20091112 lunesta drug ad 18
A woman gets rest in a Lunesta commercial - 

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: The FDA has proposed a new rule to regulate how drug ads talk about risks and side effects. From our health desk at WHYY in Philadelphia, Gregory Warner has that.


Gregory Warner: Drug ads are different from other commercials, because drug ads by law have to warn you about health risks.

Drug Ad: Cholesterol.

Here's a recent TV ad for Vytorin, a cholesterol drug. The information about side effects falls between second 33 and 51 of the ad -- the low attention zone for viewers. And the pacing is about as fast as the announcer can talk without choking.

Drug Ad: Unexplained muscle pain or weakness could be a sign of a rare but serious side effect.

Finally, though radio listeners can't appreciate this, the visuals during this are very cheerful and colorful.

Sidney Wolfe: The visual is mainly visual benefits. And the audio is the risk.

Sidney Wolfe is with the advocacy group Public Citizen:

Wolfe: And lots of studies have shown that people remember more about the benefits than they do about the risk.

Last week, the FDA proposed a rule for drug ads on radio and television. Shelly Burgess is a spokeswoman for the FDA:

Shelly Burgess: This will not only result in an immediate and dramatic difference in advertising content, but it will require that advertising be clear, conspicuous and neutral.

Clear enough, she says, for a quote "reasonable consumer." So, simpler language, slower pacing, and no distracting visuals.

Dara Katcher Levy is a lawyer who helps drug companies comply with FDA rules:

Dara Katcher Levy: I think FDA needs to be more specific.

She says the law fails to define what a "reasonable consumer" is.

Katcher Levy: And so trying to understand what would be readily understandable by consumers generally, I don't think helps industry.

The public has 90 days to comment before the FDA issues the new law in June.

In Philadelphia, I'm Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

Follow Gregory Warner at @radiogrego