The Church of Scientology, founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard and reported to have a large number of celebrity devotees, issued a poster headlined: "Scientology: applied religious philosophy. 250,000 people salvaged from drugs." It included a freephone number and a website address.
As well as the complaint from the Church of England in Birmingham, two members of the public also objected to the ads claims regarding the number of people who were saved from drugs.
Defending its claim, the Church of Scientology said that 250,000 people had completed drug rehabilitation programmes offered by the church. Within Scientology, "drugs" can include everything from heroin and other illegal substances to alcohol and prescription medicines.
The organisation went on to claim that the figure was a conservative estimate of the number of people worldwide who had completed such programmes and who had signed statements saying they were free from the effects of drugs.
It also argued that the poster encourage people to visit the website or contact the organisation for advice and help on drugs, and not to join the Church of Scientology.
The Advertising Standards Authority said it accepted that more than 250,000 people had participated in its programmes, but said that people were likely to interpret the ad as meaning that 250,000 people had stopped being dependent on street or prescription drugs because of the programmes.
It said that while the Church of Scientology may have helped many people to overcome drug dependency, it had not proved that all those enrolled on the programmes had stopped using drugs as a direct result of its intervention.
It advised the organisation to make clear the terms of their definition of drugs in future advertising. A 2001 poster making similar claims was also banned after a complaint from the Church of England.
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