TGA tightens rules for influencers spruiking health benefits

By Melissa Coade

March 4, 2022

social media media influencer taking a photo of herself
Online influences may be subject to Australian TGA regulations. (ANR Production/Adobe)

Online influencers may be subject to Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulations if their posts promote any kind of health product.

Social media posts may constitute marketing under new TGA guidelines if they mention any product claiming to ‘remove toxins’, ‘relieve pain’ or ‘reduce inflammation’.

According to legal expert Professor Vicki Waye from the University of South Australia, the government is cracking down on influencers by banning online personalities who are paid or incentivised by companies to promote therapeutic goods. 

Products such as medicines or medical devices are classified as a therapeutic good, and come with consumer protections, if they have a health effect on the human body. 

“Influencers have become an important marketing tool because they are perceived by many to be genuine and credible sources of information about product quality,” Waye said.

“However, the incentives that influencers receive from the companies that supply the products or services they promote are rarely disclosed and influencers may have little basis or few credentials for some of the claims made. Consumers of the products can therefore be misled.”

The University of Adelaide’s Dr Ian Musgrave from the school of medicine sciences said that while influencers’ fashion or music views caused no societal harm, it was a very different matter altogether for issues of health. Treatments for skin creams and vitamins for example, which are common products to be promoted by influencers should be regulated if they were being advertised with some kind of ​​therapeutic claim.

“People can be encouraged to substitute effective medication for ineffective (or potentially harmful) treatments,” Musgrave said.

“The COVID pandemic has highlighted how ineffective or harmful treatments can be promoted on social media,” he added, noting there were serious ethical concerns to be balanced.

Under new TGA rules, from July 1, 2022, social media influencers will be banned from promoting health products if the influencer is being paid or incentivised, including receiving gifted products. It is a major source of income for many online personalities but experts are unanimous in their view that better regulation in this space is long overdue. 

While the government ban may seem harsh, Waye said it was simply a case of the public interest prevailing. 

“It is important to also remember that the ban only applies to therapeutic goods that are not excluded by the legislation or regulation. 

“In other words, the ban only relates to goods which implicate public health interests,” she said.

The TGA’s new guidelines define ‘advertising’ as a broad term and the rules will apply to any statement, pictorial representation or design that is intended, whether directly or indirectly, to promote the use or supply of a product.

“A social media post that promotes the use or supply of therapeutic goods is an advertisement,” the TGA guidance stipulates.

“Whether an advertisement for therapeutic goods appears on social media or in any other media, the advertisement must comply with TGA legislation.”


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