At their annual conference, held this year at the Royal College of Physicians in London, The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) announced that they have drafted and submitted a new, strict advertising code to the regulator CAP (the Committee of Advertising Practice), which sets out policies for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Although they are continuing to call for an outright ban on cosmetic surgery advertising in all its forms, the BAAPS says that implementing the twelve measures that they have outlined is the ‘bare minimum’ that should be considered acceptable to help protect the public, in particular teens and young people from what they refer to as ‘unethical practices and unhealthy psychological repercussions’.
The list of restrictions demanded by BAAPS includes prohibiting financial inducements, time-limited offers, BOGOFs, discount deals through voucher websites like Groupon and the use of unrealistic imagery such as Photoshopped models. A number of these measures, including financial gain for clinic staff who ‘sell’ procedures, are also currently being reviewed for implementation as standards at an EU level, via the CEN Standard for Aesthetic Surgery Services.
Former BAAPS President, Consultant Plastic Surgeon Nigel Mercer, who was involved in drafting the EU standards explained; "Banking regulators have recently banned product incentives, entirely because they can lead to mis-selling by staff hungry for commissions. Yet the practice of promoting sales of serious medical procedures by providing hard-to-resist financial inducements has been allowed to grow unrestrained."
After a meeting with the General Medical Council to highlight their concerns, the BAAPS drafted the following restrictions and submitted them to CAP:
- Prohibit all advertising aimed at the under 18s for example the use of young spokespeople such as celebrities that appeal to this age group.
- Prohibit advertising in public places where children can see these ads, such as posters, billboards, sides of buses and television.
- Prohibit all forms of discounted offers and financial inducements to encourage people having cosmetic surgery including seasonal incentives such as 'New Year, new body!', 'Summer body',’surgical makeovers' or Christmas gift vouchers for surgery.
- Prohibit time limited offers e.g., 'book by Friday'.
- Prohibit targeting vulnerable specific groups such as divorced people, brides to be, women after pregnancy e.g., 'Divorce feel-good' and 'Mummy makeovers' discount packages.
- Ban the principle of loyalty cards as inducement to have multiple or repeat procedures.
- Prohibit advertising for combined procedures as inducement such as two-for-ones and BOGOFs.
- Prohibit recruitment of patients for cosmetic surgery by agent, either in the UK or abroad, whether through publications or websites.
- Prohibit the use of pictures of models or 'real life' patients that raise unrealistic expectations from cosmetic surgery such as through the use of Photoshop.
- Prohibit advertising of money-off and discount vouchers such as Groupon as inducement for booking for surgery.
- Prohibit giving cosmetic surgery as prize in any shape or form.
- Prohibit encouragement of refer-a-friend schemes in return for discount on surgery.
Earlier this year, a report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Body Image revealed that half the UK public suffer from negative body image, and girls as young as five now worry about their size an appearance.
BAAPS President and Consultant Plastic Surgeon Fazel Fatah said; "For a long time the BAAPS has expressed concern over susceptible patients being at risk through the unrestricted proliferation of cosmetic surgery advertising. It is clear that some providers take advantage of the vulnerability of people who seek surgical treatments for psychological reasons.”
“Cosmetic surgery is often portrayed as a commodity raising unrealistic expectations rather than as a medical treatment that can have life long effect, which is why we have been campaigning for an all-out ban on this type of advertising.”
“However, in support of the recommendation by the All Party Parliamentary Group that a separate code of advertising be drawn up for cosmetic surgery, we have submitted for consideration a set of twelve measures which we consider to be the bare minimum that should be implemented to protect vulnerable patients."
Consultant Plastic Surgeon, Consulting Room Advisor and BAAPS President-Elect Rajiv Grover said; "The government's review into the sector is underway so this is an ideal time to take action. Posters in the Underground and on the sides of buses, billboards, TV and social media ads promoting cosmetic surgery have become ubiquitous, with no consideration for the psychological repercussions on the children and teens exposed to them. This is compounded by the glamorizing of young celebrities who appeal to this vulnerable age group, making it seem like undergoing aesthetic procedures - whether surgical or non-surgical – is aspirational and easy."
It seems that the ASA is already taking note of the opinions of BAAPS as only this month, cosmetic surgery chain Transform was reprimanded by the ASA for showing a television advert, which in itself was deemed to be ‘all above board’ but which had been broadcast at times when it could be seen by children, such as 4:30pm. The clinic chain was told to schedule its TV commercials at more appropriate times in future, when children were unlikely to be able to view them.
BAAPS President Fazel Fatah concluded; "We strongly believe that in the absence of a complete ban, the above measures in their entirety are necessary."
The BAAPS Annual Scientific Meeting included presentations by surgeons to their peers on a vast number of subjects including new techniques and the latest advances in aesthetic plastic surgery. Some of these include a new facial surgery assessment tool, the results of standardized psychological screening questionnaires, the evolution of the facelift and the longevity of its effects, advances in procedures such as eyelid surgery, cheek and arm lifts, breast augmentation and reduction; ethnic and post-obesity surgery.
A study presented at the conference also revealed that cosmetic surgery procedures have increased by nearly 300% in the last decade and that, unlike in the U.S. where the market has matured and 'plateau'd', in Britain demand is closely linked with economic factors such as interest rates.