An Update: The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority), Trading Standards and Tearless Teething (www.tearlessteething.com)

The ASA have today released their rulings regarding Tearless Teething’s website.

Tearless Teething sell hazelwood necklaces and bracelets that, according to them, remove the acidity (“toxins”) from the baby or toddlers body, that are apparently produced during teething. This has the business savvy side effect of meaning you have to replace the product every three or so months because the product is “full” of the toxins caused by teething.

Background

I initially wrote about these products back in May 2013, so I’ll summarise my main issues. It wasn’t just the unscientific nonsense about this product that bothered me. While, as a reasonable and rational person, I find these claims indefensible, I can accept that their claims were unlikely to lead to actual direct harm to children, in the case of these specific products. Clay Jones, over at Science Based Medicine, has written a good general overview of teething and some teething products that is well worth a read. His piece demonstrates that some teething products can cause direct harm.

Trading Standards

My main, initial concern was the product itself. The website suggested that children could wear this from birth. That they could wear it at night. This really worried me. At the time my niece was wearing one of these. (I can’t fully explain how frustrating I find it that my sister, a usually sensible and rational human, buys into this nonsense. I guess it only goes to show how a seemingly magic cure is music to the ears of a frustrated parent.)

In private correspondence with Justine, the proprietor of Tearless Teething, I explained my concerns about both the claims made and the safety of the product. I think we may have gone over this again in the comments section on the other blog post, too. Anyway, she assured me that the clasp on the product was secure enough that a child couldn’t break it off. I have two children, one and three, who are strong enough to pull door handles off! I explained that either;

1. It was strong enough to not break and there was a risk of strangulation. Or;

2. It wasn’t strong enough and was a chocking hazard.

It’s really that simple. Children will literally put anything in their mouths that fits. Anything. The crazy thing about hazel wood is that it’s a wood that is known to flake and chip, too! Their website even says in the FAQ section,

“It’s normal for the wood to peel after a while. It’s a natural factor. We have no control over that.”

I, of course, felt duty bound to contact Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority.

Well, there’s good news, more good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good.

Good News – Trading Standards

Since contacting Trading standards the Tearless Teething website has been updated in exactly one way. And it’s a step in the right direction. On the “buy now” page the follow has been added, in nice red font:

“According to EU Toy safety regulations EN-71-1 our necklaces are not suitable to use as Toys for children under 36 months.
Our necklaces and are not toys, please do not allow your children to play with or chew on them. Our children’s jewellery must be worn under adult supervision.”

This is fantastic to see! It’s pleasing to see this company FINALLY applying some legal understanding towards product safety. You know, they could have bothered to remove this line from their FAQ section:

“If you are not comfortable with your baby wearing the necklace at night, another option would be to wrap it around baby’s ankle so they are still getting the benefit of the Hazelwood against their skin. However excessive removal may result in the weakening of the safety clasp.”

But the EU toy warning does make it quite clear to perspective customers that you really shouldn’t be leaving your kids alone with this product. I don’t even know how to deal with the comment about the “weakening of the safety clasp.” Sometimes you just have to shake your head and carry on.

More good news – The ASA

The ASA upheld all four sections of the compliant we made. I say “we” because I wasn’t near a computer at the time, so I asked Shaun Sellars, my friend and co-blogging buddy, to submit it for me (thanks Shaun!)

You can read the full compliant here on the ASA website. They four areas addressed by the complaint were:

An internet user challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:

1. “Acidity imbalance in the body is thought to be a main player in certain medical conditions and connected to teething symptoms”;

2. “… the Hazelwood products have also shown to be helpful with the general well being of the digestive system and certain skin irritations.”;

3. “[The native [sic] Americans] … put Hazelwood Chips on their babies’ neck it would soothe teething pains”; and

4.”Tearless Teething reintroduced this old remedial way to holistic healing in the form of their necklaces and other products to help not only the babies but to take advantage of the natural benefits of the Hazelwood, not only for the infants but the whole family”.

The reason it’s taken so long for this ruling is due to the seemingly never diminishing fairness of the ASA. They received repeated assurances, as Justine had with me, that the evidence to support the claims would be forthcoming. So they waited… and waited… and waited. They contacted her on a couple of occasions and were always reassured that the claims could be substantiated. Nothing came.

I expect it’ll be a long wait before the evidence presents itself.

Bad news

Well, I have to end on a positive note, right? The bad news is the website remains unchanged. Go and have a look for yourself. It’s a great pity the ASA doesn’t have the full legal weight I think it needs. The ASA of New Zealand does and splendid people like Mark Hanna has had great success with similar advertising issues ‘down under.’ Mark’s website, Honest Universe, is a good example of using the rules and laws already in existence to keep misleading claims and advertising in check.

If you want to do something about this, then you can contact Tearless Teething directly and express your concerns about their website. You should remind them of the ASA ruling and suggest how responsible businesses should run. If you live near where the company is based in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, then you might like to contact the local press. If you’re still concerned about the inconsistencies across the website regarding when you should wear the products, despite the EU warning, then you should contact your local trading standards team.

You can take my word for it that I have.

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