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Sri Lanka accuses drug company of flouting advertising rules

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7262.656/a (Published 16 September 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:656
  1. Dinali Goonewardene
  1. Colombo

    Sri Lanka's drug regulatory authority has accused SmithKline Beecham Mackwoods of breaching government guidelines in its advertisements for its proprietary product Panadol, by failing to mention the drug's generic name, paracetamol, in all its material.

    The drug's brand name appears every hour throughout the evenings on Sri Lanka's national television, on a clock face that announces the time. No mention is made of the drug's generic name. Displays of Panadol on name boards of pharmacies and hospitals also contain no reference to paracetamol.

    The guidelines of Sri Lanka's Cosmetic Devices and Drugs Authority embody the World Health Organization's Ethical Criteria for Medicinal Drug Promotion, which stipulate that all advertisements must carry the generic name of the drug being advertised. The company claims, however, that neither the clock face nor the name boards are advertisements.

    The regulator's only option now is to go to litigation, because its protests to the company, a subsidiary of SmithKline Beecham, have produced no results. Regulatory authorities say they lack funds to pursue issues such as this, because of a more pressing agenda involving the quality of drug imports.

    Legal action in Sri Lanka is extremely time consuming as the number of courts has not expanded in proportion to the number of cases, owing to financial constraints.

    It seems that the advertisements may also contravene the code of conduct of Sri Lanka's Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry because the code lays down that all drug advertisements have to be given prior approval by the Drug Regulatory Authority. Officials of the authority's drug evaluation subcommittee said that the advertisements in question have not been presented for evaluation.

    Dehan Seneviratne, director of marketing and consumer health at SmithKline Beecham Mackwoods, said in an interview that the message indicating the time and displaying the Panadol brand name was a public service message which lasted five seconds, not an advertisement.

    He maintained that the contents of this message had received the drug evaluation subcommittee's approval when it was a segment of a previous advertisement because “advertisements” in the print media, radio, and television have always been subjected to subcommittee approval by the company.

    Regulators suspect that SmithKline Beecham, which is forced to include generic names in advertisements worldwide, is making an exception in the case of Sri Lanka because it has limited resources to police the industry. Mr Seneviratne denies this, saying that the message in contention is not an advertisement as it fails to list the benefits of the product.


    Embedded Image

    Hospital name boards do not show Panadol's generic name

    (Credit: DR K WEERASURIYA)

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