Boots forced to pull ad with ‘misleading’ blue light claims

The Advertising Standards Authority has ordered the high street chemist not to repeat its claims

Boots has been forced to withdraw a press advertisement which claimed that blue light causes retinal cells to deteriorate.

The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the statement was ‘misleading’ and has ordered the high street chemist not to repeat it. It said that the further assertion that Boot’s Protect Plus Blue lenses safeguarded against the threat to the eyes from blue light was also misleading, and should be withdrawn.

The national press ads stated: ‘Have you seen the (blue) light? … Did you know that some blue light, from smartphone screens to sunshine, can affect your eyes?…Many modern gadgets, whether it’s a fancy LED TV or your smartphone, as well as sunlight and energy-saving light bulbs, give off a certain kind of blue light that can cause your retinal cells to deteriorate over time’. The ads continued: ‘Luckily Boots Opticians can help’ and offered its £70 lenses as a solution.

The ASA was asked to rule on whether that blue light from LED lamps, LED TVs, smartphones and sunlight caused damage to retinal cells over time; and if indeed Boots Protect Plus Blue lenses protected against blue light from the listed sources.

In its submission to the ASA, Boots said research has shown that blue-violet light, which ranged from around 415 to 455nm, was harmful to the human eye, but that blue-turquoise light that ranged from around 465 to 495nm, was not. It said the harmful blue light was emitted by devices such as tablet computers, smartphones, back-lit LED TVs and LED light bulbs. The Protect Plus Blue front-side coating was designed to avoid reflections within the visible spectrum except for the blue-violet rays, therefore inhibiting their transmission. It said their lens finish blocked 20 per cent of the harmful blue light.

The ASA acknowledged that light from artificial sources emitted strongly in the short wavelength spectra with a typical peak output of approximately 450 nm. However, in its ruling, it stated: ‘we understood that the overall output of harmful blue light from those sources was significantly below that of sunlight. We considered that consumers would interpret it to mean that by filtering out harmful blue light in particular, they could reduce the deterioration of their vision later in life. Furthermore, we considered that the reference to “damage to retinal cells” was likely to be understood to refer to conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) which we understood was caused by a number of factors such as smoking, family history and nutrition, that were potentially more detrimental than harmful blue light alone.

‘In this instance we considered that only full trials conducted on humans were sufficient, potentially, to support the claims. We assessed the relevant study and noted that…it was one single epidemiological study which only suggested that sunlight and not blue-violet light in particular, might be a risk factor for the early onset of AMD. We therefore considered that because the study’s conclusions related to sunlight exposure and not the specific wavelength of harmful blue light, including light from the sources listed in the ad, it was not sufficient to substantiate the claims.’

The ASA said that Boots did not provide evidence that a modest 20 per cent reduction in the amount of harmful blue light entering the eye would lead to a significant reduction in the amount of retinal damage caused by exposure, as implied by the ad. ‘In the context of an ad which purported that harmful blue light was damaging to retinal cells and implied that the majority, if not all, harmful blue light was filtered out by Boots’ lens coating before it reached the retina, we did not consider the evidence was adequate to support the implied claim made. We therefore concluded the ad was misleading.’