Trust boots – homeopathy and voodoo on the highstreet?

Inspired by this article on the James Randi site, I decided to try an experiment.

Boots, a UK chain of stores, has a good reputation in this country. They started as a chemist but have since expanded to selling just about anything. Boots are a familiar part of the British high street and they play on this with their Trust Boots slogan.

Boots stock a rather extensive range of what can politely described as complementary medicine. If you’re rational though you’d simply consider them to be fraudulent products designed to separate the gullible from their money. Trust Boots indeed…

This range includes items such as the Silent Knight Ring. A wonderful ring that works on ancient principles of acupressure. It’s ancient so it must be good, right? If you still have money left after buying this junk you can treat yourself to some homeopathic medicine.

I noticed this particular product.

Boots Alternatives Snoring Remedy

Here is what Boots say about this product.

An easy to use spray formula, helps to relieve snoring.
A combination of essential oils to help stop snoring. Effective in reducing snoring for 4 out of 5 users. Spray Formula. 

Please read the product packaging before use. Seek professional advice before using if you suffer from epilepsy, skin allergies, are pregnant or are using homoeopathic remedies. Asthmatics should avoid direct inhalation.

I sent Boots an email asking for advice before buying this product. I explained that since homoepathic remedies are essentially just water, is it safe for someone who consumes water on a regular basis to use this product. Here is their response.

Thank you for contacting us at boots.com regarding the Boots Alternatives Snoring Remedy.

I’m afraid we can not answer questions of a medical nature due to the specialist knowledge that is needed.

I suggest you speak to a local pharmacist or GP and they will be able to help you.

An understandable reply really since I am asking for some rather in-depth medical advice.

In response, I’ve sent them this email.

Please could you answer these questions as I’m interested in this product

http://www.boots.com/shop/product_details.jsp?productid=1021333&classificationid=1035989&slmRefer=000

The web site makes this claim.

“An easy to use spray formula, helps to relieve snoring.
A combination of essential oils to help stop snoring. Effective in reducing snoring for 4 out of 5 users. Spray Formula.”

Would you be able to point me in the direction of published research in a peer reviewed scientific paper that backs this up. If a paper is not specific to the product, perhaps a reference to a paper that discusses the essential oils that you use and explains how they have been tested? Research endorsed by the BMJ, Lancet or the Royal Society would be excellent since they would by quite authoritative.

Ideally, have you published the research undertaken to arrive at the ‘4 out of 5’ figure? I’d like to know who carried out the testing and also the parameters of the test.

Thanks again, I appreciate your time.

== Update 21/5/2006 ==

I received the following response.

Thank you for contacting me regarding our Alternatives Stop Snoring Spray. I understand your concerns and I appreciate you letting me know how you feel.

I have contacted our healthcare team and they have advised me that this product works by coating the back of the throat with a mixture of essential oils which then helps to stop the snoring.

I am unable to provide you with details of Boots research information as this is commercially sensitive. However, I would like to reassure you that all our wording is in line with the current UK legislation and all our claims are legal. Also all of the claims are checked thoroughly by our internal legal and medical experts.

So, you can see that this reply doesn’t really make sense. I asked them how they tested the product to arrive at the “Effective in reducing snoring for 4 out of 5 users” figure. They say they can’t tell me because it’s a trade secret? How on earth is this comercially sensitive? I’m not asking them to tell me how to make the the stuff, just how they tested it.

I’m in contact now with the Advertising Standards Agency since I don’t believe this is legal. Here’s the email I have sent them.

Hi,

I’m not sure if this is illegal or not but the claim made here seems a bit iffy.

http://www.boots.com/shop/product_details.jsp?productid=1021333&classificationid=1035989&slmRefer=000

“A combination of essential oils to help stop snoring. Effective in reducing snoring for 4 out of 5 users. Spray Formula.”

I contacted Boots to ask how they arrived at this “4 out of 5” figure and they refused to tell me as this is ‘Commercially sensitive information’.

Similar claims made by the makers of Good Night Stop Snore Mouthwash (a product also base based on essential oils) were criticised due to a lack of proper clinical studies. The Australian Consumers’ Association came to the same conclusion.

http://www.choice.com.au/viewArticle.aspx?id=105195&catId=100376&tid=100008&p=1&title=Anti-snoring+products

Are Boots required to explain where their figures come from if they make such a strong and specific claim or should they at least add a disclaimer?

Thanks,

Sean.

Advertisements

20 Responses to “Trust boots – homeopathy and voodoo on the highstreet?”

  1. plast Says:

    Wow. Thank you for being who you are and doing what you do!

  2. Sean Kehoe Says:

    Cheers mate, thanks for stopping by.

  3. Boots abuse your trust « The Sceptical Preacher Says:

    […] I wrote an earlier article discussing Boots and their whoring of useless homeopathic treatments. […]

  4. Sean Kehoe Says:

    Incidentally, I’ve just sent a letter to the MHRA to complain about the specific claims that Boots make in their blurb for this remedy and their subsequent refusal to provide evidence.

  5. Sean Kehoe Says:

    No response as of yet….

  6. Sean Kehoe Says:

    Still no response. I’ve sent them a reminder, asking them to acknowledge that they’re actually receiving the stuff I’m sending.

  7. linus wilson Says:

    Why are you so passionate about this? There must be a reason.
    As someone who is very educated on the subject of homeopathy, I feel it is best to voice my opinion. Do you know why we give medicine in such minute doses? Have you tried the snoring spray yourself? Tell me the principles of homeopathy and how to prescribe a remedy for snoring?
    Homeopathy may never have the privilage of ‘proving itself’ in the face of today’s sciences as homeopathy is a very complicated science in itself. However this is not the issue. The issue is that it works and the only reason I kind find that someone like you should be so skeptical is that you know nothing about homeopathy and the world in which it lives.
    I know from experience that people can have an aggravation from homeopathic remedies. This is quite common. That is why the warning is there. Have you seen the warnings on conventional drugs? Only any normal person would choose the safe alternative, which is now becomming ever so popular because it has helped so many people after suffering at the hands of allopathic medicine. Just let it go.

  8. Sean Kehoe Says:

    Hi Linus,

    I’m passionate about this for two reasons.

    1) Boots play on their reputation on the high-street. They even use the slogan “Trust Boots” while peddling useless junk to their gullible customers. I don’t like seeing people risking their health on junk.

    2) Homeopathic medicine simply can’t work the way it’s meant to. If a homeopathic product is effective for a reason other than the placebo effect then technically it should no longer be considered homeopathic. It’s the same as any supernatural claim. Once the effect being claimed can be measured and observed, it’s no-longer supernatural, it’s natural.

    I haven’t tried the snoring spray personally but I have asked Boots to explain how they tested it but they declined to answer (I posted their responses in earlier articles). I gave them a fair chance to point me in the direction of a proper medical study but they hid behind the “trade secret” excuse. David Colquhoun has some very good information regarding homepathy on his site. See his description of the “definition dilemma”, it’s along the same lines as the paranormal labeling paradox mentioned earlier.

    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Pharmacology/dc-bits/quack.html

    I have a basic knowledge of homeopathy from reading about it and to put it crudely, it’s a variant on the “hair of the dog that bit you” idea of curing a hangover. The basic principle is “like cures like”. If a substance in large quantities would cause the symptoms that the patient is experiencing, a smaller amount will relieve them. If this is wrong, please correct me since you’ve likely studied it in more depth than I have. If I were to prescribe a cure for snoring, it would not be homeopathic unless I’m satisfied that the placebo affect will benefit the patient.

    Would you have any references in the BMJ, Lancet or any other mainstream peer-reviewed medical journal demonstrating that an off-the-shelf homeopathic remedy can cause side-effects? Please avoid citing examples of pseudo-homeopathic remedies that contain a conventional ingredients. i.e. it’s not a true homepathic remedy if is a 6c preparation that also contains 10mg of codeine or yeast. In these cases, it’s more likely to be the codeine or yeast that’s causing the reaction.

  9. Jon Says:

    Hi Sean – just wondered if you got a response from the ASA following your e-mail?

  10. Sean Kehoe Says:

    Hi Jon,

    I haven’t contacted the ASA, they don’t seem to be able to help here (there are more details about this towards the end of my response).

    I emailed the MHRA at info@mca.gsi.gov.uk back on the 3rd of December asking about the legality of Boots claims for the snoring remedy. I didn’t get a response so I emailed them again on the 7th of January. Here’s the text I wrote.

    “Hi,

    I’ve been waiting over a month now and have received no acknowledgement. I understand that a response may need to be researched but can you confirm that these emails are actually being received please?

    Sean.”

    A fairly reasonable request I think. No responses yet and the email address seems to be correct. It’s posted on the contact page at http://www.mhra.gov.uk.

    My memory is a bit hazy but I looked in to the ASA and noticed they have something called the CAP Code. Unfortunately the CAP Code doesn’t apply since it has this exclusion clause.

