Canadian magazines that have been lobbying to be able to sell direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs will be dismayed by the uncompromising paper released yesterday by the Health Council of Canada. It says that, for patient safety and public health reasons, the government should reinforce, not relax, its prohibitions on DTC advertising.
This essentially restates and reinforces a recommendation of a parliamentary standing committee. When the Health Council makes its annual report on February 7, backed up by the research, it will likely drive one of the the last nails into the coffin of a source of advertising revenue that U.S. magazines take for granted. It will be recommending implementation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health recommendations from its 2003 report, Opening the Medicine Cabinet
, which called for better enforcement of current prohibitions on industry-sponsored prescription drug ads and the creation of independent, publicly financed drug information.
The paper, entitled Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs in Canada: What Are the Public Health Implications?
, was written by University of British Columbia researcher Barbara Mintzes and reviewed existing research to assess whether such advertising improves patient outcomes or patient safety. It is available from the Health Council's website
"There is no reliable evidence that DTCA improves patient compliance in taking medication or leads to more appropriate early diagnosis of under-treated conditions, or prevents hospitalizations and serious disease consequences," said Mintzes, adding that higher exposure to DTCA results in increased requests for prescription medications.
Health Council Chair Michael Decter said: "Consumers are entitled to information, but the question is: will conveying that information by expanding direct ads really assist patients?"
Magazines Canada estimates
that relaxed regulations could be worth up to US$50 million annually in advertising to Canadian publishers.
Canadian publishers have long lamented the fact that U.S. titles coming into Canada, while technically subject to the laws, never see them enforced, and that this inequity is exacerbated by the the dramatic increase of U.S.-based television broadcasting of drug advertisements.
Canada's Food and Drugs Act prohibits advertising prescription-only drugs to the public, but does allow two forms of drug advertising in Canada: "reminder ads" that include only brand names but no health claims; and "help-seeking ads" which discuss conditions without referencing a particular product. There is no requirement to provide any information on the health
risks, the cost of the product, or how it compares with similar drugs.
The Mintzes report recommends that cross-border broadcast ad policy should be reviewed to see if something similar to the "split-run" magazine legislation could be replicated for broadcast media, removing prescription drug ads.