Should Pharmaceutical Advertising Be Banned

In his chapter, Dumit describes the inner workings of the pharmaceutical marketing process. He explains that marketers are businessmen with the endpoint in sight; they aim to garner profit from ongoing drug consumption. These objectives are met not just by getting patients prescribed these drugs in the first place, but prescription maximization in the form of growing number of new prescriptions, extending time patient stays on the prescription, and shortening the time between having the condition and getting the prescription.

If these are the objectives of direct to consumer marketing we need to reconsider the practice. Most people consider a healthy lifestyle one being free of prescription drugs. Doctors, upon meeting a new patient on a myriad of drugs, should be working with that patient to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals ingested. Drugs take a toll on the body through absorption processes and side effects – not to mention the effect it has on patients’ financial situation. According to Dumit, the pharmaceutical marketer thinks of the mass market as potential patients. These potential patients must be convinced they may be ill and not know it, then led ‘step by step toward a prescription.’ Arguably, consumers are led to wanting things that are potentially harmful daily but those products deemed too hazardous are not advertised. Cigarettes, for example, are no longer advertised or displayed in stores. This is due to long term health effects of smoking tobacco. Are the side effects of smoking not on par with prescription medications that also increase the risk of cancer and heart disease? Why should one be advertised and the other banned? 

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One Response to Should Pharmaceutical Advertising Be Banned

  1. shitangshuroy says:

    I think cmclaren hints at an important issue which I hope will be discussed in class and which (I think) was not addressed by Dumit: Namely, what is it about pharmaceutical advertising that makes it distinct from other kinds of advertising? Why do we think certain pharma advertising practices- such as the creation of demand through making people want things they may not in fact need- are problematic, when such practices are employed by companies everyday? Is it the possibility of harm, as the blog entry suggested? Is it that being manipulated about one’s health is somehow worse than being manipulated about desires for other products or services? Is it that the product pharma is advocating is somehow bad (which seems unlikely)? If we want to hold pharma advertising to a different standard from other advertising, we need to justify why.

    I do not pretend to know the answers to these questions, but let me give an example of desire manipulation in other kinds of advertising. Consider this ad for Everest College, which I suspect anyone with a TV has likely viewed before: .

    Here, the ad is quite clearly suggesting that many people are dissatisfied with their lives but are simply too lazy to do anything about it, when most people will likely be content prior to viewing the ad. Clearly, the ad is trying to make people desire an education when this thought may not have been prevalent on the viewer’s minds (and all for the nominal cost of $30,000 :). If someone, influenced by this advertising, starts to feel dissatisfied with their lives and acts to enroll in Everest college to alleviate their career worries, do we say this advertisement has crossed some “moral line” of acceptable advertising? When pharmaceutical companies make people dissatisfied with their health and influence them to purchase medication to alleviate their health worries, should we judge them to a different standard than we did Everest College?

    Again, I emphasize that I have no answers… only many questions. On the surface, there seems to be a double-standard in regards to our expectations for pharmaceutical advertising, but I suspect the applicability of different standards to Pharma can somehow be justified.

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