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Health advertising – clarifications for a suitable information

Consumers looks more and more autonomously for information on drugs, devices and health products. This attitude shows a will to know and understand the properties of the products to be used; however, it should be considered that, unfortunately, advertised information is not always true and correct.

Health advertising is well regulated and defines the requirements that should be met as well as the admitted and forbidden contents. The final purpose is always the protection of consumers, who should receive information on products in a form that is simple, easily understandable and always in compliance with the regulations in force. Companies advertising health products shall therefore comply with the relevant legislation.

First of all, it should be clarified that health advertising (regarding MDs, IVDs, PMC, and medicines) to the public must be preliminary authorised by the Ministry of Health.
As for the advertising of drugs, it should be specified that only non-prescription drugs and OTCs can be advertised to the public. For Rx drugs (prescribed by doctors and sold only after the presentation of a prescription), it is not possible to address any advertisement to consumers.

For the latter, it is therefore necessary to follow the guidelines on the advertising of medicinal products to health professionals, and this falls into the field of the scientific information.
Also in the case of MDs and IVDs, there are devices that cannot be advertised to the public. The ban of health advertising to the public is especially referred to those products that must be prescribed by doctors.

The advertising of medical devices to health professionals does not require any preliminary authorisation, but in any case, it should present the product objectively, only reporting true and demonstrated information. Moreover, it must be said that the advertising material is only intended for specialised health professionals, and therefore it cannot reach consumers in any way.

The corporate activities regarding the advertising of medicines have significantly increased in 2020. Perhaps because of the particular moment we are now living, consumers are trying to get information more and more relying on the web. However, there are specific indications to be met also in the case of internet advertising; in particular, the Ministry of Health published specific guidelines for the advertising via the social networks, that apply to OTCs.

Social networks are communication media that are more and more used as they allow a quick, dynamic and immediate exchange of information, photos, videos and links, easily available to many users. These features, however, get in contrast with the regulations on health advertising, requiring static and unchangeable information. In order to allow the use of these communication media by companies, however, the Ministry of Health has provided for some limitations to the use of social networks through which it is therefore possible to advertise health products, although with some special precautions. For instance, all functions allowing the interactions with the users, such as ‘comment’ or any reaction (likes, emoticons) of Facebook should be blocked, as well as the options ‘allow comments’ and ‘users see the votes of these videos’ in Youtube.

So, all promotional materials for drugs (no-prescription drugs and OTCs), MDs, IVDs and PMC intended for the public shall report a reference to the authorisation issued by the Ministry. Such authorisation ensures that the message arriving to the consumer is correct, honest and presents the product in an objective way without altering its properties.

A different case is the one regarding the corporate advertising that does not require any authorisation, but that can only include some specific contents. This is in fact a kind of advertising promoting the company, its image or its logo. No product promotion is admitted; however products can be reported without specifying their health properties (for instance the drug umbrella trademarks can be reported, or the general type of products marketed by the company can be indicated).