You couldn't make this s**t up

Monday, February 28, 2005

High on madness

Don’t know about you, but I’m seriously concerned about the drug problem in our society. And I’m talking about the legal stuff…prescription drugs. Rachel Ross in today's Toronto Star (has penned a solid feature on the subject. Though she didn’t reveal anything particularly new or shocking I think the level of apathy and ignorance in the general public on the subject is worrisome. For example, how many of you knew this:

-Major U.S. pharmaceuticals (Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKilne, Bristol-Myers, etc.) typically spend twice as much on marketing and administration as they do on drug discovery.

-The practice took off in the late 1990s after the United States relaxed laws restricting prescription drug advertising. Today more than $2.5 billion (U.S) is spent each year on direct-to-consumer drug advertising such as TV commercials and advertising spreads in mass-market magazines

-Canadian broadcasters are lobbying Health Canada (which oversees such ads) to remove the restrictions so they can earn some of the billions of dollars that might be up for grabs.

-Industry-giant Pfizer Inc., which bills itself as the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company spent $16.9 billion (U.S.) on "selling, informational and administrative expenses," but only $7.7 billion (U.S) on research and development in 2004.

-According to a survey of 535 U.S. doctors, 49 per cent of requests stemming from direct-to-consumer ads were “clinically inappropriate.” The survey indicated that physicians gave in to those “clinically inappropriate” requests 69 per cent of the time.

Crazy, eh? It gets worse…the following details the current ad campaign for the Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. weight-loss drug Xenical These ads are currently on TTC buses and streetcars.

Each ad begins with the words “I am Julie," and asks the reader what they would do with “a few pounds less.” The ad also suggests readers talk to their doctor about “Julie’s story.” There is no further information in the ads, only pictures: one is of a slender woman in a garter belt, while another has a picture of her in a bikini. A third shows naked mannequins and suggests how nice it would be to shop for trim-fitting clothes.

First things first. The Canadian government should unequivically ban prescription drug advertising on Canadian television. And by that I mean, CTV, CBC, Global should be prohibited from selling their own air time to sell prescription drugs to Canadians who may not, and in most cases, don't need them. Now many of you may argue that these ads are already airing on Canadian TV, via the American networks. That's true, and there's little Canada can do to stop the practice but that doesn't mean we have to open the floodgates. The Canadian networks will sell the airtime regardless of whether its for Viagara or Canadian Tire. They won't lose a penny.

In fact, the federal government should go as far as legislation banning prescription drug advertising on Canadian networks/channels. Fat chance the Liberals under Paul Martin will go for it, but I gurantee you that such a bill would receive unanimous support from both the NDP and Bloc, not to mention the majority of Canadians, and possibly even a few Conservatives (come out of the closet Belinda--everyone knows you're a Liberal!)

And as for prescription weight loss drugs...I really feel for young (and old) women these days. And these days young women can be eight-year-olds in terms of when they start to develop body image issues. And obviously ads such as the one for Xenical, don't help.

But you know what would help and is another no-brainer in terms of bi-partisan politcal support and a huge hit with Canadians? Introducing compulsary media awareness and mental health education beginning in Grade 3 and running through Grade 12. One course per year, beginning by teaching kids what a commercial is and what is trying to do. From there, students would eventually move on to heavier material such as body image and eating disorders and other mental illnesses, and how advetisements prey on our insecurities to encourage consumption of their products. Think about it, even positive ads, do, only backwards.

I'm convinced that if kids and most importantly, young girls, grew up with a greater sense of media savy at a young age they would be so less susceptible to developing eating disorders and/or becoming mindless consumers

After all, what type of education are we providing if our most brilliant minds still suffer from eating disorders, can't recognize depression and can't understand why buying a new car or clothes didn't make them feel any better, as advertised?


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