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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20107

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

Sanders C
Drug company ads targeting consumers hit
Winnipeg Free Press 2001 Jun 2


Full text:

Governments should pull the plug on drug company advertising that targets consumers, says an expert from Australia who is touring Canada to spread the word about the ad’s ills.

“It’s a disaster”, said Dr Peter Mansfield in Winnipeg yesterday to meet with doctors and media. He is the founder of the Medical Lobby of Appropriate Marketing now called Healthy Skepticism in Australia and has studied the impact of direct-to-consumer advertising in New Zealand and the United States.

His visit is sponsored partly by Canada’s Working Group on Women and Health Protection. It’s trying to get federal and provincial governments on side in reining in pharmaceutical marketing directed at consumers.

The drugs companies are advertising to the masses are new, often expensive, and haven’t been tested over the long haul, said Mansfield.

“Just because they’re new is no reason to think they’ll be better”, he said. “They could be worse”. The fallout is treatment failures, adverse drug reactions and a huge waste of money on unnecessary prescriptions, he said.

While Canada doesn’t allow direct to consumer advertising officially, commercials still find their way north of the borders on cable TV ads from the US and on the Internet.

Under Canada’s Food and Drug Act, promotion of prescription drug to the general public is limited to name, price and quantity.

What worries Mansfield is the tone of US TV commercials creeping into Canada for anti-depressants for children or blatant TV campaigns on Canadian networks for the smoking cessation pill Zyban.

Health Canada’s Therapeutic Products Program policy says it must be determined whether the primary purpose of the message is to promote the sale of a drug or to provide information, the policy says.

When drug company ads try to convince consumers they need a prescription to lose weight or cope, they’re not providing information but trying to sell their product, said Mansfield.

“Is that education? Or are you seeing attempts at suasion to target vulnerable people?”

He said studies in the US show that 80 percent of patient’s prescription requests are filled by doctors – “despite it often being not the best thing”. He said physicians may comply because they want to listen to patients and don’t want to be perceived as paternalistic.

 

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There is no sin in being wrong. The sin is in our unwillingness to examine our own beliefs, and in believing that our authorities cannot be wrong. Far from creating cynics, such a story is likely to foster a healthy and creative skepticism, which is something quite different from cynicism.”
- Neil Postman in The End of Education