British Medical Journal (BMJ)

Pfizer found guilty of breaching code

Nieuws van: British Medical Journal (BMJ)
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer has been ordered to shut down a Dutch website about erectile dysfunction that it sponsors, after a complaint was upheld that it was guilty of the "unlawful public advertising" of its prescription only drug sildenafil (Viagra).

Dutch MP Agnes Kant brought a complaint after a series of radio commercials from Pfizer last October on erectile dysfunction.

Although Dutch law permits "symptom advertising"—which draws attention to specific medical conditions but does not name pharmaceutical products—listeners were also told that they could visit [erection forum] for information.

On the website, references to Viagra were "numerous and prominent," said the Pharmaceutical Advertising Code Foundation—a self regulatory body of doctors, pharmacists, and industry representatives—which supervises compliance with the code.

The Pfizer sponsored website included an invitation to "click here for the responsible prescription and delivery of erection pills."

The site included information about other products, including Eli Lilly's Cialis (tadalafil) and Bayer's Levitra (vardenafil). But Viagra was placed first with the longest text, saying that comparable medical research had shown no other product to be more effective. The site also linked by email to a doctor and to a pharmacist, who almost exclusively offered Viagra.

Ms Kant argued that the radio commercials in combination with a website recommending Viagra was an unlawful public advertising campaign.

Pfizer argued that the radio commercials gave only information about an illness and did not contain any mention of a pharmaceutical product. The company maintained that the website was independently run by the Foundation for Medical Information, Literature, and Education. Pfizer claims that it only sponsored the site and had no influence over its content.

The advertising foundation called such claims so "absurd and unbelievable that this defence could scarcely be taken seriously." It accepted the link between the radio commercials and the website. It said the website gave the impression that Viagra was more effective than its competitors and gave an unfair picture of its advantages. This amounted to "unlawful public advertising."

A spokesman for Pfizer in the Netherlands, Dick Vente, said that the company accepted the judgment but hoped to relaunch the website without naming the product and offering only information for patients. The company was disappointed that it no longer had the opportunity to correct misunderstandings about Viagra found on other websites. - 22 jan 2005

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