Before advertisers can make medicinal claims in their ads – a claim that a product can treat or prevent disease, injury, ailment or adverse condition - they must be sure their product is classified as a medicine under the advertising rules. This means the product needs to be classified by the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as a medicine and the advertisers must hold the relevant licence before marketing the product in the UK. All ads for the product then must conform with this licence and with the product’s summary of product characteristics (SPC).
Once this has been established, ads must then follow the rules for medicines which include: not addressing children, not suggesting the products effects are guaranteed or absolutely safe with no side-effects, and not using health professionals or celebrities to endorse the medicine. Prescription-only medicines are prohibited from being advertised to the public and claims for so-called herbal alternatives are equally likely to be problematic.
For homeopathic medicinal products registered in the UK, ads must include a warning to consult a doctor if symptoms persist. Likewise, it is mandatory for ads for traditional herbal medicinal products to include a statement that makes reference to the fact the product is “based on traditional use only” and to not infer evidence for the product’s efficacy is based on clinical trial data.
Advertising in the health industry is not just confined to medicines and products and there are also strict rules for healthcare professionals advertising their services. This includes homeopathy, osteopathy and chiropractic services. The advertising rules provide a detailed list of conditions that these professionals can claim in their ads to treat, and a detailed list of those they cannot. It is important all these professionals are able to back up any claims made in their ads, including in testimonials, with robust evidence and that they avoid claiming they can “cure”, “prevent” or “heal” conditions with their therapies.