Competition Council, alarm signal: clear regulations to eliminate confusion between medicines and food supplements

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By Andra Beltz
The Romanian pharmaceutical market is one of the most confusing, speculative, and deregulated, favoring corruption and fraud.
In this context, it is praised that the Competition Council conducted a study which clearly shows that at the consumer level there is confusion between over-the-counter (OTC) and food supplements, although the two product categories differ in terms of in view of the purpose for which they are used.
Consumers select OTC medicines and food supplements based on the benefits presented, previous personal use, advice from healthcare professionals (eg pharmacists). In terms of food supplements, however, buyers are also influenced by the experience shared by other consumers on the marketing sites of these products.
To this end, the competition authority considers it necessary to introduce regulations to eliminate these situations encountered in practice, in which food supplements are considered as medicines.
The competition authority recommends defining elements of visual differentiation (eg symbols or pictograms) specific to food supplements. Such a measure can help the general public to identify the type of product more easily and at the same time facilitate the consumer’s choice process.
The study by the competition authority showed that in Romania, sales of over-the-counter medicines and food supplements have increased significantly in recent years, which shows the interest of the Romanian consumer in preventing and treating common ailments (headaches, colds, coughs). , muscle aches, digestive disorders, etc.), as well as the increased interest in supplementing one’s diet according to one’s nutritional needs. However, taking food supplements in excess or in the absence of proper prior information can be harmful to your health.
Regulations on the production and marketing of OTC medicines and dietary supplements are more flexible and permissive compared to the legal provisions applicable to prescription medicines. The main differences are the freedom of the operators to set their marketing prices, the possibility of promoting the products to the general public, the channels through which these products can be marketed and the marketing procedures.
In Romania, over-the-counter medicines are retailed through pharmacies and drugstores, physically or online.
With regard to e-commerce with OTC medicines, the legislation is ambiguous and does not make it clear whether online marketing can be done through the online pharmacy/drugstore website or through brokerage platforms.
Therefore, in order to ensure a correct and uniform interpretation of the relevant regulatory framework, the Competition Council recommends the introduction of clarifications that will allow the online pharmacy/drugstore to know exactly the requirements they must meet in the online marketing of medicines both through their own website as well as through platforms.
Food supplements can be purchased by consumers from pharmacies and drugstores, but also from hypermarkets, supermarkets, health food / plafar stores, gas stations, online stores.
According to the information provided by the National Institute for Research and Development for Food Bioresources, the Romanian market is present approx. 650 operators (producers, importers, distributors) involved in the marketing of food supplements. At the same time, there are manufacturers who have placed more than 100 products on the market, which highlights the ability to diversify the offer, as well as the multitude of possible combinations within the product formulas.
The availability and widespread use of food supplements have made these products part of the daily diet of the population, generating a significant level of consumer exposure to this category of products.
The existence of ambiguous and incomplete legislation creates problems in the marketing and advertising of food supplements and leads to a non-uniform interpretation of the regulatory framework.
In this context, the Competition Council supports the proposal of the Institute of Food Bioresources regarding the implementation of a program to monitor the effects of food supplements. This measure can contribute to it
In this context, the Competition Council supports the proposal of the Institute of Food Bioresources for the implementation of a program to monitor the effects of food supplements. This measure can help increase the level of protection of public health.

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