New powers for drugs ads regulator

MPs have approved wide-ranging new powers for the body that regulates drugs advertising, ending the industry’s self-regulatory system.

MPs have approved wide-ranging new powers for the body that

regulates drugs advertising, ending the industry’s self-regulatory

system.



The Government’s Medicines Control Agency will have the power to vet

ads, ban misleading ones and impose fines of up to pounds 5,000, or two

years imprisonment, on advertisers who defy its rulings.



A Commons committee approved the shake-up by nine votes to six, despite

strong criticism by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who

backed the Advertising Association’s view that the changes were not

needed.



Philip Hammond, a Conservative health spokesman, said: ’The MCA, acting

in the name of ministers, is being given the power to be police,

prosecutor, judge and jury in its own case.’



Under the present system, the MCA was required to seek a court

injunction to ban drugs ads, but had not needed to do so in the past

five years, he said. Under the new scheme, ads would be withdrawn before

a decision was made on their legality, and there would be no

compensation if the MCA’s decision was overturned by a judicial

review.



’The case for greater regulation is not proven. There is no evidence of

a need for greater powers,’ Hammond said. ’To put it bluntly, the whole

thing stinks.’



But Tessa Jowell, the Public Health Minister, insisted the

self-regulatory system was being ’strengthened’ to protect consumers

from misleading advertising.



Jowell said there had been ’clear breaches’ of the existing rules by a

minority of drugs companies, with 135 breaches in 1998-99.

’Self-regulation has therefore not achieved the desired result,’ she

said. ’Nothing in the regulations will impair the opportunity for the

sort of creative advertising already used by companies,’ she added.



Jowell rejected a claim by the Labour MP, Austin Mitchell, that the new

rules could breach the European Convention on Human Rights.