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Health experts hamstrung by new TGA guidelines

Dr Ross Walker
12 July 2022

The new TGA guidelines have just been released known as the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code 2022. These guidelines prohibit any health professionals from discussing the benefits of a particular product on a public forum such as radio or television. This is even if there is proven evidence for this product that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A health professional cannot claim in one of these public forums to have used the product personally or have given the product to someone in their care (i.e. a patient).

These therapeutic products include prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, vaccines, sunscreens, some skin care products, vitamins and minerals. The code also prohibits certain individuals and organizations from endorsing therapeutic goods or making testimonials about them.

I have been on radio and television for the past 25 years and over this time have been asked for my expert opinion on a variety of topics pertaining to medicine, medical conditions and medical therapies.

On many occasions, I have given opinions, not always in line with standard medical thinking but purely from careful analysis of the research papers, my own clinical experience of over 40 years of practising medicine and seeing what works and what doesn't work in clinical practice.

Over that time, I have discussed numerous products, the vast majority of which I have absolutely no financial link to the companies involved. When I do have some sort of involvement with the company, either through being part of the research for the product or having been paid by the company for giving lectures on the benefits of the product, I declare this during the segment.

As the presenter of a national health radio program on Sunday nights on the Nine network, these types of regulations are making me completely hamstrung around giving advice.

I’ll give a few examples of how these regulations will change the nature of advice I can give on my show.

It is my own personal opinion (not based on clinical trials but purely experience) from seeing multiple patients that:

1) Water-soluble statins, Rosuvastatin and Pravastatin, to lower cholesterol are safer than Atorvastatin (the biggest selling drug in the world) as well as Simvastatin. Based on advice from the Nine Radio legal team, I am still allowed to give my opinion as to what I believe to be the best statin but can only mention generic names, which I believe will lead to confusion for a non-medical person, as there are thousands of drugs available with a variety of trade names.

2) Having witnessed the side effects of mRNA vaccinations i.e. Pfizer and Moderna over the past 12 months but being a strong proponent of vaccination, I have been saying since the advent of the Covid vaccines that Astra Zeneca and Novavax are superior vaccines. This is not the opinion of the expert group ATAGI, but I don’t agree. But, based on advice, I am able to give my opinion on vaccination. I am asked on multiple occasions on my show which vaccine I recommend, not ATAGI’s opinion.

For both examples 1) and 2), I am probably allowed to do so because of a lack of financial association.

3) There is a product called Ubiquinol which is the generic name for the active version of CoEnzyme Q10 and there are many products on the market distributed by a number of companies under different names. I have been paid to give lectures on the variety of benefits of this generic product by the parent company, Kaneka, as I firmly believe in the benefits of this product and the importance of its use for a variety of cardiac conditions. The legal advice from this ridiculous ruling is that I can no longer mention Ubiquinol on my show even as a generic product. From this point on, I must refer to Ubiquinol as the active version of CoEnzyme Q10 if I am giving specific recommendations for its use.

4) There is a company that produces a product from Calabrian oranges. I have been involved in the research into the benefits of this product for the past 15 years and have published in conjunction with Italian researchers, about 20 papers in the peer-reviewed literature describing the variety of metabolic benefits of this product. All I can now say is that this product is based around a substance BPF99, but because of my research and financial association with the company can no longer recommend this publicly.

I believe there should be a backlash against this nonsense. As long as any expert in the field declares an association with a company, what is the problem? I should be able to encourage any listener to discuss and consider appropriate therapies with their treating doctor, as I have done for the last 25 years in the media, without having to make watered-down comments that will leave the public confused without specific advice or direction.

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, please contact your local federal member and demand change. Unfortunately, conservative bodies, such as the TGA & Health Departments are given advice from conservative experts who do not work in the media and often are removed from clinical practice.

Like many modern dictums and laws, this just doesn’t pass the pub test.

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