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10 things to look out for in medicine advertisements
Australia has laws about what can and can't be shown in a medicine advertisement, but you still need to be careful about the claims being made.
Don't believe everything you read!
Here are 10 things you should look out for in advertisements for medicines:
Advertisements for medicines must comply with Australian law.
Ads must comply with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and other legislation, including the Australian Consumer Law and State and Territory laws. Advertising of medicines must be truthful and not misleading.
In Australia, products advertised as medicines must be regulated.
Most medicines that are going to be sold in Australia must be included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). These medicines must display an AUST-L or AUST-R number on the front of their package. Be wary of any medicines that don't have either of these numbers as they may be illegal or not be a genuine medicine.
Advertisements must be honest and not raise unrealistic expectations.
No medicine will be completely effective for all patients. Ads cannot claim that a medicine is 100% effective, a miracle cure or harmless and free of side effects. Remember - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Advertising must not cause fear and the information must be in simple language.
Advertisers must not take advantage of viewer's lack of knowledge (including by using complex scientific or medical jargon) or a fear about certain conditions. An ad can't say something to make you believe that your symptoms will get worse if you don't take the advertised medicine.
Celebrity or health professional endorsements
Endorsement of a medicine by a celebrity is allowed as long as the ad complies with all advertising rules. However, doctors, nurses and other health professionals cannot appear in ads to promote medicines.
Sponsorship does not mean endorsement.
You may see products advertised with a statement saying that the product's owner will make a donation to a charity when you buy that medicine. This is legal, but it does not mean that the charity endorses the product.
Weight loss products are rarely effective on their own.
Be careful of ads for weight loss products as they are unlikely to work on their own. Advertisements for these products must refer to using the product in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Talk to your doctor for advice on managing your weight.
Research in ads should be disclosed and comparisons fair.
Where advertisements for medicines refer to research or results, they must identify the researcher.
It is illegal to state or imply that other products are ineffective or harmful.
References to laboratory studies and tests are not always what they seem.
Some advertisements for medicines claim their results are supported by laboratory tests or studies. However, this may just mean that the product was tested on cells in a test tube, or on animals such as mice and does not mean that the medicine will give the same result when used in humans.
Medicines based on traditional use must say so.
Some medicines are supplied in Australia based on traditional use (for example western herbal medicine, homeopathy) rather than, or sometimes as well as, scientific evidence. Where an advertising claim is based on the traditional use, the ad should clearly say so, even if other claims for the same medicine may be based on scientific evidence.
Advertising can take many different forms.
For example, 'native' advertising is advertising that is presented in the same way as other content around it (like news). Advertising can also appear as social media posts. The same fundamental rules apply to all.
No matter the format, if something encourages you to look for or use a particular medicine, it is an advertisement.