Thursday, April 28, 2005

The FBI is Hiring! -- and other advertising jabber

One thing I will always notice living south of the border is the sheer glut of advertising. Take this photo, for instance. It's blurry because it was taken from a moving vehicle along the freeway near our house, but still readable. It struck me as absurdly ironic that an agency as secretive as the FBI resorts to recruiting via roadside billboard advertising. What's next, bus shelters? Inside restroom stalls in restaurants and clubs? Cereal boxes?

I've been wanting to get a photo of another one spotted earlier this week, but we only ever seem to drive by it at night. It says in big billboard font:

HBO -- now at Mercy [Hospital]!

David and I were in *pun alert* stitches over that one.

"The triple bypass surgery was touch-and-go, but at least I've got HBO!"

If you're into billboard advertising, there are pages of it here.

Because Canada has socialised health care, you won't see advertising for hospitals or really anything medically related except for extended medical insurance. I was surprised to see an ad for nurses near Philadelphia, but I'm sure this isn't unusual to the average American.

The other major stream of advertising I can't help but notice is for pharmaceutical products in the U.S. In Canada, it is illegal to market prescription medication directly to the consumer -- that information has to be obtained from a doctor. Pharmaceutical companies are subject to strict Health Canada policies. From the Health Canada site:

Health Canada's Therapeutic Products Directorate is the Canadian federal authority that regulates pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices for human use. Prior to being given market authorization, a manufacturer must present substantive scientific evidence of a product's safety, efficacy and quality as required by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations.

A while back, I saw a Canadian TV ad for Viagra, and wondered what loopholes were found to run it. Here's an explanation, from an article in the Canadian Newspaper Association:

Unlike in the United States, direct to consumer advertising is not legal in Canada. Because of this, Canadian pharmaceutical companies cannot advertise a treatment and a disease together. Canadian ads cannot link a cure to a specific problem. But what they can do is advertise a product without mentioning the medical condition it may treat, or discuss the disease without mentioning the product that can treat it - and then suggest that readers consult their physician for a solution.

Pharmaceutical advertising ban in Canada is an outdated law: CNA
April 2005
By Colleen Underwood
Mount Royal College Journal

According to the article, direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising has been available in the U.S. since 1997. While I advocate full disclosure of product information to consumers, including all side-effects and symptoms, it makes for some absolutely ridiculous advertising. In the average 30-second TV commercial, the first 10 seconds is about the efficacy of this wonderdrug, and the rest is the narrator speed-talking through 20 seconds of afflictions:

... nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, dizziness, fainting, incontinence, burning sensations, erectile dysfunction, seizures, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, skin rash, anxiety...

Anxiety? Of course you'd feel anxiety, after looking at this list. Say for example, your cholesterol is high, you need something to bring it down. You see a bunch of TV advertisements for drugs that lower cholesterol, right after [insert favourite sitcom here]. They run through the list of common side-effects for cholesterol-lowering drugs:

Irritability and short tempers
Homicidal impulses
Rapid loss of mental clarity
Kidney failure
Muscle aching and weakness
Tingling or cramping in the legs
Inability to walk
Problems sleeping
Impaired muscle formation
Erectile dysfunction
Temperature regulation problems
Nerve damage
Mental confusion
Liver damage and abnormalities

But you have to go to the doctor, anyway, to get the prescription. For the web-savvy, internet research would happen right about now. But in the case of older folks, this isn't an option. Who do you trust? Pharmaceutical company websites? (ha) Consumer medical websites? What if this drug is too new to have much user information? What if the consumers posting didn't follow directions? Lots of what ifs.

In my opinion, the consumers have to take responsibility for doing their own research by whatever means -- internet, medical journals, library, friends/relatives, medical professionals -- because the ultimate decision rests with the consumer. However, the pharmaceutical companies who produce prescription medicine should market to DOCTORS, the only people allowed to dispense medicine and medical advice. Doctors should also provide every patient with a full list of symptoms and discuss them as it pertains to the patient based on their existing conditions. There's already plenty of advertising for common, nonprescription medicine in all media, but prescription medicine is heavy on the pharmaceutical jargon with more serious side-effects. Like babies up for adoption and hardcore porn, some things should not be marketed to the general public.