The US Free Trade Agreement may lead to HIV prescription drugs being advertised directly to consumers, a practice currently banned in Australia.

Consumer advocate Martyn Goddard told Sydney Star Observer a loophole in the current Pharmaceutical Advertising Code allows for prescription drugs to be advertised on the internet.

The code is expected to be revised by mid-2005 to restrict such advertising, but Goddard claims the FTA’s spirit of innovation and fostering industry will override such a ban.

Goddard told the Star he believed direct-to-consumer advertising was damaging and dangerous.

It’s not good medicine to have people going along to a doctor and have people demanding the drug they’ve seen on television on the basis of simply seeing an ad, Goddard said.

And of all areas of pharmaceuticals, HIV is one of the most complex, and the costs of getting the strategy wrong are quite high.

Goddard has written a paper on the issue which has prompted Democrats senator Lyn Allison to put questions on notice to the minister for Health.

Allison’s spokesperson said the senator intended to ask whether the revised code would ban internet advertising.

NAPWA executive officer Jo Watson told the Star while she supported Goddard’s opposition to direct-to-consumer advertising broadly, his assertions were a bit of a stretch, as internet advertising was difficult to police whether the code was amended or not.

Television advertisements for products such as Viagra have proved successful by referring consumers to a website, avoiding the naming of the product.

In any case, Goddard admits the issue is almost moot. It’s about AIDS organisations and AIDS doctors being aware that this issue exists because at the moment they don’t know, he said. Because politically, and as far as the mainstream press is concerned, the FTA’s a done deal.

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