challenge whether the leaflet, in making its claims of a cure, is either honest or truthful.

20. Section 14.1 of the CAP code states "Marketers should hold signed and dated proof, including a contact address, for any testimonial they use.

21. I challenge whether Dr & Herbs hold signed and dated proof of the testimonials of "L Penney" and "M Crane".

22. Section 14.3 of the CAP code states "Testimonials alone do not constitute substantiation and the opinions expressed in them must be supported, where necessary, with independent evidence of their accuracy."

23. I challenge whether Dr & Herbs have, in their leaflet, used testimonials as the only source of substantiation for their claim of a cure for hay fever, without supporting the claim with independent evidence of its efficacy.

24. I confirm that I have no connections with the Traditional Chinese Medicine in general, or specifically with Dr & Herbs. I confirm that I am not, and have never been, involved in legal proceedings with Dr & Herbs.

25. I confirm that I am happy to be identified as the complainant."

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