While the company is small, and the product concerned is not a household name, the ruling has caught the advertising industry's attention, because it goes to the heart of the largely unregulated complementary and traditional medicines market.
The council's mandate is to ensure medicines are safe and effective, but they were slow to act against firms promoting dubious health products.
The ASA ruling stems from a complaint lodged by the Cape Midlands branch of the Pharmaceutical Society of SA (PSSA), on behalf of one of its member pharmacies against Theron's Comfrey Wonder Products.
The firm's packaging described its comfrey pills as energy capsules useful for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, flu, arthritis, cancer, TB, gout, AIDS, weight loss, virility and improving the body's immune system.
Pharmacist Richard Boraine brought the product to the PSSA's attention, after one of his customers told him that US health authorities had banned oral comfrey, because it contained pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which caused liver damage.
UK health authorities have also banned oral use of the herb.
The PSSA, an industry body for pharmacists, complained to the ASA that the product was not a registered medicine, and that the claims were misleading and unsubstantiated.
The Code of Advertising Practice says advertisers must have credible evidence to back up their claims.
They may not promote treatments for illnesses unless these products have been registered with the MCC.
Theron's CEO Danie Theron told the ASA that the packaging was a prelaunch specimen, and was changed to omit references to cancer, TB and AIDS.
He said the product had been submitted to the council for registration on its complementary listing system: Western Herbal Medicine.
The council told the ASA that the product had not been evaluated for safety and efficacy. And as none of its claims were approved, it was not registered as a medicine.
Theron's proof of registration was merely a receipt acknowledging that he had applied to have his products registered with the council, said the ASA.
Theron argued that his comfrey capsules did not claim to provide a cure, but were useful treatments.
An approach taken by many other complementary health products still on the market.
The ASA said it considered each case on its merits, and the practices of other complementary health product manufacturers were not relevant.
The ASA found Theron had breached the Code of Advertising Practice, and ordered him to withdraw his claims.
Theron said his products were safe because they were alkaloid-free, a claim he said was verified by scientists at Fort Hare and the University of Zimbabwe.
He said he would appeal against the ASA's ruling. You need to be able to say something on your label, he said. (Source: Tamar Kahn,Business Day,29 June 2007)