Election battlefront: Ad groups fear Edwards DTC assault

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The naming of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate has ad groups worried that direct-to-consumer prescription-drug ads will become a key issue on the campaign trail.

Mr. Edwards, a longstanding critic of DTC advertising, has sponsored legislation to limit prescription-drug ads and frequently raised the issue during appearances in his own run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr. Edwards' legislation would require marketers to "present a fair balance, comparable in depth and detail" in all their DTC ads-any showing of the drug's effectiveness must be balanced with information on a drug's "side effects and contraindication." Ad groups contend that such a requirement would effectively end much of the benefit of DTC ads and is unconstitutional.

"It's time to batten down the hatches," said Dick O'Brien, exec VP, American Association of Advertising Agencies. "The two most vocal opponents of DTC in the Senate are Sen. Ted Kennedy, the godfather of [Sen. John Kerry's presidential] campaign and Sen. Edwards. I don't know how you can possibly avoid an attack. There is not a question of whether there will be attacks. We have to prepare for frequent attacks on DTC through the campaign."

not a major issue

Jeff Perlman, exec VP, American Advertising Federation, agreed that it's likely DTC ads will become one of the issues addressed by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards. "There is no secret that Sen. Edwards has taken a very strong position that the ad community is very much opposed to. But my expectation is that while this issue may come up, it won't be a major issue in the campaign. It doesn't rise to the level of Iraq," he said.

Mr. Perlman also said that Mr. Kerry had not signed on to Mr. Edwards "extreme position" and with Mr. Kerry at the top of the ticket there isn't even assurance a Kerry administration would support Mr. Edwards' view. Four years ago, Vice President Al Gore mentioned the issue during his campaign for the presidency, but it wasn't a central issue in his campaign. Sen. Kerry has barely mentioned the issue, if he has discussed it all, during the campaign.

Mr. Edwards' office referred questions about DTC to the campaign's office, which did not respond by press time.

Sen. Edwards repeatedly lambasted DTC ads during his "two Americas" Democratic primary campaign and also in a campaign platform he published.

part of campaign

"We have two governments in Washington. ... We have one for the lobbyists, the powerful lobbies, the insiders. Then we have one for you," Mr. Edwards said during one typical appearance at the New Hampshire primary. The Medicare prescription drug debate, Mr. Edwards said, ended in sending "billions of dollars" of taxpayer money to HMOs.

"We could have given the government power to negotiate better prices. We could have allowed prescription drugs out of Canada.... You all see these ads on television? You know who pays for them? You pay every time you go to the pharmacy. Well here is the truth. Drug companies were against every single one of those things so every single one of them got stopped."

Upon returning to Washington, Sen. Edwards on May 19 introduced legislation to limit DTC ads. Mr. Edwards had offered similar legislation as an amendment last year to a Medicare bill in Congress.

"By tackling wasteful and misleading consumer advertising we will be able to lower drug costs for all Americans," Mr. Edwards said then. "Drug companies try to convince us that their high prices ensure innovation," Senator Edwards said. "The reality is they're spending millions on ads for drugs that are nearly identical to ones already on the market."

Mr. Edwards also has been critical of the Bush administration, accusing it of weakening Food and Drug Administration oversight of DTC ads.

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