Fluoridation: “Sciencey” sounding claims ruled unacceptable


Today, “scientific” claims of advertisers and anti-fluoride propagandists can be just as misleading

Again and again I find myself getting really annoyed at the way science is used opportunistically in advertising. We are continually bombarded with claims that the effectiveness of a product is “scientifically proven.” Or that “scientists tell us” something which supports a product. Then there are those ads where actors dress up in white lab coats and wander around a fictional, but photogenic, laboratory while giving us a fairy tale explanation of the mechanism which makes their product so effective. And this misrepresentation is widespread – involving products from cosmetics and toothpaste to fertilisers.

This advertising exploits the credibility of science and scientists as trustworthy experts. Hence the use of white lab coats and sciencey sounding terminology. Even the citation of scientific literature, studies, and trials – with the full knowledge that the target audience has no way of checking these citations.

Many countries have bodies regulating what advertisers can and can’t claim. In New Zealand we have the Advertising Standards Authority(ASA). Our ASA welcomes complaints about advertising and its rulings can lead to adverts being removed. The complaint procedure is being used by members of the public. In 2014 the ASA received 871 complaints about 672 adverts – up 10% and 12% respectively from 2013.

The Society for Science Based Healthcare publicises the complaint procedure and has made many complaints itself on products like homoeopathic treatments and magnetic mattress underlays. One of their members, Mark Honeychurch, created a tool for accessing information from the ASA complaint database which provides useful information.

It turns out that one of the most complained about organisations is Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) – a group campaigning against community water fluoridation. It ranks 13th in  the  organisations having the most successful complaints made against them.


The data also shows that a relatively high proportion of those complaints against FFNZ have been successful. That tells me that the complainants have been able to present good arguments to support their complaints.

Anti-fluoride campaigners are well known to claim scientific support for their case. But analysis of their claims shows them to be based on misrepresentations and distortion of the science. They are a classic example of advertisers who opportunistically, but dishonestly, use science to promote their products.

I think the misrepresentation and distortion of science are widespread in advertising and the propaganda from activist groups like FFNZ. At times, the problem seems so immense it seems impossible to counter it. So it is great to see groups like The Society for Science Based Healthcare, and the many people making similar complaints, having this sort of success.

On the other hand, perhaps consumers are developing a healthy scepticism about advertising claims. That is also a good thing, as long as that scepticism doesn’t lead to denigration of the authority of science as the best way of understanding the world and testing claims.

That would be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

See alsoFluoride Free NZ ranks 13th worst NZ organisation by ASA complaints

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34 responses to “Fluoridation: “Sciencey” sounding claims ruled unacceptable

  1. Ken that’s so laughable . . . the ASA only tow the party line . . . don’t know a damned thing about most of the things they receive complaints for and are as big a joke as you . . . :}


  2. So the “all-knowing” commenter who cowers behind the pseudonym “greenbuzzer” understands what constitutes truthful advertising, but the ASA does not?

    Hmmm, seems pretty obvious whom is the laughable joke here……

    Steven D. Slott, DDS


  3. One thing for Greenbuzzer – he responds quickly to my posts. Usually so quickly he cannot have read much past the title.

    She will never respond with anything specificBasically his comments are a waste of space but harmless.


  4. “Each year 35,000 children aged under 12 have rotten teeth extracted because of excessively sugary diets – mainly from sugary drinks and other junk foods.”


    No mention of fluoride in this article. It makes you think.


  5. I am still perplexed why the ASA allowed a half hour infomercial on Nature Bee pollen, repeating a number of times it has more calcium than milk.

    In small writing at the bottom of the screen only near the beginning of teh imfomercial it had said weight by weight, as if anyone would ever think of eating the same weight of each. And it did not go across on the audio.

    I can only think they are subservient to lawyers.


  6. If you are perplexed, Brian, have you bothered to look at the specific complaint and the ASA ruling?

    There has been a complaint, has there?


