US watchdog group Commercial Alert has added its voice to the vexed question of prescription drug advertising to consumers.

The organization says it has the backing of 211 medical school professors to press the Food and Drug Administration to ban all direct-to-consumer ads.

The medics' document, to be presented to the FDA when it holds public hearings this week as part of its rules review, claims DTC ads "intrude" on the doctor-patient relationship. Patients pressure the physician for branded medicines while doctors have to waste time explaining why the drug is not suitable.

The document also accuses DTC ads - on which manufacturers spend around $4 billion (€3.2bn. £2.24bn) annually - of being "inherently misleading".

It avers: "At a minimum, DTC prescription drug advertising should not exist unless accompanied by the full FDA-approved label. Nor should drug ads be allowed to display imagery that is primarily emotive and not educational. Drug ads on TV and radio should be prohibited because they cannot meet this standard for truthfulness."

The FDA has been cracking down on prescription drug ads and the review could lead to legislation that would heavily restrict them in the future.

In a bid to head off such intervention the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America organization 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.

Some drugs companies have introduced voluntary moratoria on the advertising of new medicines to the public [WAMN: 15-Aug-05] as part of the anti-legislation effort.

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