Drug advertising: truths, half-truths and few statistics

David A Newby and David A Henry
Med J Aust 2002; 177 (6): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2002.tb04782.x
Published online: 16 September 2002

In this issue of the Journal, Loke and colleagues (page 291) present data from an analysis of 174 advertisements for pharmaceuticals appearing in six Australian medical publications.1 The findings are striking enough to be restated. Fewer than 8% of the advertisements contained quantitative data about the outcomes of therapy, and most of these framed the information in relative rather than absolute terms. Only 28% of the therapeutic claims in the advertisements conveyed clinical outcomes in any specific, substantive and unambiguous way. In the United States, pharmaceutical advertising is subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,2 and Loke et al suggest that, in Australia, advertisements for drugs may be less informative than in the US. The pharmaceutical industry has long maintained that drug advertisements are an important vehicle for conveying important information about new drugs to prescribers. Is this how industry believes it should communicate with highly trained healthcare professionals? Should we really be surprised by the results of Loke et al, and, more importantly, should we be concerned?

  • Clinical Pharmacology, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

  • 1. Loke TW, Koh FC, Ward JE. Pharmaceutical advertisement claims in Australian medical publications. Is evidence accessible, compelling and communicated comprehensively? Med J Aust 2002; 177: 291-293.
  • 2. US Food and Drug Administration. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Available at: <> (Link updated 14 September 2005.
  • 3. Angell M. The pharmaceutical industry — to whom is it accountable? N Engl J Med 2000; 342: 1902-1904.
  • 4. Association of Medical Publishers. The value of medical journal advertising. <>. Accessed 4 July 2002.
  • 5. Neslin S. ROI analysis of pharmaceutical promotion: an independent study: Executive summary. 2001. <>. Accessed 4 July 2002, no longer available.
  • 6. Avorn J, Chen M, Hartley R. Scientific versus commercial sources of influence on the prescribing behavior of physicians. Am J Med 1982; 73: 4-8.
  • 7. Galbaly R. National competition review of drugs, poisons and controlled substances legislation. Canberra: Therapeutic Goods Administration, 2000. Available at: <>.
  • 8. Watson J. EC moves towards "direct to consumer" advertising [news]. BMJ 2001; 323: 184.
  • 9. Medicines Australia. Code of Conduct. <>. Accessed 12 July 2002, no longer available; newer version via


remove_circle_outline Delete Author
add_circle_outline Add Author

Do you have any competing interests to declare? *

I/we agree to assign copyright to the Medical Journal of Australia and agree to the Conditions of publication *
I/we agree to the Terms of use of the Medical Journal of Australia *
Email me when people comment on this article

Online responses are no longer available. Please refer to our instructions for authors page for more information.