Big names fined over COVID-19 advertising infringements


Celebrity chef Pete Evans has been further fined $80k over non-compliant advertising, while the owner of Noni B and Millers pays $630k in penalties

The TGA has issued infringement notices totalling $79,920 to the company Peter Evans Chef for the alleged advertising of therapeutic goods not included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).

These include the ‘BioCharger’ device, hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers and two oral medicines.

It has also issued a directions notice to the company and to sole Director, Peter Evans, for removal of alleged non-compliant advertising.

Fines were also issued for the alleged advertising of static magnet products and hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers that contained statements that implied the products were endorsed by a health professional.

It is a requirement of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code (No 2) 2018 that therapeutic goods advertising does not imply that products are endorsed by health professionals, health practitioners or medical researchers, the TGA highlighted.

This is not the first time Pete Evans has been pulled up by the regulator.

Last April, his company was issued two infringement notices totalling $25,200 for alleged breaches of the Act in relation to the ‘BioCharger’ device.

At that time, Mr Evans allegedly live streamed on his Facebook page, which has more than 1.4 million followers, claims that the device could be used in relation to “Wuhan Coronavirus”.

“Any claim that references COVID-19 is a restricted representation under therapeutic goods legislation, and is of significant concern to the TGA given the heightened public concern about the pandemic,” the TGA said at the time.

The TGA added that, “due to the repeated nature of the alleged advertising breaches”, it has also issued a directions notice to Mr Evans and his company to cease advertising therapeutic goods not entered in the ARTG, and to discontinue making various claims about therapeutic products.

Meanwhile the ASX-listed company Mosaic Brands has paid penalties totalling $630,000 and admitted that it breached the Australia Consumer Law in its promotion of pandemic-related ‘Health Essential Products’.

Mosaic Brands is the largest speciality fashion retail group in Australia, and the owner of well-known fashion brands Noni B, Autograph, BeMe, Crossroads, Katies, Millers, Rivers, Rockmans and W.Lane.

It operates about 1210 stores nationally.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued five infringement notices to Mosaic Brands in respect of alleged false or misleading representations relating to hand sanitiser and face masks advertised on Mosaic Brands websites and via direct marketing between March and June 2020.

Two of these notices related to advertising for Air Clean hand sanitiser sold on the NoniB website and Miaoyue hand sanitiser sold by Millers.

“After a complaint from CHOICE, independent testing of the hand sanitisers commissioned by the ACCC found that one of the sanitisers tested contained an alcohol content of 17% and another had an alcohol content of 58%, below the percentage advertised on Mosaic Brands’ websites in each case,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“This was also below the minimum 60% alcohol concentration recommended by Australian health authorities.”

The infringements notices also related to advertising which stated that Velcare-branded hand sanitiser products sold on its websites were ‘WHO-approved’, when they were not; KN95 Kids Safety Face Masks sold on its websites were ‘CE/FDA certified’, when they were not; and KN 95 Adult Face Masks were” non-refundable”, when consumers have a statutory right to a refund under the consumer guarantee remedies.

“The ‘Health Essentials’ products were promoted at a time when COVID-19 restrictions were first announced by federal and state governments and there was intense public concern regarding the availability of sanitiser and face masks,” said the ACCC in a statement.

“Tens of thousands of hand sanitiser and face mask products were sold on Mosaic Brands’ websites.

“The products were marketed with phrases such as ‘Be prepared’, ’Stock up now before it’s gone’, ‘Remain Healthy’ and ‘Stay Safe and Clean’, as well as references to the pandemic such as ‘These are uncertain times and as the COVID-19 situation changes, we will be too’ and ‘It’s important we are all doing our part to protect the most vulnerable’.

“Businesses must never mislead their customers about the certification, quality or properties of their products, but we were particularly concerned about the representations by Mosaic Brands because the statements which Mosaic Brands has admitted were false or misleading related to certain protective health properties at the time of a global pandemic,” Ms Rickard said.

Mosaic Brands also signed a court-enforceable undertaking, agreeing to refund customers under a redress program, implement a three-year compliance program and properly substantiate its claims with respect to hand sanitisers and face masks, including by independent product testing.

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