Dietary Supplement advertising in Poland held to be misleading to consumers

22 January 2016

Katarzyna Purchała, Krzysztof Korwin-Kossakowski

The Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection ("UOKiK") and the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate ("GIS") have recently reviewed advertisements on dietary supplements, and concluded that some of these advertisements are misleading. UOKiK and GIS have called upon producers and distributors to change their approach to advertising such products, and announced that they will carry out an educational campaign on dietary supplements for consumers.  

The dietary supplements industry is currently flourishing in Poland. It is predicted that the market will continue to grow until 2020. With this growth comes an increase in dietary supplement advertising, which is now present on every radio station, TV channel and the Internet.

Noticing that trend, UOKiK and GIS decided to have a closer look at advertising campaigns regarding dietary supplements, the message they convey and their reception by consumers. Although regulations on advertising such products have existed for a number years, it has not been verified whether in practice they are applied.

The survey revealed that some advertising campaigns may be considered as misleading. It also showed that this may lead to a lack of awareness about the reality of dietary supplements, not only among regular consumers, but also pharmacists and doctors.

According to UOKiK and GIS, such misleading advertising and lack of awareness results in consumers not being able to distinguish between certain medicinal products and dietary supplements. This in turn creates a potential threat to the health and safety of Polish consumers. Therefore, UOKiK and GIS decided to take action, with the aim of providing proper education and comprehensive information about the properties of dietary supplements.

The first step taken by GIS and UOKiK was to issue a joint letter to the producers and distributors of dietary supplements regarding their advertising. In the letter GIS and UOKiK indicated that advertisements cannot include content which attributes medicinal properties to dietary supplements, or in any way misleads consumers as to these properties. They further indicated that it is forbidden for such advertisements to imply that dietary supplements constitute an indispensable element of the daily diet or that they are a remedy to a wide spectrum of health conditions.

UOKiK and GIS also highlighted that under no circumstances should dietary supplement advertisements use stereotypes, evoke fear or promise a quick result to a stated goal as a method for boosting the sales of such products. Further, the authorities noted that advertisements must not take unfair advantage of an existing identical or similarly named medicinal product. Neither can they mislead, nor fail to warn consumers of the possible negative effects of their usage.

UOKiK and GIS concluded their letter by calling on the producers and distributors of dietary supplements to examine their advertisement campaigns in light of the described guidelines, and to report back within one month on the actions taken. They also announced future plans to launch an educational campaign on dietary supplements for consumers.

UOKiK and GIS's letter has no binding force for dietary supplement producers and distributors, however, it should be treated as the official GIS and UOKiK position should any breaches occur. Producers and distributors should therefore be aware that if they fail to self-regulate the issues mentioned in the letter, UOKiK and GIS may decide to take official administrative steps.