Drug consumption in Thailand is high in comparison with other countries. A key factor influencing this overconsumption is advertising. Radio is a medium that can easily reach a lot of people, in both urban and rural areas. Thai people typically practice self-care by purchasing drugs from a local pharmacy. They are often stimulated by drug advertisements. Past data have shown that there were many illegal drug advertisements. Consumer protection with regard to this seems to be poor. Better regulation or regulatory mechanisms are needed; therefore, this study reviews the current regulations and practices of drug advertising by radio in Thailand. The effectiveness of the present regulatory system is also evaluated by measuring the number of exaggerated claims, misleading claims, and other violations. In order to accomplish these aims, documentary reviews, in-depth interviews and the recording of radio drug advertisements were performed. We found that the existing regulatory framework was firmly established. The Thai FDA has followed the regulation in Drug Act B.E.2510, and also set standard criteria for drug advertising. The FDA is responsible for drug advertisement monitoring in the Bangkok Metropolitan region and has decentralized its monitoring authority to each provincial health office. However, poor drug advertisement surveillance was detected. Seven of the top ten medicines that were most frequently put on air were traditional medicines. 525 unique advertisements (with 2431 repeated advertisements) were collected from 5 provinces. It was found that 43.6% of the unique advertisements were totally correct as required in the drug advertisement regulation and FDA standard criteria, while 8.9% made exaggerated claims, 13.17% made false claims, and 21.88% were misleading. Three modern drugs – paracetamol, piroxicam, and vitamins – were commonly advertised on air. Manpower limitations, overburdened staff and passive monitoring result in weak consumer protection. Complaints from NGOs, consumer organizations, health care providers and the public are key to enabling effective drug advertisement surveillance. The engagement of these parties and the outsourcing of monitoring functions are recommended. Campaigns to educate all related parties on drug advertisement regulation are critical activities that the FDA must also undertake.
Kittisopee, T.; Anantachoti, P.; Tangcharoensathien, V. Radio drug advertisement situation and regulation in Thailand. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK (2005) 31 pp. [HEFP working paper 02/05]