Medicines Information and the Regulation of the Promotion of Pharmaceuticals

Sci Eng Ethics. 2019 Aug;25(4):1167-1192. doi: 10.1007/s11948-018-0041-5. Epub 2018 May 2.


Many factors contribute to the inappropriate use of medicines, including not only a lack of information but also inaccurate and misleading promotional information. This review examines how the promotion of pharmaceuticals directly affects the prescribing and use of medicines. We define promotion broadly as all actions taken directly by pharmaceutical companies with the aim of enhancing product sales. We look in greater detail at promotion techniques aimed at prescribers, such as sales representatives, pharmaceutical advertisements in medical journals and use of key opinion leaders, along with the quality of information provided and the effects thereof. We also discuss promotion to the public, through direct-to-consumer advertising, and its effects. Finally, we consider initiatives to regulate promotion that come from industry, government and nongovernmental organizations.

Keywords: Direct-to-consumer advertising; Pharmaceutical industry; Physicians; Prescribing; Promotion; Regulation; World Health Organization.

MeSH terms

  • Codes of Ethics
  • Commerce / ethics*
  • Deception
  • Developed Countries
  • Direct-to-Consumer Advertising / ethics
  • Drug Industry / economics*
  • Drug Industry / ethics*
  • Drug Industry / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Government Regulation
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Marketing / ethics*
  • Physicians / economics*
  • Physicians / ethics*
  • Prescription Drugs / economics*
  • World Health Organization


  • Prescription Drugs