Head case goes to court
Big businesses have turned on the Advertising Standards Authority and a consumer activist trying to hold them accountable for unsubstantiated claims. Harris Steinman, a medical doctor, has for many years complained to the ASA about ads that promise weight loss or improved health without evidence of efficacy. Companies are often ordered by the ASA to withdraw their claims.On Tuesday, Nativa, which owns Vigro, a product claimed to prevent hair loss, applied to the Johannesburg High Court for an order prohibiting the ASA from holding an arbitration hearing into the claims made for Vigro.Nativa cited UCT dermatology professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo and Steinman as co-respondents.Khumalo has been retained by the ASA to evaluate the evidence on Vigro's claim that its product "guards against hair loss".The authority has previously ruled against the veracity of Vigro ads, saying the proprietors did not have sufficient evidence to show that the product was effective against all types of hair loss.Vigro was subsequently bought by Nativa, which renewed claims that the product "promoted hair growth" and "guard[ed] against hair loss".Nativa is not alone in approaching the courts for protection against detractors. Sports supplement producer USN is suing Steinman for R2-million. It claims Steinman defamed it when he wrote on his website Camcheck that USN founder Albe Geldenhuys was "a scam artist".More than 36 complaints have been filed about product claims made by USN, most of the complaints being upheld.When the ASA ruled against USN's Fat Block, it changed the product's name to Fat Binder.Steinman said that changing a product's name to avoid abiding by a ruling was "a scam". USN could not be reached for comment.Solal, maker of vitamins and supplements, and Groupon both filed papers against the ASA in 2013. The companies argued the ASA was usurping the authority of the Medicines Control Council and didn't have the authority to regulate medicinal claims, featured on their products. Both companies are represented by Fluxmans attorney Saul Shoot.Herbex is challenging the ASA in court after it found a lack of evidence for some of Herbex products' weight loss claims. MNI, a company that makes Antagolin, a product that claims to help regulate insulin and lead to weight loss, has also filed papers against the ASA. The ASA has ruled Antagolin has insufficient evidence for its claims. The ASA does not rule against adverts linked to companies who are engaged in legal action with it.