Letter: Care over drugs

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Sir: The American experience may show that advertisements aimed directly at consumers are a highly effective way of stimulating demand, but there is little evidence to support claims that the overall health of the nation has also improved ("Drug firms demand right to advertise", 8 April). Indeed, 64 per cent of doctors in an American survey said they would like to see the practice decrease or be abolished.

With regard to the argument that advertising increases awareness and detection of disease, one has to ask if this could not be better achieved through independent public health campaigns.

Before we go any further down the road toward direct-to-consumer advertising, we need to ask ourselves whether medicines are like commodities. When advertising persuades us that we want or need most consumer products, we can usually weigh up the value we place on them relative to our priorities, with price as the moderator. Not only do European consumers not pay for the real cost of medicines (a civilised and equitable component of the NHS), but they are not in a position to make an informed choice about what to consume.

A full and proper public debate is essential before we slide into a situation where the drugs industry has direct and unmanaged links with consumers.

NICK STACE

Consumers' Association

London NW1

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