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Published on 10 December 2008

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Beginning of drug advert war feared

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Allowing pharmaceutical firms to provide consumers with information on specific prescription drugs could be the first step towards a culture of competitive advertising, it has been claimed.

The European Commission is currently unveiling proposals to modernise the medicines market, including letting pharmaceutical companies promote information about their products.

But consumer group Which? said the move risked setting off an advertising arms race in an area currently safeguarded against a potentially confusing marketing.

The organisation’s public affairs manager Peter Moorey said: “Without a clear distinction between information and advertising, allowing direct to consumer information is like letting advertising in through the backdoor.

“This could lead to a similar situation to the US, where people demand specific branded drugs from their doctor when cheaper equally–effective generic drugs are available. In the long-run, this could increase the cost and burden to NHS.”

A Which? survey of more than 2,000 UK adults showed that 69% of people thought pharmaceutical companies would spend more money promoting the drugs that yielded the highest profits, while 44% feared pharmaceutical companies would leave out details of possible side effects, and 39% thought companies would try convincing people they had illnesses they did not have.

Copyright Press Association 2008

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