Complaint: 14/646

Gill Burdett Acupuncture Website

Details

Complainants
L. Taylor
advertisers
Gill Burdett Acupuncture
Year
2014
Media
Digital Marketing
Product
Health and Beauty
Clauses
Decision
Upheld / Settled
ASA Links
Website Listing
Decision Document

Document

14/646

COMPLAINT NUMBER

14/646

COMPLAINANT

L. Taylor

ADVERTISER

Gill Burdett Acupuncture

ADVERTISEMENT

Gill Burdett Acupuncture Website

DATE OF MEETING

10 February 2015

OUTCOME

Upheld


SUMMARY


The Gill Burdett Acupuncture website (http://www.gillburdett.co.nz/) made various claims about what acupuncture does treat, including asthma, and smoking/drug addiction. The advertisement also made claims about reducing medications and about "Pregnancy Treatments" and included testimonials.


The Complainant said the advertisement contained unsubstantiated therapeutic claims about what acupuncture treated and testimonials.


The Complaints Board acknowledged the changes made by Advertiser, however, it noted no substantiation was provided to support the therapeutic claims made on the website and it included testimonials which implied successful treatment. As such, the Complaints Board said the advertisement was in breach of Principles 2, 3 and 5 and Guidelines 3(a), 3(b) and 5(a) of the Therapeutic Services Advertising Code and ruled to Uphold the complaint.


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Please note this headnote does not form part of the Decision.



COMPLAINTS BOARD Decision


The Chairman directed the Complaints Board to consider the advertisement with reference to Principles 2, 3 and 5 and Guidelines 3(a), 3(b) and 5(a) of the Therapeutic Services Advertising Code.


Principle 3 and Guidelines 3(a) and 3(b) required the Complaints Board to consider whether the advertisement, by implication or omission, was likely to mislead or deceived, claims were factual and able to be proved and did not unduly glamorise the service or portray realistic outcomes.


Principle 5 and Guideline 5(a) of the Therapeutic Services Code required the Complaints Board to consider whether the advertisement claimed or implied endorsement and whether the testimonials (where not prohibited by law) were valid, substantiated, true and current and able to be verified.


Principle 2 of the Therapeutic Services Code required advertisements making therapeutic claims to observe a high standard of social responsibility to consumers particularly as they rely on therapeutic services for their health wellbeing.


The Complaints Board noted the concerns raised by the Complainant about the therapeutic claims made on the Advertiser's website for acupuncture. The Complainant raised specific concerns about the list of conditions identified under "What does acupuncture treat" which included asthma and addictions. The Complainant also raised concerns about the claims surrounding acupuncture for pregnancy and childbirth, as well as adjustments to prescribed medications and testimonials.


The Complaints Board turned to consider the response from the Advertiser. It noted they had made some adjustments to the website including removing the testimonials and asthma from the "complaints treated" listed. Further the Complaints Board noted the Advertiser had included a few links on the website to some information to support the claims made in the advertisement.


The Complaints Board noted the Advertiser's view that if people were coming for treatment of asthma, they would have already been seen by a doctor and diagnosed, regardless they had experience in the medical profession as a nurse and as a midwife. Further, the Complaints Board noted the Advertiser said "I stand by my statement that a client may in time be able to have certain medications reduced, due to their condition improving, and not because I would 'apply pressure' for a GP to do so."


Turning to consider the advertisement before it, and taking into account the changes made to the website, the Complaints Board said that the use of the word "treat" in the advertisement was a strong therapeutic claim and implied a cure. Further, the Complaints Board noted the Advertiser provided no substantiation to the Complaints Board to support the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of the varied list of conditions indicated.


The Complaints Board noted the website still contained testimonials which claimed successful treatment of a back injury, pain, health issues and injuries. The Complaints Board noted the inclusion of testimonials which claim a successful outcome, regardless of the veracity of those claims, were not acceptable in advertisements for acupuncture services.


On consideration of the above, the Complaints Board said the changes made by the Advertiser did not go far enough to save it from breaching the Therapeutic Services Advertising Code. It said the advertisement made unsubstantiated claims, used testimonials and was therefore likely to mislead consumers in breach of Principles 3 and 5 and Guidelines 3(a), 3(b) and 5(a) of the Therapeutic Services Advertising Code. Therefore, the Complaints Board said the advertisement had not been prepared with a high standard of social responsibility to consumers and society and was in breach of Principle 2 of the Therapeutic Services Advertising Code.


Accordingly, the Complaints Board ruled to Uphold the complaint.


Finally, the Complaints Board noted that the Therapeutic Advertising Pre-Vetting Service (TAPS) was a user-pays service available to all advertisers making therapeutic claims to help minimise the risk of breaching the ASA Codes of Practice as well as other industry codes and relevant legislation. Information about TAPS is available at http://www.anza.co.nz.




