How to comply with the requirements on promoting medicines to the public and to prescribers and suppliers of medicines.
You can advertise any over-the-counter medicine, general sales list and pharmacy medicines, to the general public.
You can’t advertise prescription-only medicines (POMs) to the general public but you can promote them to healthcare professionals and others who can prescribe or supply the product.
You can’t advertise any medicine that is not licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) or, for products in Northern Ireland, the European Commission.
You can only advertise a medicine in a territory where it is licensed. To advertise UK-wide, make sure the product(s) you are advertising are covered by licences in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland; you will need to include details of both licences in your advertisement if there are separate licences
You must follow the legal requirements when advertising.
Read the Blue Guide for detailed guidance on advertising medicines in the UK. Journalists and patient organisations should see appendix 5 and clinics offering treatment services should see appendix 6.
Advertise to the public
Your advert must include:
- the name of the product
- the name of the active ingredient if it contains only one
- information about what you can use the medicine for
- an instruction to ‘always read the label’ or accompanying leaflet
- for products only available in Great Britain, a statement that the product is not available or not available without prescription in Northern Ireland
You must not:
- promote a medicine use that is not covered by the summary of product characteristics (SPC)
- make misleading claims or use pictures that may lead to a wrong self-diagnosis
- suggest a medicine has no side-effects or that its effects are guaranteed
- imply that seeing a doctor or pharmacist is not necessary
- quote recommendations by scientists, healthcare professionals or celebrities
- suggest a medicine is different from, the same as or better than any other named product
- claim a medicine’s safety or effectiveness is due to the fact it is natural
- state that normal health can be improved by taking the medicine or be affected by not taking the medicine
- direct your advertising at children (under-16s) You may not provide free samples of a medicine as part of promoting the product.
See chapter 5 of the Blue Guide for more information.
Advertise to prescribers and suppliers of medicines
You can advertise any medicine (including prescription-only medicines) to healthcare professionals and others who can prescribe or supply the product.
You need to provide specific product information including:
- the name of the product
- the names of the active ingredients(s) next to the most prominent display of the name
- a summary of the information in the SPC about adverse reactions, dosage and method of use, precautions and relevant contraindications
- the condition(s) the medicine can be used for
- the legal classification of the product
- details of the licence number and supplier, if advertising a product only available in Great Britain, a statement that the product has a Great Britain licence
- the cost
If you’re advertising an over the counter medicine and your advert is small in size, you can put some of the information online as long as you clearly label the web address.
See annex 5 in the Blue Guide for the criteria on creating abbreviated adverts.
Any sales representatives promoting a medicine must have adequate training and enough scientific knowledge about it.
The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and other organisations provide training.
See chapter 6 of the Blue Guide for more information on advertising to prescribers and suppliers of medicines.
Advertise traditional herbal medicines
An advert for a traditional herbal medicine must include the sentence:
Traditional herbal medicinal product for use in [include one or more indications for the product from its registration] exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy.
(The indication is a description of what the medicine is used for.)
Your advertising must not claim that the effectiveness of a traditional herbal medicine has been demonstrated, for example by saying ‘clinically proven’, ‘effective for’, or ‘works fast to relieve’.
Find out more on the legal requirements for advertising traditional herbal medicines in appendix 1 of the Blue Guide.
Advertise homeopathic medicines
The advert for a homeopathic medicine must be based on its traditional use. Your advertising must not:
- imply a medicine’s use is based on clinical evidence
- claim its effectiveness has been demonstrated, for example by saying ‘effective for’, or ‘works fast to relieve’.
Find out more on the legal requirements for advertising homeopathic medicines in appendix 2 of the Blue Guide.
Get your advert checked
Talk to your trade association or self-regulatory body if you’d like someone to check your advert against the regulations. For over-the-counter medicines, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain reviews all of their members’ advertising to the public against their codes of practice.
The Committee of Advertising Practice also offers a free advice service for non-broadcast advertisements aimed at the public. Material must comply with the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Marketing.
You must submit your adverts to pre-clearance centres if they’re intended for radio and/or television to ensure you comply with the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising.
If you’re not sure about a specific legal requirement you can ask any of these organisations or the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for advice.
MHRA advertising checks
The MHRA may ask to see advertising before it’s published for:
- a newly licensed product
- a product that has been reclassified, for example from prescription-only to pharmacy sale
They may also ask to see your advert before it’s published where previous advertising for the product has broken regulations.
See theif you’re asked by the MHRA to submit advertising for vetting. We aim to give an opinion on submitted materials within 5 days. In the year to December 2019, we achieved this for 99% of items submitted.
You can ask for a scientific advice meeting about your proposed advertising.
Other organisations that review advertising for medicines include:
- Proprietary Association of Great Britain
- Health Food Manufacturers’ Association
- Radio Centre
- Committee of Advertising Practice
Adverts for medicines: definition
The advertising covered by this guidance includes:
- paid-for adverts in newspapers, magazines, billboards, flyers, etc
- promotional information about a medicine on a company website
- posts or text in social media such as Facebook or Twitter
- verbal promotion by medical sales representatives
- the supplying of samples of a medicine
- gifts and inducements to prescribe or supply medicines
- sponsorship of meetings attended by prescribers and suppliers of medicines
You can make factual informative announcements (including trade catalogues and price lists) as long as you don’t make any product claims. You can also provide factual answers to specific questions.
Complain about an advert
You can complain about an advert for a medicinal product to any relevant self-regulatory body or regulator or to the MHRA.
- For complaints about advertising of medicines for prescription by pharmaceutical companies, contact the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority, details here, The PMCPA investigates advertising for prescribed medicines for compliance with the ABPI Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry.
- For complaints about advertising to the public, contact the Advertising Standards Authority, details here. The ASA investigates advertising against the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Marketing and UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. The MHRA and ASA have jointly produced guidance for services that offer botulinum toxin treatments, injectable vitamins, or weight-loss medicines.
Each organisation publishes reports of investigations on their websites.
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has a role in regulating the advertising and supply of medicines from pharmacies, and complaints about pharmacy practices can be made here. The MHRA and GPhC have produced a statement on our joint approach to regulation of online pharmacies.
If you are not sure which is the most relevant regulator, please send to the organisation(s) you think is most appropriate and we will agree the most appropriate lead body to investigate. We may also ask your permission to refer a complaint to another body if they have relevant expertise.
You can also submit your complaint by post to the MHRA (please be aware that working from home restrictions may mean that a response is delayed):
MHRA Advertising Standards Unit
10 South Colonnade
You should include:
- a copy of the advertisement or details of when and where it appeared
- the reasons for your concern about the advertising
- your details so that the MHRA can contact you with any questions and tell you the outcome of the case
- information about any communication that you have had with the advertiser before complaining to the MHRA
The MHRA aims to complete an investigation within 1 month.
The advertiser may be asked to:
- amend the advert
- withdraw the advert
- publish a correction
- submit future advertising for the product to the MHRA for vetting
The MHRA usually resolves complaints with the advertiser as an informal agreement. It may result in legal action if no agreement can be reached, either through the statutory determination procedure (see chapter 9 of the Blue Guide for details) or enforcement measures.
A breach of medicine advertising regulations is a criminal offence with a possible penalty of a fine and imprisonment for up to 2 years.
See advertising investigations by MHRA for reports of our investigations.
Read the 2020 annual report on Delivering High Standards in Medicines Advertising Regulation (PDF, 373KB, 15 pages), for more information on our work. This can also be viewed in HTML format.