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Should all advertising of cosmetic surgery be banned? No

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7508 (Published 07 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7508
  1. Sally Taber, director
  1. 1Independent Healthcare Advisory Services, London WC1A 1DU
  1. SallyTaber{at}independenthealthcare.org.uk

After the recent breast implant debacle, the Department of Health is reviewing cosmetic procedures in the UK, including advertising to the public. Fazel Fatah says advertising preys on patients’ vulnerability and should be banned (doi:10.1136/bmj.e7489), but Sally Taber thinks regulation can give sufficient protection

Cosmetic surgery in the United Kingdom is a growing market, and behaves like the market for any other consumer good. A growth in demand (fuelled by coverage of celebrities in the media) leads to a competitive increase in supply, leading in turn to lower prices. What was once the preserve of the rich few is now affordable to many.

Every consumer magazine from Woman’s Own to Hello! gives advice on how to improve one’s appearance and stay young. Direct advertising of cosmetic surgery is a tiny, albeit important, aspect of this culture, and it is misguided to think that banning it will reduce demand.

The functions of advertising in this, as in any free market, are to inform and persuade. Restriction of information can lead to monopolies that deform the market, acting against the public interest. It would be regressive to back an advertising ban in this multimillion pound industry.

The Independent Healthcare Advisory Services (IHAS) is a trade body of which all major independent acute healthcare providers in the United Kingdom are members. …

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