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Drug companies
agree to new advertising guidelines

Drug companies
agree to new advertising guidelines

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America on Tuesday released a final version of its voluntary guidelines for advertising of consumer drugs, including restricting advertisements for erectile dysfunction drugs to television time slots and print publications that have an estimated 80% adult audience. Eli Lilly, which sells the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, says it will limit ads for Cialis to TV programs not likely to attract children and will not air them during major sporting events. Pfizer, which sells Viagra, says it will take similar steps to ensure its ads reach an adult audience.

Some studies have shown that gay men are more likely to try, regularly use, or abuse erectile dysfunction drugs than heterosexual men. Young gay men have been shown to be significantly more likely to experiment with the drugs, often believing they will enhance sexual performance. Erectile dysfunction drugs like Cialis, Viagra, and Levitra also are frequently taken by users of club drugs like ecstasy or crystal methamphetamine to allow the users to engage in sex--often unprotected sex with multiple partners, putting them at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The new drug advertisement guidelines seek to eliminate misleading advertising that can lead to unnecessary prescriptions, according to PhRMA. A total of 23 pharmaceutical companies have agreed to follow the new guidelines.

In addition to restricting erectile dysfunction drug ads, the new guidelines also call for drug companies to educate doctors about their products before advertising them to the public; allow the Food and Drug Administration to screen all television ads; include clear language on safety risks and side effects; make claims in ads about drug benefits only when they are supported by clear medical evidence; and regularly update ad campaigns with newly emerging information on drug risks and benefits.

The guidelines officially take effect on January 1, but most of the 23 drug companies agreeing to follow the recommendations plan to begin adhering to them immediately, according to PhRMA officials.

Critics of pharmaceutical ads say the new guidelines do not go far enough in limiting direct-to-consumer marketing by major drug companies. Senators Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Senate majority leader, and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, say they had hoped the guidelines would call for drug companies to wait at least two years before advertising new products to consumers. Grassley also told TheBoston Globe that the guidelines "do not deliver a single guarantee for consumers. It doesn't make sense to rely on drug companies to police themselves."

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