Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturers of Androgel testosterone gel, have successfully bypassed Canada’s prohibition against direct-to-consumer advertising for pharmaceutical drugs with the promotion of a new “Low T” campaign. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising is banned in most countries around the world with the United States being the notable exception.
Health Canada has alowed the Low T campaign to proceed because they consider it a “health-seeking message” and not an advertisement (for Androgel). “It is the Department’s view that this particular campaign is not promotional in nature,” according to Robert Liteplo of Health Canada’s Therapeutic Effectiveness & Policy Bureau. “Therefore, the legislative and regulatory advertising provisions do not apply in the dissemination of this campaign.”
The “Low T” campaign is similar to the Abbott campaign that bombarded consumers in the United States during previous year(s). During the height of the steroid hysteria in baseball, Abbott purchased commercial time to promote the “Low T” campaign. Ironically, the most popular treatment for “low T” or low testosterone levels is Abbott’s own pharmaceutical anabolic steroid product – Androgel.
A print campaign “Has He Lost That Loving Feeling?” has encouraged Canadian men to have their testosterone levels checked if they have experienced any of a variety of specific or non-specific symptoms. The Canadian “Low T” website does not mention Androgel or Abbott by name. Consumers are told that the campaign has been brought to them “by one of Canada’s leading health care companies.”
Some medical researchers are not only critical of the Abbott’s bypassing of direct-to-consumer laws but critical of testosterone replacement therapy for older men in general.
Barbara Mintzes, an epidemiologist at the University of British Columbia, believes that declining testosterone levels in older men is a natural part of aging that should be accepted and not pathologized. Mintzes believes only true hypogonadism should be treated and normal aging and the declining testosterone levels associated with it should not.
Mintzes seems to represent a minority viewpoint. Most individuals are unwilling to accept normal aging and declining testosterone levels and their physicians are increasingly agreeing with them. Of course, Abbott Laboratories won’t stand in the way of off-label prescriptions of Androgel.
CMAJ. (October 3, 2011). Brouhaha erupts over testosterone-testing advertising campaign. Retrieved from http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2011/10/03/cmaj.109-4000.full.pdf