Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of
Prescription Pharmaceuticals - a good idea?

June 2003

DTC advertising is allowed currently in only two countries the USA and New Zealand and the vast majority of available experience comes, naturally, from the former. The US has allowed DTC advertising, under controls administered by the FDA, since the early 1980s, with a moratorium in 1983-5. However, it is only since 1997 that TV advertising has been practical, due to a reduction in FDA requirements for detailed information on side effects, etc, to be included in all ads. Since then, the volume of DTC advertising, of which about 60% is currently on TV, has mushroomed.

Two other countries, S Africa and Australia, have considered and rejected the idea, and the EU Commission proposed an experimental programme of 'information-provision', limited to three major therapeutic areas a proposal rejected by the European Parliament. The EU Commissioner concerned was careful to say that this was not a proposal to allow DTC advertising: merely to permit the provision of branded commercial information. Critics are sure it's the thin end of the wedge.

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