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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20489

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

Miller C, Clark B
Medicine ads misleading say lobby group
The Herald 1989 Dec 13

Full text:

False and misleading advertising about drugs was-still common despite attempts by the Australian drug industry at self-regulation, a watchdog group said today. The secretary of the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing, Dr Peter Mansfield, said doctors had to protect patients and themselves by exposing drug companies which used misleading promotions.

“Self-regulation has failed, and the free market is not working properly in pharmaceuticals,” Dr Mansfield said.

“The standards that drug companies are using to justify their claims are poor.

“Because doctors are as vulnerable to advertising as anyone, they must pressure companies to be accurate in all promotions.

“If drugs are prescribed on the basis of misinformation, that can adversely affect patients.”

Dr Mansfield said doctors often didn’t know they were being misled. About 20 per cent or more of drug company promotions were misleading or not able to be substantiated.

The Australian drug industry spends $123 million annually on drug promotions.

Dr Mansfield was critical of drug companies in developing countries which had less stringent advertising controls than Australia and other Western countries.

“In Third World countries, doctors have even less opportunity for independent information,” he said.

Dr Mansfield said vigilance had to be improved rather than relaxed, otherwise standards would deteriorate as advertising became more aggressive.

“However, Governments can’t do all the work,” Dr Mansfield said. “Doctors have a greater potential to alter international marketing behavior.”

With Dr Victoria Wade and Dr Peter McDonald from Flinders University in Adelaide, Dr Mansfield also claimed that 13 clinical trials of commonly prescribed drugs were seriously flawed.

“None of these companies supplied reports that could justify advertising claims and were scientifically valid,” they said in a recent article in The Lancet medical journal.

The chief executive of the Australian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, Mr Kerry Bell, disputed the level of alleged misleading advertising.

Mr Bell said MLAM’s examples were about advertising in countries over which Australia had no control.

“Australia has had the most stringent controls on drug advertising,” he said.

“Over 90 per cent of drug companies belong to the APMA and must comply with our code of conduct. No company can make a claim without sufficient supporting data.”


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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