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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Mr Sneeze in drug row
Mr Sneeze and his allergies
The book promotes anti-allergy drugs
A children's book which appears to promote anti-allergy medicines is to be investigated by a government watchdog.

The book - called "Mr Sneeze and his allergies" - looks like any other book in the popular Mr Men series.

However, unlike those books, it includes two pages promoting the use of anti-allergy drugs manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.

The book, which was paid for by GSK, has sparked concerns over how far pharmaceutical companies should be allowed to go in passing on information to patients.

Summer sneezes

The book was written by Adam Hargreaves, whose father Roger created the Mr Men series.

It tells how Mr Sneeze starts to sneeze "in the middle of summer". His friend Little Miss Sunshine suggests he may have hayfever.

We are 100% confident that the book abides by all of the regulations
GSK spokeswoman
This prompts Mr Sneeze to plough the grass and remove the flowers and plants in the valley outside his house.

But this fails to stop him sneezing. With the help of Miss Sunshine they discover that he is allergic to the feathers in his pillow.

However, Mr Sneeze then receives a visit from Mr Silly and his pet chicken Rover which causes him to start sneezing again. He starts to sneeze again.

The story is followed by four pages of information on allergies from Allergy UK and two pages promoting the use of GSK products Piriteze and Piriton.

Muriel Symmons, who chairs the charity, said they provided the information after being approached by a public relations company which works with GSK.

"We were actually quite delighted to provide this information. We provide information to lots of organisations. We did not receive any money for it," she told BBC News Online.

"However, we are not wildly happy with the pages on Piriton and Piriteze."

The charity has sent copies of the book to allergy clinics across the country and further copies upon request to some doctors.

"One doctor asked us to send more copies but asked if we would mind if they removed the pages promoting the drugs. We said we did not."

Watchdog concerned

The government watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said it would investigate the book.

In a statement, it said: "The Medicines Act of 1994 prohibits the promotion of medicines to children.

"The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is unaware of this book and will investigate urgently."

The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, which is responsible for checking marketing material from pharmaceutical companies, backed its decision to approve the book.

"We felt it was very good in terms of public health. It is not easy to give this type of information to children and it seemed a very good way of doing that," a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

She added that the book was sent out to parents with a letter. The letter advised them to remove the pages referring to the GSK products before giving it to children.

"On that basis, we felt the book should be made available," the spokeswoman said.

GSK said the book did not break any rules.

"We are 100% confident that the book abides by all of the regulations, " a spokeswoman said.

"This book has been in the domain for some time now and we have not received any complaints about it."

She defended the decision to include information on the anti-allergy products.

Over 50,000 copies of the book have been printed this year and many were sent to holders of Tesco clubcards.

Others have been distributed through allergy road shows held at supermarkets across the UK.

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