Editorial: FDA actions benefit DTC

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Direct-to-consumer drug advertisers should support active Food and Drug Administration regulation of their ads-even when it sometimes hurts, as in the FDA case against Pravachol ads this month. Credible ad regulation is a necessary cost of business if the DTC drug category, a key part of the ad economy, is to continue to prosper and hold its own against those who question its value and criticize its alleged role in high drug prices.

In return, DTC advertisers should expect an FDA that:

* Fosters honest competition by assuring advertisers they won't be victimized in the marketplace by rivals that traffic, with impunity, in inaccuracies and deceptions.

* Builds public confidence in advertising, and thereby increases the effectiveness of advertising investments, by acting in visible ways to ensure the accuracy of the information consumers get in ads.

* Avoids being harmfully adversarial in its dealings with advertisers, and assures a frequent and clear flow of information from the FDA to advertisers about its views on ad practices and where the line falls between the acceptable and unacceptable.

* Recognizes, and respects, advertising's role as advocate for the product, and is a partner with marketers in devising rules that make communications effectiveness a mutual goal of advertiser and regulator. That means realizing that ads cannot convey every line of useful information about a prescription product.

There are powerful tools in FDA's hands, including the ability to require advertisers to correct past misinformation in future paid ads. That could cost Pravachol marketer Bristol-Myers Squibb millions of dollars. No advertiser should face that kind of penalty if better communications between company and regulator can head it off. It's harder to put a price on public confidence in the truthfulness and accuracy of DTC ads. But the loss of it would be very, very costly to bear.

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