Prescription-only medicines and Advertising Code

Jul 17th '20

Stick to the script: Prescription-only medicines and the Code.


Rule 12.12 of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code expressly states that prescription-only medicines (POM) or prescription-only medical treatments may not be advertised to the public. It is also an offence under the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 to in any way promote the prescription, supply, sale or use of a prescription-only product.


  • What does this apply to?

As with all sections of the CAP Code, rule 12.12 applies to ads in all media including websites and social media, and any reference to a POM (except in the narrow exception outlined below) is likely to amount to promotion of it.


  • Are there any exceptions?

There is a narrow exception for company websites that allows POMs to be referenced in certain places, but there are two points to note:


  1. Emphasis should be on promoting a consultation for particular conditions such as erectile dysfunctionexcessive sweatingweight control issues or lines and wrinkles rather than promoting named POMs which might be used to treat the condition. It is then possible to reference the POM as a potential outcome of the consultation, provided …
  2. … the references are factual and non-promotional. Sticking closely to the information given in the Summary of Product Characteristics (SPC), for example, is a good starting point. Read this basic guide to prescription-only medicines to find out where the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is likely to draw the line on what can be classified as promotional and non-promotional content.


This advice is particularly pertinent for online pharmacies (Express Pharmacy Consultations Ltd, 2013; Superdrug Stores plc, 2015).


  • What about Viagra Connect?

Viagra Connect (which contains 50mg of sildenafil) was reclassified by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as a ‘pharmacy medicine’ (P). This means it is available without prescription for use by men over 18 who have erectile dysfunction. There is no prohibition on the advertising of pharmacy medicines, which are included in the category referred to as ‘Over the Counter’ (OTC) medicines.


Other variations of Viagra, and other drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction, are currently still classified as POMs. Marketers should therefore take care that in promoting Viagra Connect, they do not indirectly promote POMs.


Source: CAP


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