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January 10, 2008

Does This Mean That LaDainian Tomlinson Isn’t Qualified To Plug HD TVs?

by UCrawford

The people who’ve taken a legislative axe to archaic concepts like free speech and made it almost impossible to find a cold medication that works now have a new cause celebre…cracking down on celebrity endorsements for consumer products.

The ads in question this time are for the top-selling Pfizer product, Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug that from all accounts I’ve been able to find works effectively.  The target for Congress’ ire is the pitchman that Pfizer selected to plug their product, Dr. Robert Jarvik (best known for inventing the artificial heart).  What is the hangup about Dr. Jarvik’s presence in the ad?  Apparently, even though he possesses a doctorate in medicine from the University of Utah, he’s not licensed to practice medicine (since he didn’t do a residency or internship) therefore Congressman John Dingell (chairman of Energy & Commerce) doesn’t consider him qualified to dispense medical advice or give recommendations about what drugs people should consider for health problems.

Leaving aside the obvious question of why an individal who’s apparently qualified enough to complete medical school and design a mechanical heart worth sticking in a person’s chest isn’t a more acceptable candidate to plug a medical product than some creepily cheery middle-aged actors (who likely never set foot in medical school) pretending to have trouble taking a whiz or raising their flag to full-staff when it’s time for a bit of the old in and out…what business is it of Congress who private industry uses to sell their products so long as the products 1) aren’t unreasonably harmful to the consumers, 2) do pretty much what the ads say they do, and 3) use ads that clearly recommend consultation with an expert before purchasing or using said product? 

Does Congress honestly believe that the overwhelming majority of people are stupid enough to base their lives around what celebrities tell them to do?  Or is this yet another cynical example of a proponent of socialized medicine using a backdoor tactic to undermine the private drug industry under the claim that they’re just “looking out for the consumer”?  Probably a little of both, in my own opinion, but consumers, U.S. healthcare and private industry in general would certainly be better served if our elected officials refrained from dictating to businessmen how they should run their ad campaigns for their products and stopped assuming that people are incapable of making informed decisions about what chemicals to put in their bodies or what products to spend their money on without a “qualified” pitchman telling them.

H/T:  Slate

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12 Comments

  1. The entire effort to ban drug companies from advertising to the public strikes me as elitist on two levels.

    First, there’s the Nanny State elitism of the politicians who don’t believe that Americans are capable of learning about issues that impact their health on their own.

    Second, there’s the protected-guild elitism of doctors who believe that only they are qualified to pass medical information along to the general public.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — January 10, 2008 @ 1:43 pm
  2. Doug,

    “Second, there’s the protected-guild elitism of doctors who believe that only they are qualified to pass medical information along to the general public.”

    I don’t think that’s really the concern with Dingell…judging from his issues page he comes off more as one of those pro-socialized medicine types who thinks it’s a mortal sin for doctors or drug companies to make any profit off their work. Despite his lack of a residency, Jarvik is actually a doctor and I didn’t see anything about other doctors condemning the ads so I think it has more to do with the Nanny Statism than anything else (although sometimes economic protectionism or special privilege does play a role in these sort of things).

    Comment by UCrawford — January 10, 2008 @ 1:53 pm
  3. Crawford,

    For Dingell it’s pure Nanny Statism, for the doctors who support it (and the AMA has lobbied against these ads for awhile now), it’s pure elitism from a protected guild.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — January 10, 2008 @ 1:55 pm
  4. Doug,

    I didn’t see articles about that when I was searching but I’ll take your word for it. I agree that it’s a bad deal and I’m not really surprised. For most government regulation of this sort there usually appears to be a corruption/protectionism/privilege angle in there somewhere. Like with the methamphetamine act that made it impossible to find cold medications with pseudoephedrine…that was very likely done in part to give preference to domestic producers of phenylephrine (the ineffective replacement that drugmakers now use instead of pseudoephedrine).

    Comment by UCrawford — January 10, 2008 @ 2:04 pm
  5. Crawford,

    What the doctor’s usually claim is that the television ads result in patients coming into the office demanding they be given a certain drug.

    The way I look at it is there is nothing wrong with giving people information, and that’s what these ads do. I admit that it was creepy on some level back in the late 90s to see Bob Dole promoting Viagra, but if it caused someone to go to their doctor and talk about a medical problem that some people don’t talk about out of embaressment, then it’s all for the better.

    To use the logic of the doctors and others who want to restrict the drug ads, we should also be talking about shutting down websites like WebMD because they allow people to look up their symptoms and come up with a diagnosis.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — January 10, 2008 @ 2:07 pm
  6. Doug,

    “What the doctor’s usually claim is that the television ads result in patients coming into the office demanding they be given a certain drug.”

