Health Canada recently posted a list of 152 advertising infractions it identified in the past year. Most of these cases are resolved without charges being laid once Health Canada challenges the advertiser. The most common perpetrators are producers of various 'natural' health food type products that cover a spectrum from ginseng to sharks cartilage accompanied by claims that these products can cure many conditions, some of them serious. Homeopathic products, substances so diluted that they have only molecular amounts of the active ingredient not capable of having any therapeutic effect have been widely and falsly advertised. This is sometimes dangerous in that it directs patients away from highly effective and proven treatment. Some generic drug manufacturers were found to be at fault for advertising that their products were exactly the same as the brand drug. Although the active ingredient has to be the same, the non medicinal ingredients are often different. Posting the list is certainly a move in the right direction though much more rigorous vigilance is necessary.
Much more malignant is the advertisements we are subjected to on television where advertisements for very potent drugs are advertised to patients with the objective of generating pressure on the physician to prescribe. Although legally obliged to list the side effects and dangers of the drugs, the ad men manage to put together an attractive montage that misdirects the patient. When patients used to come into my office to ask why they were not on the latest wonder-drug they recently saw advertised, I used to take my smart phone Pharmacopoeia out of my pocket and read the list of side-effects to the patient. That usually solved the problem. This sort of direct to patient advertising is illegal in most countries including Canada. Unfortunately, we are in the direct line of fire as inveterate consumes of American television. Recently medical organizations have raised their voices against this practice. We will have to wait and see if it has any effect.