Canadians Want to Avoid Drug Advertising

Allowing direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs in Canada would be a bonanza for the media, generating an estimated $360-million a year in new ads. But the demand it created would also spur as much as $1.2-billion a year in new drug sales. This was reported in the September 1st issue of the Globe and Mail from Canada. The concern as reported in the publication, is that the bulk of that expense would be placed on the Canadian Medicare system.

Opposition to allowing direct-to-consumer drug advertising was strongly stated in the September 1st issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal when the editor, Dr. John Hoey, stated his opinion that prescription drugs should not be advertised in Canada in the same manner as other consumer products because that could lead to dangerous excesses, as has occurred in the United States.

The article noted that pharmaceutical companies spent $2.7-billion (U.S.) on advertising in 2001, more than triple the amount they spent in 1996. The article noted that for the drug companies, massive advertising pays off very well. For example, for each dollar that went to publicizing the allergy drug Claritin, sales of the drug increased by an estimated $3.50. The financial return on anti-impotence medication such as Viagra and drugs to counter hair loss are believed to be even higher.

Dr. Hoey went on to say, “By being marketed in media traditionally used to flog cars, fast food and shampoo, prescription drugs have become name-brand commodities, enveloped in the kind of fantasy and desire that surrounds the purchase of lifestyle product.” The article continued, “Further, the barrage of advertising contributes to the ‘medicalization’ of the normal human condition and transforms people into ‘two-legged bundles of diagnoses’.”

An additional research article published in the same Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that the higher a patient’s exposure to advertising, the more likely that patient was to request advertised prescription drugs. Chief researcher for that study, Dr. Barbara Mintzes of the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia concluded, “Our results suggest that more advertising leads to more requests for advertised medicines, and more prescriptions.”