The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint from the Society for Science Based Healthcare against the Homeopathy Centre in Christchurch. They ruled that the Homeopathy Centre’s advertisements misled consumers, unduly glamorised the benefits of homeopathy, portrayed unrealistic outcomes, unjustifiably played on fear, and exploited the superstitious.

The Christchurch Mail published two Homeopathy Centre advertisements on the 12th of March.
One, an advertorial, claimed “Homeopathy can help put things right” and “homeopathic medicine is energetic in nature and can stimulate the vital force”. The other said “No matter what state of health you are in, you can improve it!”. It claimed homeopathy could do this for various conditions, such as depression.

Homeopathy Centre's ads in the Christchurch Mail
Homeopathy Centre’s ads in the Christchurch Mail

Both advertisements included the URL of the Homeopathy Centre’s website, which claimed homeopathy is able to effectively treat a wide range of conditions including infertility, flu, allergies, infections and chronic pain.

The Society for Science Based Healthcare complained about these advertisements, saying these claims were misleading and unsubstantiated, and that the advertisements unduly glamorised the benefits of homeopathy and portrayed unrealistic outcomes. The Society said that references to “the vital force” exploited the superstitious.

The Advertising Standards Authority found in favour of the Society for Science Based Healthcare:

“the Complaints Board found the claims in the original version of the website and the two newspaper advertisements had not been prepared with a high standard of social responsibility. It said the Advertiser provided no evidence about the existence of “vital force” or substantiated its effect on the body or medical condition or the ability of homeopathic medicine [to] stimulate it and as such were misleading. The Complaints Board said the advertisements exploited the superstitions in those people who may believe in the concept. It also found the advertisements and the website unduly glamorised homeopathy and portrayed unrealistic outcomes that were likely to mislead or deceive consumers.”

“Accordingly, the Complaints Board ruled to Uphold the complaint.”

The Society for Science Based Healthcare welcomes this ruling. It hopes that it will raise awareness among consumers that homeopathic products are ineffective, and that many claims made about homeopathic products by those selling them are misleading.

This ruling follows in the wake of a rigorous and comprehensive report published in March by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, which strengthened the existing scientific consensus that “there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective”.

In 2014, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld 6 complaints against advertisements for homeopathy on the basis that they were misleading, and a further 7 complaints were settled when homeopathy advertisements were voluntarily withdrawn or amended.

Two of the complaints settled last year regarded advertisements from pharmacies. One the homeopathy complaints upheld last year, about No-Jet-Lag, was advertised in an Auckland pharmacy.

Following a complaint from the Society for Science Based Healthcare, the complaint was upheld when the manufacturer failed to substantiate that the product “really works”. The pharmacy involved promised to withdraw the product from sale, but a large number of New Zealand pharmacies still sell it. The No-Jet-Lag website claims that it is stocked by “Most chemists nationwide”.

The Pharmacy Council, which under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act is responsible for setting standards of ethical conduct for pharmacists (see section 4(6)(b)(iv) of the Act), has published the Safe Effective Pharmacy Practice Code of Ethics. Section 6.9 of this code requires of pharmacists that:

“YOU MUST… Only purchase, supply or promote any medicine, complementary therapy, herbal remedy or other healthcare product where there is no reason to doubt its quality or safety and when there is credible evidence of efficacy.”

Despite this, many New Zealand pharmacies still promote and sell homeopathic products, despite an utter lack of any credible evidence of efficacy.

Homeopathy is based on the principles of “like cures like”, which states that a substance that causes symptoms in a healthy person will cure them in a sick person, and serial dilution, which states that substances become more potent as a result of repeated dilution and shaking. Neither of these principles, nor the claimed beneficial health effects of homeopathic products, are supported by evidence.

New Zealand homeopathy manufacturer NaturoPharm, whose products are sold in many New Zealand pharmacies, states on their website that “Homoeopathic medicines are manufactured using a method that dilutes the original substance to a point where there are no molecules of original substance left.”

Homeopathy Centre Exploited Superstition, Misled Consumers