You may not have seen these drug commercials on TV if you haven’t been to the U.S. But we’re sure a lot of them are posted on Youtube.
It usually runs like this. The first scene is an elderly gentleman with his equally mature-looking wife sitting on the grass with the shining sun overhead. Then a voiceover announces the name of the drug and some spiel about what it cures. Then comes the regulated reading of a host of side effects of the drug, mostly negative, for a few seconds – hardly long enough to digest what the voiceover is saying.
At commercial’s end, you are left with a positive impression of the drug despite a number of side effects which may or may not disturb or make you anxious about the drug you’re considering to purchase.
That is the usual way a drug ad is presented on TV. Even though drug companies might be required to tell you the drug’s side effects, they have invested a lot to make the side effects sound not so scary or detrimental to your health.
But now with the proposed new U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, you probably might not see that list of side effects nor hear a warning. The FDA has proposed to scrap the warning summaries in ads amid concerns that TV viewers don’t listen to them.
In fact, scrapping the list of side effects in a TV ad makes it so obvious that the FDA is favoring the initiatives of Big Pharma to do away with informing the public about negative side effects.
The FDA has then proposed to conduct a study to research consumer attention to side effects. This consists of assessing eye movements of ad watchers during the airing of drug commercial warning summaries. The FDA is concerned that critical information might be lost in the shuffle, causing people to overlook very vital, serious warnings.
With this proposal, the FDA could eventually totally scrap the list of side effects as they drum up other ways to safely “market medications”.
Adriane Fugh-Berman, a director of PharmedOut, a project run by the Georgetown Medical Center, identifies the problem as two-fold: a) the distracting images that cloud the real information behind the drug ad – and may just cost you your life if not heeded well, and b) the fact that drug companies (most of them U.S-based) can choose a limited list of side effects they can include in their ads.
Yet, Fugh-Berman is aware of what drug companies do to temper the impact of their drug’s negative side effects by emphasizing on the “least dangerous effect of the drug” or “listing the side effects as a voiceover announcement during the TV ad”.
The U.S. is only one out of two countries that allow drug companies to place direct-to-consumer TV ads, so far enabling Big Pharma to make the required side effects warning less scary or intimidating. The FDA also does not approve ads before they are aired, although they say they can stop ads that violate the law after their release.
Big Pharma companies are spending 62% more on direct-to-consumer advertisements since 2012. The majority of that pharmaceutical ad budget, namely US$6 billion, was spent on TV commercials.
Another study by Kantar discovered that 72% of commercial breaks for CBS Nightly News included at least one pharma ad.
So, what do we as consumers do now?
Do you have any concerns about Big Pharma advertising? Do you believe the U.S. FDA should be allowed to remove a drug’s list of side effects in a TV ad? Let your opinion count by posting in the comments section below.