    “1.2 The Code does not apply to:
    website content, except sales promotions and advertisements in paid-for space”

    (Found at this link)
    http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/codes/cap_code/ShowCode.htm?clause_id=1430

    The claims are being made on the Boots site so they are excluded. I have considered contacting Trading Standards though and seeing if I can find a similar body in Ireland also, since Boots sell the same products in their branches here.

  11. Sean Kehoe Says:

    By the way, I’m sending the follow email to IMA (Irish Medical Authority). I tried to phone them but their line seems to be perpetually engaged.

    Hi,

    I have some concerns regarding medical treatments/devices being sold in Ireland.

    This is a homeopathic product that claims to be “Effective in reducing snoring for 4 out of 5 users.” I asked Boots to provide evidence for this claim but they declined to do so – citing this as being ‘commercially sensitive’ information.

    http://www.boots.com/shop/product_details.jsp?productid=1021333

    They also sell a medical device called the Silent Knight Ring. This ring is sold alongside the homeopathic medicines, towards the pharmacy end of a Cork branch of Boots.

    http://www.boots.com/shop/product_details.jsp?productid=1071314

    Their claim is “Stop Snoring Using the Silent Knight Ring”. This claim is no more valid than selling whiskey, claiming that it’ll stop you from hiccuping.

    Is this something I can raise with the IMB or do you think this is more of a consumer rights/advertising issue?

    Thanks,

    Sean.

  12. Boots on the radio « The Sceptical Preacher Says:

    […] on the radio There’s an interesting BBC Radio show discussing the Snoring remedies being peddled by […]

  13. Sean Kehoe Says:

    I received a response from the IMB (Irish medical board). Unfortunately they can’t help since snoring isn’t considered a medical condition.

    I’ve sent a similar email to the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs for Ireland. I’m hoping that they can take action based on the claims Boots are making. The snoring spray may be plausible if they can show proper research to prove it’s efficacy but the Silent Knight Ring is pure fraud unless Boots can disprove a lot of what science has taught us about human physiology. If they do succeed, they can continue to sell the product and most likely collect a Nobel prize.

  14. Sean Kehoe Says:

    Still no response from the MHRA. I received a response from the IMB.

    “The product in question is not a homeopathic medicinal product as the
    ingredients are essential oils. Additionally, the IMB does not consider
    snoring a medical condition or ‘help with snoring’ a medical claim. ”

    The reference to homeopathic is probably right, I need to visit Boots again and check the product label. They certainly don’t advertise it as homeopathic on the web site.

    I suspect that if the MHRA reply, it will be a similar one to the IMB. Snoring isn’t a medical condition so Boots can continue to make spurious claims. I’m hoping now that this can become a trading standards issue. You’d think that if this product isn’t a medicine, it can be treated like any other product. If it doesn’t do what it says on the tin, let’s see if we can catch them for selling goods on non-merchantable quality.

    I contacted the Office of The Director of Consumer Affairs for Ireland on the 8th of February so I’m hoping for a reply soon. Here’s the text of the email I sent to odca@entemp.ie


    I have some concerns regarding alternative medicine products being sold in

    Ireland.

    This is an alternative medicine product that claims to be “Effective in reducing
    snoring for 4 out of 5 users.” I asked Boots to provide evidence for
    this claim but they declined to do so – citing this as being
    ‘commercially sensitive’ information.

    http://www.boots.com/shop/product_details.jsp?productid=1021333

    Boots also sell a small metal ring that is supposed to reduce snoring if you wear it on your finger. There is no evidence at all for this, it’s based on the principles of acupressure.
    http://www.boots.com/shop/product_details.jsp?productid=1071314

    Their claim is “Stop Snoring Using the Silent Knight Ring”. This claim
    is no more valid than selling whiskey, claiming that it’ll stop you from
    hiccuping.

    Both of these products are sold on the web site and also in a branch of Boots in Cork.”

    Note that I avoided referring to the snoring remedy as being of a homeopathic nature since I need to confirm whether or not this is true

  15. Jay Says:

    Thanks for saving me $42 on this ridiculous anti snoring ancient Chinese remedy. Just to let you know the reach of your efforts I live in NYC and Google led me to your delightfully skeptical attack on Boots. I have will stick with these nose thingies that widen the nostils so you can breathe easier at night. They seem to be helpling alot…so my wife tells me in the morning.

  16. Sean Kehoe Says:

    Heh heh, cheers Jay, glad you found something that helps reduce the snoring. How Boots can legally sell the ring I don’t know. If Sony sold a television and claimed it could do something it can’t, they’d be in court. Seems health isn’t as serious as home entertainment.

