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Health Council of Canada warns against consumer drug advertising

The Toronto-based Health Council of Canada issued a paper yesterday recommending that the federal government curtail direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs. The paper, called "Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs in Canada: What Are the Public Health Implications?" was written by University of British Columbia researcher Barbara Mintzes. It seeks to establish whether this advertising improves patient outcomes or patient safety. "There is no reliable evidence that DTCA improves patient compliance in taking medication or leads to more appropriate early diagnosis of under-treated conditions, or prevents hospitalizations and serious disease consequences," said Mintzes. The paper also notes that higher exposure to ads results in increased requests for prescription medications. Drug advertising in Canada currently takes the form of so-called "reminder ads" that feature brand names but make no health claims, and ads that discuss medical conditions without making reference to a particular product. The paper recommends that U.S.-style consumer advertising for prescription drugs should not be introduced in Canada, calling instead for the availability of independent, publicly financed drug information. The paper also recommends that the legal loophole allowing "reminder advertising" be closed, and that cross-border advertising policies be reviewed. The Health Council of Canada monitors and reports on health care in Canada. The councillors are appointed by participating provinces and territories as well as the Government of Canada.

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