Meta's restriction on targeted advertising for health-related topics

This article outlines two health advertising updates: the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board's (PAAB's) upcoming pilot launch of four new accelerated review options (AROs) and recent restrictions imposed by Meta on targeted advertising.


In July 2022, the PAAB will launch four AROs to its standard pre-clearance pathway, covering a range of urgency levels and budgets. As it will be a pilot launch, the AROs will initially only be for certain submission types.

With advertising/promotion systems (APSs) submitted through the standard pathway, PAAB provides the first response within 10 business days and responses for revisions within three days. APSs submitted through the new ARO pathways (except ARO-10) will receive the initial response faster (two, four or seven days for ARO-2, ARO-4 and ARO-7, respectively). ARO-10 submissions will receive the initial response within the same timeframe as the standard pathway (10 days) but will benefit from the other ARO advantages, including responses for revisions within two days.

The fee charged will vary depending on the pathway. For example, with most APSs (eg, excluding "minor updates"), the base fee for reviewing one APS in one language increases from C$390 for the standard pathway to C$1170 for the ARO-2 pathway (ie, initial review in two days instead of 10).

In addition to speed, another key benefit of ARO is being able to use the "messenger functionality" to obtain timely review decisions (within 24 hours) from PAAB on pivotal segments of the APS. This means feedback on key sections can be obtained without having to resubmit the entire revised copydeck/layout. This advantage should improve both efficiency and speed in achieving final PAAB approval.

PAAB will be assessing the pilot carefully and will adjust details, including submission eligibility, fees and message limits, accordingly.

See PAAB's Complementing the Standard Preclearance Pathway with Accelerated Review Options (AROs) - Planned Features Document (January 2022, updated from the November 2021 version) for full ARO details, as well as other PAAB updates, including the introduction of fees for modular submissions (eg, a module library) and iterative submissions (eg, where the APS contains variable fields or the email subject line varies depending on audience demographics).

Meta's restriction on targeted advertising for health-related topics

On 19 January 2022, Meta Platforms, Inc (Meta) implemented changes to make it more difficult for advertisers using any of its platforms (including Facebook and Instagram) to use targeted advertising for certain sensitive topics. Meta's detailed targeting options can no longer be used to reference causes, organisations or public figures relating to health, including health causes such as "Lung Cancer Awareness", "World Diabetes Day" and "Chemotherapy", thereby reducing the potential for its platforms to be abused.

Canada already has numerous regulatory laws that limit how health products and services can be advertised, including restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. In addition, Canada's privacy laws already prohibit online behavioural advertising for sensitive information such as personal health information, without express, opt-in consent (see Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's "Use of sensitive health information for targeting of Google ads raises privacy concerns" and "Tracking and ads"). Whether communicating for purposes of clinical trial recruitment, disease awareness or otherwise, the recent Meta development is another factor that advertisers in the life sciences and health industries must navigate.

For further information on this topic please contact Alice Tseng at Smart & Biggar by telephone (+1 416 593 5514) or email ([email protected]). The Smart & Biggar website can be accessed at