Time to ban drug ads

Medicine ads increase risk of drug misuse.

19apr time to ban drug ads hero default

You’ve probably seen ads on TV or in magazines promoting a prescription medicine and suggesting you ask your doctor if it’s right for you. The ads promote medicines for a range of conditions from asthma to diabetes and high cholesterol.

While Kiwi consumers regularly get served up these ads, they’re banned in many other countries. New Zealand and the US are the only two countries in the developed world that allow direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription medicines.

We’ve been calling for a ban on DTCA for more than a decade. Our research has found the ads downplay safety issues and important details can be buried in fine print.

Drug companies claim DTCA helps inform consumers, but in our view these ads don’t provide reliable or useful information.

The ads only promote one possible treatment for a health problem. They don’t provide a comprehensive overview of options or discuss the benefits of non-drug treatments. Instead, consumers are sold the promise of a quick fix without all the facts needed to make an informed choice.

A recent study showing DTCA increases the risk of drugs being over-prescribed has added weight to the call for an ad ban.

Published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, the study of 2057 Kiwis showed those with unhealthier lifestyles were more likely to respond to medicine ads, raising concerns of drugs being used to treat diseases that would otherwise be improved through lifestyle changes.

The Ministry of Health is consulting on whether the law should continue to allow these types of ads. We’ll be making a submission in favour of a ban.

The Council of Medical Colleges of New Zealand, the New Zealand Medical Association, The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and the New Zealand Nurses Association also back a ban.

What you can do

You can help us get the law changed by making a submission supporting a ban. We’ve got a template submission to help you. Submissions close 18 April, 2019.

Member comments

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Richard F.
19 Apr 2019
NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990

I can indeed see where Consumer is coming to on this, but I question whether the problem warrants us forgoing our “….right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek [and] receive, information and opinions of any kind in any form”. (s14 of the Act). I’m likewise doubtful that s5 can apply: “…the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.

I would rather see more public money going into the promotion of public health, - i.e. focused on a reduction of unhealthy lifestyles, which you mention as a concern - rather than taking away our fundamental right to information.

The fact that Pharmac is politically independent, is definitely as it should be. However, that does not mean Pharmac should be able to make its sometimes life-and-death decisions without some public accountability by having to justify/explain its decisions. A corollary of my position is that Pharmac may need additional resources in order to communicate more effectively its decisions in a publicly accessible way. This seems to be the most effective way of countering the most egregious of DTCA tactics.

David m.
13 Apr 2019
DTCA needs to be banned

excellent to see Consumer advocating so strongly for this needed change to our drug regulations. As a country, we've just moved to ban military style assault weapons. Here's our chance to phase out DTCA, another American practice we can well do without.