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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Europe to discuss drug advertising rules
pills and tablets
Drugs: the public is more aware of what is available
New proposals to allow drugs companies to target information on AIDS, asthma and diabetes directly to consumers have been put forward by the European Commission.

The Commission has said that this will not lead to full scale advertising, but critics disagree and claim that patients and healthcare systems could end up being worse off.

Most people rely on their doctors to tell them what drugs they need.

But the advent of the internet has made it easier for people to do their own research about what treatment is available.

Informed consumers

Jeffrey Sturchio, of the drugs company Merck, said the access to information had changed people's attitudes.

"It certainly has made it clear there needs to be new ways of looking at the issue," he said.

"When we look at more informed consumers, consumers who want to manage their own healthcare.

"It is important there should be a broad range of information and there should not be a distinction between one sort of information and another," he added.

Now the EC wants to allow drugs companies to target information on diabetes, asthma and HIV directly at patients.

But when similar changes were introduced in the United States they led to mass advertising on television and radio and, some observers say, a rise in health spending.

While the Commission says this will not happen in Europe, Jackie Glatter from Britain's Consumers' Association is not convinced.

Aggressive marketing fears

"We are very concerned actually that this will open the door to direct to consumer advertising.

"The same happened in America - it started off as disease awareness and ended up as brand advertising." she said.

She believes this is clearly aimed at driving up sales of specific products.

"No company is going to want to tell you about products their competitor has - or that is available on the internet," she said.

People are also not told what might be more cost effective or more clinically effective, she maintains.

However, Mr Sturchio insists that those kinds of criticism are not borne out by the evidence.

More leniency sought

Drug companies meanwhile, said the Commission proposals do not go far enough.

It could be many years before the proposals are implemented and a ban still exists on advertising drugs for cancer, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

For the drug companies, there are clear incentives to push for US style advertising.

Last year, they spent $3bn on adverts aimed at consumers - mostly in the US.

Industry analyst Kevin Lyne Smith said such expenditure is regarded as a good investment.

"It certainly creates a more open market for drug companies - it will create more brand awareness," he said.

See also:

24 Apr 02 | Business
Asthma drug drives up Glaxo profits
28 Feb 02 | England
Drugs company creates 300 jobs
05 Feb 02 | Business
Irish drugs firm hit by lawsuits
22 Jan 02 | Business
Cost cuts help Merck secure profits
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