NZ sovereignty threatened by trade deal, say academics

24 November 2017

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could prevent our government from regulating drug advertisements that target New Zealanders, according to a new academic paper.
In their article, “Trade Agreements and Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Pharmaceuticals,” published in the International Journal of Health Policy and Management, the University of Auckland’s Associate Professor David Menkes and La Trobe University’s Dr Deborah Gleeson analysed provisions in the TPP relevant to pharmaceutical marketing.
“Drug companies are keen to promote products in this lucrative market, and direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) is effective, particularly for expensive prescription-only medicines. The practice is banned in most countries, with the exception of New Zealand the United States, as it stimulates unnecessary and sometimes harmful prescribing,” Associate Professor Menkes says.
“DTCA prompts people to see their doctor, and often ask for advertised drugs by name. Doctors find these requests distracting, and generally need to choose between complying with a prescription, or taking time to explain why an advertised product is not appropriate.
“Efforts to ban DTCA have attracted widespread support from doctors and their representative bodies, and also from consumer groups. The pharmaceutical industry, unsurprisingly, is keen to see DTCA continue, and argues that the practice helps to empower patients and support informed choice. Many regard this argument with scepticism, in light of the fact that the industry spends nearly twice as much on marketing as on research and development.”
This issue is particularly relevant now, says Prof Menkes, because NZ is currently revising its Medicines Act, and this provides an opportunity to regulate DTCA or phase it out altogether. If the TPP is signed and ratified in its current form, however, its Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism could enable companies to sue the NZ government if new legislation was seen to harm company profits, for example by restricting DTCA.
“If the government is serious about supporting PHARMAC’s mission of getting best value for money in pharmaceuticals, it should take steps now to ban DTCA, in accord with previous Labour government policy (2002-2006), and make good on its support for improved and independent consumer health information. There are thus a variety of reasons – political, fiscal and clinical – to set these legislative wheels in motion, and to do so before TPP ratification”.
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