China: Ministry of Health Considering Ban on Drug Advertising

The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that they are considering submitting a recommendation to the State Council to ban the advertising of medical services in China. There is also support for extending the proposed ban to include drug advertisements as well. The support for such a measure is a direct result of China’s poor record with misleading and often illegal medical advertisements. If approved by the State Council, the ban would have extensive consequences for local and foreign drug firms’ operations in China.

A study by Chinese national medical supervision authorities found that in the last year more than 60 percent of drug advertisements on television, and more than 95 percent of newspaper and radio ads, violated the law. The MOH estimates that nearly 2.5 million Chinese take incorrect medicine every year due to deceptive drug advertising. Current drug advertising law stipulates that ads cannot contain categorical assertions or guarantees. Ads may not contain unscientific information or use images or names of medical institutions, experts or patients in support of products. The current fine imposed for breaching these regulations is a maximum of five times the cost of the advertised product.

MOH has stated that these fines are not significant enough to prevent drug companies from seeking the profits that can come from a successful drug. If MOH does not recommend a complete ban on drug advertising, it is certain that a proposal for much more severe fines for breaking the advertising law will be made.