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Tighter rules on pharma gifts challenged by manufacturers

Published on 04/07/13 at 02:43pm
EPPA image

The pharma industry could face a series of lawsuits by manufacturers of promotional gifts as new rules look to ban the items from next year.

The legal threat has been issued by the European Promotional Product Association (EPPA), a trade body, which has written to EU competition authorities claiming the move violates antitrust law.

It adds that it also threatens the livelihood of its several thousand members producing pens, notepads, and USB memory sticks handed out by drug company marketing representatives.

It is estimated that the deals between EPPA members and the industry generate around €500 million a year in the sales.

Hans Poulis, head of EPPA, told the Financial Times: “We are not happy with this initiative. We are pretty sure that giving away a quite cheap ball pen or sticky notes will not have an impact on prescribing a certain brand.”

This comes as new regulations from the pharma lobby group EFPIA will stop the distribution of promotional items from next year. In recent times these gifts have included company and medicine logos stamped on pens, notepads and clothing, which are all aimed at doctors attending scientific conferences.

But the practice has come under scrutiny by the public and even the industry itself, leading to the new voluntary rules which come into place in just six months.

Pen mightier than the sword

Elvira Jurado-Castell, head of GWW, a German body for promotional companies’ organisations, said: “This ban is simply ridiculous. I don’t think doctors are influenced by a pen. Every company tries to make advertisements.”

But some research suggests that in fact, even small gifts offer an incentive to prescribe, with recent US studies on medical students suggesting that modest gifts like pens can make them more favourable to the drugs promoted.

Both the GWW and the EPPA’s statements also undermine the impact of its members’ products, as they state they have no effect on prescribing, when in fact this is their raison d'être.

Seemingly however, EFPIA has not been swayed. Its director general Richard Bergström said: “It is in the public interest that healthcare professionals are not influenced by gifts. I take note that hoteliers, restaurants and airlines have not complained officially when we have curbed excessive marketing practices in the past.”

Just this week EFPIA also announced new plans to make pharma disclose doctor payments from 2016, as the issue of transparency continues to be pushed forward.

Ben Adams

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