Australia Media

Schrödinger’s Medicines

So there I was flipping through the paper yesterday when I noticed something a little, um, odd about the massive full page ad on page 6 of The Sunday Age:

Full Page Ad in The Sunday Age

You can’t quite see it from that distance, so lets look a little closer…

Blurry Labels

Yeah. That’s odd. All the labels on those little bottles of Swisse Snake Oil are all blurry. A printing error maybe? Surely not…

I assumed that this would be something to do with the laws in Australia about advertising medicines, but I was curious, so I asked Dr Google. He told me to have a look at the website of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which confirms that there are of course all sorts of rules and regulations around the advertising of these products in Australia. And the page on Making a complaint about the advertising of a therapeutic product tells me this:

Advertisements for medicines appearing on television or radio, newspapers, consumer magazines, billboards and cinema films are required to be approved before publication.

Advertisements appearing in newspapers and consumer magazines must include the approval number. The approval number is usually in small print and begins with the letters ‘ASMI’ or ‘CHC’ followed by a 5-6 digit number and date code.

Approvals are valid for a 2-year period.

So does our ad have an approval number in small print beginning with the letters ASMI or CHC? Er. No.

Well that’s interesting.

It’s at this point that Dr Google suggests I take a look at the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code 2007 in ComLaw.

Under section 3, Compliance with, and application of, the Code, we find this:

(3) Advertisements for therapeutic goods appearing in specified and broadcast media must be approved by the appropriate Advertising Services Manager for compliance with the Code (Appendix 3 refers) prior to publication or broadcast, other than:

(b) advertisements for those therapeutic goods that may be advertised and which display only name, picture and/or price and /or point of sale, without therapeutic claims; and …

So it appears there is a loophole. You can advertise therapeutic goods without having to get your ad approved, regardless of what dubious therapeutic claims the goods themselves might make, just so long as you don’t repeat those therapeutic claims in your ad.

Presumably these little bottles of wonder pills are some kind of Schrödinger’s Medicine: they simultaneously are therapeutic goods and also aren’t at the same time, depending on what’s on the label. I suppose that’s kind of appropriate, really. Isn’t that how the placebo effect homoeopathy works…

Then again, they haven’t blurred out some of those labels very well. Even I can see that this one says “Clinically Trialled” on the top line and “Omega-3 Antioxidant” on the bottom line, whatever the hell that means:

Clinically Trialled

Although maybe they should go that little bit further with the blurring–you never know what some of these products might be called by the time the consumer gets to the store. As The ABC’s The Checkout pointed out a few months ago, when the Therapeutic Goods Administration cancelled the registration for Swisse’s Ultiboost Appetite Suppressant, they cunningly evaded the ban by simply changing the name on the label