  7. So, Ross, it has made you think. Care to share your thoughts?


  8. Well, Ken, what are your thoughts? Do you think people have the right to say no to fluoridated water?

    We have this great product call toothpaste which has been around a long time. The great thing is, you don’t have to swallow it. Indeed, swallowing it wouldn’t be healthy.

    Here’s some science for you:

    “In most European countries, where community water fluoridation has never been adopted, a substantial decline in caries prevalence has been reported in the last decades, with reductions in lifetime caries experience exceeding 75%….For the past 50 years, [water fluoridation] has been considered the most cost-effective measure for the control of caries at the community level. However, it is now accepted that systemic fluoride plays a limited role in caries prevention. Several epidemiologic studies conducted in fluoridated and nonfluoridated communities clearly indicated that [water fluoridation] may be unnecessary for caries prevention particularly in the industrialized countries where the caries level has became low. Moreover, the evidence of an increased prevalence of fluorosis, particularly in fluoridated areas, needs to be considered.

    …“Nowadays, a number of countries, particularly in Europe, do not adopt artificial water fluoridation schemes or discontinued them as fluoridation can be viewed as a violation of medical ethics (silico-fluorides used in water fluoridation are unlicensed medicinal substances) and human rights (silicofluorides are administered to large populations without informed consent or medical supervision).”

    Click to access Pizzo%20et%20al%20Community%20Water%20Fluoridation%20And%20Caries%20Prevention%20-%20A%20Critical%20Review,%20Clinical%20and%20Oral%20Investigations%2014-Feb-07.pdf


  9. yes Ken, decision 03/4.


  10. Yes, Ross, I do think people have the right to say no, or to say yes, to community water fluoridation. I personally believe that for an issue like this democracy is very important. This was a real issue in my city 2 years ago when the Council was captured by activists and despite clear support for community water fluoridation, as shown in opinion polls and a previous referendum, the council decided to cease CWF. It took a campaign to get another referendum, again showing overwhelming support for CWF, to get the council to reverse its decision. A very embarrassing period for that council.

    I strongly believe a majority decision should normally apply. And the great thing about such decisions as they are usually a win-win situation where the minority can take its own independent steps to either source low F water or filter it. Alternatively, if the democratic decision had gone the other way the minority could have taken stepos towards a mouth rinse programme or similar.

    AS for toothpaste – I am all for it. And incorporation of fluoride into toothpaste has definitely helped improve oral health. However, research shows it is not a substitute for CWF. That is, the data shows that CWF has a positive effect over and beyon that from fluoridated toothpaste. That is easily understood from research showing the relatively brief residence time of F at the tooth surface and therefore the need for regular updates between brushings.

    I will put my response to you copypasta from Waterloo in a different comment as I will use figures to illustrate why it is wrong.

    By the way, you should not limit your sources to such ideologically driven sources of misnformation. 🙂


  11. Ross, dental health has improved in Europe over the last few decades due to a range of factors. Improved diet, dental hygiene and social health care. Widespread use of fluoridated toothpaste and intake of fluoride in the diet. This is true for both fluoridated and unfluoridated countries – and anti-fluoride propagandists usually use this FAN graphic obtained by highly cherry picking WHO data.

    However, where there is a number of factors involved it is impossible to identify the role of individual factors with such poor data and by comparison of different countries. The effect of CWF can be illustrated from the data, however, for Ireland and NZ. Whereas FAN used average data for those countries, when the separate data for fluoridated and unfluoridated area are used for Ireland we get the following result:

    I have put both approaches together in the one figure here:

    Some NZ data also shows the clear effects of CWF – despite widespread use of fluoridated toothpaste – green is fluoridated, red unfluoridated:


  12. So, Brian, are lawyers mentioned in the complaint or rulling?


  13. The ASA doesn’t keep records on complaints that are over 7 years old, preferring to “forget” them after that point in that they are no longer applicable as precedent. As that complaint is over 12 years old, it’s no longer available on the ASA’s website.

