New Decisions: Vaccinations, Fluoride and More

The following decisions have been published:

Advocacy Ad Ruled OK on Appeal
The newspaper advertisement for Fluoride Free New Zealand showed a photo of a child drinking a glass of water with the heading “Fluoride is a Neurotoxin that Reduces Children’s IQ”. Below this photo was the heading “International Experts share latest research linking fluoride to neurological damage and other harms.” The Complainants raised concerns the advertisement was misleading because it exaggerated the neurological effects of fluoride on children and used fear to spread a counter-scientific message that fluoride is dangerous to children.

The Complaints Board ruled on 9 October 2018 the complaint was Upheld, in part. It said the advocacy advertisement was not likely to mislead as the Advertiser provided a sufficient level of substantiation for the claims made. However, the Complaints Board said the advertisement unjustifiably played on fear and was therefore socially irresponsible.

The Advertiser appealed the Decision. In their Appeal the Advertiser claimed, in part, that it was contradictory for the Complaints Board to accept the scientific research indicating the advertisement was not misleading, to then say that the advertisement unjustifiably plays on fear. They also said the advertisement’s structure was essentially identical to a Ministry of Health web page that forms part of the Ministry’s antismoking advocacy campaign, which no one would consider fearmongering.

The Appeal Board agreed with the Complaints Board the advertisement did not meet the threshold to mislead consumers as the Advertiser provided some substantiation for the claims made, and, in the context of an advocacy advertisement, this was deemed sufficient.

The Appeal Board disagreed with the Complaints Board’s ruling on Rule 6 of the Code of Ethics and said the advertisement did not quite meet the threshold to unjustifiably play on fear, although it came very close.  In making its decision, the Appeal Board gave greater emphasis to the context of the advertisement, a newspaper invitation to a public lecture explaining recent research on the risks of fluoride. The Appeal Board said in this instance the Advertiser holds the view that “Fluoride is a Neurotoxin that reduces Children’s IQ” and, in the context of advocacy, the advertised talk was their opportunity to elaborate on this view.

Therefore, the Complaints were Not Upheld and the Appeal was Allowed.

Advocacy Ads Must Clearly Identify the Advertiser
The billboard advertisement for WAVES NZ showed a photo of a man holding a baby. The man had a prominent tattoo on his right arm. Next to the photo were the words: “If you knew the ingredients in a vaccine, would you RISK it?” (The word “Risk” was in red and in capital letters). At the bottom right of the advertisement was the organisation’s website.

The ASA received 146 complaints about the advertisement. The Complainants were generally concerned the advertisement was not socially responsible because it implied that vaccines are not safe, and convincing people not to vaccinate may not only prove harmful to them and their children, but also to wider society. The Complainants also said the advertisement exploited fear in people who do not understand the underlying science behind vaccinations.

The Advertiser said the intention behind the advertisement was to promote informed consent and to encourage parents to research the ingredients of vaccines.

The majority of the Complaints Board said the identity of the Advertiser was not sufficiently clear and ruled the identification requirement of Advocacy Advertising, had not been met. The Complaints Board said the advertisement was misleading as the likely consumer takeout that vaccination is not safe was not sufficiently substantiated by the Advertiser, the advertisement unjustifiably played on fear and was socially irresponsible. Therefore, the Complaints Board ruled on 9 October 2018 the complaint was upheld.

The Advertiser appealed the Decision. The Appeal Board agreed with the Complaints Board that the identity of the Advertiser was not clear enough and agreed the message received by the consumer was limited and therefore misleading. It said that while consumers have a right to be informed, the billboard advertisement engendered fear through the use of text and imagery. The Appeal Board ruled the Complaints were Upheld and the Appeal was Dismissed.

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