Critics Say Antiretroviral Ads Send Wrong Message, Lessen Concern About AIDS
Officials in San Francisco, "concerned that ... advertising images of healthy looking young men engaged in an active lifestyle is contributing to a lessening of concern in the gay community about the fatal danger of HIV," will soon hold public hearings on whether to ban public advertising of prescription drugs used to treat HIV, Newsday reports. In addition, the FDA is "scrutinizing claims that such ads may contribute to unsafe sex in the gay community. Recently published studies have noted a rise in HIV infections among gay men in several major cities, a fact that has some worried that advertising depicting "sexy, athletic men scaling mountains, going to parties and having fun" may be "masking the fact that HIV poses a fatal danger." AIDS activist Jeff Getty of the San Francisco group Survive AIDS noted that his organization has lost 75% of its members to AIDS over the last decade. "We don't think it's a sexy disease," he said, adding, "It's about IV poles, wheelchairs and pain." Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiologist with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, is in the process of conducting an opinion survey of gay and straight men who visit the city's clinics for STD treatment. Of the 262 men surveyed so far, 72% agreed with the statement, "HIV drug advertisements ... portray men who are healthy, handsome and strong." Sixty-two percent said they felt "these types of advertisements affect a person's decision to have unprotected sex." The survey will not be complete until Klausner has polled 1,000 men, at which time San Francisco Board of Supervisors Chair Tom Ammiano wants to make the results public and hold hearings on the matter. He said he will "push" the board to ban such ads from city buses, subways and property "unless the drug companies agree to devote half their ad space to promoting protective use of condoms." Klausner said that based on his research, he is convinced that "the drug companies are using sex to sell drugs. ... This strategy sells sex to a very vulnerable and sexually identified population ... resulting in perhaps unexpected increases in sexual activity." Drug companies are "increasingly" using direct marketing to consumers to sell their AIDS drugs. Merck and Co. advertises the drug Crixivan with an image of four "attractive young men" atop a mountain and a caption that reads, "Going the distance. If you're HIV-positive, Crixivan may help you live a longer, healthier life." Bristol-Myers Squibb has two large campaigns, one promoting the drug Videx, with the slogan "Mission Accomplished!" Kyra Lindeman, a spokesperson for Merck, did not respond directly to the allegations about the ads, but said the AIDS drug marketplace is "highly competitive." She noted that Merck has had a direct campaign for Crixivan since 1996 and that the company has found such ads "motivate consumers to go and talk about their disease conditions with their physicians" (Garrett, Newsday, 3/14). Richard Klein, the FDA's HIV/AIDS program director, has asked the agency's general counsel to review the ads, but said it is "probable" that the agency will not be able to "take legal regulatory action based on the photographs" unless they find that the ads are "misleading relative to the drugs' label indications" (Alyson Browett, Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.