    However, the New Zealand Legal Information Institute (NZLII) mirrors all ASA complaints and doesn’t have this policy of “forgetting” old complaints. Complaint 03/004 can be read on their website here: http://www.nzlii.org/cgi-bin/sinodisp/nz/cases/NZASA/2003/4.html


  14. Thanks, Mark. No mention of lawyers in the ruling – but I see the complaint is actually yours, Brian. Did you mention lawyers?


  15. Of course, you failed to mention that the majority of councils here don’t add fluoride to water. And, to repeat, the original article I linked to made no mention of fluoride being an issue. The issue was over-consumption of sugary drinks.

    As for your argument, that those who don’t want fluoride added to water should source low F water or filter it, that is incredibly misguided. Why should those wanting water free from fluoride have to pay for the pleasure because some parents are behaving badly?

    From a NZ website:

    “Bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year. According to Food and Water Watch , that plastic requires up to 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce. And while the plastic used to bottle beverages is of high quality and in demand by recyclers, over 80 percent of plastic bottles are simply thrown away.”


  16. “A decision on adding fluoride in Ranfurly’s water supply will be delayed for up to 14 years.

    The Central Otago District Council agreed yesterday to put the issue on the ”back burner” until after it meets national drinking water standards.”


    Adding fluoride to water clearly isn’t a high priority, which is consistent with the point of the first link – people need to take responsibility for what they consume.


  17. Ross, I take from you lack of response that you now accept the information I presented on the situation in Europe and the multifactorial nature of issues related to tooth decay.

    Regarding sugar – there is no issue with the fact that sugar is bad for one’s health, including ones teeth. Something needs to be done about it. However, that fact in no way mitigates against the established benefits and safety of CWF.

    Why is it misguided to suggest that people who have a hangup against F in their drinking water take responsibility for doing something about it? Many, if not most already do. And many more people object to issues like chlorine and taste and take similar action. Do you yourself use a filter or source your water differently?

    Surely it is irresponsible, if you believe what you do about CWF, not to take responsibility for you own consumption. You seem to complain about paying for this “pleasure” – do you suggest that the majority should give up a proven social health measure and pay for individual action because of that? Do you not support democracy?

    Given the pathetically small cost of an effective ion exchange filter you come across as an unbearable skinflint! 🙂

    So, does your argument against CWF and the abundant science related to it boil down to simply object to plastic bottles? Or is this an attempt at Gish galloping?


  18. Ross – you missed the guts of that story:

    “Council water services manager Russell Bond said meeting the drinking water standards should take priority and the council agreed to delay making a decision until the supply has been upgraded.

    That process could take up to 14 years.”

    Looks like they have more basic problems threating health there.


  19. Ken, by saying “lawyers” I imply that a TV ad as addressed by ASA is OK if examined in great detail and not taken at face value.

    They did write about the ad: “However, the Board recommended that the Advertiser include the wording “weight for weight” in future advertisements,” admitting that the ad rather needs to be more careful. But they have not required Topline (NZ former MP John Banks’ former company) to say that. Can you imagine Topline ad repeatedly saying, “weight for weight, our pollen capsules have more calcium than milk.” ? They would be thought very funny. They were allowed to get away with having it on the screen for 20 secs out of a half hour ad in which the claim was made many times.


  20. So, Brian, this is just a personal bitch? Nothing to do with this post?


  21. Ken, as well as giving the number of complaints, your table ought to give the number of complainants.


  22. Ken I did my post to back up greenbuzzer whose post about ASA (the first reply) you are trying to minimise.


  23. Not my table, Brian. But I am sure that data is available.

    Greenbuzzer is a lost cause – he never responds after making his fist attacks on any post. As I said, he usually doesn’t even have time to get past the title before he makes the attack.

    But your are welcome to back him up. Do you support his defamatory comments on ASA and in me?


  24. The tool doesn’t currently report the number of complainants, but it’s easy for anyone to have a look at the header of each of the 11 complaints against FANNZ and see there have been 7 different complainants.

