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BOSTON — A longtime advertising industry lobbyist on Tuesday urged makers of drug ads to stand up and fight for their right to market prescription medications directly to consumers.

Pharmaceutical companies spend more than $5 billion a year advertising drugs but the practice has been under fire lately. Speaking at the industry’s big annual conference here, lobbyist and attorney Jim Davidson urged participants to fight back against what he characterized as an unfair “crescendo of criticism.”

His instructions: Vote for elected officials sympathetic to direct-to-consumer advertising. And write to your legislator to vouch for drug advertising.


The crowd needed few reminders of the threats to drug advertising. The American Medical Association last fall called for an outright ban on the practice. Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills that would impose a three-year moratorium on advertising new drugs and eliminate the tax breaks that drug makers can take to offset their advertising spending.

And, Davidson warned, it could soon get even worse.


“If a Democrat is elected president,” he predicted, “you’re going to see more focus on [direct-to-consumer] advertising than you’ve seen in the last nine to 10 years.”

He issued a special warning about Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has called to end the tax breaks for drug advertising and require drug makers to get their ads cleared by federal regulators.

Davidson weighed in on the Republican race too: Front-runner Donald Trump, he told the crowd, is more of a threat than Texas Senator Ted Cruz because “he is a dealmaker, and this is a dealmaker’s issue.” Cruz would likely be sympathetic to the industry’s interests, Davidson predicted.

Opponents of drug advertising say it drives up the cost of medicines by fueling demand for pricey products. Davidson called that nonsense, and said such criticisms overlook the value that the ads can have in educating patients and driving them into the doctor’s office to get needed treatment.

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Davidson painted a portrait of a misunderstood industry under siege. His crowd was sympathetic, with one audience member raising his hand to say he was incredulous why lawmakers weren’t enthusiastically supportive of drug advertising.

But it’s not clear how effective those ads are: Only 7 percent of respondents in a new survey reported having made a point of asking a doctor about a drug after seeing it promoted on television.

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Natalia Bronshtein/STAT