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Originally published June 21 2008

U.S. Congress Investigating Use of Celebrity Doctors in Lipitor Ads: May be "Misleading"

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has launched a probe into whether television advertisements for cholesterol drug Lipitor are misleading and whether the use of celebrity endorsers is inappropriate.

"Americans with heart disease should make medical decisions based on consultations with their doctors, not on paid advertisements during a commercial break," said Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan.

At issue is an ad in which Robert Jarvik, identified as the "doctor" who invented the artificial heart, talks about the benefits of the drug Lipitor. But upon the revelation that Jarvik has no license to practice medicine or write prescriptions in his home state of New York, Congress launched an inquiry into the ad. The probe is also expected to examine the use of celebrities in other drug ads.

Other such ads include football player Joe Montana's endorsement of blood pressure drug Lotrel and Sally Fields' endorsement of Boniva, an osteoporosis drug.

"We are concerned that consumers might be misled by Pfizer's television ads for Lipitor, starring Dr. Jarvik," said Representative John D. Dingell, also of Michigan. "In the ads, Dr. Jarvik appears to be giving medical advice, but apparently, he has never obtained a license to practice or prescribe medicine."

The subcommittee has sent a letter to Pfizer asking for all records relating to the Lipitor ad campaign, including any agreements with Jarvik, data to back up his claims and information on his professional qualifications.

According to Sidney Wolf, the head of health research at the nonprofit Public Citizen, celebrity drug endorsements are almost certainly misleading

"What is the evidence that [the celebrities] actually tried other medicines for treating the same problem at appropriate doses?" Wolf said. "My guess is no."

According to Wolf, "the average viewer ... would be able to get another drug that is equally effective, and equally safe, at a much lower price."

A 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office found that for every dollar spent on direct-to-consumer advertising, pharmaceutical companies generated $2.20 in drug sales.

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