Advertising Practices for Nonprescription Medicines

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Since 1934, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) has administered voluntary guidelines established by its member companies. These guidelines help to serve as an assurance to the public that manufacturers of nonprescription medicines are mindful of their responsibility in promoting and protecting the public interest.

The advertising of nonprescription, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines helps acquaint the public with these products and must be truthful, not misleading, and must meet high standards reflecting the nature of the product advertised.

Guideline Provisions

  1. The package, label, and accompanying literature of a nonprescription medicine should comply with the pertinent provisions of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act; and advertising of a nonprescription medicine should comply with the pertinent provisions of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
  2. Advertising for nonprescription medicines should be truthful and non-deceptive.
  3. Advertisers of nonprescription medicines should have adequate substantiation for all product claims before an advertisement is disseminated.
  4. Advertising of a nonprescription medicine should urge consumers to read and follow label directions.
  5. A nonprescription medicine should not be advertised in a manner which is likely to lead to its use by young children without parental supervision. A nonprescription medicine should not be advertised on programs or in publications specifically directed toward young children.
  6. Advertising of a nonprescription medicine should contain no reference to doctors, nurses, pharmacists, or hospitals unless such representations can be substantiated by independent evidence.


Complaints under the CHPA voluntary guidelines may be resolved in various ways, including, informally by discussing the complaint with the member advertiser directly, utilizing an arbitrator mutually agreed upon by the parties, or by submission to the Council of Better Business Bureau’s (CBBB) National Advertising Division under its procedures.

Consumers with complaints may contact their local Better Business Bureau or the National Advertising Division with complaints. Any complaints received by the association will be logged and sent to the official representative of the CHPA member company in question.

The National Advertising Division reviews advertising challenges or complaints, using policies developed by the National Advertising Review Council (NARC) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. NARC is aware of CHPA’s voluntary guidelines on advertising practices. Overall, NARC sets policies to provide guidance and set standards of truth and accuracy for national advertisers, including through voluntary self-regulation.

Neither CHPA’s voluntary guidelines nor the NARC policies replace other governmental or non-governmental systems regulating advertising claims. For example, the major television networks have their own advertising preclearance standards and processes, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can and does take enforcement action against false or misleading advertising claims. Rather, CHPA’s guidelines seek to encourage voluntary cooperation with industry standards. Where advertisers participating in the NAD process do not comply with NAD’s guidance and recommendations, the offending claims can be referred to the FTC for formal investigation.