ASA Bans Boots Misleading Blue Light Filtering Lens Ad

News Source: 

A national press ad in UK, seen on 24 January 2015, stated “Have you seen the (blue) light? . Did you know that some blue light, from smartphone screens to sunshine, can affect your eyes?...Many modern gadgets, whether it’s a fancy LED TV or your smartphone, as well as sunlight and energy-saving light bulbs, give off a certain kind of blue light that can cause your retinal cells to deteriorate over time. Boots Opticians can help you protect your eyes from harmful blue light, reducing damage to retinal cells. For GBP 70 (US $106.82), new Boots Protect Plus Blue lenses come with a special finish that filters out the harmful blue light and eases eye strain and fatigue”.

Issue

A pharmacist and one other complainant challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:

1. that blue light from LED TV’s, smartphones, sunlight and energy-saving light bulbs caused damage to retinal cells over time; and

2. that Boots Protect Plus Blue lenses protected against blue light from the listed sources.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

12.13.13.7

Response

1. Boots Professional Services Ltd t/a Boots Opticians Ltd said blue light ranged from around 380 to 500 nanometres (nm) and research identified that there were two types of blue light: blue-violet light, harmful to the human eye which ranged from around 415 to 455 nm, and blue-turquoise light that ranged from around 465 to 495 nm and was not damaging. They said the harmful blue light was emitted by devices such as tablet computers, smartphones, back lit LED TV’s and also LED and energy saving light bulbs. They submitted one study, a literature review, several trade publications and a reference to a European Commission document which they said supported the claim that blue-violet light had a negative effect on the eye.

2. Boots Opticians said their Protect Plus Blue front-side coating was designed to avoid reflections within the visible spectrum except for the blue-violet rays, therefore inhibiting their transmission. They said their lens finish blocked 20% of the harmful blue light and permitted 96% of blue-turquoise light and 98% of visible light through to the eye. They provided documentation which they said supported their claim that their lens finish protected against harmful blue light.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The ASA acknowledged that light from artificial sources, particularly mobile phones, computer screens and tablet devices emitted strongly in the short wavelength part of the visible spectra with a typical peak output of approximately 450 nm, that is, blue-violet light (harmful blue light). However, we understood that the overall output of harmful blue light from those sources was significantly below that of sunlight. We noted that the ad stated that “blue light that can cause your retinal cells to deteriorate over time. Boots Opticians can help you protect your eyes from harmful blue light, reducing damage to retinal cells”. While we acknowledged that the ad also referenced other factors that could affect people’s eyes, we considered that consumers would interpret it to mean that by filtering out harmful blue light in particular, they could reduce the deterioration of their vision later in life. Furthermore, we considered that the reference to “damage to retinal cells” was likely to be understood to refer to conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) which we understood was caused by a number of factors such as smoking, family history and nutrition, that were potentially more detrimental than harmful blue light alone. We therefore considered that evidence submitted would need to control for those factors and took into consideration several decades of subjects’ exposure to blue light, particularly from the stated sources.

We took expert advice. We considered the submissions from Boots. However, in this instance we considered that only full trials conducted on humans were sufficient, potentially, to support the claims. We assessed the relevant study submitted by Boots and noted that although it included a large number of participants who were followed up over several years, it was one single epidemiological study which only suggested that sunlight and not blue-violet light in particular, might be a risk factor for the early onset of AMD. We therefore considered that because the study’s conclusions related to sunlight exposure and not the specific wavelength of harmful blue light, including light from the sources listed in the ad, it was not sufficient to substantiate the claims.

Therefore, because the evidence was not sufficient to establish a direct link between harmful blue light and retinal damage over time, we concluded that the claims were misleading and had not been substantiated.

On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

2. Upheld

We noted that the ad claimed that “Boots Opticians can help you protect your eyes from harmful blue light” and that their Protect Plus Blue lenses “filter[ed] out … harmful blue light”, and we considered that consumers were likely to understand that the coating offered overall protection against harmful blue light. We acknowledged the documentation provided by Boots Opticians which included one illustrative graph. We noted that this graph indicated that 20% of harmful blue light was filtered out by their lens coating, which meant that 80% of that light would still enter the eye. Boots did not provide evidence that a modest 20% reduction in the amount of harmful blue light entering the eye would lead to a significant reduction in the amount of retinal damage caused by exposure, as implied by the ad. In the context of an ad which purported that harmful blue light was damaging to retinal cells and implied that the majority, if not all, harmful blue light was filtered out by Boots’ lens coating before it reached the retina, we did not consider the evidence was adequate to support the implied claim made. We therefore concluded the ad was misleading.

On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

Action

The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Boots Opticians Ltd not to make claims that blue light caused retinal damage or that their Protect Plus Lenses filtered out a meaningful amount of harmful blue light in the absence of adequate substantiation.

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