AIDS Group Files Suit Against Pfizer Over Viagra Ads

Says Campaign for Drug Encourages Unsafe Sex

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After taking ads out in major newspapers and writing letters to no avail, the country's largest AIDS advocacy group is going to court against Pfizer's Viagra.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation has taken issue with print ads for Viagra that Pfizer has run in the last year
AIDS Healthcare Foundation has taken issue with print ads for Viagra that Pfizer has run in the last year

Strategically located press conference
AIDS Healthcare Foundation this morning announced a lawsuit over Pfizer's marketing tactics and advertising for the erectile-dysfunction drug at a press conference held at a hotel directly across the street from Pfizer's New York world headquarters -- and about three hours prior to the pharmaceutical maker's 2007 analyst meeting. The suit is being filed in Superior Court of the State of California, Los Angeles County, for "unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices."

At issue is AHF's contention that Pfizer's ads for Viagra, from McCann Erickson, New York, portray it as a drug for recreational use, which encourages unsafe sex and contributes to the spread of AIDS. The foundation has taken out ads in newspapers and written to Pfizer, asking that the ads be pulled.

AHF has pointed to print ads that Pfizer has run in the last year that specifically play off holidays and big events. Such print communications have used wording such as "What are you giving thanks for?" at Thanksgiving, and "What are you doing on New Year's Eve?"

The ads did include a reminder statement in which the company urged Viagra users to "remember to protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted diseases."

'Fueling the spread of STDs'
"Pfizer's direct-to-consumer marketing of Viagra as a drug to enhance sexual performance is primarily aimed at men who don't necessarily suffer from a clinical diagnosis of erectile dysfunction, and we believe it is not only irresponsible, but also illegal, especially in light of the drug's known use as part of a 'circuit party cocktail' of drugs that is fueling the spread of STDs and HIV," said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

"We are filing this lawsuit today to seek an injunction against Pfizer to force it to stop advertising this prescription medication in the reckless manner it has been doing, and to require Pfizer to undertake an immediate public information/education campaign to both inform members of the general public as to its prior advertising practices, and to educate the public, and in particular, men who have sex with men, about the increased risks of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases associated with using Pfizer's Viagra," Mr. Weinstein said.

World's largest pharma company
Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company, responded with a statement. "Pfizer does not promote Viagra for recreational use. We have always been committed to safe and appropriate use of Viagra for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, which is why we encourage men with ED to see their doctor for a proper diagnosis and to discuss symptoms, treatment options and safe sexual practices. It is clearly stated in the Viagra product label, all patient communications and advertising that Viagra does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Pfizer recognizes that the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is a significant public health issue."

Pfizer spent $65 million in measured media on Viagra through the first nine months of 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
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