    My uncle’s a doctor who’s shared horror stories about patients who attempt to be their own physicians or pharmacists so I can certainly understand the concern, but the idea that regulatory laws can prevent stupid people from doing stupid things is a pretty naive assumption. All they usually end up doing is infantilizing people who are capable of making smart, informed decisions by treating them like idiots.

    I agree with you about sites like WebMD as well…an informed patient may sometimes be more difficult to deal with but it’s also a person who may be able to provide more information to a doctor than an ignorant patient can provide which can only help treatment. It’s also someone who may be tying up less of the doctor’s time with issues that may best be solved with home remedies.

    Comment by UCrawford — January 10, 2008 @ 2:14 pm
  7. And as much as the Flomax ads creep me out (there’s just something wrong with guys who are that chummy with each other and ecstatic about drinking water) you’re right about the fact that some of the stigma has been erased from sometimes embarassing medical conditions. You can’t always help it when your body breaks down or when you get a disease and a patient who knows what to do about it is a lot better than somebody who suffers in silence and misery because they’re ashamed. Having access to information usually improves your life instead of diminishing it.

    Comment by UCrawford — January 10, 2008 @ 2:18 pm
  8. I agree it is none of the government’s business unless the claims are fraudulent and the product harmful.

    Clean Energy Act of 2007 is screwed up too. Goodbye incandescent light bulbs, hello higher costs for food.

    Comment by uhm — January 10, 2008 @ 5:56 pm
  9. uhm,

    Yup, and even then the free market can usually sort those things out better than the government can.

    Comment by UCrawford — January 10, 2008 @ 6:08 pm
  10. UCrawford:

    Like with the methamphetamine act that made it impossible to find cold medications with pseudoephedrine…that was very likely done in part to give preference to domestic producers of phenylephrine (the ineffective replacement that drugmakers now use instead of pseudoephedrine).

    It is true that a couple of large drug manufacturers supported the various pseudo-ephedrine laws, both state and local. It seems as obvious why they would do that as why certain candy manufacturers supported moving the fall Daylight Savings Time date to after Halloween.

    There was an interesting and unintended consequence of the various pseudo-ephedrine laws, both state and federal The production of meth domestically, especially in amateur meth labs in people’s homes, has fallen dramatically, just as the proponents of these laws said. However, the amount of much purer meth manufactured in Mexico and imported into the US has risen dramatically. The downstream consequence of this is that there is just as much meth being bought and sold and used in the US as always AND now we are buying imports and sending our drug money to Mexican drug cartels.

    Many of the same people in favor of these laws are also opposed to free trade and think that the “trade deficit” is a bad thing. That’s fairly ironic.

    Comment by Adam Selene — January 10, 2008 @ 7:43 pm
  11. Adam,

    Oh don’t I know it. My girlfriend is a therapist in a drug treatment program so I’m well aware that meth addiction hasn’t disappeared or abated, at all, as a result of this stupid law.

    Although frankly my biggest annoyance with the entire issue is really just the fact that whenever I get sick in the wintertime it’s impossible for me to find a cold medication that works (like NyQuil used to). Although the 2005 law actually allows the production of cold medication with pseudoephedrine (with the stipulation that it must be moved behind the pharmacists counter so that customers are treated like potential drug dealers every time they buy it) that move negatively impacted sales of the effective cold medication that Vicks decided it wasn’t cost-effective to put out two types of NyQuil (one with pseudo-ephedrine, one with phenylephrine) and discontinued the less profitable one, which just so happened to be the type that worked. It may be somewhat petty, but honestly I think that the methamphetamine law is the piece of legislation I hate more than any other, mainly because I hate being sick and I hate the fact that I have to suffer every cold and bout of the flu now because a bunch of goddamned politicians made it impossible for me buy something that allows me to get a good night’s sleep when I get sick (which makes the recovery time even longer) so they could pander for votes and fill their campaign chests. I literally hate every single Congressman who voted for that piece of shit law and I honestly hope they all die of the fucking flu…slowly and painfully.

    And yes, I realize that my position on that is more than a little extreme, but that’s also about how much I hate being sick when cold and flu season strikes :)

    Comment by UCrawford — January 10, 2008 @ 11:17 pm
  12. I just think about how much marketing adds to the cost of the drug when I am watching an ad of one I take. I don’t have the choice to shop for drugs in a place similar to a no frills supermarket. As for WalMart that only cover generics, and some drugs don’t have a generic substitute.

    Comment by VRB — January 13, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

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