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FDA Wants Drug Ads Toned Down

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Pharmaceutical companies need to stop using various advertising techniques to distract viewers from learning about the side-effects of prescription drugs marketed on TV, according to draft guidelines issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Reuters reported May 26 that the agency said drug companies should avoid using music and images that impede viewer comprehension of health warnings, as well as unorthodox text colors and styles when risks and benefit information is being relayed.

Critics say that many drug ads intentionally play up the possible benefits of prescription medications while soft-pedaling the risks. For example, they say, benefits are described while images of happy, healthy people are portrayed, whereas ads rush through the risk descriptions while distracting images are shown.

FDA said that busy scenes, rapid scene changes and moving camera angles “can misleadingly minimize the risks of the product being promoted by detracting from the audience's comprehension.”

“If risk information is considerably more difficult to hear and process than benefit information because it is presented at a much faster pace, the piece will not convey an accurate impression,” the FDA added.

The guidelines for TV and print ads are advisory, not mandatory, but are intended to help companies avoid violations of federal regulations. Industry groups said they are reviewing the guidelines. 

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