    Considering that none of the members of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board are the same now as they were 12 1/2 years ago, and the same codes are not in effect (the one I use most often, their Therapeutic Products Advertising Code, is certainly newer than that), I’m not sure if a disagreement about the outcome of that decision means much about how the ASA currently operates.

    In my experience, having made over 60 complaints over the past few years, I’ve found they usually get the balance right. I haven’t agreed with all of their decisions, and usually when I disagree with an outcome I find it’s because the wording of a claim is vague enough that they didn’t require evidence for it, or they’ve accepted evidence that I don’t think is strong enough to substantiate a claim. I’ve written about one example of a decision I disagree with here: http://honestuniverse.com/2014/02/25/what-does-37-more-powerful-really-mean/

    For the most part though, I find they do a good job of applying the general standard that claims made in advertisements must be substantiated. Although they often reiterate that they should not be considered an “arbiter of scientific fact”, they do usually make sensible decisions about whether or not a particular claim has been adequately substantiated by the evidence supplied by the advertiser.

    Also, for advocacy advertising such as that undertaken by FANNZ, they give the advertiser much more leeway. So it takes a significantly more brazen violation of their codes to result in an upheld complaint, yet this has happened to FANNZ 6 times out of the 11 times they’ve been complained against. Although in the case of complaint 14/044 it was initially not upheld but subsequently upheld after an appeal. The precedent set by this complaint contributed to the decision to uphold complaints against FANNZ’s other similar advertisements.


  25. Ken I am only referring to that part of greenbuzzer’s comment that Steve Slott was referring to.

    Mark Hanna thinks ASA may have changed. I suppose I ought to reconsider but when I phoned to talk about the decision in 2003 I was told words to the effect of to stop being a nuisance.


  26. Brian, do you often get told to stop being  a nuisance? 😊


  27. Ken it’s one way people have of admitting they can’t easily answer me.

    I am wondering whether potholer54 is going to answer my comments on his genetic modification points. His name is Peter Hatfield and he has worked for many publications, including New Scientist, he said on one of his videos.

    I challenge some of his points and you may see my points if you sort the comments on this in date order, they are quite near the top: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnGiKr90zu8

    On the other hand I agree with most of his numerous videos on climate change and politicking about it. Made over several years they help to explain points in one of your recent posts.


  28. Ken it’s one way people have of admitting they can’t easily answer me.

    Keep telling your self that Brian, it’s a delusion but keep telling yourself that.


  29. Brian – you should have used a funny emoticon after “Ken it’s one way people have of admitting they can’t easily answer me.”

    Otherwise some readers might think you were being serious.


  30. Richard, another couple of ways of answering people may have when my questions make them uncomfortable is (a) to go into a long answer about something I had not asked, (b) reply in an abusive sometime threatening tone.


  31. Threatening?
    It’s simply derision Brian, derision, and it’s well deserved.


  32. Avoid the question, pretend derision. Hollow. Obvious.


  33. You never asked me a question.

    It’s quite obvious that you have a serious behavioral problem. You enjoy making a nuisance of yourself.


  34. Richard Ken asked about my interactions with other people. You chimed in and are now trying to make it look as if I were just commenting on you. Then you try to attack that straw man.
    Me: “when my questions make them uncomfortable.”
    You: “It’s simply derision.”
    Me saying: “Avoid the question,” I am referring back to the questions I was talking about.

    It is not a nuisance, but you need to have a wider vision to see that.
    So now I’ll aim at you and say you are applying one of the techniques people use, to be “clever” and bend what was being said and reply to that when they cannot deal with what was being said.

    And “question” has more meanings than something just being asked. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/question

    “the topic under discussion”.

    If you look back one of the “annoying” topics I have brought up some months ago is taking a limited meaning of a word and pretending the discussion is about that. My feeling is that people do it when they cannot/do not wish to keep with the subject. A cunning way of changing the subject hoping not to be noticed.

    Apologies if you just had not understood,


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