As the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic, Health Canada took urgent measures to protect consumers from illegal, false or misleading advertising of products claiming to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19.
As a result, IAB Canada notified our members, earlier this month, that Health Canada had implemented new guidelines regarding regulated substances that are directly related to the Covid-19 pandemic. This included items such as hand sanitizer and we encouraged you to become familiar with the new regulations and to take steps towards avoiding inadvertent incompliance.
Since then, Health Canada has contacted IAB Canada regarding their efforts specifically that they have been engaging in online proactive monitoring of health products making false or misleading claims related to COVID-19. Health Canada publishes a weekly updated list of health products and companies/e-commerce platforms found in non-compliance with the F&DA. In addition, Health Canada issued a public advisory warning Canadians about the risks of purchasing health products that make unauthorized claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. Advertising health products making false or misleading claims is illegal and in contravention of the F&DA.
Furthermore, Health Canada has a web-based platform entitled Stop Illegal Marketing of Drugs and Devices to raise awareness about illegal marketing of drugs and medical devices, educate health care professionals on the rules governing health product advertising in Canada, as well as provide a quick and easy tool to report suspected misleading marketing practices to Health Canada.
Health Canada also encourages advertisers to take advantage of the independent Canadian advertising preclearance system: a voluntary, but valuable, resource to help health product manufacturers and advertisers develop promotional materials, which comply with the advertising provisions of the F&DA, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), and associated Regulations. Ad Standards and Extreme Reach Toronto provide preclearance services for consumer-directed messages for non-prescription health products, including natural health products, while the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB) preclears messages for all health products (except medical devices) directed to health care professionals. Both the PAAB and Ad Standards also provide advisory opinions on consumer-directed messages for prescription drugs and Schedule D drugs (such as vaccines) with the objective that they meet the legislative and regulatory health product advertising requirements.
You may also wish to consult Health Canada’s Web site for more information about these requirements. A list of Canadian Advertising Preclearance Agencies (APAs) is also available on our Web site and, of particular importance, the guidance document entitled “Guidance Document – Health Canada and Advertising Preclearance Agencies’ Roles Related to Health Product Advertising”, which informs stakeholders of the different roles Health Canada and APAs play.
Additionally, here are two practical steps that IAB Canada members can take to minimize non-compliant digital advertising of health products in Canada:
- Verify that the product to be advertised has been authorized by Health Canada:
Products authorized by Health Canada carry one of the following numbers on their label:
- Drug Identification Number (DIN) – for drugs
- Natural Product Number (NPN) – for natural health products
- DIN-HM – for homeopathic products
- License number – for medical devices, although some are not required to have this number
- Request proof of preclearance from the advertiser:
- As explained above, preclearance of health product advertising materials prior to dissemination is voluntary. However, it offers the assurance that materials to be promoted are compliant with the Canadian health product advertising regulatory framework.
For more information, IAB Canada suggest that you consult Health Canada’s Web site at https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/regulatory-requirements-advertising.html