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Originally published August 30 2007

European drug companies seek to end direct-to-consumer advertising ban; hope to follow U.S. drug advertising model

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Citing a dearth of independent health information for consumers, European drug companies are aggressively lobbying for a change in E.U. rules about direct communication between companies and patients. But many watchdog groups fear that this is merely an attempt to bypass the E.U.'s ban on drug advertising.

Concerned with a loss of profits to U.S. and Japanese drug companies, a group of industry and government representatives started a discussion forum in 2001 called G10 Medicines. The group concluded that profits would be increased if companies could communicate directly with patients. A resounding 70 percent of the European Parliament voted against this recommendation.

Now watchdog groups anticipate the European Commission is ready to revive the old recommendations, based on another round of industry-government talks that began in 2004.

Drug companies insist they can provide independent health information to consumers without advertising for their own products. They claim a lack of Europe-specific information makes it difficult for patients to make informed choices -- leading to an under-use of drugs and hampering the European industry's competitiveness in the international market.

Responding to criticisms that the companies' real goal is advertising, an industry group recently suggested a series of "quality principles" to regulate the information that may be conveyed directly to patients. But critics have responded that the lack of an enforcement mechanism would make such standards meaningless.

Barbara Mintzes, of the Center for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia, has argued that advertising is an inevitable side effect of informational campaigns by drug companies, because the companies have an inherent conflict of interest.

"There is no discussion of whether industry is going to be an unbiased source about its own or other products, or decisions not to treat," she said.

The international mutual health fund association AIM has suggested that rather than relaxing regulations, the E.U. should create a logo that can be used to endorse approved and trusted sources of health information, such as certain websites based in the U.S.

"There are already a lot of bodies that are producing independent reliable information," said AIM's project manager, Rita Kessler. "It is better to help patients to identify this information than to add new information."

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