Homeopathy, celebrities and advertising III: remit, or not remit?
Further to my frustration with being ping-ponged between the Advertising Standards Authority and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, I did eventually receive further correspondence from the latter, as follows:
'Thank you for your emails with further comments regarding the BHA Celebrity Photography Project website, which have been received.
We have considered the content of your email and the website again and... discussed the issues raised below with colleagues in the Agency. We remain of the opinion that the website is designed to promote homeopathy in general rather than any specific homeopathic medicinal product. It therefore falls outside the remit of the MHRA who regulate the advertising of medicinal products
I see you have contacted the ASA separately about this.
Thank you for your interest.'
Well, quite. I promise not to go on at length this time; but cf. their original response:
‘Thank you for this enquiry.
We have had a quick look at the websites referred to in your complaint.
They appear to be promoting homeopathy in general rather than any specific homeopathic medicinal product. They would therefore fall outside the remit of the MHRA who regulate the advertising of medicinal products.
The Advertising Standards Authority has a more general remit to regulate advertising that would include the promotion of homeopathy services. I see you have already complained to them.
Thank you for your interest.’
Which I read as tantamount to saying that, as far as the MHRA is concerned, celebrity endorsement is fine and dandy if it is merely promotional, and not directly advertising 'specific homeopathic medicinal product'. But (leaving aside the glaring oxymoron there, which would thus logically mean that the MHRA need never bother itself with homeopathy at all) – and please do correct me if I misread – does it not also concur that this is within the ASA's remit?
I looked again at the (cough) medicines so enthused upon by that barrel-scraped sample of dotty celebrities, and at the MHRA's own 'Homeopathic registrations' listing. What's the difference? Ahh, the British Homeopathic Association's esteemed panel doesn't name suppliers. (I previously used 'manufacturers', but I don't think, aside from the packaging, that the word actually applies, does it?) Got it! Is that what qualifies as advertising? Perhaps it is just that the homeopathy-speak generic terms happen to match/overlap the specific product names registered under the MHRA scheme. (I'm not sure if this suggests a lack of imagination; or some strategic attempt at coming over all knowledgeably scientific.) So you can name them... without naming them. Genius! However, I still cannot find Arum triph and Causticum, to which I suppose, as these do not appear to be licensed, this coincidence cannot apply. And surely these responsible, authoritative celebrities would not publicly endorse unlicensed products. They're just using the lingo.
So, I do kind of get the MHRA when it informs me that its statement:
‘Advertising to the public must not contain material which refers to … recommendations by celebrities who, because of their celebrity, could encourage the consumption of medicinal products’
will only trouble it when the celebrity is holding a bottle/packet of the stuff with the manufacturer supplier name visible. But I also get its informing me that:
'The Advertising Standards Authority has a more general remit to regulate advertising that would include the promotion of homeopathy services.'
(My emphasis in bold.)
If the BHA's celebrity endorsement is not promotion, I don't know what it is. And I remain of the opinion that this ought to trouble the ASA. Particularly, when I re-read its position on patient testimonials:
‘Please note that testimonials from patients (which must be genuine) that imply efficacy for homeopathic treatment do not constitute substantiation but may give a misleading impression that efficacy is proven. Therefore it is essential that any testimonials also only make general references to an improved sense of well-being.’
Again, I’m sure these celebrities believe what they say. (After all, they subscribe to a belief system for people who like to feel all Speh-shull.) But why does the BHA (and many other homeopathy-promoting bodies) seek testimonials, or mine for quotes, by celebrities? Just when does 'raising awareness' become 'promotion'? Depends whether it's positive or negative. Well, I'm trying to raise awareness here – of the patronising logical fallacy that is the resort to celebrity (presumed) authority. And I'm not promoting a damn thing.