April 27, 2003

From Women and Health Protection:

Just Say NO to direct-to-consumer-advertising of prescription drugs


Direct-to-consumer-advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs is illegal in Canada under the Food & Drugs Act. Our law is similar to health protection laws in European countries, Australia and Japan. However, you'd never know it to look at Canadian TV, magazines and billboards. Since 2000, Health Canada has become extremely lax in enforcing the law and has used a 1978 price advertising clause as a loophole to allow branded "reminder ads."

Canada's parliamentary health committee has just published a report, "Opening the Medicine Cabinet," calling for this loophole to be closed and saying a resounding no to broader proposals to introduce full U.S.-style drug advertising in Canada.

The parliamentary health committee could find no public health rationale for allowing any kind of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising, including reminder ads.  

Ads, by their very nature, do not mention alternatives to the product they advertise and tend to downplay any risks or side effects. This leads to unrealistic expectations of drug treatment, unnecessary prescribing and use, and higher drug costs.

The American experience with DTCA is well documented.  The results to date: a steep rise in spending on prescription drugs, a steep increase in the number of prescriptions for advertised drugs, and a steep increase in the use of newly-introduced drugs whose safety and side-effects are not well-known.  When it comes to medicines, newer is not necessarily better and sometimes it's worse, as with a heavily-advertised diabetes drug, Rezulin (troglitazone), which reached US $2.1 billion in sales, but was also named as a suspected cause in over 500 deaths.

The Canadian government can avoid these pitfalls by enforcing laws
currently in place, rather than adopting new laws opening the doors to DTCA in Canada.

Women's health and consumer groups, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Pharmacists' Association, the Canadian Nurses' Association and many others are strongly opposed to the introduction of direct-to-consumer advertising.

New Poster Campaign
Women and Health Protection has initiated a new poster campaign opposed to DTCA. Come see our posters at:

Print your own copies, download them to your website, or email them to a friend.  Help us spread the word!

About Women and Health Protection
Women and Health Protection (WHP) is a coalition of community groups, researchers, journalists and activists concerned about the safety of pharmaceutical drugs.  The group keeps a close watch over proposed changes in federal health protection legislation and examines the impact of those changes on women's health.  Our documents make clear recommendations to the government with a view to ensuring that Canadian legislation truly provides "health protection."  For further information, visit:

For the Standing Committee on Health report on prescription drugs, go to: eports/healrp01-e.htm

For media interviews or further information contact:

Barbara Mintzes,
Centre for Health Services & Policy Research, UBC
Phone: 604-822-0565

Anne Rochon Ford, Coordinator
Women and Health Protection
Cell: 416-712-9459

Kathleen O'Grady
Director of Communications
Canadian Women's Health Network
Cell: 514-886-2526


Copyright ©2006-2010 Women and Health Protection
Supported by the Women's Health Contribution Program,
administered by the Gender and Health Unit of Health Canada.

In partnership with The Canadian Women's Health Network.