Several members of Congress are introducing legislation that would curb the reach of direct-to-consumer advertising, or DTC. While reasons for the new legislation vary, it appears no stone will be left unturned during the ongoing debate over U.S. Health Care Reform.
Although direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals became legal in 1985 in the U.S., it began to rapidly expand in 1997 when the FDA eased regulations on the advertising of drugs. Since then, the industry has poured money into this form of promotion, spending nearly $5 billion just last year. The only other country that allows DTC drug ads is New Zealand.
DTC advertising informs patients potentially suffering from disease and raises their awareness of treatment options, according to Ken Johnson, senior vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), an industry trade group. But critics of the practice, which are many, have their doubts.
Rep. James Moran, (D-Va.) is sponsoring a House bill that would ban ads for prescription sexual aids such as Viagra and Cialis from prime-time television, on decency grounds. While Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wants to give regulators the authority to impose a two-year ban on consumer ads after the F.D.A. approves them and risks are not fully known. Meanwhile, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D-NY.), has introduced a bill called the Say No to Drug Ads Act which would amend federal tax code to bar drug companies from deducting the cost of these ads as a business expense.
Some legislators and consumer advocates cite past episodes that they say demonstrate the need for tighter regulation of drug advertising.
In 2008, Pfizer stopped running a commercial for its cholesterol drug Lipitor after critics charged the ad misrepresented the credentials of a doctor who endorsed the drug.
In February, attorneys general from 27 states ordered Bayer Pharmaceuticals to run a $20 million campaign to correct deceptive ads for Yaz, a popular birth control pill, according to the New York Times.
The proposed legislation comes at a time when this sector is spending less and faces greater scrutiny from the FDA, which already imposes stringent guidelines on what is allowed in the ads. Ad experts say the reason these ads will remain is threefold – they work, they are already regulated and they don’t add to health care costs.
While DTC ads for prescription drugs were down 18 percent to 4.3 billion last year, they were still the second biggest ad spender, only to auto ads, according to Nielsen.
Last year, the top 15 prescription products tallied $58 billion in sales, according to IMS Health. The industry’s two biggest sellers were Lipitor (Pfizer) with $7.8 billion in sales and Nexium (AstraZeneca) at $5.9 billion. #