DTC ads become issue in race for Democratic nomination

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A potentially high-stakes threat to a giant ad category has moved front and center in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination now that candidate Howard Dean has called for an outright ban on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising.

Democrats in Congress, eager to address public complaints about the high cost of prescription drugs, have previously pressed, unsuccessfully, for legislation to curb or outlaw DTC ad spending. But until now none of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination had formally embraced an outright ad ban. Two other candidates, Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., have also been critical of DTC advertising.

In a town hall speech in Iowa Oct. 14, Mr. Dean, a physician and former Vermont governor, included the attack on DTC drug ads as part of a six-point plan to reduce prescription-drug costs. In a campaign statement about the drug plan, Mr. Dean said DTC drug advertising "occasionally ... has a legitimate purpose of informing consumers about a new product that can benefit them. More commonly, it simply increases the demand for these products, dramatically increasing the nation's prescription drug bill. I support a ban on direct advertising of prescription drugs to consumers except for situations where there is a compelling public health justification for the advertising,"

Ad industry groups in Washington, which have defended the value of DTC ads to the public in the past, immediately challenged the Dean campaign.

"The proposal of Gov. Dean to attempt to ban most prescription drug advertising is a prescription for disaster for the American public and the American health system," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers. "There is compelling evidence that this advertising often provides consumers extremely valuable information that can save lives, often avoids serious health problems and in so doing often lowers health costs."

constitutional issues

Adonis Hoffman, senior VP-general counsel for the American Association of Advertising Agencies, also questioned the constitutionality of a ban. "It would raise serious constitutional issues," he said. "I understand Gov. Dean's concerns, but all credible studies-including those from the Food and Drug Administration, Prevention magazine and the National Medical Association, which represents black doctors who serve minority patients-all have concluded there are considerable health benefits from the advertising."

The Dean campaign did not return calls for comment.

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