Illegal marketing of natural and non-prescription health products

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Natural and non-prescription health products

Natural health products (NHPs) are:

  • substances or combinations of substances used to restore or maintain good health
  • often made from plants, but can also be made from:
    • animals
    • marine sources
    • micro-organisms

They come in a wide variety of forms and include:

  • probiotics
  • herbal remedies
  • traditional medicine
  • homeopathic medicine
  • vitamins and minerals
  • other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids

Non-prescription drugs consist of pharmaceutical products that do not need a prescription in order to be sold to a patient or a caregiver.

You can search the list of authorized natural health products.

Requirements to advertise natural and non-prescription health products in Canada

Natural and non-prescription drugs are regulated in Canada under the:

  • Food and Drugs Act
  • Natural Health Products Regulations

The Terms of Market Authorization (TMA) set out the intended use(s) as authorized by Health Canada. The TMA is known as a:

  • product licence for natural health products
  • product monograph or product label for non-prescription health products

Promotional claims must be consistent with either the:

  • product label
  • product monograph
  • scope of the product licence

For promotional claims that are non-compliant, Health Canada uses a cooperative approach, which involves informing the party of their non-compliance, usually by issuing a compliance letter. This letter may request corrective action or discontinuation of the advertisement. In most cases, compliance is achieved. For those incidents where compliance is not achieved, Health Canada will take additional compliance and enforcement measures if necessary.

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What to watch for in natural and non-prescription health product advertising

Since all health products, including those derived from nature, carry some degree of risk, it is unacceptable to suggest that a product:

  • is “safe”
  • is “side effect free”
  • has “no known side effects”

It is also unacceptable to suggest that a product that is “natural” or “naturally sourced” is safer than a synthetic, man-made pharmaceutical.

How health care providers can help stop illegal marketing

We need your help to stop the illegal marketing of natural and non-prescription health products.

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