U.S. SENATE DEFEATS ATTEMPT TO LIMIT DTC DRUG ADS

69 to 26 Vote Turns Back Proposed Medicare Amendment

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The U.S. Senate this morning defeated an attempt to limit direct-to-consumer drug advertising as part of a new Medicare prescription program.

The vote was 69 to 26 against the proposed amendment offered by U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and co-sponsored by by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

More than medical info
Holding up a print ad for the

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allergy drug Claritin of a woman running through a field, Sen. Edwards, a Democratic candidate for president, said DTC ads were providing more than just medical information to consumers.

"Does anyone think drug ads today is about educating consumers rather than marketing?" he said. "Are drug companies educating consumers by showing [a] picture of a woman running through a field? When this kind of ad is shown on television, it is clearly about selling and marketing."

After the vote, Sen. Edwards announced he would offer a more limited version of his amendment. A vote on that amendment could come later today.

Balanced ads
Sen. Edwards' proposal would have required DTC drug ads to include information on how each drug compared with others in effectiveness and also include equal weight for the drug's benefits and side effects.

Ad groups had said passage of the amendment would effectively kill broadcast DTC ads, which represent $2.3 billion in advertising annually, most of it broadcast. Ad groups today said they were pleased by the vote, but weren't entirely sure the threat of DTC curbs had ended.

"I don't think we are out of the woods completely, but it gives a signal," said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers.

Sen. Edwards, in making his case before the Senate, said drug companies have a deeper responsibility to use their ads wisely.

'Nothing wrong with marketing'
"There is nothing wrong with marketing and persuasion in most contexts. If you are selling paper towels or shaving cream, a company should go ahead and market as aggressively as they can. But prescription drugs are different. These are matters of life and death. Advertisements for these products should be held to a much higher standard. They should educate not just market."

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