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Commentary

Drug Ads: Kill the Messenger
Sally C. Pipes, New York Post, 12-19-06

Pipes takes issue with Congressional proposals that aim to limit or outlaw advertising for new drugs.

AMERICA spends too much on cars—especially expensive cars that we just don't need. When it comes to getting to work or school, a Toyota Camry—or even a bicycle—is just as effective as a Lexus ES, a BMW, or a Jaguar. There are already too many choices—yet automakers keep coming up with more. What should we do?

The solution: Ban car ads. It's those slick TV commercials and magazine advertisements that make us buy cars, when sneakers, a bike or even a rickshaw would get us around almost as well—right?

Not sold on the idea? You shouldn't be. We buy cars because we want to get to and from our jobs, our schools and our favorite stores and restaurants quickly, safely, and (for some) in style—not because a commercial makes us buy something we don't need.

Ads just give us choices.

Yet when Congress reconvenes next month, Sen. Herb Kohl (D–WI) is expected to file legislation to ban or severely limit ads for prescription drugs. In fact, Kohl—who's set to chair the Senate committee that oversees the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) budget—has gotten the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to produce a report on direct–to–consumer marketing of medicine.

The report, released last week, predictably argues that the FDA lacks sufficient power to curb drug advertising.

Kohl and his allies have long argued that these ads lead to higher prices and cajole us into taking treatments we don't need—thus reaping massive profits for drug companies.

The idea is that consumers simply can't be trusted to confer with their doctors to make informed decisions about their own health care. The big, bad drug companies' slick advertisements and celebrity spokespeople are turning us into a nation of pill–popping hypochondriacs.

It's true, those spokesmen can be very convincing indeed. Bob Dole, for instance, convinced nearly 40 million Americans to vote for him in 1996. But I doubt that even he, persuasive fellow that he is, could hoodwink men to fess up to phantom diagnoses of erectile dysfunction. What's he's done is inform people that help is available.

And America's biggest–selling drugs treat illnesses a lot worse than impotence. Forbes has a list of the 20 top–selling prescription drugs in America: The top five treat such "trivial" maladies as high cholesterol, heart disease and asthma. Others help with anemia, schizophrenia, depression and rheumatoid arthritis.

These are the kinds of drugs that companies want to tell us about. These are also the drugs that Kohl and his allies want to keep us from hearing about.



Project FDA.
  
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