Prescription Drug Ads: Advertising Group Bucks Medical Association’s Stance

As the medical world digests a push by the American Medical Association to ban prescription drug advertising in the United States, the Association of National Advertisers has entered the fray, calling the move "wrong and misguided."

The American Medical Association’s (AMA) recent call to take on the lucrative world of drug advertising has proved to be controversial—and the advertising world is pushing back.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the country’s oldest advertising trade group, has spoken out against the decision, joining the pharmaceutical trade group PhRMA in opposing a ban on direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug ads.

In a recent blog post, ANA Executive Vice President of Government Relations Dan Jaffe emphasized that heavy regulation exists for the drug sector, with the Food and Drug Administration having a significant number of tools to prevent misleading ads. Furthermore, Jaffe said that preventing such ads could create free-speech concerns, citing Thompson v. Western States Medical Center, a Supreme Court case that involved the marketing of compounded drugs.

“Banning DTC advertising also raises very serious First Amendment concerns. In the Western States case in 2003, a case which involved pharmaceutical advertising, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, ‘If the First Amendment means anything, it means regulating speech must be a last—not a first—resort.’ Clearly the AMA proposal fails that test,” Jaffe said in his blog post.

He added that part of the reason the issue is coming to the forefront has much to do with the recent outcry over prescription drug prices, something that has become a political issue in the months since Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of a drug by more than 5,000 percent, only to partially walk it back after public backlash.

But a few bad apples, he said, should not limit what can be a valuable service to the public.

“We believe that consumers should have more information about their health, not less,” Jaffe concluded. “DTC advertising, under the FDA’s strict oversight, is providing extremely valuable information to millions of Americans about their health care. Banning these ads or denying the current tax deduction for them would be unwise and counterproductive.”

The issue, coming in the midst of the 2016 elections, could continue to gain steam in the months ahead—especially in the wake of the announced merger between Pfizer and Allergan, a deal estimated to be worth $160 billion. Pfizer is the country’s seventh-largest advertiser, and its deal with Allergan has proved controversial for another reason: The company is moving its headquarters to Dublin as part of the deal, a move that allows Pfizer to avoid paying significant taxes.

The United States is one of only two countries to allow DTC advertising of prescription drugs; the other is New Zealand.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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