The activist Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) organisation have had a bad year with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They have had half a dozen complaints against them for misleading advertising upheld.
The latest complaint referred to FFNZ’s adverts for a meeting they organised in Rotorua last July. This advert claimed
“Informed Doctors and Dentists say:
KEEP FLUORIDE OUT
Keep Rotorua’s water safe. It’s our right to choose.
Is unsafe for babies
Doesn’t protect teeth
Can cause harm.”
The complaint basically was that these claims were presented as matters of fact, rather than opinion. And the declarations of harm, danger to babies and lack of effectiveness protecting teeth were effectively claims implying scientific substantiation. It also raised the issue of misrepresentation of the views of New Zealand doctors and dentists – implying that the claims are supported by a majority of these professional when they aren’t. Quite the opposite.
In fact, FFNZ can get only about half a dozen such professionals willing to promote their message. It is dishonest to then use these handful of mavericks to imply the whole profession supports the anti-fluoride claims.
The complainant also pointed out the advert was effectively indulging in scaremongering because it claimed there was harm, when there wasn’t any, and it appeared to be promoting the advice of professionals, when professionals weren’t saying what was claimed.
The ASA ruling concludes:
“The Complaints Board said the advertisement was likely to mislead as the claims were presented as facts, but were not substantiated by the Advertiser, in breach of Basic Principle 3 and Rule 2 and was not saved by advocacy, in breach of Rule 11 of the Code of Ethics. It said the advertisement unjustifiably played on fear, in breach of Rule 6 of the Code of Ethics and was socially irresponsible in breach Basic Principle 4 of the Code of Ethics and the Complaints Board ruled the matter was upheld.
It is good to see more people coming forward to make these sort of complaints. The anti-science lobby has been getting away with this sort of misrepresentation for years. Hopefully the experience of the ASA upholding such complaints will embarrass organisation like this to be more careful in their advertising.
In many cases all it takes is a simple sentence to clarify the advert is presenting the viewpoint or belief of the advertiser, rather than scientifically established facts.