Earlier this year, the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB) released its revised Code of Advertising Acceptance with new provisions relating to drug product advertising (prescription, non-prescription, biologics and natural health products) delivered through the internet and social media.  The new Code provisions will come into effect on July 1, 2013.

The PAAB is an independent agency whose primary role is to review and pre-clear all forms of drug product advertising provided or directed to Canadian healthcare professionals, patients (defined as a person who has been prescribed a drug product by a health care professional) and consumers (which includes members of the general public). The agency seeks to ensure that the advertising is accurate, balanced and reflects current and best practice regardless of the medium through which it is delivered.

The Code defines social media broadly to include internet activities that engage or encourage engagement through online discussions or interactions. e.g.: blogs (personal online journal comprised of entries/ posts), microblogs (Twitter), chat rooms, forums, video/ photo sharing (YouTube, Flickr), social networking (Facebook), podcasts, user forums/ discussion groups, wikis (website where content is added, modified or deleted by the users), news aggregation (RSS), and apps.

Under the new rules:

  • Except where prohibited by regulatory requirements or third-party owners, the name of a drug company sponsoring a website or webpage must be stated on each webpage.
  • Sponsored websites that incorporate user-generated content (chat rooms, blogs, bulletin boards, etc.) must be monitored by the sponsor to ensure that postings, and the website itself, remains compliant with the Food and Drugs Act and the Code. Since misinformation and off-label discussions can render a sponsor website non-compliant, these websites must specify terms of use that notify users of the types of comments that may be removed or modified by the sponsor.
  • Product advertisers may now fulfill the PAAB fair balance requirement by including a URL or other link to the Health Canada-approved Terms of Market Authorization for the product. This is a change from current practice which requires advertisers to attach a copy of the product’s prescribing information. The destination webpage does not need to be reviewed provided that it does not contain additional promotional content in the form of text or images. Similarly, a link leading to a product or corporate logo, without a tag line, is permissible without review.
  • The level of access to content on a sponsored websites should be calibrated to kind of end-user i.e. healthcare professionals vs. patients vs. consumers. So for example, consumers should be unable to access sites that provide information relating to prescription products; healthcare professionals, on the other hand, may be given such access using proper passwords.

For all promotional and marketing material currently in circulation, there will be a transition period ending July 1, 2014. In the meantime, PAAB is planning to offer training programs and question-and-answer sessions. In addition, guidance documents are scheduled to be released sometime in 2013.