Consumer Watchdog Demands ‘Robust’ UK Drug Ad Regulation

25 September 2003

Britain’s Consumers’ Association is demanding “more robust and vigilant” policing of pharmaceutical marketing after it forced the withdrawal of a third ad in little over a year.

The Association argues the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency – the government body responsible for checking the claims made by drugs firms – is struggling to do its job.

The attack follows the withdrawal of an ad for contraceptive pill Cerazette, promoted as having “the efficacy of a combined pill, with the reassurance of an oestrogen-free pill.”

Having looked at Cerazette’s clinical trials, experts at CA journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin begged to differ. The pill’s manufacturer Organon subsequently pulled the ad.

These unsubstantiated claims went unnoticed by the MHRA, as did misleading ads for contraceptive Yasmin in December 2002 and Pimecrolimus skin cream in May last year. In all three cases, pressure from the Association led to the ads’ withdrawal.

“It should not fall to the likes of the Consumers’ Association to catch drug companies trying to circumvent the rules,” complained CA principal policy adviser Wendy Garlick. “The MHRA must be more robust and vigilant in taking charge of policing the industry.”

These ads were restricted to medical journals, since in Britain drugs firms are prohibited from marketing direct to consumers. Garlick argues the discovery of a third misleading ad undermines the pharmaceutical industry’s case for DTC promotion.

“The fact that yet another advert has had to be withdrawn,” she blasted, “not only calls into question the ability of the MHRA to do its job, but highlights the fact that drug companies are incapable of communicating honestly with healthcare professionals, let alone the public.”

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff