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Drug Companies Discover Clever Loophole to Avoid Listing Side Effects in Direct-to-Consumer Advertising

Thursday, February 05, 2009 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: drug advertising, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Pharmaceutical companies have discovered a way to circumvent federal rules that require the listing of side effects in any direct-to-consumer ads: running ads that never mention specific drugs by name but merely direct consumers to a Web site that promotes the company's products.

"With unbranded ads, you don't have the 'fair balance' requirement," said Rich Gagnon of the DraftFCB ad agency, which represents several drug companies. "Imagine paying millions to run that ad campaign, and having to use up 30 seconds to list all the problems."

A recent one-minute ad for Eli Lilly's osteoporosis drug Evista spent 25 seconds listing potential side effects, including blood clots and "dying from stroke."

One of the most notable recent "unbranded" ads is Pfizer's My Time to Quit ad, aired during the Beijing Olympics. The ad features a middle-aged woman discussing her smoking problem, discusses options available for those who wish to quit, then encourages viewers to visit mytimetoquit.com. The Web site includes a link to the site for Pfizer's anti-smoking drug Chantix, which lists the drug's side effects.

The My Time to Quit ad was originally aired as part of the company's campaign to familiarize users with the drug after its 2006 introduction, and was then retired. But after a number of studies linked the drug to drowsiness, traffic accidents and suicide, the company reintroduced the older ad.

Another successful unbranded ad has been one by Sanofi-Aventis, maker of the insomnia drug Ambien. A 15-second ad directs viewers to silenceyourrooster.com, which contains information about Ambien. During the ad's first week on the air, it generated 400,000 hits to the Web site.

Direct-to-consumer drug ads have recently been the subject of congressional investigations, leading Bob Ehrlich of the direct-to-consumer organization DTC Perspectives to speculate that the new ads could ultimately draw the same negative attention.

"There's a risk they could rouse congressional ire over cute commercials that don't emphasize medicine," Ehrlich said.

Sources for this story include: blogs.wsj.com; www.commercialalert.org.

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