The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against indie oral care brand Zing, which implied that titanium dioxide (TiO2)-containing toothpastes were potentially harmful.
The complainant, a journalist, challenged whether content on the brand’s homepage and a paid-for Facebook ad (seen on 30 June 2023) were misleading.
In the same month, the homepage on Zing’s website, zingtoothpaste.com, read: “What you need to know about ‘white’ toothpaste. You shouldn’t have to brush with suspected carcinogens.”
Text below this header stated: “If it’s White, it ain’t Right. Toothpaste isn’t naturally white. Many common toothpastes use an ingredient to make them look ‘white’. This ingredient is called Titanium Dioxide. It's in things like paint. Titanium Dioxide is a suspected carcinogen, and banned in food by the European Food Safety Authority. However, it remains an ingredient in many common ‘white’ toothpastes. […] That’s why ZING is clear. Free from Titanium Dioxide. Free from dodgy dyes. Because you shouldn't have to brush with suspected carcinogens.”
Additionally, the Facebook advert claimed: “No dodgy dyes. No supermarket nasties. Free from Titanium Dioxide forever.”
An image embedded in the ad featured superimposed text, which further stated: “No dodgy dyes. Titanium Dioxide-free […] f*ck cancer a clear gel.”
Zing has since removed the advert from Facebook.
In response to the complaint, it referred the ASA to a clinical risk assessment, systematic literature review, clinical survey, an online news article and a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Opinion, which it said established that TiO2 was likely to cause an adverse reaction in humans following oral consumption.
TiO2’s use as a food additive was prohibited in the European Union (EU) and Northern Ireland last year following the EFSA Opinion, which indicated that genotoxicity following the consumption of nanosized TiO2 particles through the food additive E171 could not be ruled out.
It is still permitted as a food additive in England, Scotland and Wales, with the region’s Food Standards Authority (FSA) conducting its own review of the substance.
However, in both the EU and UK, TiO2 is permitted for use in cosmetics such as toothpaste, with certain stipulations.
The ASA upheld the complaint on the grounds that consumers would understand the ads’ claims to mean that TiO2 was widely used in toothpastes, and that it was potentially carcinogenic.
It further considered that consumers would interpret the claims to mean that, by using TiO2-containing toothpastes, they were likely to be exposed to a carcinogen that was not present in Zing’s products.
Because the information supplied by Zing was related to TiO2 as an additive in food, the ASA considered that the evidence provided was not adequate substantiation for the claims under investigation.
The authority ruled that the ads must not appear again in their current form and the brand was told not to claim that using toothpaste containing TiO2 was harmful to humans without adequate substantiation.