Face mask ads banned for ‘scaremongering’ and ‘misleading’ coronavirus claims

"Scaremongering" adverts for face masks which made false claims about their ability to prevent the spread of coronavirus have been banned.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated the adverts were "misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason."

It said the adverts, which appeared on Amazon and on the Scottish Sun website, were "alarmist" as they went against Public Health England advice about using face masks to halt the spread of Covid-19.

The ASA said the ads were in breach of its code and ordered the advertisers to ensure they did not repeat the claims.

An advert for face masks on the Amazon website. Credit: ASA/PA

The rulings were made against the adverts by Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd, which appeared on the Amazon website, and adverts by Novads OU for its Oxybreath Pro mask, which appeared on the Scottish Sun website via the Taboola network as well as on cnn.com and other sites.

One of the Oxybreath Pro adverts stated: “It would be an understatement to say that there is a growing sense of panic.

“The best advice I’ve heard is to stay calm and take practical measures to protect yourself.

“One of the best ways to protect yourself is to get a high quality face mask that can protect you from: viruses, bacteria, and other air pollutants.”

However facemasks are not considered to be an effective way of becoming infected, the PHE said.

“Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals,” said Dr Jake Dunning, PHE’s head of emerging infections and zoonoses.

“However, there is very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings."

An advert on the Scottish Sun website for Nano face masks which claims to protect you from viruses. Credit: ASA/PA

A spokesman for the ASA said: “Our rules require that UK ads are truthful and responsible.

“The ads were misleading because the claims went against advice offered by the public health authority and irresponsible because they were alarmist and played on people’s fears.

“During our investigation we sought advice from Public Health England (PHE).

“They informed us that they do not recommend the use of face masks as a means of protection from coronavirus.

“Furthermore, we understood there was very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of clinical settings, and that prolonged use of masks was likely to reduce compliance with good universal hygiene behaviours that are recommended to help stop the spread of infectious diseases (including coronavirus), such as frequent hand-washing and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

The number of people in the UK diagnosed with Covid-19 had risen to 51. Credit: PA

“Beyond this, we recommend consumers get their information about coronavirus from trusted news outlets and follow the latest Government advice.”

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “Callous firms looking to maximise profits by pushing products that fly in the face of official advice is outright dangerous and has rightly been banned.

“As the country mobilises to deal with this outbreak we need responsible firms to play their part by thinking about how more employees could work from home, encouraging them to follow simple hygiene measures such as washing their hands, covering their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze, and making sure they know that anyone who is worried consults NHS 111 online.”