Sanctions on Food Supplement Ads on Social Media

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In its meeting dated 14.07.2020 and numbered 299, the Advertisement Board imposed sanctions against the advertisement of a food supplement with the false health claim by various celebrities and ordered to cease the broadcast of food supplement’s advertisement and imposed administrative monetary fine corresponding to 104.781 Turkish Liras against each celebrity who advertised the product on his / her social media page as well as the advertiser.

The Advertisement Board examined the advertisement of the food supplement subject to the decision. It held that the celebrities advertised by making statements that the advertised food supplement strengthens the immune system using components of the product in question, thus creating the impression that the product has a protective feature against all kinds of viral infections, particularly against COVID-19, and even claiming that “even if infected, it is beneficial for the recovery of the disease”. Accordingly, Advertisement Board held that the promotions and declarations constitute health claims, the product in question, which is a food supplement, is promoted as if it is a medicinal product for human use, such promotion of supplementary foods is strictly prohibited. It is necessary to obtain authorisation from the Ministry of Health to make these health claims and that those permissions were not obtained. In addition, the Advertisement Board evaluated that by being broadcasted during the COVID-19 era, the advertisements aimed to obtain a commercial advantage by abusing the lack of knowledge and experience, fears and worries of people.

In its decision No. 2019/655 on 14.01.2020, the Advertisement Board again analysed the post about a food supplement as a multivitamin, where a famous model shared her  photo holding the product, and the product name on her Instagram account, stating, “To those who say: How are you so energetic in the morning... also the most effective one for the fight against colds.” The Advertisement Board evaluated that the referred product is implicitly advertised with the said post, that the product is promoted as a “medicinal product” that affects human physiology and metabolism. If the products can prove the claims in the advertisements in question, then they are not within the scope of “food supplement” but required to be licensed as “medicinal product” or “pharmaceutical”, and ruled to cease the advertisements above because legislation prohibits advertising them.

In its decision No.2020/2104 on March 09, 2021, the Advertisement Board held that the posts shared by a famous actress on her Instagram account about a food supplement recommending the product are both hidden advertisements since they are not explicitly stated that it is an advertisement. The Board also stated that the several statements made in the post are within the scope of the health claims which are not permitted for the food supplements and imposed an administrative fine of 104,781 Turkish liras on the social media influencer who made the promotion, together with the cease of the referred promotions.

The decisions above demonstrate that the Advertisement Board monitors the advertisements promoting the food supplements with misleading health claims as if those are pharmaceuticals at the market, particularly for taking advantage of the worries created by the COVID-19 pandemic over the consumers, and imposes sanctions against these advertisements. It is also important that the Advertisement Board impose high administrative monetary fines on the advertiser and social media influencers who conducted hidden advertisements.

The approval of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is required to produce, import and launch the supplementary food. In addition, the Agency of Turkish Medicines and Medicinal Devices of the Ministry of Health is entitled to authorise the usage of health claims in labelling, promotion or advertisement of food and food supplements, provided that they fulfil the required conditions according to Law No.5996 on Veterinary Services, Plant Health, Food and Feed as well as Regulation on Health Claims of Products Sold with Health Claims. In any case, the promotion of food supplements as medicinal products for human use, and their advertisements and promotions that claim to diagnose and cure diseases, although not pharmaceutical, are prohibited.

The referred decisions are crucial, particularly because the advertisements subject to the decision were featured on the celebrities’ social media accounts as hidden advertisements without clearly citing their advertorial nature. The Advertisement Board exercised effective supervision over these hidden advertisements broadcasted on social media. In addition, the Advertisement Board has demonstrated that it makes the best implementation of its competence within the scope of the legislation in the most appropriate way by imposing the relevant administrative sanction to both the advertiser and those who advertise through their social media accounts.

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