Description of Advertisement


The Gill Burdett Acupuncture website (http://www.gillburdett.co.nz/) made various claims about what acupuncture does treat, including asthma, and smoking/drug addiction. The advertisement also made claims about "Pregnancy Treatments". The advertisement also included testimonials which stated, in part:


"after only 2 treatment sessions I am sleeping again and pain is receding without the use of any drugs."


Complaint from l. taylor


I believe the Gill Burdett Acupuncture website breaches the following principles and guidelines in regards to therapeutic services; Principle 3, and Guidelines: 3(a) and 3(b) and Ethics Rule 9 - Testimonials.


The page entitled "What does Acupuncture treat?" is misleading as it claims that acupuncture can treat a wide variety of illness and conditions, although literature on acupuncture does not share this view. The believe that acupuncture can treat Asthma is worrying, as it can kill a sufferer if they do not medicate quickly upon an attack occurring. Shingles and the Herpes Zoster Virus are virus' and I do not see how sterile needles can treat or cure these conditions.


Everything on the page non related to joints, is unfounded to be effectively treated with acupuncture.


It is concerning that acupuncture is being used as a treatment for legitimate addictions such as for nicotine withdrawal. This breaches Guideline 3(a) and Principle 2.


On the page titled: "Acupuncture for pregnancy & childbirth", I am somewhat taken aback that acupuncture is being offered as a treatment to pregnant women and those who have recently given birth. It is most concerning that it is being used for effects such as "postnatal depression". This is breaches Guideline 3(a).


The following is borderline on Principle 2; It is disconcerting to see that on the "what to expect during treatment" page that it is suggested that:


"As treatment progresses, the need for certain medications might decrease and it may be appropriate to reduce dosages. This would be decided by your GP or the medical practitioner prescribing. And whilst its your decision to have acupuncture, its useful for other health practitioners working with you at the same time, to know you are doing so.


I would hope that it is a GP or other medical doctor adjusting or changing medications and not the acupuncturist pushing or suggesting to the GP to do so...


The "recent patient feedback" on the "what to expect during treatment" page is worrisome, as it is not clear when the testimonials were written, or who wrote them. This breaches the Ethics Rule 9 regarding Testimonials


Therapeutic Services Advertising Code


Principle 2 - Advertisements should observe a high standard of social responsibility particularly as consumers rely on therapeutic services for their health and well-being.


Principle 3 - Advertisements should not by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim mislead or deceive or be likely to mislead or deceive consumers, abuse the trust of or exploit the lack of knowledge of consumers, exploit the superstitious or without justifiable reason play on fear.


Guideline 3(a) - Therapeutic claims should be factual and able to be proved.


Guideline 3(b) - Advertisements should not have depictions which unduly glamorise the service or portray unrealistic outcomes.


Principle 5 - Advertisements should not claim or imply endorsement by any government agency, professional body or independent agency unless there is prior consent, the endorsement is verifiable and the agency or the body is named.


Guideline 5(a)- Testimonials, where not prohibited by law, should be valid, true, current, documented and exceptional cases should be represented as such, not as typical. The claims in testimonials should be verifiable.



Response from Advertiser, gill burdett


I have made some changes:


Client feedback - I have removed the (genuine!) comments on the site, and will be adding new ones with names and dates submitted to me.


What to expect section - I have added a sentence about side effects.

List of complaints treated - I have simplified this list - removing asthma and shingles.


I am not stating anywhere that I cure medical conditions, but that acupuncture can help a lot with symptom relief. Chinese medicine has a different framework to allopathic medicine. It is all about strengthening identifiable underlying weaknesses in proper functioning and alleviating symptoms to promote comfort and improve health.


Asthma was a condition raised specifically as being potentially life threatening. If people are coming with asthma or shingles, it means they have already had this diagnosed and treated by a doctor. I would not be making such a diagnosis as I am not a doctor. I am however as well as an acupuncturist a registered nurse and midwife and have a good sense of what symptoms need to be assessed or monitored by a doctor, and would require such an assessment to be performed prior to providing treatment myself. I have good working relationships with medical colleagues both in general practice and in obstetrics and I stand by my statement that a client may in time be able to have certain medications reduced, due to their condition improving, and not because I would "apply pressure " for a GP to do so !


I have ten years experience in treating pregnant women with acupuncture for common pregnancy complaints, and i've practiced midwifery since 1982 so I have a unique set of skills and knowledge which promotes confidence and ensures safety for clients I treat. I helped establish the pregnancy acupuncture clinic at Hutt Hospital with Dr Debra Betts, acupuncturist, and author, whose research and teaching on acupuncture during childbearing is known throughout the world. This clinic was a joint initiative between the Hutt Hospital and New Zealand School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I was involved in the clinic for five years, including two years as a supervisor after I qualified at the school in Wellington. This clinic has been very successful and popular with both pregnant women and their maternity caregivers.


In summary I have stopped using my flyer and am in the process of making specific changes to my website based on this complaint. In particular adding supporting material such as research and information from the World Health Organization. I should have this completed by the end of next week, so am hoping that's an acceptable timeframe


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