Thursday, July 16, 2009

Government can't ban drug advertising, but it can take the life out of the ads

Big Pharma experienced acute dizziness and irritability last month when House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) proposed rescinding the tax deduction for direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising. This is the ad segment that brought you "Viva Viagra," the Ambien CR rooster and the Cialis couple-in-the-tubs, who I sincerely hope are soon struck by lightning. The segment accounts for about $5 billion in advertising per year. This is your IRS on drugs.

Predictably, the advertising/marketing community flew into a funk beyond the reach of Paxil and Cymbalta. Assn. of National Advertisers President and Chief Executive Bob Liodice, in high moral dudgeon, claimed in an Advertising Age editorial that the provision would violate the 1st Amendment (it wouldn't), endanger the public's health (hardly) and put Congress on a slippery slope of penalizing "controversial" products' advertising, which could "imperil many, if not all, product categories."

Indeed, the very foundations of the Republic rest on whether Pfizer can deduct the $121 million it spent in 2008 pushing Viagra on less-than-ardent oldsters.

I, for one, do not fear for the drug ad tax deduction. The pharmaceutical and health products industry disgorged more than $234 million upon Capitol Hill last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. I'm sure Big Pharma's voice will be heard.


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