FDA CAUTIONS ON AIDS ADS
By Randolph E. Schmid
AP 28 April 2001
Washington -- The government is warning manufacturers of drugs used in
the treatment of AIDS not to imply too much in their advertising.
The Food and Drug Administration acted Friday after it determined that some
advertisements, particularly on the West Coast, seemed to imply that with
modern treatment people did not need to worry about AIDS.
An ad might, for example, show two people enjoying outdoor recreation, with
the caption that they both tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes
AIDS, but were still enjoying life.
The agency's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications said
it reviewed these direct to consumer ads and concluded that "many do not
adequately convey that these drugs neither cure HIV infection not reduce its
The advertising in question needs to be changed within 90 days, FDA said,
noting that promoting the drugs without displaying their limitations, and
using images not representative of HIV patients, is in violation of the
federal Food and Drug Act.
In San Francisco, Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano and activists
throughout the city's large gay community attended a meeting this month to
discuss banning the ads if they were not toned down.
"This problem has been going on with several other diseases and several
other drugs - it took AIDS to finally make the FDA act,'' said Jeff Getty, an
activist from Survive AIDS, who was infected with the disease 20 years ago.
"This is a weight taken off my shoulders.''
A survey by the city's Public Health Department recently found 61 percent of
422 gay and straight men say AIDS drug ads covering billboards, magazine
pages and other venues affect decisions on whether to have unsafe sex.
The study follows a report that found the rate of HIV infection has more than
doubled among San Francisco's gay men in the last four years.
Overall, AIDS deaths have declined sharply in the last few years as the
combination of drugs used to treat the disease has improved. But treatment
can be costly and while it extends the life of the patients it doesn't cure
the disease. In addition most of the drugs need to be taken in combination
with other drugs, something the ads didn't always make clear.
"Although today's treatment regimens have transformed HIV infection to a
chronic disease in many patients, HIV infection is still associated with
significant'' illness and death, the letter said.
It noted that people on therapy can still pass the disease on to others, so
precautions must still be taken.
The letter from Thomas Abrams, director of the division of marketing,
advertising and communications, also pointed out that not all people respond
to the drugs, and it said some ads minimize side effects of the drugs, which
can include redistribution of body fat and facial wasting.
The FDA did not single out any particular drug maker, saying it sent the
advisory to all companies that make drugs to treat AIDS. It asked them to
reply by May 18, listing promotional materials to be changed and stating when
that would be done.
Companies making drugs for the treatment of AIDS include Abbott Laboratories,
Agouron Pharmaceuticals, Boehringer Ingelheim Corp., Bristol-Myers Squibb,
DuPont Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline, Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc. and Merck &