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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 14068

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Harvey K.
Is regulation of complementary medicine marketing a joke?
Crikey 2008 Jul 29

Full text:

While there are plenty of critics of pharmaceutical marketing, at least Medicines Australia (MA) administers a quick, efficient and transparent advertising complaint system with a range of sanctions that are likely to make marketing directors think twice before overstepping Code boundaries.

In 2007/2008 the MA Code Committee finalised 71 complaints and found 54% in breach of the Code. The average time taken to resolve a complaint was 26 working days. Thirty one complaints (44%) received fines totalling $1.8 million fines, 8 (11%) coped withdrawal of material or cease activity orders and 7 (10%) corrective letters or corrective advertisements. In addition, MA Code reports are publicised extensively in both the lay and medical media; such publicity must provide an additional deterrent.

Contrast this with the self-regulatory Complaint Resolution Panel (CRP) that handles complaints against complementary medicines.

In 2007, the CRP dealt with 185 complaints about complementary medicines. Around 90% were found to breach the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code. The average time to the provision of a determination was 112 days. The CRP can only “request” offenders to withdraw an advertisement or issue a retraction. It has no power to fine. Because of this, it also has no resources to produce reports similar to MA or even follow-up its own determinations. As a result, it usually takes multiple complaints before non-compliance is eventually passed on to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

The TGA (100% funded by industry) is totally non-transparent about any action it takes; it tells complainants nothing and publicises nothing. As a result, media coverage is the exception rather than the rule.

Given the above, it is not surprising that Big Pharma is regarded by the public as “bad” while complementary medicines companies such as Blackmores are regarded as “good”!

In fact, complaints about complementary medicines are more numerous, often more serious, and are increasing at a faster rate than complaints against conventional medicines; it is just that the former usually don’t receive any attention.

Which begs the question: why is there such weak regulation of these products?


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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909