Small victories for health science with Advertising Standards Canada (ASC)

Hi all,

Thought I would give a quick update on my  experiences using FishBarrel in Canada to target dubious claims and practices, where there is no scientific evidence to support them. I am pleased to report a couple of positive results with Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) for two cases I found recently of CAM practitioners making dubious claims for their practices.

A few weeks back, I almost choked on my toast at breakfast when I opened a local free-newspaper (The Delta Optimist) to find a full page of advertisements with various local CAM practitioners advertising presented as “Ask the Experts” – strangely, with no medical or nursing content. Apart from the nonsense being claimed by some, or blindingly obvious advice (the local naturopath telling people that if they eat healthily they might feel better) what also irked me was that the page was presented as a full-spread editorial exploring healthy living, not a page of paid advertising. I know, I know, I really should know better, and I don’t know why I even bother reading them either – one, a few weeks back had the shocking front-page headline “Tenants Miss Bus!” with a story of a scheduled bus that did not arrive to pick up its passengers; hardly the BBC or Al Jazeera.

Anyhow, I decided to give FishBarrel a test run and complain to the ASC and the Competition Bureau Canada (CBC) to see if I had any luck, and also with another website I had come across making unsubstantiated health claims. It only took a few minutes to make the complaint in the time it took me to finish my coffee.

Firstly, I complained about a BC based self-described dream-healer (who also appeared on TV in 2007 in on the Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos) about his faith/energy/remote healing website. He claimed his therapies were “the most effective way that we can all play an active role in our own healing.” Secondly, I complained about a local craniosacral therapist from the Ladner Birch Tree Wellness Clinic, who claimed that autism, ADD and ADHD, could be relieved with craniosacral therapy. Lastly, I complained to the Optimist had not identified the “Ask the Experts” section as advertising, but implied it was editorial content.

The CBC were not particularly helpful, and somewhat surprisingly, it seems the advertisements did not represent unfair competition (although making false claims for commercial competitive purposes is identified in their standards). However, the ASC response found against the faith-healer in respect to Clause 1 (Accuracy and Clarity) and Clause 8 (Professional and Scientific Claims) of the Code (See: and use “Dreamhealer” as the search term in 2013 Q4 to see the ruling)  and initially against the craniosacral therapist in the provisions of Clause 1 (Accuracy and Clarity), and Clause 8 (Professional and Scientific Claims) of the Code – this is currently being appealed by the advertiser so I will update this page on the final ruling). Lastly, it found against the Optimist in  Clause 2 for (Disguised Advertising Techniques).

All of these folks have been written to and required to comply with the code in future and the cases recorded and published on the ASC website. Small beer I know, and overall probably not world-changing, but the more bad-publicity businesses get for employing inaccurate/false claims or unscrupulous advertising techniques the more likely the public are going to question their practices, standards, and motives. All in all, it gives me some hope and was, I must admit, rather satisfying!

I shall be using FishBarrel for more of this in the future, and the more people who complain about this sort of thing the better. I have also just complained to our professional regulatory body (the CRNBC) about a practitioner using their RN status to advertise and support their private commercial CAM practices, so we shall see how that goes. With the Web and tools like FishBarrel it is now quite easy to do this sort of thing, so remember, next time you see unfair, unreasonable or blatantly fraudulent advertising practice you can do the same.

Onwards and upwards,

Cheers Bernie

 Update: March 12th 2014

The appeal process has now completed for the Ladner Cranio-Sacral therapist and the ASC upheld the original complaint finding

“In the opinion of the Appeal Panel, the overall impression conveyed by the advertisement was that craniosacraltherapy is widely recognized as an effective method of treating serious conditions listed in the advertisement. The case studies submitted by the advertiser gave only anecdotal evidence that a few patients believed their symptoms were relieved as a result of the treatment. This, in the Appeal Panel’s unanimous view, is in contrast to the principal claim conveyed by the advertisement.

Because the impression conveyed by the advertisement was not supported by the evidence submitted, the Appeal Panel, therefore, confirmed the original decision of Council that the advertisement contravened Clauses 1(e) and 8 of the Code. “