The Wall Street Journal took a look at the new FDA bill just out of Congress and noted the absence of a three-year moratorium on advertising new product that had been part of an earlier incarnation of the bill. WSJ points out that media companies helped pharma companies excise the ad ban. We are not shocked. The support for knocking that plank out of the bill was bipartisan, and part of the reasoning is that advertisements are one of the important ways that consumers learn not only about the drugs, but about the medical conditions they are designed to combat. Often the ads are the main reason a person knows to seek medical attention in the first place. WSJ says that 5.3B was spent on pharmaceutical advertising in 2006, up from 4.6B a year earlier, but it doesn’t break out where that money is going. Presumably most of it is on behalf of pharmaceuticals which have long since moved on past their third birthday. Of course, the media makes no bones about going to bat for a client. NAB’s Dennis Wharton said, "NAB applauds Congress for adopting legislation that does not sever an important information link for American consumers. Each year, thousands of Americans seek treatment for heart disease, high blood pressure and other diseases through education that comes in part from prescription drug advertising. There is simply no legitimate reason to deny American citizens this potentially life-saving information."
RBR/TVBR observation: Frankly, as private consumers and citizens, we would not dream of going to our doctor and requesting to be put on a prescription drug because of an advertisement. But we also believe that within reason, a legal product is a legal product and as such, discussing its fine qualities in an advertisement is a matter of freedom of speech. The overwhelming preponderance of opinion seems to hold that some products, such as cigarettes, are worth special treatment, but the bar for such treatment should be high. Part of the new bill empowers the FDA to go after false claims; let’s hope as consumers that they live up to this responsibility and grant most manufacturers the presumption of innocence tempered by meaningful and effective oversight.