  17. James Says:

    Hi

    My mrs is getting annoyed with my continuous snoring (while asleep at least). So we went into boots yesterday, where we saw the Silent Knight ring for £30.00

    before splashing out that much money, i spoke to the girl on the pharmacy.. when i asked how it works – she says she has no idea (not surprising). I asked if their returns policy would let me bring it back if it didn’t work.. she said “no-one has returned one yet!” not convinced, i spoke to the pharmacist, who said it works by accupuncture, and is very good, but the returns policy means they couldn’t exchange it if it didn’t work…

    if i bought a hair-drier, and it didn’t work, the law would mean they have to refund/replace… (i think/hope!) and what if they were to sell condoms that had a hole in the end – would that be excluded from their returns policy.

    I don’t get it.

    I for one won’t be buying a silent knight ring or similar, unless i can return it if it’s the usefull piece of junk it seems to be!

  18. Sean Kehoe Says:

    Hi James,

    I think it depends on the claims they make on the packaging and the claims made by the ‘pharmacist’. I haven’t looked at the ring packaging for some time but I suspect they’ll be clever to avoid making guarantees. It is a bit unfair though. I work for a consumer goods company and I know we’d be sued to hell if we behaved like Boots. Seems that as soon as you add voodoo to the mix, everything goes.

    I see on their web site that the ring is undergoing NHS clinical trials. They already claim that the ring has undergone ‘field trial research’ but conveniently fail to provide any further info.

  19. Alternative Medicine Says:

    Alternative Medicine

    Alternative Medicine

  20. waynerrr Says:

    I AM confused. I saw the ring product in boots (£29.99) and a load of products on the Internet. I’ve piled through the forums. the Idea that seems most logical is from this site

    ————————————————
    http://www.sleeppro.com/html/treatments_that_work.html

    ——————————————————
    THIS IS THE SUMMARY OF WHAT THEY SAY (THIS IS WHAT THEY CLAIM, I havn’t tried their idea yet, so i can’t say whether their claims are true)

    There are only three stop snoring treatments that work for most snorers – do not be misled by anyone who tells you anything to the contrary:

    1. Mandibular (jaw) advancement devices l
    2. CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure mask and air pump, which can only be prescribed by a doctor) and
    3. Surgery, which can be painful and has a lower success rate than mandibular advancement – although it is still more likely to work than treatments listed in the treatments that don’t work section.

    Snoring treatments that don’t work

    We speak to large numbers of snorers. They tell us that the following treatments do not work:

    * stop snoring tablets,
    * aromatherapy,
    * hypnosis,
    * willpower training,
    * wrist devices, rings,
    * devices that counteract the snoring noise, and
    * devices that flash a bright light when you snore.
    * Sports gumshields or mouthguards – these look like mandibular advancement splints, but they will not stop you snoring as they do not provide sufficient support behind the front teeth (particularly the lower teeth) to hold the jaw forward. Furthermore, as the bulk of a sports gumshield is at the front of the mouthpiece (to absorb and spread an impact), they can feel very bulky and uncomfortable when worn for more than a couple of hours or overnight. Mandibular advancement splints and sports gum shields are not the same things.
    * Tongue retention devices have been reported as being too uncomfortable.

    In our opinion, the following stop snoring options do not work or are best used in conjunction with one of the three treatment options that do work:

    * sprays – people tell us that stop snoring sprays either do not work, or they only work for a short period before the effects wear off (saliva washes away the spray) and they are expensive if you need to keep buying more spray.
    * Nasal strips make it easier to breathe through your nose, they don’t stop you snoring. Don’t be misled by claims to the contrary.
    * Anything that forces you to breathe through your nose is useless when you have a cold, or allergies that give you a blocked nose. They will make you feel like you are being strangled.
    * Posture can play an important role in snoring, but is not a solution in itself.

    ————————————————————

    THIS IS WHAT I’M GOING TO DO:-
    IM GOING TO PURCHASE THEIRE SNORE 1 PRODUCT. THIS IS MY REASONING. MY SNORING SEEMS TO BE IN THE MOUTH/THROAT. IF I TRY TO CONCIOUSLY REPLICATE MY SNORE THEN STICK MY BOTTOM JAW FORWARD THEN THE SNORING GOES AWAY. So their “right” seems to be my “right” as well….Im going to give it ago….Hopefully my email will automatically inform me of further postings to this thread (as i don’t have time to keep checking)

    maybe somebody else will trial it as well!!!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: