CanWest Global Attacks Drug Ad Laws — Video and References

October 2, 2008
in Category: Articles, Health, Media, Videos
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I’ve released a video based on my previous article on the topic of CanWest Global trying to eliminate Canada’s drug advertising laws.

Update June 2009: Hearings in the case of CanWest Mediaworks vs Canada have been adjourned indefinitely. Yay! For more info contact Anne Rochon Ford, Women and Health Protection, tel: 416-651-7218 <www.whp.apsf.ca>. Here’s  a release from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the June 12, 2009 press release from Women and Health Protection is below:

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Charter challenge on prescription drug advertising adjourned indefinitely

The Charter challenge case on prescription drug advertising between CanWest Mediaworks Inc. and the Attorney General of Canada has been adjourned indefinitely due to the current financial difficulties of the CanWest corporation.

The case was scheduled to be heard before the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario June 15 to 19, 2009.

A coalition of groups, including Women and Health Protection, was granted intervener status in the case to present evidence about the risks to public safety of lifting Canada’s ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. According to Steven Shrybman, the lawyer who legally represents the coalition, this last minute adjournment is past due and will at least avoid further legal expenses for the federal government and the interveners. Shrybman is quoted in a Canadian Medical Association Journal article published on June 11, 2009.

CanWest Mediaworks mounted the Charter challenge to the statutory prohibition on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs in 2005 on the basis that the current regulations on DTCA in Canada infringe on the company’s right to freedom of expression.

Members of the coalition include the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Health Coalition, Women and Health Protection, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Society for Diabetic Rights, the Medical Reform Group and Terence Young.

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Here’s the video below, but in fact it’s much better to follow this link to YouTube and choose the option “View in High Quality” just below the video. It makes a big difference! If you don’t see the option and you’re using high speed internet, try a different browser. (And while you’re there, you might also want to check out this video which is about another CanWest Global lawsuit, wherein they’re suing the creators of a parody of the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Together, the two lawsuits give a pretty dark picture of CanWest Global’s intentions in this country…)

That aforementioned article includes various references and links, but below are some more for easy access.

Here’s CanWest’s original press release.

Some elements of the case are available for online viewing through the Canadian Legal Information Institute, Ontario Superior Court. The court affidavits from Health Canada, CanWest Global and various intervenors are available online at the Women and Health Protection website. Of particular relevance for my video are the testimony and references of Dr. John Abramson.  The Health Canada affidavits provide a history of drug ad laws in Canada, and fascinating, heretofore secret information about our government’s attempts to reign in false, illegal and misleading advertising by pharmaceutical companies, like those featuring Diane 35.

Other intervenors in the case include the Canadian Health Coalition, the Federation of Nurses Unions, CUPE, CEP, and the Medical Reform Group.

Here’s an article about the case by Alicia Priest in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and a commentary by author-professor Alan Cassels in the British Medical Journal. The Canadian Medical Association has issued its policy on DTCA.

There has been very limited media coverage of the topic, and in none of the articles that I’ve seen have the media outlets disclosed their own position on the issue. The Globe and Mail ran one piece. CBC radio gave it some coverage. The Toronto Star has done more than most, including this article on a study examining the dollar costs of DTCA in Canada. Here’s the absolutely ridiculous article in the National Post/Financial Post by Peter Foster: Where does this guy get off either blatantly lying or not doing even one iota of research before mouthing off on such an important topic to a national audience? Here’s the U.S. FDA’s list of reprimands to pharmaceutical companies for their false advertising. It’s an interesting site because it actually shows the full text of letters and in some cases copies of the offending ads.

Drug expenditure information from CIHA.

Public Citizen’s analysis of drug company profits in comparison to other Fortune 500 companies.

Disclosure: I’m a full-time freelance researcher and writer, and I wrote and produced this video entirely on my own. I am not affiliated with any of these organizations in any way, and I’ve never received any funding from pharmaceutical companies, CanWest Global, or any of the organizations involved in the court case. If you like independent journalism in Canada, Mom, please send money now!!

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Rob Wipond

Thank you for reading.

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4 comments

  1. quiact

    Media Never Graduated Medical School

    We often see advertisements on television for some type of medication — usually one involved in a large-market disease and the commercial is sponsored by a big pharmaceutical company. This is called direct to consumer (DTC) advertising, and doctors would prefer they did not exist.
    Since 1997, when the FDA relaxed regulations regarding this form of advertising, the popularity of these commercials greatly increased. Now, the pharmaceutical industry spends around $5 billion annually on this gigantic media effort. Normally, the commercial airs within a year of the drug’s approval, which raises safety concerns and involves money spent that could be applied to greater uses, according to many. But, we are dealing with a corporation here.
    The purpose of DTC ads i s not education, in my opinion, as others have claimed. Any advertising of any type shares the same objective — to increase sales and grow their market — in this case, for a particular perceived medical condition or disease state. The intent of DTC advertising is to generate an emotional response from the viewer, such as fear or concern, believing upon research that the viewer will then question as to whether they need to seek treatment for what may be an unconfirmed medical condition. The most interesting ones are for erectile dysfunction (ED) during primetime TV, with the real possibility of children watching. Further surreal is that these particular commercials seem to have ED sufferers portrayed as those who could probably run marathons, which is not realistic from a clinical perspective.
    DTC advertising is also a catalyst for and similar to disease mongering. Disease mongering is the creation of what some believe to be medical flaws. It is illustrated by the drug companies through exaggeration and embellishments via various media sources as an avenue for propaganda — often seen with DTC advertising. Though the flaws may not be medical, the corporate creation of these questionable human ailments that do not require treatment, possibly, may be an attempt to develop a particular medical condition to acquire profit.
    One of my favorite DTCs is the new indication for the use of an anti-depressant for a social disorder. This used to be called introversion, a term created by Dr. Carl Yung. It is a personality trait, not a medical disease. There are other questionable medical conditions claimed in the contents of DTC commercials, as the creators wish to grow the market for a particular, and possibly fictional, disease state. Then there is baldness treatments being advertised, as another example. Lifestyle meds are not treatment meds for illnesses, and should not be portrayed as such.
    Also, DTC ads normally discuss a single treatment option when likely several treatment options exist for authentic medical disorders. This should be left to the discretion of the physician, as they assess your health, not your TV or another media source. That’s why most of the world does not conduct DTC advertising, with the exception of America and New Zealand.
    Finally, DTC advertising and its ability to influence viewers to make their own assessment instead of a medical professionals remains largely unregulated, yet apparently effective for the DTC creators. People are prone to believe what they see and hear, regardless of whether or not it is actually true. After viewing a DTC ad, many seek out a doctor visit and request whatever product that was advertised, which makes the doctor’s situation quite cumbersome. So the doctor and patient relationship is altered in a negative fashion since most DTC advertised drugs require a prescription.
    Medical information and claims of suggested health ailments should come from those in the medical field instead of the corporate world. Perhaps this will save some of our over-prescribing habits, which will benefit all of us in the long term. And the health care system can regain control of its purpose, which is far from financial prosperity.
    Men of ill judgment oft ignore the good that lies within their hands till they have lost it.
    — Sophocles
    Dan Abshear (published by http://www.brainblogger.com)

  2. quiact

    Thank you, Rob, for your compliment regarding the above, as I am, comparitively speaking a novice writer who happens to be rather knowledgeable.

  3. Joseph

    loved your UT on CanWest vs Health Canada re drug ads

    Q: did your read the article Common Ground ran June 2008 by Barbara Menzies on this topic?
    I feel it is time for an update given they are going back to court, really ought to have had update in the Jan 2009 edition but Feb is coming. It looks like big money vs the people’s health.Call me 604-733-2215.
    Thanks, Joseph http://www.commonground.ca

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