Why you should complain to the ASA

By Ash Pryce

Some people don’t see the point in complaining.  Not the Victor Meldrew style of complaining mind, but the actual legitimate complaint about a person or companies behaviour to the relevant authorities such as the ASA.

But it is important to take a few minutes to make these complaints if there is a legitimate complaint to be made.  The ASA won’t ignore a complaint and all are looked into.  A few weeks ago a website was brought to my attention via the Edinburgh Skeptics Facebook Page.  This website contained claims that Reiki, an ancient (read debunked) medical treatment that uses our “energy” via a laying-on-of-hands-by-not-laying-on-of-hands-technique can help to treat such diseases as cancer.

Now if this had been outside of theUKthere would be little we could do.  As has been seen from the recent Burzynski mess the lack of a Cancer Act in the U.S means that he can pretty much claim what he likes regardless of evidence of efficacy.  But in the UK it is different.  You can’t make claims to treat cancer unless there is actual evidence – such as with chemotherapy.

So when Anne Clark of Falkirk implied on her website she could treat cancer- “Reiki works on all chronic and acute illnesses, including serious problems like heart disease and cancer”- I and several other users on Facebook decided to send in a complaint to the ASA.

There were and still are many claims on her website relating to what Reiki can do, but outside of a placebo effect there is no evidence Reiki can do anything.

It certainly can’t do the following, as claimed on Anne Clark’s website:

  • Tissue regeneration to replace scars or burns
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Working on skin problems and flu
  • Improved memory

To name but a few.  Sure, Reiki can help alleviate pain, but it’s not actually the Reiki doing that.  Reiki has no actual effect on the body- it’s the placebo effect that is causing the pain to decrease, not the Reiki.  You may even want to argue that the relaxation brought about by Reiki does help to improve memory- though what is meant by “Improve memory” is not made clear.  Does it mean we can remember things clearer?  Does it mean we can remember more?  And besides, even if there was some “memory improvement” it would be down to the placebo effect if anything.  Reiki is a nice relaxing technique, but at best it is a… well… nice relaxing technique.  It certainly isn’t a medical treatment with any real efficacy, and it certainly cannot treat or “work on” cancer.

This morning, a reply from the ASA came and not only does the content of the website in question violate the ASA’s code, but it violates so many codes they have passed the complaint onto another department- known as the Compliance team. Just so you know who the Compliance team are, here’s a description:

“The CAP Compliance Team is the enforcement arm of the ASA and CAP. The Compliance Team works to ensure that advertisers remove their problematic claims. The Compliance Team does not report back to complainants, nor does it publish the results of its work. However, part of its work does involve contacting media owners and telling them not to take any advertisements from problematic advertisers until the CAP Copy Advice team has pre-vetted the advertisements.”

All we can hope now is that Ms Clark abides by the findings of the ASA and its Compliance Team and removes the offending claims from her website.  I had thought they were gone when I checked this morning, sadly that was just my eager excitement and the claims persist.

Reiki cannot treat or “work on” cancer, at best it can help alleviate some pain through the application of the placebo effect.  But the important thing here is that places like the ASA do listen to complaints we make to them and when relevant act upon them.  I would encourage anyone who feels a violation of the ASA and their codes has occurred to contact them.  A complaint only takes a few minutes and can be vital- especially when it comes to people’s health and to diseases such as cancer.  The Cancer Act exists for a reason.

Reiki is not an efficacious medical treatment.  That the NHS offer this treatment does not show it has efficacy as they also offer Homeopathy and reflexology.  It is a placebo at best.  And complaints to the ASA and other relevant bodies are worthwhile and important.  That is the true purpose of this article.  To encourage those who may be questioning the worthwhile nature of contacting groups like the ASA to move ahead.

I hold Ms Clark no ill will and think that when offered as a relaxation technique there is no problem with Reiki – it is after all quite relaxing.  But it isn’t medically sound as a treatment for serious complaints.

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0 Responses to Why you should complain to the ASA

  1. You are too kind, Ash. “Reiki works on all chronic and acute illnesses, including serious problems like heart disease and cancer” is a dangerous claim, the sort of thing that can and does prevent people in great need of non-placebo mainstream medical treatment from seeking it.

  2. Ash Pryce says:

    Indeed. It is very dangerous, and happily the ASA are acting on it. I was considering adding a bit about just how dangerous such claims can be, but felt the main objective of this post was to encourage more people to go to the ASA when they find these claims. Hopefully they will.

  3. Thanks for sharing nice post. i have been looking information on the “complain to the ASA” this discussion has solve my concern to a great extent . i am grateful.

  4. Eoin says:

    Good article – I took me a little while to work out that you weren’t complaining to the American Society of Anesthesiologists though!

    Let us know how it turns out.

  5. Eoin says:

    …*it* took me a little while…

  6. Ash Pryce says:

    Michael- glad I could be of help.

    Eoin- Sorry! Advertising Standards Authority yes.

  7. dalradian says:

    The google addon tool “fishbarrel” developed by Simon Perry is a great way to automate the collection and submission of claims to the ASA and trading standards. Also check out the nightingale collaboration – they have helped with large complaints

  8. chris 22 says:

    Some people will state anything to gain money, giving people false hope that there illnesses will be cured through Reiki is lies and a terrible way to take money from innocent victims… its disgusting.

  9. Carolyne says:

    this is totally disgusting!!!

    false claims like this create false hope!!!

    it could wreck peoples lives at their lowest point, and completely destroy any shred of hope that they are clinging on to!!

    DISGUSTING!!

  10. Dawn Edgar says:

    Hi I did Level 1 Reiki with this so called Reiki Master and level 2, 6 weeks later which is unheard of! I was told be Helen McIntosh who is Ms Clarks Reiki Master that she also had contacted Anne Clark to remove these claims in May this yr after she had to redo my Reiki Training, I also put in a complaint to The Reiki Association and The Reiki Council whom both said as a Non Registered Member they would rather people went to Accredited Reiki Masters and did not recommend anyone should do their training with Ms Clark hope this helps, Due to Personal Problems from Ms Clark I had to Block her from my Fone email and Facebook where she currently makes up assumed accounts and tries to harass me I Hope this is of help to everyone else

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