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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20130

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: Media Release

Direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising
Working Group on Women and Health Protection 2001 Jun 1

Full text:

“If something goes wrong, it will go wrong in a big way. This is poor public health policy”, says Barbara Mintzes, a Vancouver-based researcher looking at the impact of drug advertising on the health of Canadians. Canada currently outlaws direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of pharmaceuticals but that could change if the pharmaceutical industry is successful in convincing Health Canada to relax its laws in this regard.

Mintzes is member of the Working Group on Women and Health Protection, who, with other consumer and health groups are conveying their concerns about DTCA to provincial and federal officials. They have organized a cross-Canada tour in late May and early June featuring an international expert on DTCA, Dr Peter Mansfield of Australia. He is the founder of Healthy Skepticism, an organisation concerned with misleading and harmful drug industry marketing.

“I’ve seen how damaging DTCA is in New Zealand, and the incredible wastage of money on expensive new drugs that it involves”, notes Dr Mansfield. “The harmful consequences of DTCA include more treatment failures and adverse drug reactions, less money for good care when you need it and less access to reliable, educational drug information. Expecting drug companies to be able to provide unbiased information about their drugs is like expecting proud parents to be able to provide unbiased information about the beauty of their children”.

Dr Mansfield’s tour, designed to raise awareness on this issue with health policymakers and the Canadian public, will begin in Victoria and Vancouver on Mat 27th and head to Manitoba on May 31st, followed by Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto.

Barbara Mintzes, who, with Dr Mansfield is one of the world’s leading experts on direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals is well aware of the dangers involved in having only the newest and most expensive drugs being promoted to the public. “When a drug first comes to market, we don’t know very much about its risks, especially long-term or less common risks. If it’s aggressively advertised, scores of people may start taking it within just months”, says Mintzes.

The Working Group on Women and Health Protection is a coalition of women’s health advocates, consumer and public interest organizations and academic researchers advocating for better health protection laws in Canada. Dr Mansfield, Ms Mintzes and other members of the Working Group are available for interviews.


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Cases of wilful misrepresentation are a rarity in medical advertising. For every advertisement in which nonexistent doctors are called on to testify or deliberately irrelevant references are bunched up in [fine print], you will find a hundred or more whose greatest offenses are unquestioning enthusiasm and the skill to communicate it.

The best defence the physician can muster against this kind of advertising is a healthy skepticism and a willingness, not always apparent in the past, to do his homework. He must cultivate a flair for spotting the logical loophole, the invalid clinical trial, the unreliable or meaningless testimonial, the unneeded improvement and the unlikely claim. Above all, he must develop greater resistance to the lure of the fashionable and the new.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963