A ban on advertising certain over-the-counter (OTC) medicines directly to the public is to be lifted.
Drug advertising is strictly controlled
However, there will be no change to the strict ban on advertising prescription-only medicines direct to consumers.
At present, there are a number of diseases for which OTC medicines may not be advertised to the public - even though they can be purchased through pharmacies, or supermarkets.
Following widespread consultation, the Department of Health has decided to remove advertising restrictions on OCT medications for a range of conditions (see box).
Restrictions to be lifted
Diseases of the liver, biliary system and pancreas
Joint, rheumatic and collagen diseases
Serious disorders of the eye and ear
Serious gastrointestinal diseases
Serious neurological and muscular diseases
Serious renal disease
Serious respiratory diseases
Serious skin disorders
The vast majority of OTC products may already be advertised to the public, but the changes will not come into force until guidelines for advertisers and information and training for pharmacy staff have been formulated.
This work will be overseen by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which will consult health professionals, advertising regulators, patient groups and the drugs industry.
Health Minister Lord Norman Warner said: "Removing the restrictions on promoting non-prescription medicines to the public has the potential to bring real public health benefits by giving more power and information direct to patients.
"However, this does not mean that advertising to the public will be permitted for all medicinal products."
Restrictions to stay
Diabetes and other metabolic diseases
Serious infectious diseases including:
Sexually transmitted infections
Lord Warner said examples of products where restrictions are likely to be lifted include 75mg aspirin tablets for secondary prevention of heart attack or stroke, and the use of products containing calcium and vitamin D by patients with osteoporosis.
He said: "The government intends to increase the number and range of medicines over the counter as quickly as possible, commensurate with public safety."
Professor Alasdair Breckenridge, NHRA executive chairman, said: "We will work with industry and health professionals to ensure that guidance on advertising these medicines will become be agreed and available before the change is introduced.
"The existing strict controls on advertising will remain, particularly for prescription only products, to protect public safety."
Sue Sharpe, Chief Executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), the body that represents community pharmacy on NHS matters, also welcomed the change.
She said: "We support changes that promote patients to take control of their conditions, better manage their medication and make better use of community pharmacist┐s skills.
"Community pharmacists can play a key role in encouraging patients to take more control of their own healthcare, ensuring that medicines are taken properly and that patients feel they have a stake in their treatment."