Proposed laws to outlaw the promotion of so-called miracle cures and the spread of misinformation around treatments for cancer will be endorsed by the Government this week.
A private members’ bill by Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell proposes penalties of up to €1m for offenders who advertise fake or unregulated treatments for cancer.
Ms O’Connell will continue debating her bill in the Dáil and the Government is set to take it up as its own legislation on Thursday, in a bid to stop people with illnesses being targeted online and in publications.
She told the Irish Examiner: “There’s a gap in the regulation here, unlike other countries. We have a situation where anybody can pitch an advertisement for treatment, with no proven ethics, at whatever price they want.
“It is like the fake news around vaccines. Facebook is filtering stuff to people. Someone who has cancer or a bad diagnosis, online recognises that and people are then contaminated with false information.
“Oncologists have flagged this. There is a lot of money [being made] and the targetting of desperate people.
“We hope this bill will be a deterrent, rather than a stick, to stop people advertising fake treatments.”
Ms O’Connell and the Government are conscious that the proposed advertising changes must not hinder genuine third-level research or clinical trials, for which the bill will make provisions.
Under proposed changes, complaints about misleading cancer treatment advertisements would be taken up by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, which would pursue those who placed the information and any group promoting it, including online, on social media, or in print.
Exemptions will apply if publishers are not aware they are promoting the banned advertising.
“They would notify the person paying for the ad and the platform too,” explained Ms O’Connell.
The Treatment of Cancer (Advertisements) Bill 2018 will also be used to prevent the promotion of extreme diets for people with cancer, Ms O’Connell said.
“This is another area of concern, alternative diets, and it can genuinely affect someone’s medical treatment,” she added.
The Dublin Bay South TD said she expected the Government to adopt the bill as its own.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar supported Ms O’Connell’s proposals when the matter first came before the Dáil in December.
“I share the real concern about the exploitation of many people who are sick with cancer by those offering cures and treatments which do not work, along with various other false health claims. They do so for profit and abuse immensely vulnerable people.”
Under the proposals, courts could also determine if a cancer patient impacted on by the fake cure advertisement should be paid restoration.