Jean McHale on Advertisements for Cosmetic Surgery and Beauty Practices

This is the fifth in a series of posts about whether advertisements for cosmetic surgery and other beauty practices should be banned. Here Jean McHale, Professor of Health Care Law at Birmingham Law School, and Co-Investigator of the Beauty Demands project, gives her thoughts. If you would like to contribute to this discussion please email your response to Jan Kandiyali.

Would you be in favour of banning all advertisements for non-invasive beauty treatments and/or cosmetic surgery? If you are not in favour of banning all advertisements would you be in favour of banning some - for instance for certain types of procedures? If so can you explain why for some and not all and how you would determine which should be advertised?Would you differentiate depending on where adverts were placed; for instance would you accept adverts in women's magazines where the intended audience is adult women, but not in public places where they would be seen by children?Alternatively do you think that any banning advertisements would be wrong and why?

First, what is meant by "advertisements"- this just isn't clear. Does this refer to television, leaflets, posters, emails? Would it include signs on the outside of a beauty clinic stating what services are offered or would this mean that all beauty clinics would simply have darkened doors and perhaps one sign above them? Should we treat the beauty industry in the same way as we treat tobacco or sex shops?

Secondly, what would the aim of banning advertising be? Banning less scrupulous practitioners? Facilitating a "medical" organized monopoly? Or is the aim ultimately to ban such practices outright- but if so then why not take that approach rather than focusing on advertising per se? Is this a means of regulating "risk"-or is that itself not a much bigger question which would involve another range of approaches? Or is the aim to deter children and young people but can information be segregated between adults and the young that easily today? Can a "public" arena of advertising really be identified as separate or all all adverts really "public" by their very nature?

Thirdly, what about the cross-border treatment dimension- couldn't people simply Google the information and find out what was available elsewhere and would this in turn facilitate cosmetic surgery tourism to countries where standards might be considerably worse than the UK?

Even within the UK would also social media today be able to get around such a ban within the UK through the easy transfer of information? Do bloggers constitute "advertisers"?- in some situations they might -any certainly if paid by a company to promote their products yet they don't sit easily within an effective scheme for control here?

Could banning advertisements itself be seen as a restriction on a fundamental principle- the right to freedom of expression contained in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and contained in English law through the Human Rights Act 1998? How do commercial freedom of expression rights play out in this context? Or will this in any event be overridden by limitations in relation to public interest considerations set out in Article 10(2)?


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