WASHINGTON DC: US pharmaceutical giants have signed up to a voluntary code of conduct that will end their tsunami of gifts for physicians. Mugs, pens, notepads and other ephemera, all emblazoned with the appropriate brand name, will no longer be part of marketing campaigns.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's self-regulatory Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals do not, however, tackle the lucrative speaking and consulting deals done with doctors, nor the fancy lunches and equally fancy educational dinners.

Nonetheless, the industry avers that it is putting its best foot forward. Declares Merck ceo Richard T Clark: "Informative, ethical and professional relationships between health care providers and America's pharmaceutical research companies are instrumental to effective patient care."

And Billy Tauzin, PhRMA president, adds: "This updated code fortifies our companies' commitment to ensure their medicines are marketed in a manner that benefits patients and enhances the practice of medicine."

Some federal lawmakers have praised the move. Says Democrat senator Herb Kohl: "We've been pushing to see reforms like this for some time now. Consumers will undoubtedly be the beneficiaries of these industry changes."

But Sharon Treat, executive director of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, dismisses the code as window dressing: "It strikes me as an attempt to persuade people against doing anything that's serious."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff