Commerce Commission cautions sunbed industry over claims
Commerce Commission cautions sunbed industry over claims
The Commerce Commission today put sunbed operators and distributors on notice about the risks of making false or misleading claims about the health benefits and risks of sunbed use.
In a letter to about 280 operators and distributors nationally, the Commission cautioned the industry under the Fair Trading Act about overstating the benefits of sunbed use and understating the risks.
Following a complaint from Consumer NZ and the Cancer Society about sunbed operators, the Commission asked a senior dermatologist to provide an assessment of the benefits and risks of sunbed use, based on authoritative leading studies. The operators complained about were also given a chance to respond to the allegations that their representations about sunbed use were misleading.
“We are concerned there may be a problem of misleading claims about the safety of sunbed use among sunbed distributors and operators throughout New Zealand. We are giving them information about compliance with the Fair Trading Act and raising the issue publically so that consumers are aware of what experts say can accurately be claimed about sunbed use,” said Kate Morrison, General Manager, Competition branch.
“We expect the industry to comply with the Fair Trading Act and hope that informed consumers will question the claims the sunbed operators make. The letter to the industry is a first step to inform operators and distributors of the prohibitions under the Fair Trading Act. We will be following up to ensure they comply with the Act,” Ms Morrison said.
“If false or misleading representations are made in the future, the Commission can consider other enforcement options,” she said.
The dermatologist’s assessment was that short-wavelength Ultraviolet B light was carcinogenic and there was increasing evidence the longer wavelength Ultraviolet A used in sunbeds penetrated the skin more deeply and could lead to skin cancer. Photo-aging of the skin, and eye damage, including the formation of cataracts, were other risks of exposure to UV light through sunbed use.
They also advised that the UV light on a sunbed did not replicate the sun’s light, and light in modern sunbeds was not healthier than natural sunlight. The advice also concludes there are minimal health benefits associated with sunbed use.
In relation to claims about health benefits of Vitamin D exposure, the dermatologist’s advice was that the exact nature of any benefits associated with Vitamin D was unclear and the majority of the population would get enough Vitamin D from incidental exposure from the sun. There was also no evidence that sunbed tanning provided natural protection against sunburn, or inhibited melanoma.
Background Fair Trading Act 1986 Section 9 states:
No person shall, in trade, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.
Section 11 states:
No person shall, in trade, engage in conduct that is liable to mislead the public as to the nature, characteristics, suitability for a purpose, or quantity of services.
And section 13(e) states: No person shall, in trade, in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services,—
(e) make a false or misleading representation that goods or services have any sponsorship, approval, endorsement, performance characteristics, accessories, uses, or benefits.
Only the courts can decide whether the Fair Trading Act has been breached and set appropriate penalties. If found guilty of a criminal offence under the Act, companies can be fined up to $200, 000 per offence and individuals up to $60,000 per offence.
Media contact: Allanah Kalafatelis, Communications Manager Phone work (04) 924 3708, mobile 021 225 4417
Mary Macpherson, Senior Communications Adviser Phone work (04) 924 3737, mobile 021 225 4452
Commission media releases can be viewed at www.comcom.govt.nz
Compliance Advice Letter to Sunbed Operators and Distributors
Dear Sir or Madam
FAIR TRADING ACT 1986: Alleged Misleading Representations made by Solarium (Sunbed) Distributors & Operators
The Commerce Commission (the Commission) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Trading Act 1986 (the Act). The Act applies to a wide range of activities, focusing on all aspects of the promotion and sale of goods and services. The Act prohibits false or misleading representations in trade.
The Commission has received a complaint from Consumer New Zealand and the Cancer Society of New Zealand (the Complainants). The complainants allege that representations made by some sunbed operators and distributors in New Zealand about the health benefits and risks of sunbed use are false or misleading.
The Commission has investigated this matter and would like to take this opportunity to make sunbed operators and distributors aware of the conduct prohibited by the Act.
This letter is being sent to all sunbed operators and distributors in New Zealand. Your business has been identified as operating or distributing sunbeds in New Zealand. If this is not the case please disregard this letter.
MISLEADING AND DECEPTIVE CONDUCT PROHIBITED The Act prohibits conduct that is misleading or deceptive. It also prohibits conduct which is likely to mislead or deceive or which is liable to mislead the public as to the characteristics or suitability for a purpose of goods and services.
Breaches of the Act can provide grounds for prosecution or civil proceedings. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $200,000 for a company and $60,000 for an individual. Civil penalties include orders to refund money to persons who have suffered loss or damage as a result of a breach.
DISPLAYING MATERIAL CREATED BY SOMEONE ELSE You should be aware that if your business displays material created by others that contains false or misleading representations you may be liable under the Act in relation to those representations.
RELYING ON STUDIES You may be at risk of breaching the Act if you inaccurately or selectively report scientific studies or data. In order to avoid misleading the public, any information your business relies on when making representations should be up to date, reliable and accurate.
“OPINIONS” MAY BREACH THE ACT A statement which is expressed as an opinion may breach the Act, including if it contains a representation which is misleading or deceptive, or if the opinion is not honestly held.
SPECIFIC REPRESENTATIONS The Commission understands that some sunbed operators and distributors in New Zealand may be making representations about the health benefits and risks of sunbed use. The Commission is concerned that some sunbed operators are at risk of breaching the Act, including by understating the risks and overstating the benefits of sunbed use.
The Commission has received advice from an independent expert about this matter. Relevant aspects of that advice are set out below.
Benefits and Risks of Sunbed Use
1. Short-wavelength UVB is carcinogenic and there is increasing evidence that longer wavelength UVA used in sunbeds penetrates the skin more deeply and can induce skin cancer. Sunbed exposure will further increase the known risks of UV exposure .
2. There is no evidence that suggests that UV exposure from any type of sunbed is less harmful than UV exposure from the sun. Pre-cancerous actinic keratosis and Bowen’s Disease have also been found in sunlight-protected but sunbed-exposed skin after just two to three years of sunbed use.
3. Exposure to UV light also causes photo-ageing of the skin with breakdown of collagen leading to wrinkles and loss of elasticity. UV light can damage the eyes with cataracts forming, pterygium forming and inflammatory problems.
4. The UV light on a sunbed does not replicate that from the sun, and light in modern sunbeds is not healthier than natural sunlight.
5. The Commission has been advised that there are no health benefits associated with sunbed use. However, it has been argued that ultra violet light can improve one’s mood, especially in the winter in northern European countries. Psychiatrists increasingly believe this benefit is due to white light rather than UVB or UVA . Vitamin D 6. The Commission has been advised that the exact nature of any health benefits associated with Vitamin D are unclear. More information is becoming available, but what is agreed is that Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. Whether it influences other conditions is to this date unclear.
7. A sunbed will help produce Vitamin D as the UVB light in the sunbed will stimulate its production in the skin. However, at the same time you are doing great damage to your skin.
8. The majority of the population will get enough Vitamin D from incidental exposure from the sun and from their diet. Supplementation through diet is more desirable than sunbed use or sun exposure if there is a deficiency of this Vitamin . Tanning as a Natural Protection against Sunburn 9. Dermatologists believe that a tan is a sign of skin damage. There is no evidence that tanning on a sunbed provides natural protection against sunburn. At best it may give a protection of SPF 2 – 3 . Furthermore, the Commerce Commission has been advised that tanning on a sunbed does not inhibit incidences of melanoma. While the Commission is taking no further action at this time, we will continue to monitor the representations being made by sunbed operators and distributors. If the Commission considers that industry participants have made false or misleading representations, the Commission may reconsider its enforcement options.