NOTE: 25 March 2022 - this page will soon be updated to reflect the requirements of theTherapeutic Goods Advertising Code 2021.
This guide is designed to help advertisers apply the legislative requirements for advertising therapeutic goods when advertising on social media platforms.
About the TGA
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is Australia's regulator of therapeutic goods including medicines and medical devices. The TGA is responsible for ensuring the safety, efficacy and timely availability of therapeutic goods.
To find out more about the TGA, visit What is the Therapeutic Goods Administration?
About therapeutic goods
Therapeutic goods include medicines and medical devices and have a health effect on the human body.
Consumers use them in their daily lives when they:
- apply a bandage
- take medicine to relieve a headache
- take vitamin tablets or apply sunscreen
- take a prescription medicine
- accept a vaccine, blood product or surgical implant.
For more information, see What are therapeutic goods?
These products are regulated by the TGA. Other types of products, such as cosmetics, also become subject to regulation as a therapeutic good if they are represented for therapeutic use.
Claims such as 'removes toxins', 'fades age spots', 'relieves pain', 'aids sugar metabolism', 'reduces inflammation in the body' are all therapeutic use claims.
If these kinds of claims are made in an advertisement, then the advertised product will likely be considered a therapeutic good and therefore regulated under therapeutic goods legislation.
Therapeutic goods and consumer protection
Therapeutic goods are not ordinary items of commerce. They are intended to have an effect on the body, and there may be risks involved with their use.
The therapeutic goods legislation ensures advertisements for therapeutic goods do not encourage inappropriate or irresponsible use of the goods. For more information, see Advertising and the Act.
About social media advertising
Not all information about therapeutic goods is advertising and the definition of 'advertise' in relation to therapeutic goods is broad.
Any statement, pictorial representation or design that is intended, whether directly or indirectly, to promote the use or supply of the products is an advertisement.
A social media post that promotes the use or supply of therapeutic goods is an advertisement.
Whether an advertisement for therapeutic goods appears on social media or in any other media, the advertisement must comply with therapeutic goods legislation.
Find out more about the types of activities that are considered advertising on the TGA website.
Basic advertising rules
Before you advertise therapeutic goods, it is your responsibility to understand the legislative requirements.
Advertisements are required to comply with the advertising requirements set out in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code.
Advertisers may also find it helpful to:
- consult with their industry body or representative on the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Consultative Committee
- seek advice from a regulatory affairs consultant
- obtain independent legal advice.
The Code sets the requirements advertisers must meet to ensure the marketing and advertising of therapeutic goods:
- is conducted in a manner that promotes the quality use of the product
- is socially responsible
- does not mislead or deceive the consumer.
Some of the basic advertising rules require an advertisement to:
- Be accurate, balanced and substantiated (refer Part 3 of the Code).
- Only make claims that are consistent with the advertised good's indication or intended purpose as it is recorded on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (the ARTG) or for exempt goods not on the ARTG consistent with documentation provided with the good.
- Contain certain mandatory warning statements, which vary depending on the type of therapeutic good being advertised (refer Part 4 of the Code).
- Only use testimonials that comply with the Code - testimonials must comply with all applicable aspects of the Code, not just the requirements set out in Part 6, section 24 of the Code.
- Not claim that a product can diagnose, treat or cure a serious condition without prior permission or approval from the TGA.
Some therapeutic goods, including prescription and certain pharmacist-only medicines are prohibited from being advertised directly to the public. These products are higher risk and their safe and appropriate use requires health professional oversight to ensure the benefits outweigh the harms for each individual.
Advertising the price of these medicines is permitted when the conditions in Part 9 of the Code are followed.
The TGA has powers to direct advertisers to take down non-compliant advertising and can pursue criminal or civil penalties against advertisers who put consumers at risk. Heavy fines and penalties apply.
For more information, see our warning to advertisers and check out the Advertising Hub on the TGA website.
Business owner responsibilities
Business owners are responsible for the content of any social media page created or managed by them, including websites, social media channels, blog posts, hashtags, or discussion forums. This responsibility extends to user-generated content, such as third-party comments posted on those social media platforms that are controlled by the business.
All advertising for therapeutic goods must promote the safe and responsible use of those products and must not take advantage of consumers, including through third party comments on social media.
Compliance with the advertising requirements under therapeutic goods legislation means that social media advertisements for therapeutic goods must meet the following requirements.
- Requirements include: Advertisements must include the relevant mandatory statements, including health warnings where applicable.
- Health warnings must be prominently displayed or communicated at the point of purchase, including purchases via social media.
- In social media, the mandatory statements and health warnings must be visible at all times and not within collapsed information as that does not meet the requirement for prominently displayed or communicated.
- Advertisements must not promote a therapeutic good for a purpose other than the purpose accepted by the TGA and entered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, or for exempt goods not required to be on the ARTG, a purpose other than those in the documentation provided with the good.
- Advertisements must not contain prohibited or restricted representations without prior permission or approval from the TGA.
- Advertisements must not promote goods with therapeutic use claims if those goods are not included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (unless the goods are exempt from being on the register).
- Making therapeutic use claims about a product in an advertisement will generally make the advertisement subject to the legal requirements for advertising therapeutic goods, even if the product may not ordinarily be considered a therapeutic good.
- An exception applies for foods for which there is a food standard. To find out if a food standard applies, go to the 'food medicine interface' guidance tool on the TGA website.
- Advertisements must not contain testimonials or endorsements which breach the Code.
- Advertisements using endorsements and testimonials must comply with Part 6 of the Code.
- Advertisements cannot include testimonials made by a person who has received 'valuable consideration' for making the testimonial. Valuable consideration is payment of some value (such as monetary payment or free product).
- Advertising cannot contain testimonials and endorsements made by health professionals and others mentioned in Part 6 of the Code.
The TGA recommends that businesses adopt an 'acceptable use policy' on its own social media pages, warning third parties that non-compliant comments will be removed from the page.
Although it is up to the party that is responsible for the advertising to ensure compliance with the requirements, we recommend that businesses also provide corrective information if they become aware of misinformation from third parties on social media channels for which they are not responsible. Advertisers should ensure any corrective information also complies with the advertising requirements if it is used within an advertisement or is an advertisement in its own right.
Tips for social media influencers
If you are an influencer who is involved with a business selling or promoting therapeutic goods (for example, you have been paid or given a product by the company to promote their goods), you should consider the following tips.
- Any post about a therapeutic good that you make may be considered advertising. If it is, you have an obligation to comply with the advertising requirements for therapeutic goods.
- Any comments you make about your personal experience with the goods amounts to a testimonial. Testimonials are not permitted by those involved in the production, sale, supply or marketing of the goods. This includes influencers who are engaged by a therapeutic goods company to promote the goods, or anyone who receives valuable consideration (payment or goods, for example) for making a testimonial.
- Your social media posts may have an impact on your followers' beliefs, attitudes, preferences and behaviours. Your comments about therapeutic goods can influence consumers' choices. Therapeutic goods should be chosen on the basis of clinical need, not through the persuasion of influencers.
- Understand what the TGA approved purpose of the good is and do not advertise the good for a purpose other than that, even if your experience with the good is otherwise. For more information about the intended purpose of a therapeutic good, refer to the product entry on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.
- Seek advice from a lawyer or regulatory affairs consultant if you are unsure about your obligations in relation to social media advertising of therapeutic goods, or submit an advertising enquiry to the TGA. For more information about advertising therapeutic goods, visit the TGA Advertising Hub.