DRUG ADVERTISING: FTC Hits Novartis Over Doan’s Ads
An administrative law judge recently "upheld Federal Trade Commission charges that ads for Doan's, a popular backache remedy made by Novartis Corp., contained false and unsubstantiated information," the Newark Star-Ledger reports. In "unusually strong language," Judge Lewis Parker barred Novartis "and its consumer health unit from saying Doan's is more effective than other over-the-counter medicines, unless they have reliable scientific evidence ... to back their claims." Although the judge's order doesn't require corrective advertising, it insists "Novartis must have scientific evidence for any claims made regarding the effectiveness, safety, benefits or performance of any over-the-counter pain reliever the company markets." Such evidence must include "at least two clinical studies," the judge ruled. A senior litigator with the FTC's division of advertising practices "said it's 'highly likely' the agency will appeal the ruling and seek corrective advertising."
The ads in question were part of a $65 million campaign that ran from May 1988 "through 1996, when the FTC filed suit." The FTC alleged that Novartis "charged more for Doan's on the basis of unsupported claims that the product gets rid of pain better than other analgesics." The government criticized specific claims Novartis made about the pain reliever, including, "Doan's is made for back pain relief with an ingredient (other) pain relievers don't have." But Novartis is disputing the ruling, saying Doan's "contains an active ingredient not found in leading analgesics." Further, a prepared statement by the drugmaker says: "Contrary to the FTC's interpretation, Doan's advertising has never stated that it's more effective than other leading analgesic pain relievers." Novartis' spokesperson said the drugmaker hasn't decided whether to appeal the ruling (Silverman, 3/13).