FDA may remove drug ad distractions

A woman gets rest in a Lunesta commercial


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.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.


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