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Investigating Advertisements For Cholesterol Medication Lipitor

Armen Hareyan's picture

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Thursday sent letters to advertising agencies believed to be involved with a television ad campaign for the cholesterol medication Lipitor, manufactured by Pfizer, that features Robert Jarvik, inventor of the first artificial heart, the New York Times reports. The effort is aimed at requesting information about payments made to individuals who might have served as stunt doubles for Jarvik, according to the Times. In the letters, committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) and subcommittee Chair Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) wrote that the subcommittee has begun an investigation of "false and misleading statements and the use of celebrity endorsements of prescription medications in direct-to-consumer advertising."

In an ad that aired from March 2006 to July 2006, Jarvik appears to row a boat, but, according to the Times, a Seattle man served as a stunt double for him. The man, Dennis Williams, has declined to comment, but a newsletter published by a rowing club to which he belongs reported on his role as a stunt double for Jarvik in the ad.

The subcommittee investigation seeks to determine whether stunt doubles for Jarvik appeared in other ads. Stupak said, "We are taking a hard look at the deceptive tactics of drug companies in their direct-to-consumer advertising" (Saul, New York Times, 2/8).

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Broader Debate

According to the Times, the ads mark a "rare instance of a well-known doctor's endorsing a drug in advertising -- and it has helped rekindle a smoldering debate over whether it is appropriate to aim ads for prescription drugs directly at consumers."

In a recent letter to Pfizer, Dingell raised concerns that the ads could mislead the public because they portray Jarvik, who is not a licensed cardiologist, as a medical expert. Dingell said, "It seems that Pfizer's number one priority is to sell lots of Lipitor, by whatever means necessary, including misleading the American people." Pfizer has defended the accuracy of the ads (Saul, New York Times, 2/7).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.