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Selling drugs to consumers

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7218.1208 (Published 30 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1208
  1. Annabel Ferriman (PaulOBrien@care.prestel.co.uk)
  1. BMJ

    Time was when fat people were counselled to eat less and shy people were advised to get out more. Now, if they are living in the United States, such people are exhorted to take pills. Hoffman-La Roche is spending $75m (£47m) persuading Americans to take its slimming pill Xenical (orlistat), and SmithKline Beecham is spending $30m promoting its anti-shyness pill, Paxil (paroxetine).

    In Britain, however, consumers are protected from, or deprived of (depending on your point of view), such blandishments. Both products are prescription only medicines, and the pharmaceutical industry is not allowed to promote them direct to the general public.

    But how long will this last? The British drugs industry sees changing the law as its most pressing task. It is promoting discussion of the issue throughout the media. You can hardly open a newspaper today without seeing another article on the subject. And last week, the King's Fund, an independent think tank, held a debate on the issue entitled: “Drug companies should be able to advertise their prescription products to the public.”

    Margot James, chief executive of Shire Hall Group, a public relations company whose clients include several large drug …

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