Association of National Advertisers labels proposals to ban DTC drug ads misguided

Renewed calls for a federal ban on prescription drug advertising to consumers needs to be squashed immediately, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) says.

“Careful attention must be paid to this issue, which has seen quite a lot of activity lately," ANA's Executive Vice President of government relations Dan Jaffee told American Pharmacy News recently. "Prescription drug advertising is already the most regulated category of advertising." 

For example, unlike any other sector of the advertising industry, consumers must go to an intermediary, such as  a doctor, who then decides whether to write a prescription, Jaffe said, pointing to what could be considered an internal control.

In fact, these direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical ads about prescription medicines provides scientifically accurate information to millions of patients, enabling them to be better informed about their health care and treatment options, according to the ANA.

The ads actually educate and inform patients, Jaffe said, and raise awareness for patients and doctors about medicines and treatments that may not have been previously considered.

“No one should believe consumers know everything about every medicine,” he said.

Additionally, the ANA asserts that one of the greatest health dangers in the United States is the under treatment of life threatening or debilitating diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, clinical depression or diabetes.

All of these diseases can be successfully treated with prescription drugs so early treatment can be a matter of life or death, or the avoidance of serious disability,  Jaffe said, adding that ANA contends consumers should have more information about their health, not less.

Yet opposition has been increasingly vocal, most recently from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who has proposed a plan to prevent pharmaceutical companies from deducting what they spend on DTC ads from their tax bills.

At the same time, the American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted a policy banning DTC ads, which it contends inflate patient demand for new and expensive drugs over cheaper treatments that also are effective, and contribute to increasing drug prices.

And a New York Times editorial in late November also called for turning down the volume on drug ads.

But Jaffe says all of this is just misguided and counterproductive, particularly since several previous court decisions have determined such DTC ads aren’t allowed to be banned because they’re a form of commercial speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

And per federal legislation passed in 1962, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot require prior approval of the content of drug ads before they are released on the market. The FDA does already have in place powerful tools to ensure these ads are truthful and non-deceptive, and may impose civil penalties for any ads that cross the line, according to the ANA.

“If any of these proposals gained traction in Congress, I would hope that they would be rejected," Jaffe said. "It’s also my guesstimate that if any serious proposal to ban these ads made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, it would be thrown out as unconstitutional."

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Organizations in this story

American Medical Association 330 N Wabash Ave Chicago, IL 60611

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 10903 New Hampshire Ave Silver Spring, MD 20903