Consumer protection, advertising and unapproved stem cell treatments

Clinics that offer unapproved stem cell treatments are growing in number around the world. These unproven therapies are often advertised by clinics directly to potential customers with advertisements and information that many people consider misleading. Consumer protection laws could assist in addressing and restricting how unproven stem cell therapies are marketed, but also face limitations due to the international scope of the stem cell market.

What background and points are discussed?

Dr von Tigerstrom begins by explaining consumer protection laws, pointing out that most countries have laws of some form that prohibit businesses from using false, misleading or deceptive claims or information to advertise products and services. These laws apply to all types of communication, including websites, blogs, social media and television. Determining what marketing and other information is deemed ‘misleading’ is often based on the overall impression it makes on the advertisement’s target audience. In the United States (US), Canada and Australia, general consumer protection laws are overseen and enforced by government bodies on the national and regional level. A notable difference between these three countries is that Canada and Australia have stricter laws that specifically apply to medical products. While the US allows advertising of prescription drugs to be marketed directly at consumers, Canada and Australia (and most other countries in the world) limit or fully prohibit this. Furthermore, in all three countries the marketing of services offered by medical professionals, such as surgical operations, must follow specific ethical codes of conduct and governmental regulations. These ethical codes are established by medical boards, colleges and other professional bodies and forbid medical practitioners to provide patients with misleading or inaccurate information. Australia and parts of Canada have additional laws limiting (or banning) promotions for services that use testimonials or claims that promote unrealistic expectations. Testimonials are also subject to standard consumer protection laws in most countries, which require them to be genuine and fully disclose any sponsorship, compensation or financial affiliation. However, these laws do not regulate independent (unaffiliated) testimonials. Nor do they prohibit independent news reports that build excitement about treatments by over-enthusiastically describing research.