As of 31 January 2020, the ASA has stepped up its enforcement around adverts for prescription only medicines - including botulinum toxin.
Earlier this year, the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) issued a joint warning aimed at tackling the unlawful advertising of botulinum toxin injections on social media.
As we have previously advised, botulinum toxin injections are prescription only medicines (POMs). This means they can't be advertised to the public, even if they would be administered by a registered healthcare professional. The ASA's guidance warns that the organisation will now be taking 'targeted enforcement action using monitoring technology to automatically find problem posts for removal.'
However, it's important to remember that restrictions on POMs apply to all forms of advertising, such as practice websites, posters and leaflets, and not just social media.
The ASA makes clear there can be no direct references to a POM or treatment, including brand names, generic names, images and hashtags. However, the newly issued guidance goes further by warning against indirect advertising as well, with phrases that could only be used to refer to a POM being seen as just as problematic.
The ASA would see the use of a phrase like 'wrinkle relaxing injections', or a practice advertising 'anti-wrinkle injections' with a price that relates to a POM, as being in breach of its guidelines.
The guidance should also be interpreted as being circumstance-specific, and it's worth erring on the side of caution to make sure you comply.
For example, regardless of whether you only offer botulinum toxin injections, or you offer them alongside other injectables, the ASA may infer you're indirectly referring to botulinum toxin if you simply refer to 'injections' in your advertising.
Advertising in general
As Standard 1.7 of the GDC's Standards for the Dental Team states, you have an obligation to put patients' interests 'before your own or those of any colleague, business or organisation,' and 'before any financial, personal or other gain.' The GDC also has guidance on advertising that sets out what is expected of registrants.
The ASA's recent campaign focuses on advertising botulinum toxin injections on social media, but our advice to dental professionals would be to review all promotional material, including practice websites and leaflets, to check they comply with the CAP rules, ASA guidance, ethical standards and the law. Anyone failing to comply with the ASA's guidance could be referred to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) or to the GDC.
If you've got questions about your advertising obligations, our dento-legal advisers are just a phone call away.
Senior dento-legal adviser
Rupert Hoppenbrouwers (BDS LDSRCS) was head of the DDU until his retirement at the end of 2015. He is a former general dental practitioner and was director of the School of Dental Hygiene at University College Hospital, London, from 1980 to 1986. He has lectured and written widely on risk management and dento-legal matters, has previously chaired the UK Dental Law and Ethics Forum, and has a particular interest in complex ethical and legal issues affecting dental members.
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