EUROPE – Misleading advertisements about vegetable stem cells halted

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Misleading advertisements by Swedish company Labo promising hair growth and to remove wrinkles have been pulled. The jury of the self-regulating body for the advertising industry (IAP) ordered the advertisements, which were found in two important Italian newspapers, to be stopped since they were “in violation of article 2 of the self-regulatory code for advertisements”.

According to the group’s conclusions (ruling number 13/09), the statements made in the message, as noted by the IAP Surveillance Committee, “did not overstate, they were misleading”.

This is due to the fact that “they were characterized by a technical and scientific language aimed at convincing consumers that Labo products, differently from other similar cosmetic products, are able to obtain miraculous effects against hair-loss and skin ageing.

These claims were not supported by any documentation produced by Labo Europa. “The advertisements in reality were perplexing and called dubious by experts.

The IAP’s ruling followed the request of the Surveillance Committee in March regarding Labo’s advertisements: “‘New frontiers for Labo researchers’, ‘Active Labo vegetable stem cells’, and ‘Losing hair?’ ‘The results of Labo research’ in Corriere della Sera on January 7, 10, and 27 2009, and ‘Wrinkles and hair: these are the applications of Labo vegetable stem cells’, in Repubblica on February 2009, believed to be in violation of articles 2 and 23 of the self-regulatory body’s code” as reported by the Surveillance Commission.

After the Committee’s report, the jury’s responsibility was to evaluate “if the advertisements in question contained statements that could lead consumers to believe that the active substances in the vegetable stem cells could produce effects on skin and hair follicles, which are impossible to produce,” as the Surveillance Commission reported.

For the jury, “the entire context of the information aims to tell the reader that Labo researchers with a patent request have made important discoveries with great effects on the skin and hair. The fact that the information in question is general in nature, scientific in style, and a broad theme that goes beyond single products on the market, imposes specific exactness in the choice of expressions used”.

The jury believes “that in light of available research, the use of vegetable stem cells, although they are totipotent, is incompatible with the effects of human stem cells. If they were, the medical field would have made important developments (for example on tumors) and obviously it would be well known in the international scientific community”.

“Although it can be said” that the use of products derived from vegetable stem cells “can have some non-specific secondary effects that are exclusively cosmetic, it is very clear,” read the sentence, “that the emphatic expression in a context attempting to appear scientific and as Labo says, ‘institutional’, induce the reader, which is mainly ignorant in scientific research (like most educated readers), to believe that vegetable stem cells, as totipotent stem cells, can transfer their properties and contribute to producing relevant effects in humans”. Instead, in the jury’s view, the expression ‘Patent obtained by Swedish researchers’ disputed by the Surveillance Committee “cannot be censured since the company has provided documentation of having done so”.

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