In the wake of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's initiative earlier month to limit the excesses of direct-to-consumer drug advertising [WAMN: 04-Aug--05], Pfizer, the Big Daddy of Big Pharma, says it will introduce a voluntary six-months moratorium on advertising new drugs to the general public.

Although the principle of a voluntary moratorium was agreed by all PhRMA members, Pfizer is the first to specify a duration. The intention is to create a breathing space for doctors and other health professionals to be briefed on the benefits and dangers of new drugs before they are promoted to the public.

"Pfizer has arguably set the industry standard," opines Mark Bard of Manhattan Research.

But many feel six months is inadequate. Senator Bill Frist (Republican, Tennessee) has proposed a two-year wait before PhRMA members peddle new drugs direct to consumers, while Bristol-Myers Squibb said it would delay d-t-c marketing for twelve months. 'Be the first with the least', appears to be Pfizer's strategy

"Pfizer is limiting its options," reckons industry consultant Louis Morris. "The major use of direct-to-consumer ads is to spread adoption of new drugs as fast as possible."

Beyond the drug industry's inner sanctums there are mixed views as to its motives. The voluntary limitations will "rub some of the well-earned tarnish off their image," believes Sidney Wolfe of consumer group Public Citizen, although he is skeptical Big Pharma will change its ways without mandatory regulation.

Conversely, and for different reasons,Meg Columbia Walsh of consultancy BrainReserve is less than enthused by the six-month ban: "We should be giving consumers more information, not less," she says.

And TV broadcasters are concerned that the moratorium could lead to lower overall spending by drug companies. "The [pharmaceutical] category ... is obviously less boom-time today," says Paul Woolmington of Media Kitchen.

In addition to buffing the industry's tarnished public image, PhRMA aims to head-off mandatory controls imposed by lawmakers.

Acting on behalf of twenty-three member companies, it is to set-up its own advertising accountability unit. This will collate complaints from the public and forward them to the appropriate firms for action.

Data sourced from USA Today Online; additional content by WARC staff