Drug Ad Bill Meets Defeat in Senate

NEW YORK The latest bid by Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) to limit prescription drug ads was dealt a fatal blow when it was voted down 59 to 39 in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

The presidential contender has made direct-to-consumer ads for prescription drugs a focal point of his political campaign. It is expected that the Senator will continue his efforts on this front despite this latest defeat.

“We’ve won this round, but the fight is not over,” said Dick O’Brien evp and director of government affairs for the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

The proposal, a scaled-back version of a previous Edwards amendment to the current Medicare bill being debated in the Senate, would have required DTC ads to compare a drug’s effectiveness with other drugs for the same condition, if the data was available to do so. The first bill was struck down by a vote of 69 to 26 against it on June 25. Spending for direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads totaled $2.5 billion in 2002, per TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Dan Jaffe, evp of the Association of National Advertisers said, “Senator Edwards’ proposals would have amounted to a ban on pharmaceutical advertising. It would have been completely unmanageable to produce ads. It would have turned ads into medical education seminars.”

Indeed, part of the proposed amendment charged pharmaceutical companies advertising products with the task of equally dividing the verbal and visual components of the ads in explanations of their drugs uses and effectiveness. Advertisers would have had to allot equal time and space to a drug’s benefits and drawbacks both in writing or in a visual way. Calls to the Senator’s office for comment were not immediately returned.

For advertisers, it would therefore be extremely cumbersome for DTC ads to run in radio and print and severely raise the bar in broadcast television.

“If consumers wanted to be doctors, they would have gone to medical school,” said Jaffe.

The proposal would also have made DTC ads the only category where advertisers had to compare their product’s effectiveness with that of their competitors.