The pharmaceutical industry again finds itself feeling heat from Vice President Al Gore for its direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Vice President Gore at last night's presidential debate signaled again that, if elected, he may support initiatives to curtail DTC advertising of Rx drugs. Responding to a question about the rising costs of Rx products, he cited increased ad spending as a reason. Pharmaceutical companies "are now spending more money on advertising and promotion--you see all these ads--than they are on research and development,'' he said.
Vice President Gore has made similar statements on the campaign trail, even mentioning Schering-Plough Corp.'s Claritin as an example of perhaps an overly advertised product. But so far the vice president hasn't put forth any specific proposals for curbing DTC advertising, said several people familiar with the matter. Calls to the Gore campaign were not immediately returned.
Some ad industry officials expect Vice President Gore to be sympathetic to congressional initiatives to limit DTC and other drug promotions as part of broader efforts to lower Rx drug costs. That possibility might increase if Vice President Gore becomes president and Democrats gain control of either or both houses of Congress. Last summer, U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D., Calif.) proposed legislation to halt a tax deduction for any pharmaceutical ad that fails to spend half its space or time on possible risks and side effects and the Democrat said DTC's growth was boosting drug costs.
Responding to the vice president, Adonis Hoffman, senior VP-general counsel at the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said on Oct. 18: "There are a number of factors that contribute to the increased cost of prescription drugs, not the least of which is the cost of research and development. Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs provides valuable information to consumer or potential consumers on treatments risks and side effects.''
A spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America said DTC is "important for patients'' and "empowers'' them. She also disputed Vice President Gore's statements on the promotional spending front, providing figures that show drug companies spent $24 billion in 1999 on research and development and $13.9 billion on promotional efforts, more than half of which was spent on free samples. She said it was "far too hypothetical'' to speculate on what a Gore administration might do to legislate DTC.
Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.