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Office of Competition and Consumer Protection

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Dietary supplements - activities of the Competition Authority

< previous | next > 22.02.2017

Dietary supplements - activities of the Competition Authority

The advertisements for dietary supplements falsely suggest that the products in question have medicinal qualities and that they may serve as a remedy against numerous ailments. The manufacturers should refrain from using the portrayals of pharmacists or school teachers in their efforts to encourage consumers to purchase their products. These are just some of the objections of UOKiK with respect to dietary supplement advertising. UOKiK has instigated a new set of proceedings pertaining to this type of food products. During a meeting with industry representatives, the Authority has presented the activities performed.

Dietary supplements do not cure diseases, nor do they prevent such diseases from occurring. On the contrary, they are simply a type of food products. Their aim is to supplement the ordinary diet, hence the presence of vitamins and minerals. For the above reason, any advertising which suggests that they have medicinal qualities should be deemed unlawful. Based on this type of message, a consumer may be led to believe that he or she is purchasing a medicament, not a food product.

UOKiK is monitoring dietary supplement advertising. The most problematic issue is that dietary supplements are often described as having qualities which are typical of medications. The advertisements imply that rapid health recovery or weight loss will follow, using the authority of a pharmacist or school teacher to convey this message. Furthermore, another practice which the Authority has found dubious is that the consumer is not being properly informed of the fact that the given product is in fact a supplement – for example, in television advertising, the word “supplement” appears only briefly and is written in very small print.

UOKiK has initiated proceedings against Aflofarm Farmacja Polska (Magmisie) and Logihub (Green Magma). The Competition Authority has identified a number of dubious practices, including ascribing various medicinal qualities to the products in question or presenting them as panacea for ailments of all kinds. For example, Aflofarm Farmacja Polska suggests that the “Magmisie” jelly candies are worth a try due to their “uncompromising efficiency”. It is stated in the advertisement that all children who use them are better at coping with stress and find it easier to concentrate. Meanwhile, the causes of those issues – and the methods for dealing with them – may be different. Furthermore, the message is intended to appear more credible due to the inclusion of a character resembling a school teacher, who recommends using this dietary supplement despite the fact that doing so falls beyond his scope of competences.

Green Magma on the other hand is a supplement manufactured by Logihub which allegedly has “anti-inflammatory” properties despite not being a medication; the advertising further suggests that it allows the user to “lose as much as 20 kilogrammes”. These are the types of health-related messages that may not be used in advertising. Furthermore, Logihub advertising also referred to promotions that were subject to strict time limits: “a bargain that will never appear again”, “just for 15 more minutes”. This, however, was in fact untrue, since the offer was available on a continuous basis.

Furthermore, UOKiK also conducts three proceedings instigated back in 2016, pertaining to allegations of unlawful practices on the part of Aflofarm Farmacja Polska (RenoPuren Zatoki Hot and RenoPuren Zatoki Junior – for sinus infections), Walmark (Pneumolan, Pneumolan Plus) and Olimp Laboratories (Chela Mag B6).

The proceedings may conclude with the acceptance of a pledge made by the undertakings or in a finding that they applied practices that violate collective consumer interests; in the latter case, the undertakings could face fines in the maximum amount equivalent to 10% of the given undertaking’s turnover. An order to remedy the consequences of the infringement may also be made. 

The dietary supplement industry code

UOKiK pointed towards the need for the establishment of a code of good practices in the dietary supplement industry. However, the proposal ultimately approved by the manufacturers has failed to meet the expectations of the Authority. First and foremost, the code covers practices which may be eliminated on the basis of existing provisions. In the view of UOKiK, the sanctions for infringement of the rules stipulated therein are not particularly onerous, as they include, among others, a notice on improper conduct which would only be communicated to other signatories of the code. In the view of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, the sanctions should include, among others, the publication of the judgement of a disciplinary court, indicating the name of the dietary supplement and the manufacturer thereof. Insofar as the disciplinary court is concerned, the Competition Authority held that it is important that consumers and consumer organisations – and not just manufacturers who have signed the code – should be able to bring an action before such court as well. The objections of UOKiK also pertained to the fact that the disciplinary court was supposed to only handle those cases with respect to which no action was taken by any public administration bodies or common courts of law. This might have led to a situation where the court would examine no cases at all, and it appears certain that it would not be able to complete the examination of any such case. As a result, it would be the administrative bodies – and not the industry – which would be solving issues pertaining to dietary supplement advertising, despite the fact that the industry undertook to deal with such issues by adopting the code of good practices.

The code provides for a 6-month period for the signatories to adjust their practices to the requirements stipulated therein, starting from the date of signature of the code by the given undertaking. In the view of the Competition Authority, the advertising used by the signatories should comply with the requirements contained therein at the time of signature thereof and not 6 months afterwards, since the very act of accession to such scheme may be used for publicity, suggesting that the manufacturers of dietary supplements who choose to be bound by the code are already compliant with the provisions thereof.

Additional meeting with industry representatives

On Thursday, February 16, another meeting was held at the headquarters of UOKiK within the framework of the consumer protection network. The meeting was attended, among others, by the representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Chief Pharmaceutical Inspector, the Chief Sanitary Inspector, the Office for the Registration of Medicinal Products, Medical Devices and Biocidal Products, the Chief Inspector for Agricultural and Food Quality, the Supreme Audit Office, the National Broadcasting Council, the Consumer Federation, the Advertising Council as well as associations of dietary supplement manufacturers.

In the course of the meeting, comments of various institutions on the code of good practices have been discussed. The participants of the meeting have emphasised that self-regulation has sense and chances for success where it solves significant consumer issues and goes beyond the simple application of legal provisions. Furthermore, the effectiveness of codes of good practices is dependent on whether such codes have substantive value and whether the criteria contained therein are sufficiently clear. Due to the fact that consumers are being misdirected, the Ministry of Health has begun working on legal solutions in the field of advertising for dietary supplements, medicinal products and medical devices. The proposed new law is intended to ensure the clarity of advertising messages, so that the consumer is fully aware of the fact that the product purchased is a supplement and not a medicament. The tenets for the new regulations are expected to be presented in the next three months.

Additional information for the media:

Press Office of UOKiK
pl. Powstańców Warszawy 1, 00-950 Warszawa
Phone: 695 902 088
E-mail: [SCODE]Yml1cm9wcmFzb3dlQHVva2lrLmdvdi5wbA==[ECODE]

Twitter: @UOKiKgovPL

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