The clamor is growing for US pharmaceutical firms to curb direct-to-consumer advertising.

The latest voice to ramp-up the volume is that of Senate majority leader and physician Bill Frist, who is calling for a voluntary two-year ad ban when a new drug arrives on the market. He is threatening to propose legislation if the companies fail to rein-in their marketing.

The Tennessee Republican also wants drugs manufacturers to balance the portrayal of their products on TV, radio and in print, to adequately publicize risks as well as benefits. He claims the $4.43 billion (€3.70bn; £2.5bn) DTC ad industry currently peddles a "fantasyland image".

The pharmaceutical advertising debate has become noisier in recent months following the high profile withdrawal of heavily marketed drugs after alerts over serious side-effects.

Last month's American Medical Association conference in Chicago considered lobbying for advertising bans [WAMN: 21-Jun-05], at around the same time as pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb announced a year moratorium on DTC ads for it new products [WAMN: 16-Jun-05].

To head off the threat of legislation, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is drawing up a voluntary code of practice for its members, but an advertising moratorium is not thought to be included. Details could be released as early as this month.

The Association of National Advertisers says there is nothing in law or in medicine that warrants an across-the-board two-year ban.

Evp Dan Jaffe says such a delay could lead to patients who are ill not getting treatment because they are unaware of new products that could treat their conditions.

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff