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Some questions for Pfizer… and a prize for someone

On Friday, April 17, a Pfizer advertisement told readers of the West Australian newspaper: “If you are taking multiple medicines for conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, there are combination options that can reduce the number of tablets you take. And the amount of money you pay.”

The advertisement had a section for readers to clip and take to their doctors “to start the discussion” about whether they should be taking a combination heart pill. The Pfizer logo features prominently on this notice, together with what looks like the campaign’s theme “take one”.

Michele Kosky, executive director of the Health Consumers’ Council, has asked the TGA to investigate whether the advertisement breaches the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines (her letter is published below with her permission). She has also sent a similar letter to Medicines Australia.

Croakey awaits their responses with interest. Please let us know if you see any other such examples of Pfizer marketing its “take one” message to the general public. If there is an ad in one newspaper, it’s likely they will also pop up elsewhere.

It’s also likely that such an advertising campaign will be backed up by a PR campaign – there’s a special Croakey prize for the reader who sends in the most impressive example of a “take one” plug dressed up as a news story.

***

Dr Rohan Hammond
National Manager
Therapeutic Goods Administration
PO Box 100
Woden  ACT  2606

Dear Dr Hammond

The Health Consumers’ Council is an independent community based organisation, representing the consumers’ ‘voice’ in health policy, planning, research and service delivery. The Council advocates on behalf of consumers to government, doctors, other health professionals, hospitals and the wider health system. Funded by the Department of Health WA, the Council provides a state wide service. To find out more you can check our website www.hconc.org.au

We were concerned to see the enclosed advertisement in the West Australian on Friday 19 (sic) April. Our understanding is that direct pharmaceutical company to consumer advertising is forbidden in Australia. While we note that no particular pharmaceutical product is mentioned, the positioning of the Pfizer Australia brand would lead a reasonable person to believe that Pfizer make a suitable combination option and in handing the notice ‘to your medical practitioner’ the medical practitioner is likely to prescribe the Pfizer product. We believe that the advertisement contravenes the relevant legislation and request the TGA to investigate.

Many thanks for your consideration of matters raised in this letter.

Yours sincerely

Michele Kosky
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

20 April 2009

Comments 3

  1. zayzayem says:

    This is a bit ridiculous.

    Pfizer is engaging in perfectly legitimate “awareness” campaigning (yes, we know Croaky prefers “mongering”). As Kosky admits, no prescription product is mentioned, so this is not DTC prescription advertising. The doctors with which a reader visits are perfectly entitled to (and damn well should) discuss any and all suitable medication options available that they are aware of.

    If Pfizer’s brand had not been present on this advertisement, they would have been breeching ethical (and regulatory?) requirements to acknowledge their sponsorship of the campaign. No doubt Kosky would be up in arms about Pfizer secretly hiding their involvement in a campaign that subterferously is designed to increase their sales.

    Forbid a pharmaco to try and increase its sales by creating awareness of treatment options and encouraging pateint-doctor dialogue.

  2. Jon Hunt says:

    It’s a common technique used by drug companies; ads persuading people to see your doctor about this or that. They are not permitted to specify a brand name, so this is one way of getting around this. At the same time they would be sending doctors mailers about whatever medication is being spruiked, telling them that these patients will soon be coming in asking about this or that, and if so we have this wonderful drug which will fix this or that.

    I think it fair to ask, if this isn’t a surreptitous way of advertising a particular drug, why would they do it? Admittedly it is probably legal but I think most would find it ethically questionable.

  3. zayzayem says:

    I’ve had a chat with some of my co-workers and others in the industry about this now – a lot of them were on the fence about this particular case.

    The major point they were hooked on was the “tear-away” segment. Without this, it would not be too much different from Pharmaco-sponsored “see your doctor” TV and Internet campaigns (eg. thefacts.com.au by GSK).

    One question we thought might be relevant was, where exactly is Pfizer’s logo: on the main adspace, or on the tearaway? If the company logo is not on the tearaway presented to the doctor this would reduce further the possibility of influencing what sort of advice doctors would give.

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