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Can I say that online? Introducing the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code

Fiona is a pharmacist and active on a social networking site. She often posts on her personal social networking page about her work. Fiona makes a post on this site to a closed group for pharmacists:

“Nosebefine seems to be working well for my customers for reducing cold & flu symptoms this season.”

Fiona’s pharmacy shares this post online without Fiona’s knowledge.

This new post is considered advertising to the public. Under the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, advertisements to consumers about therapeutic goods cannot use endorsements from health professionals, including pharmacists.

Soon after, the pharmacy receives an obligations notice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration alerting it to this potential breach of the Code. The notice reminds the pharmacy of the serious consequences of ongoing non-compliance.

Statements about therapeutic goods are limited by the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code (the Code).

The Code prohibits misleading or dangerous advertising of therapeutic goods. Anything that promotes the use or supply of a therapeutic good is considered advertising. When advertising is occurring, the Code must be applied.

Pharmacists can write about health concerns and health products online, as long as it is not promoting therapeutic goods to the public.

They can do this by making sure that they are providing information or describing a health concern, rather than encouraging the purchase of a product.

A pharmacist can recommend a therapeutic good to a consumer during a consultation, because in doing so, you are considering the factors and symptoms of that individual.

In our example, Fiona did not breach the Code because her statement was in a closed group for health professionals. But she should be alert that her recommendations could be improperly used in advertisements to the public.

In this article, we will outline some of the most important aspects of the Code and illustrate what you should consider when you or your pharmacy communicate online.

How therapeutic goods advertising is regulated in Australia

Here at the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), we make sure the therapeutic goods supplied in Australia are safe and fit for their intended purpose. This includes higher risk products like prescription medicines and surgical implants, as well as lower risk products like vitamins.

We also regulate how these goods can be advertised.

Most regulatory requirements for the advertising of therapeutic goods to the public are found in the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code (No.2) 2018.

The Code supports the safe and effective use of therapeutic goods and informed healthcare choices.

Some of the Code requirements are especially important for pharmacists:

  • An advertisement cannot use a pharmacist to endorse a product. As a health professional, your view carries significant weight and consumers could inappropriately rely on your recommendation. If your pharmacy uses your endorsement in advertising, they are breaching the Code. Your advice during a consultation is not advertising.
  • Advertisements to consumers cannot mention or imply serious conditions such as cancer or mental illness. However, the TGA can give explicit approval to mention a serious condition. For example, the TGA permits the use of skin cancer prevention claims when advertising SPF 30+ sunscreens.
  • Advertisements cannot mislead or encourage inappropriate use of a product, or take advantage of a consumer’s lack of scientific or medical knowledge.

We have compliance powers to enforce the Code. This could be in the form of warning letters or directions notices, but in very serious cases we can pursue civil and criminal penalties.

What can you say online?

In our example, Fiona’s pharmacy breached the Code because their statement was advertising, and it contained a prohibited endorsement by a pharmacist.

It is your responsibility to ensure that neither you nor your pharmacy breaches the Code.

Often, a good approach is not to mention any particular product.

As an alternative to mentioning a product, you can make a general statement about a health condition that does not mention a specific item. These public health statements are usually not considered advertising.

You might post this:

“It’s a bad cold & flu season this year, so if you’re struggling with symptoms, come by our pharmacy and see us. We’ll help you to find the product that’s right for you.”

You can also mention the services you offer and not mention any therapeutic goods. Advertising of services in this way would not be considered advertising under the Code.

If you decide to mention products in a promotional way, then you need to ensure that the content complies with the Code.

How you can comply with the Code

The Advertising Hub brings together news and information about the regulation of therapeutic goods advertising. It has fact sheets and other resources you may find useful. From here, you can also subscribe to get e-mail updates on the advertising requirements.

Advertising should never take the place of a consultation. Complying with the Code protects both consumers and your role in their health.

Advertising compliance tips

  • Don’t tag the TGA in social media posts or imply we endorse a product or service
  • Be aware that statements near advertising for a related therapeutic good may be considered part of that advertising or change the nature of a statement to make it promotional
  • Follow the price list rules for prescription medicines
  • Offering a sample of therapeutic goods in advertising is not allowed, with a few exceptions like sunscreens and condoms
  • A pharmacist appearing with a product in a photo or video would often be endorsement
  • Ensure advertising complies with all applicable Code requirements
  • Take a look at the presentation we gave to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia – tga.gov.au/tga-presentation-workshop-changes-advertising-therapeutic-goods-australia-19-november-2018
  • When in doubt, contact us for more advice at tga.gov.au/advertising-hub

 

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