Ads for emergency contraceptives may be suspended

Ads for emergency contraceptives may be suspended

New Delhi: Television advertisements for emergency contraceptives (so-called morning-after pills) made by Cipla Ltd and Mankind Pharma Ltd may be suspended by the ministry of health and family welfare.

The move is being considered on the grounds that the commercials don’t conform to the law governing advertisements for drugs.

“It was found that the permission to advertise these products (I-pill by Cipla and Unwanted-72 by Mankind) was not notified in the official gazette as required under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954. So, technically, these ads should not be allowed," a senior official at the health ministry said on condition of anonymity.

In India, prescription drugs cannot be advertised but this is allowed for those sold over the counter (OTC). While I-Pill and Unwanted-72 are OTC drugs, the Act prohibits drugs that lead to miscarriage or the prevention of conception. The Act allows the advertising of these drugs by notification in the official gazette if the Union government allows them in the public interest.

“Though the Act provides the government the power to exempt this class of drug, there is no notification actually allowing their advertising yet," said Manoj Tongra, drugs control officer in Rajasthan.

On 23 September, Mint had reported that the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) was considering converting these OTC emergency contraceptives into prescription drugs due to ethical concerns over their ads.

The matter was then discussed at the Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) on 9 November, which decided to keep the pills in the OTC category. A sub-committee was formed to finalize the guidelines regarding the advertising of emergency contraceptives with special focus on the safe use of such drugs. It was subsequently found that the advertisements had not been notified at all.

Mankind Pharma stopped airing the ad last month, said R.C. Juneja, managing director. When asked if the ads had been notified in the official gazette, he said that the notification was not issued and that it was a “mistake on the part of the government".

Cipla will continue to air its commercials.

According to Amar Lulla, joint managing director, the company has not received any government order over the ads. “These ads do not fall under the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, and so, there is no reason why they should not be allowed" to advertise, he said.

DCGI has also written to the Advertising Standards Council of India over the ads.

“Once the ministry suspends these ads, it may notify them in the gazette and allow them later," said another health ministry official on condition of anonymity as the person is not authorized to speak to the media.

If these are allowed, Juneja said that Mankind Pharma will relaunch its ads as well.

The market for the emergency contraceptive segment was worth Rs77 crore for the year ended June, with a 245% volume growth over the previous year, according to global information and media agency Nielsen Co.