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Beware of Tricks in TV Drug Ads

TV drug adsU.S. regulators are arguing that television ads for drugs and medical devices should avoid distracting images and music that can reduce viewers' comprehension of potential side effects. Advertisements also should use similar type styles and voice-overs when conveying benefits and risks, according to the FDA.

The guidelines follow complaints that manufacturers use various techniques in their widely seen television ads and other promotions to downplay risks while emphasizing potential benefits. Leaving out or minimizing side-effect information is the most frequent violation.

The draft guidelines advise manufacturers on how to present risk information. The guidelines are not mandatory.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
The United States is one of only two countries, the other being New Zealand, that allows drugs to be advertised on TV, and it’s not difficult to understand why so many other countries have given such ads the boot.

As with all commercials, the ads are intended to make you want to buy a product. Except in the case of prescription medications, the “product” is a potentially dangerous chemical with any number of side effects, which you may not even need.

Yet, the commercials portray a person in distress with some sort of illness ranging from depression to insomnia, and then show how much better their life becomes after taking a drug. In other cases, the drug companies will try to instill fear in you by talking about a certain disease, such as cervical cancer, and then offer their drug (a vaccine) as a solution.

Either way, the emphasis is always on the benefits while the risks are downplayed. Side effects in TV drug ads are often spoken quickly, in a different voice than the benefits were, and while there’s distracting imagery or music going on in the background.

Is this intentional? You bet.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recently released guidelines stress that TV ads for drugs should avoid distracting images and music that can reduce viewers’ comprehension of drug side effects, and use similar type styles and voice-overs when comparing benefits and risks.

The guidelines, though a step in the right direction, fall short of prompting real change as the ads will still be allowed to be aired … and the guidelines are completely voluntary. I think it is high time the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reevaluates their policy of allowing drugs to be advertised on TV at all.
Do Drug Commercials Influence Your Perspective?
You may be shaking your head no, but the numbers say otherwise.

According to a Harris Interactive poll for the Pharmaceutical Safety Institute, only 10 percent of respondents stated they were “very” confident that drug makers will eventually disseminate all information, whether positive or negative, that they have about the safety of their drugs.

Meanwhile, 29 percent answered they were “not at all” confident that such disclosures would ever take place.

These numbers would lead you to believe that consumers are now less likely to listen to drug ads, right? Not so, according to this poll. Some 51 percent still said that drug ads encourage them to ask questions when they go to their doctor, and a whopping 44 percent actually believe that drug ads make them more knowledgeable about treatments for their ailments.

Further, a 2006 survey by Consumer Reports’ National Survey Research Center found 78 percent of doctors said that patients asked them at least occasionally to prescribe drugs they had seen advertised on television. And another 67 percent said they sometimes did so!

One study even found that if you mention seeing an ad for a particular drug to your doctor, you are five times more likely to be given a prescription for that drug!

U.S. pharmaceutical companies spend about $5 billion on these types of consumer marketing campaigns, so you can bet they’re getting a hefty portion of this expense back in the form of increased profits.
Turning People Into Patients
Aside from their inherently misleading nature, direct-to-consumer drug ads like those on TV often plant a seed in your mind that you may be sick. Drug companies are masters at disease mongering -- inventing non-existent diseases and exaggerating minor ones, with the end result making you rush to your doctor to request their drug solutions.

These ads are now in your own living room -- on the TV, in magazines and on the Internet -- so it’s difficult to eliminate your exposure. What you can do, however, is keep a healthy air of skepticism about you whenever you do see a drug ad.

If you think you might need the drug, first seek out an unbiased source of information to see if you truly do. The internet can frequently be a helpful tool here. And also check for the real truth about side effects. In the majority of cases, you’ll likely find that you can resolve or prevent the condition not by taking a drug, but by following these 10 basic tenets of optimal health:
   1. Eat a healthy diet that’s right for your nutritional type (paying very careful attention to keeping your insulin levels down)
   2. Drink plenty of clean water
   3. Manage your stress
   4. Exercise
   5. Get plenty of appropriate sun exposure
   6. Limit toxin exposure
   7. Consume healthy fat
   8. Eat plenty of raw food
   9. Optimize insulin
  10. Get plenty of sleep

+ Sources and References