The Pharmacy Council recently ran a consultation about a new proposed Code of Ethics, after they tried to weaken their code a couple of years ago to remove the requirement that pharmacists could only sell alternative medicines where there was evidence that they work.

The new proposed code uses more broad strokes than the old code, and unfortunately this is likely to give pharmacists more license to sell products that don't work. Organisations such as the NZ Skeptics, the Society for Science Based Healthcare and the NZ Medical Association spoke up in their submissions about how they considered the new code to be too weak. The Medical Association said "It is our view that CAMs, currently unregulated in New Zealand, are the antithesis of evidence-based medicine"

On Stuff, Rob Stock has just published a great article talking about how "pharmacy shelves are filled with stuff no self-respecting clinician would endorse". He goes on to explain how misleading advertising is often used to give the false impression that herbal remedies, for example, work.

This is often done using what I like to call "weasel words" such as "promotes" and "supports". Unfortunately the Association of New Zealand Advertisers has decided that these words are okay to use, and that when used alongside medical claims they essentially mean nothing:

The guidelines list the types of phrases that they consider to be acceptable to use, because they are "fluffy" enough that they aren't making medical claims, e.g.:

  • Aids the digestive process
  • Naturally good for your digestive tract
  • Supports normal digestion

I'm convinced that if you ask the average person on the street if they think that those phrases mean that a product would help their digestion, most would say that yes, they obviously help in some way. I'd love to see the ANZA poll people to actually find out what people think when they hear these phrases, and I think they might be surprised by the results.

In Rob's article, he goes on to distill a recent book on longevity into a single sentence of advice:

"Eat some chocolate, keep your diet sensible and low on processed food, sleep well, exercise, spend time out of doors, don't smoke, stay off drugs, maintain a sensible weight, seek out love, and be moderate with the booze."