US pharmaceutical firm Bristol-Myers Squibb will postpone consumer ads for new drugs until they have been on the market for year.

The company's announcement is a significant response to increasing criticism of drug promotion in the media, which highlights a medication's benefits but is less forthcoming about risks.

Bristol-Myers' so-far-solo action is "based on feedback from patients and doctors . . . People have said there is too much consumer advertising and there isn't enough balance."

The company also pledges to advertise on TV only to "appropriate audiences at appropriate times of the day" and to communicate a drug's risks and benefits in easy-to-understand language. It will continue to promote new drugs to doctors.

The clamour for action in the US has been getting louder following several high-profile instances where heavily marketed drugs have been subsequently withdrawn due to undesirable side-effects.

In a bid to restore its tarnished image, the pharmaceutical industry is now working on a voluntary code of conduct for drug ads, which could be made public next month [WAMN: 11-May-05].

But trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), says a restriction such as that imposed by Bristol-Myers is unlikely to be in the code.

Comments PhRMA spokesman Ken Johnson: "We believe it's important to retain the right to inform patients about the availability of new drugs."

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