Have you ever watched prescription drug commercials on television? It’s hard NOT to. They have proliferated like weeds after a spring rain. There’s Chantix to stop smoking, Vraylar for acute mania of bipolar 1 disorder, Entresto for heart failure, Ilumya for plaque psoriasis and Humira for rheumatoid arthritis. Have you ever noticed how much fun people have once they start taking the advertised medication? This reader says enough already!
Are Drug Commercials Misleading?
Q. Drug ads on TV aimed at consumers are misleading. I was diagnosed with highly aggressive rheumatoid arthritis (RA). My feet, ankles, knees and wrists are most affected.
The ads for meds to help RA sufferers show unhappy, miserable people unable to do ‘fun’ things. Then after they take the advertised med, suddenly happy people are running around doing all kinds of things with their hands and feet.
Take my word for it: true RA victims could not engage in these activities with such energy. I consider this false advertising. For my RA, I take methotrexate and a powerful intravenous biologic.
A. We agree that most prescription drug commercials emphasize the benefits and downplay the risks. The visual images of people having fun distract viewers from the list of often serious side effects such as fatal infections, lymphoma or heart failure.
The Humira TV Commercials:
Don’t believe us, take a look at this Humira commercial for rheumatoid arthritis.
In the opening scene we see a rooster crowing with the voice over telling you “this is your wakeup call.” The announcer then goes on to scare people with RA:
“the clock is ticking on irreversible joint damage. Ongoing pain and stiffness are signs of joint erosion. Humira can help stop the clock.”
Then you begin to hear about side effects. As the announcer mentions:
“Humira can lower your ability to fight infections. Serious and sometimes fatal infections including tuberculosis and cancers including lymphoma have happened as have blood, liver and nervous system problems. Serious allergic reactions and new or worsening heart failure.”
While the side effect information is being read you see people being active and smiling. They are doing yoga or playing with a soccer ball. The scene ends with women running on a beach as the sun is setting.
According to the drug industry watchdog, FiercePharma (Jan. 2, 2019):
“Drugmakers kept spending big—and, in fact, went even bigger, dropping more than $3.73 billion on national TV commercials last year, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker iSpot.tv. That’s an increase of almost $300 million over the 2017 tally.
“AbbVie anti-inflammatory Humira continued to lead the pack with $375 million spent on 18 commercials across the three conditions the company advertises against. That marked an increase of $34 million over 2017’s tally. By indication, Humira spent the most on arthritis TV ads ($212 million), followed by Crohn’s and colitis ($115 million) and psoriasis ($47 million), according to iSpot data.”
Distracting by Smiling:
Drug companies have perfected the art of distraction. Most drug commercials have a long list of scary side effects. The best way to divert attention from words like cancer, confusion, stroke, coma or death is to show people having fun and smiling.
Next time the announcer starts reciting side effects start counting smiles. Here’s our take on the smile distraction strategy:
What To Do About Drug Commercials?
We wish the FDA were stricter in its oversight of these ads. We have complained to no avail.
For example, there are drug commercials that encourage you to talk to your doctor about Chantix to stop smoking. We have suggested that people might be distracted from the side effect information by the visual images. The FDA apparently disagrees. What do you think?
Slow Turkey Chantix Drug Commercials:
There are a series of ads showing an animated turkey doing some un-turkey-like things. The catch phrase is:
“It’s tough to quit smoking cold turkey. So Chantix can help you quit slow turkey.”
See for yourself by clicking on these commercials and tell us you are not distracted by the strong visual images of the turkey doing its human-like activities.
If you are fed up with drug commercials on television, check out this article. We have shared what other people think about these ads. Time to fight back!
Share your thoughts about drug commercials in the comment section.
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