For those who play high-impact sports – and their parents – the risks associated with concussions are top of mind. But advertisers must be cautious about making claims that they can mitigate those risks.
For the second time in just over a year, Canada’s Competition Bureau has taken a manufacturer of hockey helmets to task over advertising that suggested their equipment could protect users from concussions.
On Monday, it announced that Reebok-CCM Hockey Inc. has agreed to change advertising, packaging and other marketing materials for the CCM Resistance helmet that “created the impression that the helmet would protect players from head injuries such as concussions.”
The company has also agreed to donate sports equipment worth $475,000 to organizations supporting young people in sports, and to pay $30,000 to the bureau to cover part of the cost of the investigation.
The bureau reached a similar agreement with Bauer Hockey Corp. last year.
“There has been increased public concerns about concussions in sports, and that’s one of the reasons we undertook to review this matter, as well as Bauer,” bureau spokesperson Phil Norris said. “The science behind concussions in sports is still in its infancy. The current standards [for helmet safety, certified by the Canadian Standards Association] are aimed at protecting players from skull fractures, not concussions.”
The issue is not that Reebok made the claims without testing its helmets, according to the bureau. Since 2011, Reebok-CCM has been working with the University of Ottawa’s Neurotrauma Impact Science Library to test its helmets. However, the bureau’s concern is that there are no tests it considers thorough enough to be able to make claims about concussion protection.
“What we’re trying to do is produce safer helmets for our players,” said Jeff Dalzell, vice-president of product creation at Reebok-CCM. “I believe our advertising did not directly relate to concussions.”
On its website, the company advertises the helmet in question as carrying a “Rotational Energy Dampening System … to help better manage the rotational impacts” with a “liner engineered through cutting-edge science.” The website description also claims that the helmet’s design can “reduce rotational acceleration of the head during an impact.”
The Competition Bureau determined that because of the claims of protection against rotational trauma, the advertising created an impression the helmet could protect against head injuries such as concussion. As part of its investigation, the Competition Bureau worked with an independent expert in biomechanics related to head trauma. The bureau would not specify the name of that expert.
“The inconclusive call is, do we have the epidemiological data on the human performance side? … Can you prove without a reasonable doubt that you are reducing those injuries?” Mr. Dalzell said, acknowledging that the company did not have that certainty in its evidence.
The question of helmet advertising as it relates to head injury has also been raised in the United States. Last year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced it had concluded investigations of three manufacturers of football helmets over such claims. Riddell Sports Group Inc., Schutt Sports Inc., and Xenith LLC all agreed to remove “potentially deceptive claims about concussion prevention from their advertising.”
The FTC also sent letters last year to five large retailers warning them that a mouthguard brand’s claims about concussion prevention – repeated on their websites – had raised concerns. The letters advised that “‘competent and reliable’ scientific evidence is generally needed to substantiate health-related claims.”
The Competition Bureau oversees claims in advertising. In this case, the investigation pertained to the section of the Competition Act related to “false or misleading representations.”
The company co-operated with the investigation, Mr. Norris said.
“We want to make it clear that we definitely support innovation in the marketplace,” he said. “We just want to make sure it’s done properly.”Report Typo/Error
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