Canada is strongly influenced by US cross-border direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) and has held consultations to discuss introduction of DTCA since 1996. This article describes a survey of Canadian drug policy experts carried out in 2001, during one such legislative review. The survey results are compared to more recent DTCA policy developments.
We recruited key informants on pharmaceutical policy to complete a faxed questionnaire that queried their opinions on DTCA information quality, effects on drug and health care use, and regulatory issues. Respondents were asked about the evidence they had used to back their opinions. Analysis was descriptive.
Of 79 identified potential participants, 60 (76%) participated, 40% of whom were from federal and provincial government; 3% were private insurers; 18%, 15%, and 8% were from health professional groups, consumer groups, and patient groups, respectively; 8% and 7% were from pharmaceutical and advertising industries, respectively. Opinions were highly polarized on the effects of DTCA on drug and health care use. Advertising and pharmaceutical industry respondents were generally positive, public sector, health professional and consumer groups generally negative. Over 80% believed DTCA leads to higher private and public drug costs and more frequent physician visits. Fewer judged billboards or television to be appropriate media for DTCA than magazines or the Internet, and most believed that children and adolescents should not be targeted.
Given the polarization observed within this survey, we examined how DTCA policy has evolved in Canada since 2001. The federal government has legislative authority over DTCA, but bears few of the additional costs potentially incurred through policy change. These fall to the provinces, which provide an eroding patchwork of public coverage for prescription drugs in the face of rapidly increasing costs. No new federal legislation has been tabled since 2001. However, considerable shifts in administrative policy have occurred, all supportive of expanded advertising. Thus, the law continues to be restrictive but its application less so.