Clients often ask us to review national marketing campaigns in relation to over-the-counter drug and natural health products (NHPs). In doing so, we must advise clients of the differences in marketing strategies they need to undertake in the province of Quebec as compared to other provinces.
Under their professional Code of ethics1, Quebec pharmacists are not allowed to engage in activities that promote the consumption of drugs. As such, pharmacists cannot promote contests, give rebates, discounts, gifts or redeem coupons on medication. The prohibition is clear with respect to drugs that one would normally associate with the term “medication” (i.e. scheduled drugs that can only be sold in pharmacies), but what about NHPs or unscheduled drugs like sunscreens and dandruff shampoos?
The term “medication” is defined broadly enough in the Pharmacy Act to include NHPs and unscheduled drugs. Accordingly, the prohibition on promotion would likely apply to these products. But that is not the end of the story.
In Quebec, pharmacy ownership restrictions also limit who may own and operate a pharmacy. These ownership and marketing restrictions explain the strategic approach of well known “pharmacy” chains to organize in part as retail store chains (franchisor and wholesaler only relationship) - so that not all product sales come under the Pharmacy Act.
For this reason, Quebec retail pharmacies are most often physically divided into two sections: (1) a professional section – which sells the scheduled products, and (2) a commercial section – where it can sell any other product, similar to a general retail store. It also explains the presence of glass doors all around the over-the-counter section - those are mandatory in Quebec, as technically, only the professional section is a pharmacy. It is also interesting to note that “pharmacy” chain flyers are also physically divided into professional and commercial sections (and are positioned as two different flyers).
So in the end, despite the general prohibition, it can be appropriate to promote NHPs and unscheduled drugs using contests, rebates or coupons in Quebec as long as these promotions are only located in the commercial section of advertising materials and redeemed in the commercial section of the pharmacy.
Prepared with assistance from Jean-Francois Graillon