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As part of a Health Canada committee developing Plain Language Labelling regulations for non-prescription health products, Patients for Patient Safety Canada member Maryann Murray led a joint PFPSC and CPSI initiative to survey the public on the issue. Have people had problems with the labelling of non-prescription health products?

The survey results indicate that consumers are often confused when purchasing self-care products. This raises concerns of harm: are people choosing the wrong product because of this confusion? Our survey found that:

  • 29% of respondents said that they had wrongly purchased a natural health or homeopathic product, or over-the-counter drug;

  • Another 29.5% said that they were not sure if they had wrongly purchased one of these products.

The most cited reasons for the wrong purchase were:

  • Mixed it up with another product,

  • Information about the product on the label was too small to read, or

  • They were confused by, or did not understand, the information on the label.

Some examples of comments on the survey include:

  • "I looked for Gravol on the drugstore shelf and all of the types of Gravol were together. When I saw Gravol ginger I thought it was Gravol with an added boost of ginger. When I got home and read the ingredients, I realized that there was not active ingredient in it. I feel I am a very health literate person, but I did not know the difference."

  • "I did not realize the ingredients until I arrived home. Printing is so tiny on labels."

  • "I bought a product for a yeast infection thinking it was for a Urinary Tract Infection"

Maryann has been representing PFPSC at the Health Canada table to ensure that "just like food products, all labels should be written in plain language, list all ingredients, and be printed in legible size."

The results of this survey confirm that consumers want to know what's in the products they are taking. 

To protect Canadians from preventable harm, PFPSC and CPSI are calling for clear information and larger size lettering on the labels for non-prescription health products.